Creating content is just one part of a website project and in itself it requires planning, defining a workflow, getting the right people on board, time, money, and collaboration between different teams, stakeholders and subject matter experts. Add to that the need for content to meet business goals and user needs and it becomes an even more complex requirement. It’s no wonder then that content production can often derail website projects.
Without adequate planning upfront for the time, money and people needed to create content for website projects, the following problems present themselves:
- content isn’t delivered on time, or at all, so projects are left in limbo
- budgets blow if you need to allocate resources that weren’t originally accounted for
- timelines get pushed back so projects get delayed and this can have a knock-on effect for other work
- teams become disengaged and demotivated
- poor quality content gets published as it is rushed through or created by the wrong people just to ‘get it done’
There will always be issues to resolve and obstacles to overcome that can never be anticipated – such is the nature of website projects – but content doesn’t need to be the enabler of stress and delays. If content production is planned for up-front, it can encourage better collaboration and result in better quality content.
In this article, I’ll present considerations for content production, and a process for calculating the budget, schedule, and resource needs.
Three key considerations for content production
To determine what resources will be needed for content production and to consider timings and schedules for getting content done, teams should consider three things:
- The current state of play – what content already exists
- The workflow needed to get content done, from brief through to approved and published
- The roles and people required at each step of the workflow
Let’s look at these in more detail, to prepare for successful planning.
It’s necessary to have some idea of how much content needs to be produced, before thinking about the time, money and people necessary to meet these requirements.
Start by creating a content inventory. This is the single source of truth for all of the content a team, client or organisation owns. It should include web pages, printed material, audio and video content, and any other content that they ‘own’.
The inventory can then be used as a basis for a content audit. This is where the content landscape is evaluated to determine what content will stay, be archived or rewritten and where there are gaps that new content will need to be created for. By this point a good understanding of the current state of play will have been gained. It still won’t be clear yet how this equates to time, money and people, but it is a crucial step in trying to calculate the cost of content production.
Next a workflow must be defined. That is a ‘set of tasks that a team needs to complete for a given client or content type — a web page, a blog post, a white paper, an email, or any other kind of content that the group needs to deliver.’
It is the identification of these stages that will help decide who needs to be involved in the process. Typical workflow stages include:
There may be multiple feedback loops for review, edit and approve if content needs to be passed through marketing, legal, finance and other stakeholders.
A typical content production process
Here are the stages of a typical content production process:
- Brief/page table
- Upload to CMS
- Review in HTML
- User test (and iterate)
- Govern/maintain (often a new process and workflow in itself)
This process is ‘typical’ in that teams may have more or fewer stages depending on the workflow and organisational structure. Stages may also be labelled as something else, but by discussing a typical process, it’s possible to begin thinking about calculating the resource needed at each stage and then looking at the implications that has when scaling up (or down) content production.
It’s through defining a workflow that will best facilitate getting content done that it starts to become clear what people, roles and teams will be required at each stage. A content delivery team may consist of a content strategist, writers, content designers, editors, subject matter experts, user researchers and more. this is when time and money starts to become a real consideration in relation to the people assigned to each workflow stage.
Without getting distracted by semantics and job titles, here’s a breakdown of some standard roles within this process and the tasks they may be responsible for.
It may be that one person wears multiple hats, but the goal of this process is to get to grips with what needs to be done, when, and by whom. This is a start for thinking in terms of the resources needed. Even estimates are better then reaching the content production phase (by which point the project budget and scope will have been agreed) and realizing there is no sense of how much time and money it will take.
Calculating the cost
Even with a well defined workflow and production process, it can still be challenging to equate this to time, people and costs. In the quarterly Content Strategy Masterclass that we run at GatherContent, we include an exercise, based around the typical content production process outlined above, that attempts to calculate the effort needed to get content through this process.
The exercise isn’t a scientific approach, but it is based on a sample size of a couple of thousand attendees. During the class, attendees are asked to assign an amount of time to get content through each stage of the process. This is all based around a 700 word web page with technical advice that must be correct, text only, no other formats. So a fairly straight forward page in terms of requirements.
Stage by stage, attendees add their amounts to a shared spreadsheet so for example one participant may end up with the following:
- Brief/page table – 1.5 hours
- Research – 2 hours
- Write – 5 hours
- Review – 2 hours
- Revise – 1.5 hours
- Approve/sign-off – 0.5 hours
- Upload to CMS – 1 hour
- Review in HTML – 1 hour
- Publish – 0.5 hours
This is a total of 15 hours spent getting the content for this sample page done, from brief to published. This doesn’t account for several review and feedback loops with different stakeholders either.
There are several key variables to be aware of for this process in order to get a sense of production costs. Numbers of pages, effort (in hours), timescales for production and cost per writer are some of the considerations that need to be made.
Scaling content production
Over the course of our masterclasses the total average time allocated from attendees ranges from 12 hours in one class up to 18 hours in another. The overall average is 13 hours. If that’s for one page, as soon as you start scaling content production up to several pages, a few sections, an entire website and sometimes even several websites as part of one overall project, it becomes clear how much effort is required for content and how that will start relating to budgets and timescales. This doesn’t account for all the other tasks that are part of the project too such as information architecture, taxonomy, design, build, testing and everything in between.
Even if the task of content production is enormous, it’s better to be as prepared for that as possible, rather than going into that process blindly and then becoming overwhelmed.
Setting yourself up for success
Getting a better understanding of the scale of the content challenge ahead will at the very least allow for smarter recommendations to be made relating to timescales, resources needed (and where there are gaps) and how to approach projects (iteratively or in phases). It also allows for expectations to be managed more successfully and when it comes to website projects with lots of aspects and many people involved, that can only be a good thing.
The more that is known about the production process and what is needed to get content through that process, the easier it will be to gain clarity on what the project constraints are. Those constraints may include a lack of:
And there may also be issues with the scope of the project in relation to these resource constraints and limitations.
The relationship between these variables is important too. Adding more writers to the project will impact the budget. Allocating certain resources to different areas of the production workflow may affect timescales. None of these variables should be thought of in isolation and whilst it is important to expect issues that can’t be prepared for, trying to calculate the cost of content production will only be beneficial and helpful towards keeping projects on track.
Thinking beyond launch
Once the website is live the need for resource is unlikely to be entirely void. If additional resource was allocated for the main website project, consider what resource is needed post-launch to govern and maintain the content. It may be necessary to refine the workflow and scale-down production, but planning for the governance of content will help understand what cost will be required to ensure content continues to be relevant, accurate and useful.
In order to ensure content production doesn’t delay website projects, content teams should:
- Create a content inventory and use that as a basis for auditing content
- Define a workflow to get content from brief to being published
- Assign people at each stage of the workflow
- Evaluate all available resource in relation to the content requirements and identify gaps, bottlenecks, opportunities and challenges
- Think beyond launch for resource needed to govern content
Whilst it’s nice to strive for accuracy, it is hard to pin down every requirement for content production at the start of projects, but even an attempt at calculating the cost of creating content will result in ballparks, educated guesses and insight that can help to keep projects on track.