At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University Libraries, our two-person content management team defines content as information in a usable form. The form web content takes can vary from text or data to images or video. Whatever content looks like, its purpose is to convey meaning and give context to users about our library, its resources, and its services.
Content starts a conversation with your users: it should provide them with the information they’re seeking or open a door for them to contact you. The darker side of this conversation occurs when a user can’t easily find what they’re looking for and leaves your site, never to return. Either way, this is where content strategy comes into play.
Putting content online requires care and maintenance, whether it’s a policy document, contact form, research guide, or anything in between. Being responsible for content is a long-term relationship that gives you the chance to keep the conversation going even when everything changes. Good content strategy makes it easier to keep that relationship healthy, even without limitless resources.
Our web content reflects the same level of service a user would receive if they visited one of our libraries in person—or at least that’s the goal of our annual content audits. We utilize many different tools and strategies to work toward this goal, and (as a two-person team) we certainly don’t try to go it alone.
When set up effectively, services like Google Analytics or Matomo can provide great insight into how different users are engaging with your site. You can pull statistics on all or some of your content on either a regular (e.g., annual) or ad-hoc basis, depending on your needs and the needs of your stakeholders. The reports generated by web analytics software or even within a service such as LibGuides can then be shared with content creators and other relevant staff. Providing simple visualizations or usage statistics gives content owners an idea of the effects their hard work can have on maintaining a website. Statistical reports can also be useful when deciding how to approach a site redesign or when assessing whether to retain content.
As a basic prerequisite for keeping your content under control, you should be auditing your main web content environments on an annual basis. Audits are critical for knowing both what you have and who has access to it. In performing an audit, you will be forced to really reckon with the “stuff” on your site (and there’s probably more of it than you think). Performing regular audits will help you strategize content management priorities for the coming year—and you may even get to clean some things up while you’re at it!
While annual audits and statistical reports are helpful for getting a big picture look at your content, we at UNC University Libraries are also constantly working on bits and pieces of our site to curb bloat and catch issues as they occur. There are many ways to approach a maintenance flow, and to some degree everyone has to figure out what works best for their own site. Personally, we recommend keeping a central maintenance schedule somewhere that all administrators can access. That way, you can track tasks performed on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. These tasks can be small in scope: for example, we take 10-15 minutes each week to check our CMS for important broken links. This method lets you take care of minor issues before you start getting emails about why something isn’t working properly.
Our team couldn’t possibly maintain our site without the help and support of our content owners. But not all of our owners are web experts: if you’re managing a site for which lots of folks provide content, those folks need training! New contributors need basic training to get them on the same page in terms of style, accessibility, and usability. If you have the resources, this shouldn’t be the last time content creators see you. Content management systems are always changing, in small and large ways, and we can always do more to improve web accessibility. Specialized and refresher trainings can help ensure you touch base with content owners at least one or two times a year, creating a skilled contributor team that is of key importance in keeping your site running smoothly.
Want to know more?
Remember your website is not the field of dreams and you are not Kevin Costner. Creating something online doesn’t mean users will flock to it. It takes time and care as well as effort to keep the content up-to-date—but it doesn’t take a staff of fifty. In our talk at edUi 2018, we’ll use our two-person team as a case study showing how we’ve applied these practices and what we’ve learned along the way.
About the Authors
Sarah Arnold is the Content Strategy Librarian with the User Experience and Assessment Department at UNC Chapel Hill Libraries. In this role, she works with content owners to improve the Library’s website, research guides, and other online tools for all users. She holds a MSLS from UNC Chapel Hill.
Claire Payne is a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she will complete an MS in Information Science and an MA in Art History in May 2019. She works at UNC Libraries as the Content Management RA in the User Experience and Assessment department and is interested in accessibility, equity, UX, and art libraries.
Sarah and Claire will present How to Handle a Whole Lot of Content: A Case Study of What We’ve Learned at edUi 2018.