To circle back to our original example, this would be the part of the remodel process where a builder would advise on a plan to best layout the updated room. Much the same, once you’ve established that you need a total content makeover, content specialists will guide you on the best approach to think process. Their “tool” of choice? A content matrix, which works to keep track of every element of the content migration process. Aside from knowing what the new content will be, there are a myriad of other details that need to stay organized from start to finish. The matrix will ensure that happens.
Part 2 Outline
- Content Matrix Best Practices
- Creating Your Content Matrix
- Quality Assurance
- It Works if You Work It
Content Matrix Best Practices
There are a few things to keep in mind once you’ve decided to create a content matrix to track your content migration. Adhering to these tips will set you up for success while utilizing this tool.
Aim to be a single source of truth
Your content matrix should be the one tracker to rule them all; do not create dozens of disparate tracking tools for content writing, migration, UAT, or any other stages your content may go through during the project. A good matrix will house all your new site pages and the status of each page (draft, migrated to stage, published on production, etc.) as it moves from draft to complete web page.
Standardize statuses as much as possible
By configuring the possible status options available in the content matrix, you maintain compliance with a single set of statuses, remove risk of user error, and allow filtering on a limited set of statuses that make it easier to see workload. Excel, Google Sheets, Smartsheet, and other tools allow administrators to configure dropdown menus in status columns. Avoid letting multiple users type freeform statuses as these tend to get out of sync quickly and may not make sense to other users who are viewing or editing the content matrix.
Invest time upfront to train team members
Budget for a full tutorial of the columns, statuses, and processes around the content matrix with everyone who will be managing updates. Taking the time to onboard all users of the content matrix will help each user find value in updating and tracking content statuses in the matrix. Be sure not to skip over training or simply add an “Instructions” tab and hope everyone reads it. Do an in-person walkthrough or a screenshare to review all the various stages of content and available statuses and demonstrate how filtering on users and statuses can be a useful tracking tool for individuals.
Creating Your Content Matrix
First things first: generate a content inventory or create a list of required pages based on a new Information Architecture (IA). The required content items make up the rows of the spreadsheet. Each row will have several columns per phase that the content will go through depending on whether your migration is a “lift–and–shift” (content is not changing, just moving) or new content must be consolidated from several sources or drafted from scratch. Every content matrix should have at least basic page information, a content writing section, and a content migration section.
Basic Page Information
The basic page information should include the following:
A Matrix-specific page ID, or a unique identifier for each page within the content matrix.
This should be a reference ID for any team communications. Ideally only one person will be generating new page IDs or retiring cancelled page IDs as IA updates occur during the migration project. This will prevent confusion on the numbering, reducing risk of errors being introduced by multiple people creating or deleting pages.
Information Architecture (IA) location ID, which includes a reference ID to the old and new IAs.
If the content matrix is a page-by-page content inventory, it is important to track where each one belongs in the Information Architecture. By assigning an ID to each of the IA pages (two columns if you have both former and new IA) you keep the old and new locations very clear. Tracking the content item’s location in relation to the IA is particularly useful when pages are merged or consolidated in the new IA and the old pages are being used as source material.
Use case example: the IA is more general than the content requirements. The IA only specifies a “Meet Our Team” section. However, the plan is to create individual bio pages for ten team members. This means that those ten bio pages need to be written and tracked within the content matrix. In this case, a good IA Location ID might be 1.1, 1.2, and so on to 1.10. The specificity in the content matrix will allow you to track who is responsible for drafting, reviewing, migrating, and testing each of the ten bio pages.
The page title of each of the pages in the new site.
This should always reflect the new page title in the new build (if it’s changing).
Template and design that shows which layout will be used for a particular content item.
While optional and possibly too much information for smaller migration projects, it can be useful for content writers to know what layout is planned for a particular page. It’s helpful to note this in the content matrix as part of the general information and possibly link to wireframes or designs. This should be considered in any writing instructions, especially if the new system will have limitations on layouts (i.e., a 256-character limit for headings).
If new pages or consolidating pages require content writing or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to content audit, then the next section of the content matrix should track two things: who is responsible for page content and real-time status. Depending on the size of the teams involved, this can either be managed by one person (a content manager/web administrator/project manager) or each person can self-track. If SMEs are tracking their own statuses, a live spreadsheet (I.e., Google Doc) makes the most sense. Best practice involves “locking” the page–specific information from editing, only exception being SME access to update their statuses and add notes.
The following fields should all be part of this section of the matrix. These will cover all your bases:
“Writer/Content SME” which is the person(s) name responsible for drafting, editing, reviewing, approving, or consolidating content.
This can be a freeform field if it’s not clear who will be responsible for certain content right away, but ideally this will be a dropdown list for consistency and ease of use. Managing dropdown menus within the spreadsheet requires overhead though, so it’s best to balance priorities of clean data with speed and efficiency. As the title suggests, the dropdown menu should consist of specific person(s), not a group or department.
