Designing perfect page tables for your website content strategy

By Posted in - Content Strategy & Strategy and Planning & Websites on February 12th, 2015 0 Comments

I’m currently working on the content strategy for the new Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s website, a project we’re working on along with our partners NewCity in the USA. Like every website content strategy project I work on, I find myself yet again reinventing my approach to creating page tables.

Given that our focus on the Pickle Jar blog this month is content strategy, I thought I would share my thoughts on developing the perfect page tables for your website content strategy, and share a few approaches that I’ve taken over the years. It may help you to think through yours.

Whoa there – back up a second. What is a page table?

Page tables are a way for you to apply your content strategy and plan to every page on your website. You can use them for social media and articles too, but let’s just focus on website content strategies for this post.

Your page table will guide:

  • The content that you produce for the page;
  • The messages that you must convey;
  • The role this page needs to play and how it supports your SEO strategy;
  • The actions that you want the visitor to take.

They are particularly useful when our clients intend to create the content themselves for their website, but want this to be informed by a content strategy and plan prepared by us. The page tables become the web content equivalent of “painting by numbers” or following a recipe for a new meal you want to prepare.

It’s also good practice to develop page tables when you’re developing the strategy, plan and content all by yourself. Your page tables will shape your thinking and help you to question whether you even really need the page at all (amongst other things). The process also helps you to create an inventory of all the content that you’re going to need to source and create for a new or redeveloped website.

For more on what page tables are and how to use them, we recommend that you read Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web (2009).

We’ve also provided a couple of sample downloadable templates for you at the end of this post.

What should I put in a page table?

You’re going to need to pick and choose the things that matter most to you and your website when designing your page table. These are some fairly common ones that you may choose. You won’t need them all, just choose the ones that are best for your project:

Field Why have this in your page table?
Page purpose What this page needs to achieve for your organisation and for your audience
Target audience The audience that this page is being written for
Likely tasks The key things that your audience are likely to want to find or be able to do on this page
Call to action What you want the audience to do as a consequence of visiting this page
Source content Existing content elsewhere that you can use or repurpose for this page
Page template The particular type of page template that this page will use (i.e. a staff profile, a section landing page, a contact us page, etc)
Page Title Normally what the visitor would see at the top of the body of the web page
Browser Title What a web browser calls your page (NB sometimes this is called the “page title”, can get confusing!)
Page description What search engines will display as the description for your web page in search results, typically needs to be around 155 characters
URL suffix Useful for recommending friendly URL structures for each page if your CMS allows this (it should!)
SEO key words or key phrases The keywords or key phrases that you want this page to be found for by search engines
Care or core words Words that you feel really should be used on this page in order to achieve what you need it to achieve (emotive words, technical terminology, etc)
Key messages What are the main 2-3 messages (maximum) that this page needs to communicate
Core content notes Guidance on what the core page content should be, and how it should be structured (this could be broken into separate boxes that correspond to website page templates if necessary i.e. header sections, introductory paragraphs, side bars, etc)
Multimedia notes Guidance on what additional content the page needs including images
Related links Other pages that this one should link to
Downloads Any downloadable content that needs to feature on this page such as forms or documents
Dependencies Other information, pages or content that you need to have in place before this page can be created/launched
Technical requirements Does this page need a particular piece of development work on it to modify a template or adjust the site code in some way?
Author Who will create the content for this page?
Topic Expert Who is the lead expert on the topic of this page (and therefore someone to consult with the content)?
Editor Who will be responsible for maintaining this page?
Review/archive timescale The timescale or frequency with which this page needs to be reviewed and revised, or archived
Additional notes Just in case the fields that you chose don’t quite capture everything – there’s always something!

 

What’s the best way to construct my page table?

There are a few ways to do this, and I’ve played with a number of different approaches before. Some work well, some not so well but typically that depends on the size of site, who is creating the content and their skill levels, and where in the project timeline we’re doing this work, so they all have their merits.

