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How to Prepare Your Client for a Content Strategy Plan

Today, clients are starting digital projects with a leg up. Back in the day (insert old-timer music and a slight groan…), most clients had never done a web project. Today they attend conferences, read blogs, and research technology. They are out there learning and taking their investment seriously; and I love it! Of course no matter how much one prepares, it doesn’t substitute for hands-on experience. That holds true especially for the emerging practice of content strategy.

Content and its creation has become a big challenge for project managers, causing endless delays and budget overages. So what do you do about it? Besides having a kick-ass content strategy plan, I think it’s critical to get the start of the project right. I recommend holding a pre-kickoff meeting with the client’s project manager and key content stakeholder to cover specific items. While every project is unique, there are five topics I would suggest tackling in that meeting.

Identify the Content Team

Every content team has several roles. At minimum we want to identify a Project Manager, Writer, Editor, Subject Matter Expert (SME), and essentially Chief Content Boss (someone that makes the tough decisions and also guides the direction of all digital content). An individual person can have multiple roles, but no one person can do them all. And, of course, too many cooks in the kitchen leads to issues, so look for a team of around 3-6 people. If the site is very content heavy, you might have to include additional writers and SMEs, growing that group to up to 10.

Work with your client to pick specific people that can fill each role. Discuss the responsibilities of each role, the amount of time they need to commit, and identity where someone might fall short. Write down the final names, their roles and their responsibilities and share them with the content and web teams. Sharing makes it ‘official,’ giving roles the right authority and responsibility. If you want to make it more formal, consider making your own version of a RACI matrix. At the end of this process you will clearly identify gaps which requires us to revisit our project budget.  

Establish a Content Budget

Now that you have identified both skill and availability gaps on the content team, it’s time to discuss how to solve it. First, before you approach this sensitive conversation, make sure your client understands how critical good content is to their project’s success. The solution to these gaps will likely increase the project budget and you need to agree on the value of good content before talking numbers.

Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and per dollar spent, it generates approximately 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing.

The first gaps to discuss are writing and editing. Most organizations don’t have in-house writers nor can they afford to hire someone to write every word. Discuss the option of hiring a writer to create 10-20 key pages as guides for the remaining content or have a writer only review and edit what the client writes.

Then consider the key traffic driving content; video (which accounts for 74% of all web traffic) and images (articles that include images get 94% more views). While there are a number of high-end free options available (such as Unsplash), persuade your client to hire a photographer and videographer to tackle the content closely tied to your brand, such as banners, about us videos, and staff.

Understand the Process

It’s important to walk the client through your process and the expectations you have of them. Having a clear understanding of where they are going and how they are going to get there will increase your chance for success. Take a moment to write your process down, keeping it simple with clear boundaries. Share the document with your client and walk them through each step. When available, show examples of documents. They won’t remember everything but they will be familiar with the steps which will decrease their anxiety.

Once you have shared the process, discuss expectations. Clients need to know that you are not just asking them for their time, but you are asking them to challenge themselves and their organization. They will be going through a process to make sure their vision, mission, goals, and users are crystal clear so that you can create a content strategy to support it. It can’t be general and similar to their competitors so they need to prepare themselves now to be uncomfortable and have tough conversations with their coworkers. They also need to be ready to let go of the past. Past ideas, fading initiatives and old content must be put to bed. Spending time on content that won’t support their future goals wastes their precious time and energy.

workflow graphic  

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Choose Testing Options

You can have the best features and an amazing design but if you aren’t delivering the ‘right’ content to your users in the ‘right’ way you have nothing. Content needs to be readable, findable and comprehendible. While we are all smart people, we need to do user testing (and more specifically content testing), to make sure we are on the right track.

Talk to your client during the pre-kickoff meeting about testing options. Since we know money isn’t falling from trees, I like to recommend a scale of investment. The first option (low time, no money) is testing for readability. A quick test will allow us to make sure that our content is coming in at the right reading level (see recent U.S. Illiteracy Statistics). Use a tool such as The Readability Test Tool to simply copy the body text from the page and click a button to get your readability score. This is something every person in the ‘writer’ role should be doing.

Stepping the investment up a level, clients can work with you to test for findability. In studies, it was found that if a user clicked down the right path on the first click they would complete their task with a 87% success rate. If a user clicked down the wrong-path, they were only 46% successful. One option for testing is Tree testing which tests if users can find the right content within your navigation structure. The other is First-Click testing which tests if users can find the right components and calls-to-action on the page. Consider purchasing a short subscription to Optimal Workshop for each of these tests. Ideally you want to complete this test with 50 or more people.

Finally, comprehension is the most investment in time and money but provides the most value. To keep the costs down, have the client help identify 3-5 people that you can meet in one location such as their office or a coffee shop. For 45 minutes, ask them questions about the most critical pages of content. The minimum cost to the budget starts around 10 hours. The amount of changes to the content and features based on the feedback impacts how much the cost increases.

Once you chose the right option(s) with your client, add it into your project timeline and content budget. Do testing early so that the team can incorporate the feedback as they revisit and create new content.

Comfort Them

Now that you have covered everything, look around the room. Is everyone quiet? Do you see blank stares? Is the energy down? After these discussions, it is not unusual to officially freak out your client. It is very likely that no one in the room has been through a formal content strategy plan and the thought of it has quickly overwhelmed them.

I like to ease the tension by first calling out their emotions. They need to know it’s ok to feel that way. You also need them to know that you are there to help them each step of the way. Promise that you will break it down into little tasks and show them tools they can use to make it easy. I personally love using a tool called GatherContent. It’s an online collaborative tool that let’s you organize the content structure, manage the writing and editing process and imports into your friendly CMS such as Drupal and Wordpress. The bonus is that it’s affordable and shows you if they are on track. Once I do a little demo with the client, it relaxes them a bit.

But, to be honest, I like to leave them a little bit scared. There is a lot of work to be done and unless they are serious about it, we won’t get it done on time and on budget. Clients that heed these warnings are typically always my ‘A’ students for content creation.

After you spend thirty to sixty minutes going over these items, you (or your client) might realize that they are not ready for this part of the project. That is ok. It is better to pause the project for a bit at the beginning than to stop completely in the middle. Ideally though, your client walks away knowing the process, is clear on your expectations, has a good sense that you have their back, and overall feels that they can accomplish this big task.

Preparation doesn’t guarantee to solve the content problem but it will give you a fighting chance. Then we can move on to worrying about the next thing that will kill our budgets and timelines.


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