This excerpt is being reprinted with permission from Gather Content. For more information, see

Delivering website content on time and in budget is a challenge. The success of this often hangs on well defined and communicated processes and the right people being involved. That said, even with a dedicated content delivery team, getting content done is no mean feat. With many people come many opinions, objectives and priorities. That takes a lot of management and effective collaboration is necessary to get the content required.

In GatherContent’s new book, Content Delivery: Deliver high quality website content on time and in budget, we offer advice to help teams put content first and arm them with techniques and know-how to deliver content on time. From upfront planning, to getting a team and process in place and implementing your plan, this book shares advice for every step of the way. The following excerpt focuses on the collaboration side of delivering content and shares advice on working with subject matter experts.


The quality of your working relationship with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) will make or break your content delivery (and the overall website).

No two SMEs are the same of course. Some will care passionately about their website content and others may have no interest. Some will have web writing skills (they want to use) and others will be hopeless communicators.

So there is no one size-fits-all approach to working with them to produce content. The options fall on a range and will take a combination throughout your project:

Approach 1: No consultation with the SME – Just go ahead and write it.

Benefits: Appropriate for content you are confident you can produce without input, e.g. copying over existing website content that is known to be accurate and not contentious.

Downsides and risks: Higher risk of pushback during the review stages as the SME has had no input or ownership early on.

Approach 2: Light interaction with the SME – ask them to populate a questionnaire or content template.

Benefits: Can push lots of items of content through the workflow simultaneously which potentially saves time if dealing with lots of SMEs. Works best with well structured content that is not highly editorial, e.g. staff profiles or shop store profiles.

Downsides and risks: SMEs can feel frustrated that they don’t have any input into the design of the content. Does not develop a strong working relationship and can lead to resistance in the review stages.

Approach 3: Personal interaction with SME – interview and mapping of content.

Benefits: Builds strong working relationships with SMEs and gives them early ownership in the content. The Writer can understand and learn from the SME and confidently craft content with less risk of tension and delays during the review stages.

Downsides and risks: Time consuming to dedicate one-to-one time per content item. May require the Writer to travel (to the SME).

Approach 4: “Pair writing” with the SME.

Benefits: Highly collaborative approach that builds a genuine working relationship which mitigates review stage holdups.

Downsides and risks: Most time consuming option. Some Content Writers uncomfortable with such a highly-collaborative method.

Which approach should you take?

Ask these questions when deciding which approach to adopt for each item of content:

How familiar is the Writer with the content?
If they have been working on the topic area for a while then they probably won’t need as much input from SMEs.

How complex is the content?
It does not matter how good you are at writing if you don’t understand what you are trying to communicate – you need early SME input.

What is the existing relationship with the SME?
Have you worked with them before? Are they someone you already work well with or perhaps you have a rocky history with them?

How does the Content Writer prefer to work with SMEs?
Trust professionals to work in the way that works best for them to get the job done.

Of course, like most things on a project it comes down to time and budget.

Tips: Working with Subject Matter Experts

Develop and iterate a plan for onboarding SMEs
Use a standard email template to approach SMEs, and follow it up with a call

Take the time to educate SMEs about the project
If they understand the goals, research, and user needs they will know what you are trying to achieve

Maintain contact and set expectations at all stages
Your website project is not their top priority so tell them when they are required, for how long, and what you want them to do

Start with SMEs who are up for it
If possible learn and iterate your process with the SMEs that are positive about the project

Be clear about who actually owns the content
The SME you work with may not have the final say or ownership of the content item so find out who does.

The Author

Liam is Founder of Lagom Strategy, a UK consultancy specializing in user research digital strategy, and sustainable content strategy. With over a decade of content delivery and strategy experience in the UK and Australia, Liam has built up a wealth of practical knowledge on how to put content back at the heart of web projects.

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