“Editorial Status” or the phase of writing the content is currently in.
This is an ideal field to standardize if possible since sorting, filtering, and displaying progress on dashboards can be based on this status. The number and type of statuses will vary by how complex your editorial workflow is. However, recommended statuses are “Draft in Progress” and “Ready for Migration” to denote when a page is being worked on and when a page’s content is ready to migrate.
“Editorial Status Notes” a freeform text field to handle any cases that require additional explanation.
One-off scenarios that don’t conform to any status will arise, but rather than creating new statuses for every special circumstance, a status notes field provides the opportunity to add context. For instance, a specific piece of content may in “Ready for Review” but needs one more person’s input before it is approved. Rather than creating a new status for “Needs additional approval” adding a note can help surface this content within the main filter (“Ready for Review”) with appropriate added context that makes the status clear.
Lastly, if your project is collaborating on new or consolidated content in an external location (I.e. GatherContent, Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint, etc.), there should be a reference link to that piece of content’s draft location. This is helpful when other people are responsible for reviewing content and are directed to the content matrix for their assignments.
When content is ready to migrate, this section of the content matrix is where you’ll track the status of each piece of content as it is migrated or built within the new website. This handoff between an editorial team and a technical team can be fast paced and very detailed.
These are the recommended migration/page building fields in the content matrix.
“Owner/Assigned To” like the content editing phase, use this column to identify the person responsible for building or migrating the content into the new site. This can be prescribed by a project manager role or noted as each page builder “picks up” the next page to work on. This may become even more useful during a final review when questions may arise around how content was added or how content was edited. If page builders are forced to make technical decisions during the migration process based on the tools or options available, content SMEs may have feedback later around text formatting, hyperlink targets, media choices, or page layouts.
“Migration Status” because again, standardizing the statuses in this section is highly recommended. Filtering and sorting the content on this field will be the most effective way for team members to view their To-Do lists.
“Migration Status Notes” as a free-form text field. For the same context sometimes needed during the migration process. In this case, it’s a space for people to add context that prevents new erroneous statuses from being added for every outlier.
Lastly, be sure to link your staging site URL. If your new website is being staged first in a staging or development environment, be sure to reference the content item’s location as soon as it’s populated. This is especially important to guide anyone responsible for reviewing the page prior to a go live.
Depending on the size and complexity of the website, a more formalized, final review may be needed. This is a User Acceptance Test (UAT) process. During a UAT process, stakeholders will review content within the new website as a “final look” prior to going live. This may involve formal tests, formal approval forms, departmental workflows, etc. depending on how extensive the review and sign-off process is.
Regardless of how big or small your UAT might be, the content matrix can meet your tracking needs with just a few fields:
Again, tracking who is responsible can make sharing portions of the content matrix with stakeholders very easy and following up much faster.
Standardizing this to the least number of statuses necessary is highly recommended. At minimum “Not Started”, “In Progress” and “UAT Complete” are recommended.
UAT Status Notes
Allowing UAT reviewers to add context to specific statuses will help prevent additional statuses from becoming necessary and adding unnecessary complexity.
“CONFIRMATION” or “APPROVAL” field
This can vary by requirements for UAT, but typically a person’s full name who approved the page along with a date/timestamp when it was confirmed or approved is good to note within the content matrix. This may be more formalized outside of the Content Matrix, in which case automating a date/timestamp, requiring e-signatures, or linking to an external approval location may make more sense.
UAT Notes (general)
Often during UAT, someone will conditionally approve a page. For instance, someone may approve the content to go-live but note that immediately after the site is live, a certain page will require updated links. This isn’t necessarily a blocker to the content approval process but will be a good thing to highlight as part of a post-launch punch-list. This type of “general” notes section within the Matrix can become a robust source of internal user feedback and/or potential future enhancements to the site.
Link to new production site location
Adding a reference to a pre-production location or production URLs after the new site is live can help a content matrix make the transition from a useful project tracker to a more evergreen content tracker outside of the CMS or new system. Large organizations may find a content inventory with associated stakeholders a useful tool to maintain longer than just during a migration project.
It Works if You Work It
As you can see, a content matrix is the type of tool that you will get out of what you and your team decide to put into it. And this is only the baseline of building a useful one. In part 3, we will discuss how you can customize the matrix and tailor it to your own project requirements.
Katy Franzen is a Principal Consultant at Clarity Partners. Much of her project work focuses on project management, content strategy, quality assurance, and user acceptance testing. In this Part 2 of this three-part series, Katy shares best practices for creating a content migration tracking tool (matrix-style) after deciding a total content makeover is the right approach for you. She also covers quality assurance.