21 January, 2010

How to Plan a Content Heavy Site

A major project can be intimidating. The first time you take one on, it may even be terrifying. But with a little planning, you will succeed with flying colors.

In this article, we’re going to walk through a few of those steps to successful project management.

Create a Project Workflow

This is a critical first step.A project needs clear planning from the start. Without a clearly defined workflow, your project will quickly become a muddled mess. Even using a management tool like Basecamp requires first creating a workflow definition. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who will be responsible for the site content?
  2. Where is it being saved?
  3. What format?
  4. How should it be named?
  5. How are you going to track versions?
  6. What members of your team are responsible for what tasks?

These are a crucial considerations in the beginning of any project, and if you skip them now it will be very difficult to work with large amounts of data later.

Organize Files Logically

Once you have decided on a workflow, it’s time to get your assets in order. Make sure that there is a clear direction of where your files should be going, and what they are named. This is an important and logical second step in order to keep files organized in future stages.

A Sample Folder Structure

Setting up your folders is always a daunting task (there is always someone who does it better) but you can always learn something from trouble you run into. I have come up with a file structure that seems to work for almost all projects that I work on:

The “Client Files” folder is just what you would expect. It contains all files that the client has submitted to us for use in the project. Typically clients provide content, product images, and logos. I sub-divide the “Images” and “Logos” folders because we edit the files after we receive them, but we do not typically edit the text.

Other Considerations

If you are saving files to something such as Basecamp, documents should be a Word document, placed into a specific category (e.g. “Site Content”) for filing, and named after the page it belongs on.

If you’re using an FTP server, naming the files is a little more crucial. Something similar to Site > Text > HomePage_3October.doc contains a date so that you can make sure that you are using a current version. This allows the content creator to go back to specify a version easily.

Additionally, if you are building an e-commerce site, requesting data from a client in a spreadsheet might just come in handy. The columns you end up with will be unique to your project, but they will at the very least be: Product ID, Product Name, Description, Price, Options, Dimensions, Image File Name. Having this reference will be invaluable as you are spending that day inputting the data into your site.

Create a Site Map

How are pages going to relate to each other? If this is a really large site, how are the categories going to relate to each other and then pages within a category going to relate (relationships only need to be defined in one category if all categories are going to contain similar relationships).

There needs to be a site overview listing all categories and subcategories. You can go back into your main folders and create sub-folders for your categories at this point. By having a graphical or outlined site plan, you and the client will have a better understanding of how the site is going to progress.

Define Page Content

Now that you know exactly what the pages are and how they relate, you can begin to define the page types.

It’s easy to undervalue this step, but it is important not to. It lets you refine the site plan and formulate an effective ask for data and content.

Some of the main points things you should to consider at this point:

  1. What types of pages are you going to have?
  2. What kind of forms are needed, and where does the information go?
  3. Is there a database in play?

From these three generalized points, you can build a whole checklist of further items to review (e.g. Setting up form email accounts, legal pages, etc.)

Inventory Existing Content

What data do you have available or finished? Once you’ve completed the previous sections, it’s a good idea to inventory existing content. Verify that you have the pictures of products or people that you requested, that all of the descriptions exist and that they follow proper format.

Something missing? Go back and check your sitemap and project folders. Making sure you have all the data that you need tucked away neatly into proper folders will prevent headaches and holdups when trying to finish up the project.

Make a Timetable

Make a calendar. Put deadlines on it. This will help you focus and keep the project on track. Managing a large project can be a bit like training a cat — seemingly impossible for an untrained person, but with careful planning and persistence, it will be successful.