Content challenges in the CABE archive

The biggest challenge in archiving the CABE website was reviewing 5,000 pages in 6 weeks. This included removing out of date information, deleting calls to action and making it read like an archive rather than a going concern.

The biggest decision turned out to be the simplest. Grammar. We decided not to rewrite the whole site in the past tense as the whole thing is framed by a banner stating that it’s a permanent archive. This freed up time to actually review content rather then just going crazy with a red pen.

This is a follow-up to my earlier post about archiving the CABE website.

Content strategy will save you

We’ve had a strong content strategy at CABE since launching our redeveloped site in early 2009. Of course, no one was thinking about archiving the site when we created this. Yet several elements turned out to be really helpful:

  1. Content inventory and URL design
    Our rolling content inventory includes data from both Drupal (supply-side) and Google Analytics (demand-side). The friendly URLs meant our inventory could be easily sorted. So we knew exactly what we were working with. Essential.
  2. Content types
    Our 10 different content types each have individual content templates. So with minimal work we knew that massive sections of the site (e.g.over a thousand design reviews) didn’t need to be touched at all. Huge win.
  3. Style guide
    Our style guide insists on “timeless” content as we don’t have the resources to revisit content often. This means that much of the remaining content didn’t need any more work to be archive-ready. Another huge win.
  4. Editorial calendar
    For all the content that needs regular updating we have an editorial calendar. Most content had been regularly updated since relaunch in 2009, so very few sections needed a major overhaul.
  5. Page owners
    Every section (e.g. housing) has a named owner. So people were ready to review content, rather than having to learn new stuff at the 11th hour.
  6. Publishing workflow
    All content is reviewed by our communications team before upload. Yes, this creates a bottleneck, but it also ensures content quality.
  7. Accessibility and web standards
    We use simple, well-structured HTML for most of our content and very little AJAX or complicated functionality. So 99% of our content worked in the archive with no technical issues (major exceptions being the videos).

The lesson? Taking a systematic approach to your content strategy will pay off in ways that you cannot imagine. No wonder it was the hot topic of 2010.

Getting management buy-in

If your managers don’t support an all-staff process then it won’t happen.

The week that I pitched my process to CABE management, I also went to the London UX Bookclub. We were reading Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin, which is about using sketches to communicate business ideas.

CABE is a design organisation and, unsurprisingly, it’s full of visual thinkers. I learned this the hard way early on by producing big reports that didn’t get read.

So I used my pitch to sketch a Gantt chart showing what needed to happen.

It was a gamble, but it worked. We had a great discussion about the key issues – was it necessary to archive at all, were the dates set in stone, who needed to do what. They asked tough questions, but we agreed an archive process that everyone was happy with.

The archive process

We agreed the archive process on 22 November 2010 and the National Archives’ final deadline was 4 January 2011. Which meant 6 weeks to:

  • Audit all the content by 26 November
  • Agree actions with 26 teams by 3 December
  • Receive all final content amends by 10 December
  • Revise homepage and top level sections by 17 December
  • Incorporate feedback from senior management by 24 December
  • Make all final content changes by the deadline of 23:59 on 3 January

Although this meant working through Christmas, it also meant no interruptions.

Tools of the trade

The content strategy made it manageable, the process made it tangible and all that was left was to make it doable. This is all about tools and workflows.

Excel is Microsoft’s killer application – even Jon Gruber says so – as it gives you programmer skills without having programmer chops. The main use here was to manage the global content inventory and easily farm sections of work out to different teams.
Basecamp helped me track of more than 150 individual actions from 26 content meetings. Every meeting was recorded in a Basecamp message and every action lived on a to-do list. This kept me sane – even though, as the only person in the project, I was effectively talking to myself!

My big guilty secret is not using the Drupal CMS to manage web content. Instead we use everyday tools like Microsoft Word, shared drives and email – after all, if it works for all other content, why break it? This also keeps content management separate from website technology and lets technophobic staff edit pages directly.

The secret is to start with well-structured HTML. Copy text from a webpage into Word, edit it in Word, paste-special it into Dreamweaver and it magically retains its original HTML structure (paragraphs, headings, lists). Normal staff work in Word while web editors convert their output to HTML in seconds.

And, of course, PureText. If you don’t use it, you should do. For everything.

I’m going to write about harnessing the brutal power of Excel, hacking together effective workflows and lamenting the state of CMS UX soon.

Ready to die

By 4 January 2011 we had reviewed every piece of content on the site, added new top level content and the CABE website was ready for archiving. Yes, there will be some errors, but it still feels like a huge achievement.

It would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and commitment of the amazing staff at CABE. I actually feel pretty emotional wrapping this up, so let’s leave it there. You know who you are.

This is a follow-up to my earlier post about archiving the CABE website.Get in touch with me on @myddelton if you have any questions or comments.