One of the questions our content team frequently has to pose when working on projects is “who will own the content?”. A common blocker in digital projects is allocating responsibility for final sign off, both during the project and in the long term when the site is live.
People often get focused on the look, feel, and functionality of their new website, app or other digital asset. Planning for the creation, management and future of the content can end up being put on the back burner.
That’s where we come in. Here I’ll outline what the responsibilities of a content owner tend to be, so you can put solid workflows in place and avoid content mishaps down the line.
What is a content owner?
A content owner is the person or group of people who have the final say on a piece of content. Subject matter experts (SMEs) are required to create or double-check the accuracy of copy. However, this is not necessarily the same person as who signs it off. The content owner should have responsibility for the lifetime of the content, including any audits, updates or decisions to archive.
The general concept is that a wider team of people can create for their subject areas; a limited number of people should be able to approve for making it onto the website. Having many content owners means there can be a jarring difference in tone of voice across pages, variable quality and duplicate content.
Considerations for a content owner
The person or people with the final say should have criteria that content has to meet in order to appear on the site. This should include the following.
Every organisation with an online presence involving words should have a content strategy. The content owner will need to check whether new content fits with the overall strategy that has been established.
Every page from landing pages down to blog posts or news articles should make its case for being on the site. It should be necessary for the end user, and fit with the site. If it isn’t needed or doesn’t make you proud, don’t publish it.
Tone of voice
Every piece of writing on a page contributes to the tone of voice, from the main body to the call to action on a button. Your website is how you can make a first impression or converse with your users.
The Neilsen-Norman Group identifies four dimensions of tone of voice e.g. funny vs. serious, formal vs. casual, respectful vs. irreverent, enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact. These represent a good starting place for determining how your organisation wishes to converse through the website.
You should be aiming for a consistent tone of voice across your site. While you might be targeting different people in different sections of your site, there should be a level of consistency in language, tone and structure of pages. Think of it as the same person addressing different groups – if you write for your organisation, you are the voice of the organisation. No matter what page they user is on, they should be getting one voice.
There’s often a requirement for different sections to have a range of SMEs. After all, it’s important that information is coming from those who can ensure accuracy. This is understandable but the less people who have final sign off the better. The content owner can adapt the copy for style, tone and consistency. Without this, your users may have a more jarring experience and feel less confident in the authority of the site.
Style and content guidelines
It is always worth having a Style Guide that establishes certain rules for those writing for your website. This can range from basic punctuation and spelling to how industry specific language is used. You might have your in-house editors look at this or if you have hired an agency like Webfactory, they will often create one with you.
It can also tie in with more website specific content guidelines. These might be around how you handle introductory paragraphs, the treatment of imagery, the use of headings and so on. These should ideally be established by people who know the rules around brand, messaging and tone of voice for your organisation. The content owners will need to be familiar with these guidelines in order to give final sign off.
Limited number of content owners
Final decision by committee is not conducive to consistency. Input from a wider audience might help you to get more information. But as I mentioned, your website should feel like one person with one set of views. This is difficult to establish if you actually have 20 people deciding on content behind the scenes. That's why you need content champions and experts who are familiar and comfortable with your tone of voice, content strategy and style guide to help guide the way.
Selecting your content owners can feel challenging or get deprioritised in the middle of the rush to get the project moving. What we know is that you’ll thank yourself later when that go-live date catches up with you, and you know exactly who is responsible for every section of the site.
Need help with your content?
Webfactory can help you with all aspects of your content. Maybe you need to write something from scratch, identify content owners, establish style guidelines or set up a workflow. We can offer any of these, or work with your specific content requirements as part of your digital project.