  1. In a document

Word, Pages, Google Docs … there are plenty of options here to use your favourite word processor to create your page tables. The samples that I have provided at the end of this post are in this format. This is one of my preferred approaches for smaller sites and for providing a manual-style approach that content creators can print and have next to them as they work (sorry for the environmental impact, you don’t have to print it).

Pros Cons
  • Very easy to create and manipulate
  • You can restrict yourself from overdoing it by keeping each page template to just one document page
  • Good compatibility and therefore easy to share with others
  • Document can be difficult to navigate
  • Becomes a huge document
  • Page breaks can get in the way when longer content or more fields are required
  • Version control difficult for multiple users (though Google docs alleviates this issue)

 

  1. On a spreadsheet

Spreadsheet software can help to keep everything tidy, in one place and can follow a structure that really shows the site information architecture too.

Pros Cons
  • Easy “at a glance” reading and able to see overall information architecture
  • Forces you to be concise with the information you provide
  • Good compatibility and therefore easy to share with others
  • Horizontal scrolling nightmare for spreadsheets with lots of fields to complete
  • Not good for more lengthy content
  • Easy to get lost on a spreadsheet and lose your place

 

  1. In a purpose content gathering system, like GatherContent

We use GatherContent for a lot of our client projects, and absolutely love it as a way of pulling content together and involving multiple partners.

GatherContent also has an excellent customisable workflow system and the ability to assign content to others to work on or review. But you could also use it to create your page tables too. (I like this one, can you tell?)

Pros Cons
  • Very easy to structure different fields
  • Content can be easily created and added to the pages too after page templates are created
  • Real-time updates
  • Ability to assign content to others and manage workflows
  • Users need to have an account, log-in and learn how to use the system
  • Not always easy to track what has been done and email updates (though you can control them) can become annoying

 

  1. In your content management system (CMS)

This one is a little tricky and won’t work in every CMS. But perhaps you could have the CMS set up so that page tables exist to provide information for page content. Perhaps you could also use the CMS fields to type notes and save-as-draft, then when real content is written it replaces the notes.

Pros Cons
  • Page table fields can directly match CMS fields
  • Page table structure exactly follows correct site architecture
  • Easy to then overwrite actual content in the correct place
  • Difficult to jump between pages while working on them
  • Page table content will be lost when over-written with actual content (so no easy trace of original guidance)
  • Requires CMS to already be in place

 

This is probably my least favourite option of the four, and – I confess – not one that I’ve really tried myself because on many of my projects the CMS is almost never set up at the time that we’re working on the content strategy, so it’s not feasible. But for a content revamp project, it may have some merits. I’m just not convinced.

Do I really need to do this for EVERY page on my website?

How big is your website? This is probably the single most important factor that’s going to determine the answer to this. In an ideal world, you would do this for every page. But let’s say we’re looking at a university website with thousands upon thousands of pages, it’s just not going to be feasible. So the answer is “in an ideal world yes, but in a realistic world that ain’t going to happen”. So, you just need to decide what’s going to be right for you and your project.

Another option is to have different types of page tables for different types of pages. For your top level pages or high priority sections, you may develop a very detailed page table to work through, but for some of your less important pages you may have a simple spreadsheet with more simple notes.

To give you an idea, for the schools in the Nord Anglia Education group for whom we developed website content strategies, we had full page tables for every single page of each of the school websites. To put this in perspective, we as a team completed almost 3,000 page tables through the whole project.

For another project for a university ICT department, we opted instead for a combination of Google spreadsheet and GatherContent with light-touch notes as it just wasn’t possible with the resource allocated to create one for every single page. In that case, extensive training was provided to make sure that content creators could create great web content without needing detailed guidance from us on every page. My preference, though, is to provide both!

Can you give me a free page table then?

There are quite a few out there freely available to download from other sites, but I’d say that it’s always best to create your own or have one created specifically for your project, as your needs will vary guided by a number of factors.

I’m attaching a couple of samples below, but they should be seen as “for information only”, though you can adapt them as you wish.

Page table 1
Page table 2

If you would like a bespoke approach for you and help with your content strategy, then do get in touch. We live and breathe this and love to help.

 

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