David Hobbs
Website Transformation Consultant, David Hobbs

What’s the key to making good decisions about your content?

Evaluating whether your content is effective—something we at Content Science have been thinking a lot about lately.

And when you’re considering the overall site? Your visitors’ full experience and the underlying tools and teams? David Hobbs says the key is approaching your website as a product, rather than a project.

Hobbs is the whisperer behind major web transformations at the World Bank, Library of Congress, and other enterprises. But a website is not a finalized project after launch. A product management view, Hobbs asserts, provides the foundation for managing change and achieving constant improvement for your website over time.

Hobbs recently shared with us how that perspective relates to content and evaluation as well as his insights on managing content through the big launch and for the long haul.

What’s the concept behind website product management and the handbook you’re releasing?

Big websites often turn out to be Frankenstein’s monsters, with all this stuff bolted on. And then the problem gets even worse—people start launching one-off sites because they can’t get things working. Before you know it, you have a huge mess. Website product management is an approach to your web presence that’s more comprehensive.

Websites need to be managed for quality over time, like any product, broadly and long-term. All decisions need to anchor back on the business case and why we have a site. It’s not just a single launch. Even for big launches, I always talk about phasing in changes so that it becomes everybody’s expectation that we’re always going to be making changes. And it’s not just because we are changing CMSs—we’re always going to be adding things.

Can you give me an example of product management thinking related to content?

How do you streamline day-to-day activities like content publishing? That’s something that organizations often do not concentrate on, and it’s so important. There might be a really kludgy content system that a lot of people use every day, but the organization instead concentrates on some new feature. Well, shouldn’t you first improve how you publish every day?

Also, if the website is managed more coherently, there’s more opportunity to track publishing. For instance, if you want something published every month for different sections, you could have a dashboard where the system generates messages that show the results. Tracking is more difficult if you have a more disjointed installation.

You’ve talked about looking at a lot of different information to help evaluate your content. Are there any areas you find particularly helpful?

One of the things I like to look at is the long-term engagement funnel with visitors. Are they going from first getting to know you to indicating some level of interest like signing up for a newsletter? Then, do they amplify your message and become a strong advocate for you? With this kind of lifecycle thinking, you can look at whether or not your content effectively moves people through that funnel.

Do enterprises need to change their mindset toward evaluating content?

In my upcoming book on website product management, there’s a “Should I publish this?” checklist. The mentality of knowing you’re going to be evaluated and, therefore, being more careful about what you publish is good. You get the feedback loop of, “Should I publish this? Yes, and this is why.” And then evaluating later, “You said this was the objective of the content. Did it achieve that objective or not?” This kind of feedback loop is important.

How should enterprises approach content when planning big website changes such as redesigns or a new content management system?

The biggest thing is that the organization needs clarity on what they are trying to do. That sounds obvious, but that’s not usually the way organizations approach projects. Usually it’s something like, “We need a new CMS, so therefore we have to move all the content.” It’s a garbage in-garbage out mentality. If you are making big changes, now is the time to think, “What is it we want out of this big change? What do we want it to do?” All decisions with respect to content should flow out of that thinking.

For example, if you are doing a redesign to focus on a particular audience or a new product line, think about what content you really need. It might be a good time to drop content. Or you might find you need some content that isn’t there. You are anchoring on what you are trying to accomplish. From there, decide what content you need, what content to drop, and how deeply you need to change the content that’s there. You are not just looking at the project as moving what’s already there into the new system.

Organizations often miss this opportunity by thinking of a redesign or re-platforming as purely an aesthetic or back-end change. They don’t really think through the content implications. One client of mine had gone through a redesign and re-platforming, and they implemented a lot of new topic pages. Their reasoning was that it’s technically easy to have a lot of topic pages. But after launch, a lot of the topic pages were blank, really low quality, outdated, or in bad condition. I worked with them to define some quality metrics around these topics, which allowed us to work with stakeholders to cut 85% of the topics. By having these metrics on an ongoing basis, they can decide whether different topics should offer high-quality content. If not, they can be cut.

If you’re planning changes to your website — big or small — be sure to keep David Hobbs’s points in mind:

  • Focus on your goals and objectives. All other decisions should flow from there.
  • Think through content implications, even if changes seem more design or technology focused.
  • Plan for evaluation. Refer back to your objectives, and look at a lot of different information to see if your content changes are working.

David Hobbs is also author of the Website Migration Handbook. Learn more about him at hobbsontech.com.

For more on content strategy for a redesign, check out our toolkit, Become a Jedi Master of Content Strategy for Website Redesigns.

The Author

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.

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