The C Word

Robert Mills

Yesterday I gave a talk at the inaugural Handheld Conf, here in Cardiff. Here’s a summary of my talk.

The C word in question is of course, content.

There are three instances where we might encounter content during a project lifecycle:

Content can be created by a variety of people. The client might provide it themselves, depending on the structure of your team you may have someone in-house who can assist with this, or a third party might be involved such as a copywriter.

Anyone tasked with creating content may face some obstacles that will need to be overcome before we even reach the stages of managing and using content.

  • Creating content can be a long and intimidating process for clients, especially if there is currently no existing content to work with.
  • Deadlines, budgets and feedback from stakeholders can result in short timescales for content to be created in.
  • There is often pressure to get visuals in front of clients, until they see the ‘pretty’ stuff they feel projects aren’t progressing quick enough.
  • The client contact producing the content has a day job and often has to fit the copywriting in around that.

To overcome these obstacles there needs to be someone responsible for content, both client side and agency side. If you’re a freelancer then that person is you.

We, as web professionals, need to care about content. If we don’t lead by example, how can we expect our clients to care about their content?

A way to get clients to think about their content, really think about it, is to have them provide it before any design work is done. Based on an agreed scope and site structure (which they can use as a content checklist) they should send all content by an agreed deadline. This includes, text, images and videos.

One of our clients recently provided everything for a website redesign by having folders within folders, making it easy for the team to manage and use this content.  Here’s an example:

This approach isn’t new and when you get used to it, it will feel like common sense. The trouble is getting clients on board but although it delays the time between project greenlight and the client seeing visuals it also speeds up the rest of the project. Not having all content before getting into the design nitty gritty can expose you to one of three possible scenarios:

  • You have a signed off design that you now need to shoe horn content into.
  • You have a signed off design that now needs to be changed for the content.
  • You have a designed and built site full of grey boxes and lorum ipsum. The site remains in ‘content limbo’ for months as the client now has new priorities.

Managing content can be a tricky beast, especially when there are different language versions of a site, amends galore and changes to be tracked.

All content that has been created needs to be managed and organised. It also needs to be delegated and understood by everyone on the project team that comes in contact with it. Designer, project manager, developer, nobody should just chuck content into a CMS. We have a responsibility to read it and check if it is as per any brand guidelines and consistent and authentic.

A great tool to help you with managing content is Gather Content < check it out!


Once content has been created and managed it is over to the creatives and developers to use this effectively. They need to know what story is being told and who it is being told to.


Gain as much audience insight as possible. Even projects with smaller budgets lend themselves to some level of audience research. Based on these findings you can then make informed decisions, including insuring your content is true to the tone, culture and brand of the company.

It doesn’t end after launch. Content should be reviewed. Check your clients site after they go live, it won’t take long to see if they are keeping the content authentic and consistent. We need to care long after the site has gone live.

Content can then be refined as needed and it may be determined that a long term strategy is required or perhaps a content audit at regular intervals.

Ultimately, care about content, put it first where you can. Let’s work together with clients to make the web a place full of great stories.


For the full talk be sure to check out the video on BeSquare later in the week. Huge thanks to Craig Lockwood for asking me to be part of what turned out to be an excellent day. Thanks also to all the other speakers for educating, entertaining and inspiring me.