[This is the last part of a six part series on projects you should do before you commit to a redesign. To learn why redesigns are expensive and often serve the agency much better than the client, read my introduction.]
The currency of modern online marketing and outreach is content. There are a lot of other words for it: conversation, social, engagement, storytelling, but it all comes down to one key thing:
You need to tell a compelling story about the work you do that communicates your excitement and passion. And you need to be able to do it on a regular basis.
To this end every nonprofit (and every brand of any kind) is currently struggling with how to tell their story. They've been doing broadcast boilerplate so long, they've had to relearn what it means to talk about themselves passionately.
Figuring out your voice, and what your users crave to hear, is a key part of your strategy that you need to figure out before you do a redesign. Why? Because if you do a redesign and then discover that your users want different content than what you thought, your new site navigation, layout, and your entire information architecture will need to be redone. After you've spent a bunch of money to do it once, do you really want to do it all over again?
Here's a simple process for experimenting with new content that you can do in order to prepare for a redesign.
Start by applying analytics to your email list
If you've been running an email list for a year, you've probably got a large set of archived emails and their data around. Pull that list and go through the process of categorizing the content in each email.
Use your email analytics product to pull reports of people who have clicked something in the last 30 days, in the 30-60 day range, and in the 90+ days category. These will be your test subjects.
Now pull the content analytics from your website
Another great source of information about what content of yours is most popular is your inbound links, something we've discussed in great detail in previous articles. Go into Google Webmaster and download the list of your pages fed by external links. Or Google Analytics and look at your landing pages that are fed by "Referral Traffic" that aren't search engines.
Pull them into Excel and categorize them in classic card sort technique by their topic. Most of what you write probably falls into just a few buckets. Is there something that you no longer produce that has a sizable number of inbound links or traffic? A-ha!
Conduct a simple, telephone interview
Now reach out to the users in each email history category through something simple and cheap, like a personal email, and ask them to talk to you about what they like in your email newsletter. If you have their phone numbers, you can call them. Ask them what they remember clicking on. Does it match what they actually clicked on? Ask them if they read an email newsletter from a similar organization and learn what they like about the others. You won't copy it, but combined with your domain expertise it should give you ideas.
I've actually been doing this with the latest ebook about measuring Facebook that Shayna and I wrote. Just randomly, I've been calling people that downloaded it, apologizing for the intrusion and asking for a few minutes for feedback. Most of them are stunned by this personal touch and complete lack of sales pressure. When they realize I really just wanted to know what they thought of it, they're more than happy to help me.
Half of them haven't read it yet, but the other half gave me particularly good feedback that Shayna and I are using for our next ebook. In fact, I have learned that about a third of the material in the ebook was not really well-targeted to the audience. Surprising? Useful? Valuable and inexpensive Research? Yes Yes and Yes.
Start brainstorming new content and testing it in email and Facebook
At this point its time to come back to your domain expertise. Learn what it is people might like, and start drafting some examples. Use them in an email and check the clickthru rate, or post them on your Facebook page and watch the Facebook.com-sourced traffic click through to it. Over time you'll find some new ideas for your content.
This process is a good one to try on a regular basis, perhaps once or twice a year, in order to avoid getting stuck in a rut doing the same thing without external input. It requires listening though, which isn't a natural skill for everyone. Making sure you've done it before a redesign is crucial, though.