How Content Strategy and Development Work Together

Being relatively new to the technology industry and the Reusser Design team, it’s easy to feel like I’m swimming upstream trying to grasp the depth of what our team members do. I had a basic understanding of web development but as soon as technical terms enter a conversation, I promptly exit. Aside from that, I had never thought about what goes into building a great website. There is so much involved from content strategy to designs to development—not to mention how they all intertwine and have to work together to produce a great result.

I sat down with Aly, one of our content strategists, and Jason, one of our web developers to gain insight on how content strategy applies to the overall development process. Since joining the team, I had never really gotten to sit down and see how they work together. This interview of sorts was very helpful and might lend some understanding into our process at Reusser Design.

I know content strategy and development are two separate pieces in building a website. Which comes first? Does it matter?

Aly: “Content strategy comes first—and it absolutely matters. Ben actually had a really good way of putting it when I talked to him for Back to Basics: What is Content Strategy? by placing the process in a house metaphor. Development is the house-building, right? So consider the content strategy as the blueprint. You could just start building a house without a plan, but it’s not at all advisable and it leads to all kinds of backtracking, unnecessary costs, and a lot of frustration. Blueprint before construction. Content strategy before development. Boom.”

Jason, Aly seems to think her job comes first. Is that true? Can’t you just start the development right away?

Jason: “Don’t tell her I said this, but Aly is absolutely right. While development on a website can begin at any time, it wouldn’t be very prudent to get into the heavy lifting before the content strategy is in place. Not only is the content strategy generally considered the first step in creating a website, but it is arguably the most important step. Get the project started correctly from the beginning and the other pieces stand a better chance at falling into place.

I was going to mention the house metaphor (it’s a great one), but Aly beat me to it and it’d be weird for me to say the same thing again so…what Aly said.”

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It sounds like your job is pretty important, Aly. What are the content strategy pieces required before the developer can start?

Aly: “We start with a sitemap, which is fairly basic—we use that to communicate the navigation, global elements (site-wide features), and additional elements of the site to the client. The most important piece I hand off for development, however, is the content model. While our sitemaps are client-focused, I write the content models with both design and development in mind, but Jason and our other developers use it the most after I pass it off. I have to figure out how things are laid out on the site, how subpages are organized, and how the content intertwines. That enables the developer on the project to go in with a plan instead of flying blind.”

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Okay, so content strategy is done by the time development starts. How is that information given to you?

Jason: “In our office, we have what’s called a content model meeting. Once the content model has been completed, we gather everyone who will be working on the project—designers, developers, content strategists, and project managers—and we review the content model. During these meetings, the Content Strategist goes over the proposed site hierarchy, sitemap, and CMS structure to make sure everyone is on the same page. These tend to be working meetings with changes made on the fly. It helps to have everyone in the same room providing input.”

It sounds like content strategy and the development phase are completely separate save the handoff. Is there any collaboration with the developer while you are creating the content strategy?

Aly: “If I have questions about how pieces of content can relate or how certain things should be built out, I have zero qualms about asking the project developer for advice. I’d always much rather ask than guess and inadvertently over complicate something on the back-end.”

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Okay, so it turns out there may be some collaboration during the content strategy phase, but what about once development begins? I assume that with the blueprint in place, collaboration is no longer required.

Jason: “Not true. Even with a proper content strategy in place, there are an infinite number of variables that can change during the course of a project. Content strategy sets the baseline for the project, but there is a continual line of communication open between the content strategist, developer and designer during the course of a project. No matter how good the plan is, sometimes it takes getting into the trenches to realize something should be done differently.”

Wow, so both phases really do rely on each other. If that’s the case, why not just do them both at the same time?

Aly: “It’s fine to think about both parts of the process at once—however, I’m no development whiz and I know it takes a lot of time and work to develop a site. That being said, it always makes more sense for our own sanity and the project as a whole for us to plan everything out before doing any work to the actual site. Backtracking is frustrating and unnecessary, so we always do everything we can to avoid it.”

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Anything else you would like to add, Aly?

Aly: “Communication is key. Better ideas always come from putting our heads together and it also helps alleviate any confusion or potential mistakes later on in the project. It’s also just kind of fun to problem-solve and find great solutions for our clients.”

Jason, same question.

Jason: “As much as it pains me to do so, I have to agree with Aly once again. Nearly every breakdown we have in a project can be tracked back to poor communication. It’s important not to overdo it, but building a website is a team effort and works the best when the whole team is in sync.”

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There you have it. Content strategy is an essential part of our process at Reusser Design and crucial to the development phase of any project we work on. Aly and Jason both do an excellent job and their collaboration helps projects run smoothly from beginning to end. In the next few weeks, I’ll be sitting down with other developers and designers to ask similar questions in order to gain a more holistic knowledge of the work our team does. Stay tuned!