Let’s face it. As good as your website is, your underlying organization will evolve. And as it does, your solid website will fade in relevance, with architecture that’s sub-optimal, and individual sections and pages that have grown inaccurate, misaligned, unwieldy, or otherwise undesirable.
It doesn’t matter what kind of organization you lead communications or brand marketing for: corporate enterprise, global brand, mature startup, government agency, or non-profit. One day, seemingly overnight, your website — or the digital ecosystem it’s part of — will no longer line up with who you are and where you’re going.
In my 20 years as a content strategist, this issue is both universal and inevitable. Thriving entities must keep their websites and digital ecosystems optimized and up-to-date. In doing so, they will add pages, sections, and other features. This is great. But if you’re not updating your site architecture as you go, it’s easy for things to get bloated — and for your users to get frustrating and confusing mixed signals.
At that point, these websites are ripe for the kind of work done by people like me.
Sometimes, redesigns or small tweaks can mask underlying dysfunction. But for substantive, structural change, what you really need is a strong gap analysis.
What’s a gap analysis—and why might you need one?
A gap analysis is exactly what it sounds like: a methodical and objective audit and documentation of gaps in content across channels, including websites, mobile and web-based apps, social media, video channels, podcasts, webcasts, and more.
A gap analysis is the logical first step for converting your digital properties back into an engine of productivity and relevancy, rather than a never-ending fixer upper. I’ve performed them for Fortune 500 companies; global brands; and significant local, state, and federal entities.
Here’s how they work.
Step 1: Define Your Business Goals
Whether your content lives on one or multiple sites, you need to make sure that the pages and content elements most important to your business goals aren’t buried. And, in order to do this, you need to sharply define what those goals are.
If you’re an enterprise company working from one website, it’s not uncommon for that site to have grown overstuffed and labyrinthine, with lots of legacy content. You’ve probably been adding new content to the old framework, but are headed towards — or have already met — a tipping point. If this is the case, ask your team: what’s good, what’s bad, what’s usable, and what isn’t? From there, you can determine what a new site map should look like, and the optimal approach to content strategy and creation.
If you’re an organization with multiple sites (which may have multiple owners), you’re likely to run into some issues of your own — no matter how regularly updated they are. Get organized. As you audit, look for differences and similarities. Are sites following a style guide and using the same nomenclature? Do they represent a cohesive brand? When I was hired by one of the largest professional services firms in the world to work on macro-sites owned by different sub-brands, we focused deeply on nomenclature, architecture, linking, and branding.
Masking solutions don’t work. Before (and during) your gap analysis, think about your business goals and how they can be supported by your website. And remember that business goals must always prioritize and accommodate customer “site user” needs to deliver optimal results.
Step 2: Have a Content Strategist Run a Full Gap Analysis
Here’s where a content strategist comes in. Once again, this part of the process may require different strategies, depending on whether you operate from one site or many.
If I’m analyzing one website, I’ll comb through it methodically: page by page, looking at structure, functionality, navigation, and details about the content quality. Where are things buried? Which links are dead? Are there any errors or outdated content? These are the things content strategists are trained to look for — and equipped to find. Then I document anything important and observable.
At MarketSmiths, we follow a heuristic user experience (UX) approach, which merges qualitative and quantitative analysis. For instance, if I’m looking at a video, I may notice how long it is (quantitative), as well as the fact that it’s difficult to hear or outdated (qualitative). Adding analysis to the initial audit opens the door to a better content strategy solution — and a better chance of satisfying the business goals and end-user needs identified in step 1.
When I run a gap analysis for clients, I usually deliver my findings in a spreadsheet with a 1-2 page executive summary in a presentation.
High-level gap analyses typically take two to three weeks. If an online ecosystem is especially complex, it can be a yearlong process — with actionable steps along the way for incremental progress. Because large websites often have multiple stakeholders, the process also requires buy-in, discussion, and agreement. When I finish a gap analysis, I share and review a spreadsheet with my findings to the client — complete with a written summary and recommendations for moving forward.
Step 3: Recommendations and Planning
The findings of a gap analysis are crucial — but they can’t be fixed without strong recommendations and planning. As a content strategist, I’ve made recommendations for websites across industries, of different sizes, with unique objectives. But no matter what, I always provide guidance on what the client should prioritize.
What should be addressed first? What’s the most efficient way to organize content? Which errors need to be fixed immediately? When making recommendations, what’s most important is to draw back on our client’s business goals, letting them guide the vision for the website as a whole.
Step 4: Implement Changes
When it comes to changes, there are two options: a reskin and a redesign.
A reskin refreshes the look and feel of a site, but it’s not a full-blown redesign. It can make it look crisp and updated, with revised copy and multi-media and more accessible links, but the general infrastructure of the site remains intact. The pros are that it’s quick, easy, and can be up and running soon. It also may be less jarring to users, especially if you have a regular flow of people visiting and interacting with your site. The downside to a reskin is that it can only do so much — and if your site needs a full revamp, may not do the whole job.
A redesign, on the other hand, is a larger effort that lets you meet multiple objectives at once. In a redesign, you start from scratch: reframing your copy, media, look, navigation, and, in most cases, your content. An upside to this approach is that it allows you to fix multiple aspects of your site at once, and really lets you mold it into your exact vision. A downside is that it can take longer and require more resources.
Are you interested in exploring a possible gap analysis for your organization—and taking that crucial first step toward optimizing your digital properties? Reach out to MarketSmiths. We’d love to be of service.