Imagine you were writing a book. Would you ask a group of 50 people to rewrite your book based on their will? Meaning, each one would randomly pick pages to rewrite as they feel like, or just decide that page should be removed from the book - based only and exclusively on the reader's opinion about that loose page, out of context, at that point in time. Without any background whatsoever. Without reading the entire book ever. Just like that!... Can you imagine how this edition of the book would look/sound like?
Well, that is how two merged companies handled the migration of their website into one! Just like that…
Imagine how a Content Strategist professional that has been working for 10 years on projects as big as this one, of various market segments — B2B, B2C, high tech, SASs, eCommerce — would feel working under such directions!
Well, that is the worst professional experience I had to live through.
When I heard the company would have a new Director of Digital Marketing, I was ready to work with them — but when they arrived kicking doors and speaking with an unearned authority of established process — AKA, a know-it-all — I was worried. She was not willing to learn or even hear about why things were the way they were and decided that she had the knowledge, background, and authority to change all. Except that she only had the last one. Authority to do and undo whatever she pleased.
So, she picked everyone around the globe that had any connection with the website — from the webmaster, developer, lead generation to accounts payable, and put everyone in a room for two weeks — just like a giant sweatshop — and gave the following directions:
'Here is a spreadsheet listing all the pages of both sites. During these two weeks, we will migrate them into the new site. So here is how this is going to work, you pick a page to work on and write your name on the right column. Once you are finished, you should write on the next column 'completed,' or DO NOT MIGRATE in case you decided that page should be retired.
I immediately expressed my concerns, but she was quick to shut down any criticism. She stated that was the way to get the job done, and nobody there would have the knowledge to judge all pages. That is when I realized she did not know or had ever heard of content inventory, audit, and gap analyses. I still tried to salvage things. As she was the director, I then suggested we should at least divide the pages in silos per person. In doing so, at least the pages would make sense in clusters. But she ruled that as 'unnecessary work.'
When I tried to explain the logic of the page templates, router pages, page levels structure and their role in situating the user on the flow, she looked at me like I was making that up and shut me down.
Well, if the basics of any reasonable communication in a professional setting were not of her concern, imagine all the other issues that come with that, or better saying with the lack of Content Strategy. Lack of consistency, voice & tone, user-flow...I could go on and on here, but I am sure you get the picture.
To make matters even worse: for the users, of course, there were no guidelines whatsoever… Template, what is a template? Style? Everyone was free to make the style of table or bullet that they liked best. For the page builders, could not be easier, and everyone let their inner designer spirit and personal taste out of the bag.
It was hard to keep doing your best to not mess up while being constantly told that that was unnecessary work.
Needless to say, that tab of 2-week travel expenses for over 50 people did not live up to the quality of the site at the end.
Even though a website is not a book, and the user should be able to jump in at any page, we should keep a line of thought - storytelling style to keep them engaged, smoothly flowing from page to page, and compelled to continue navigating through it. The fact that they can jump in at any page should not be a reason to quick them out after one page either.
If the pages have no connection between themselves, there is no flow, and without knowing what to do next, the user is very likely to leave. With so many awesome websites, with structured well-written content, I doubt they will spend much time on your site.
This manager suffers from what I call Chronical Content Strategy Ignorance. Ignorance is normal, nobody knows everything – including her, which is not only OK but expected. The chronic part comes from the fact that she was not willing to learn or even hear the consequences of that magical 'plan' – or what I would call 'lack of a plan.'
This person had clearly never heard of Content Strategy, nor was willing to learn about it — and yet proceeded with the migration without any control.
The final product was a quilt type of site, where the pages are 'stitched together' without context, consistency, voice & tone, user flow, but with a lot of CTAs – to count the clicks and measure her so-called success. Yes, right… The 2000s called, and they want their click baits back.
Why is that?
Unfortunately, some top-level managers are not spending time tuned to the highly changing environment that digital media lives in nowadays. As a Content Strategy professional, I dedicate 4 nights a month to attend meetings with professionals in the area, and yet I feel a little outdated every time I hear a new jargon or new terminology. Needless to say how much I learn from these meetings regarding the latest trends and practices. So, in other words, even being out there, sharing experiences it is hard to 'drink from the fountain' that is this new practice these days.
Is not only the ignorance regarding this role, and more about the resistance to change it. Some would say that this fear would be justified by the fear of being outdated, but that in my point of view (maybe too naive) should invite them to learn about new things, and not shut them down completely. That is what makes you go deeper into the analyses and psychologically see the fear of losing power/position. "If my subordinate knows more than me, I might lose my title," a bad manager would think.
A good manager, however, would surround themselves with well-talented people that they can trust to bring them all the knowledge for the team to succeed, while they are busy managing the team and meeting high management deadlines. And not being afraid of professionals that are specialized in areas that they are not.
Have you ever met or heard of anyone that walked out of the womb? Everyone had to learn how to walk, and everything else in life, so let's accept our ignorance in some matters, and be open to learning.
In case you are curious to learn how my story ends, now the director is gone, and we are working to clean up the mess. Gladly I never took the shortcut. I kept consistency, enforced guideline, and procedures, so I do not have to start from scratch. Unfortunately, that is not the same for all my colleagues.
As a conclusion, Content Strategy is not only important, it is crucial to provide meaningful storytelling experience to the users. So please be open to share your knowledge and learn from others.