One thing that can strike fear into the comms professional: being asked to create a new corporate website!
I know as a words, not a techy person – when I was faced with this task of leading a corporate website refresh, I was intimidated by how I’d get so much right: the design, the structure, the content, and all the web-type things I didn’t even know about yet.
Where to even start?
In this post, I asked a talented comms professional who has worked on a web refresh recently to give you the lowdown on the content side of things.
Chloë Matthbury, Digital Marketing Lead at Yorkshire Housing, is the perfect person to inspire you because the website is BEYOND MAGNIFICENT!
When I stumbled across it, I had to get in touch with the comms team there to congratulate and quiz them.
I wanted to know all about it because I love it all – the distinctive tone of voice, the easy user experience for different types of audience, and it just feels proper friendly and Yorkshire-y.
I’ll be back at the end, but first: the inspiring bit.
Over to Chloe.
A new website! Everyone’s got one, can’t be that hard, right?
Well, over a year later and we’ve learnt a few lessons that might help you if a new website is on your horizon.
What we were aiming for
It can be easy for those ‘higher ups’ to decide that your organisation needs a new website, but it’s really important to know what you’re trying to achieve above something that’s shinier than what you had before.
We had three main aims for the website:
- To attract talent
- To allow others that we work with, and want to work with, to see what Yorkshire Housing does
- To give our customers better information to help them self-serve
On a practical note, we also needed a website that’s going to work with future systems and be able to meet security, performance and scalability requirements. And this is where the web agency we chose to work with could lead the way in what would work for us.
Now for the fun bit.
We’re lucky in the comms and brand team that our CEO is up for being bold.
He wanted the wow factor, something that he’d feel proud to signpost people to.
Our aim was to ‘not make it feel like a housing association’ but for it to represent our brand and what we’re about.
It all started when we launched our new brand a year before. It meant we were all singing from the same hymn sheet and it gave everyone a good starting point for the website.
We had a new look and feel and a new tone of voice, so we had a lot of room to get creative.
We designed our new brand in-house, so those that created how it looked and sounded also worked on the website project.
Ultimately a brand is how you make people feel, and the website is part of that. It sure gives an impression when you first take a look (go on, you know you want to).
So, you want to know how we did it?
Aside from the talented team working on it, I’m going to put a big part of the success of the content down to the process.
In a past life, I was an event manager. I love organising – give me a spreadsheet and I’m happy – so, I rolled up my sleeves and created a process with templates and how-to guides (on Word, actually, but you can’t have it all).
One spreadsheet was created though and has lived on, I’m happy to say.
It keeps track of each page, the status, who was writing it, who checked it, who signed it off, when it all happened and now tells us when it’s due a refresh.
It’s nice, if you like spreadsheets.
Over the course of the content creation, we had some changes in our team and the project was delayed for a short time too, so in total we had nine people that worked on the content.
That could’ve led to a lot of different experiences, so it made the process itself even more valuable.
It made sure that all our internal stakeholders got the same experience and that those starting in the team had the support of a process to guide them.
I also held weekly catch-up meetings for those working on the content which was an opportunity for us to discuss highs and lows, challenges, ideas and to learn from each other too.
As the lead, I was conscious I wanted to be available to support the team. In hindsight, I should’ve set aside more time for this, I don’t think any of us on the project realised what a beast it would be!
We were adamant that the content focused on the audience, not on the business.
Our job in comms isn’t to project everything everyone knows into the universe but to create something that means the audience can find out what they want to know, in the best way for them.
I like to think we’re the negotiators working for the audience.
Sure, there’s a lot to say about the awesome stuff we’re doing at Yorkshire Housing but if point A is someone landing on one of our web pages, what’s point B and how do we get them there?
That was one of the questions we asked each of our stakeholders and it really made people think.
It’s often something really simple like getting someone to call us.
They don’t need war and peace to get the info they need to decide if picking up the phone is their next step.
“It’s just so easy to understand, it’s so friendly!”
A lot of the comments I’ve had from people since the website launched has been around our tone of voice and how they love the way we speak.
‘How to talk YH’ was something I developed along with a colleague during our new brand project in 2020/1.
Creating the tone of voice really helped to pave the way for this project.
It just makes complicated housing language much easier to understand.
Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. It ditches complicated housing language altogether.
Customers don’t ‘raise a repair’, they just want us to fix their shower.
Challenges – because there are always challenges!
I’m going to focus on the content here, because that’s where my focus was during the project.
I asked the team what they felt the challenges were too, and we managed to come up two main themes.
What do you want to say VS what does your audience need to know
Is this the age-old comms problem?
Websites can often be seen as a bit of a storage location but they.are.not. It’s not a place for every policy, leaflet or report you’ve ever created.
It’s a place for people to find simple, to the point information that answers their question.
The same applies in the back of the website too, there’ll be no endless media folder here thank you very much.
We got our stakeholders on board with this by focusing on the audience’s journey – whether that’s the actual customer, your investors, stakeholders or future colleagues. We got people to put themselves in their customer’s shoes.
It’s also about flexibility and taking your stakeholder on the journey with you, we’re not experts in what they do and vice versa. It’s about listening to each other and helping each other to understand. It’s amazing what you learn about how everything works.
Plus, it’s given us a load of content perfect for repurposing too!
The sheer bloody size of it
In comms we’re often blessed with the challenge of needing to know at least something about everything.
And that was ever present during this project. To make sure we were producing user-friendly content we had to have a good knowledge of what we were talking about, you can’t really wing this stuff if you want it to be successful.
We worked with around 130 stakeholders on the content. At launch we had 138 pages. No mean feat.
The sheer people power on this was huge.
Each page needed a meeting with the stakeholder then we…shared our approach, worked up content, created assets, redrafted content, got sign off, tweaked it, uploaded it, SEO checked it, tweaked it.
We lived, breathed and slept website content for many months! I think my family and friends at least were glad when it was finally launched (sorry everyone).
For me, this blog was very therapeutic to write, but I hope it gives you some food for thought and some handy tips if you’re about to launch a new website for your organisation.
Looking back at the aims, I believe we’ve achieved what we set out to do and I think it looks absolutely awesome.
I couldn’t be prouder of myself, and the whole project team for making it all happen (it takes an army, and one with a very good leader!).
The content team impressed me each day, bringing to life everything we do at Yorkshire Housing, and the design lot too for making it look incredible.
And of course, to the agency we worked with for building the site.
Someone called me a couple of days after the web launch and he said he has no doubt this will be one of my career highlights, and I don’t think I quite realised it until that moment (I feel a bit emotional about it all now!).
And to the future? Don’t worry, we’ve already started working with the business to review and refresh their content! So it goes…
My four top tips for your website project:
- Establish your process and stick to it
- Make responsibilities and timelines clear from the beginning
- Be your audience’s best advocate
- Don’t underestimate the time it’ll take. Whatever you think it’ll be, add on 30%.
My ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’
Would’ve: If we had more time, we would’ve done more pre-launch checks to save post-launch tweaks
Could’ve: Accepted ‘okay’ but we didn’t, we strove for ‘wow’
Should’ve: Known better when it came to some of the timelines
Thank to Chloë for these insights!
This, and the wider project of work that the fab comms and marketing team at Yorkshire Housing have developed,, is pioneering an important, innovative and respectful approach to digital communications, that will inspire others in the social housing sector, and beyond.
In the Comms Creatives Academy, we’re offering our clients a chance to grow their digital comms skills.
Part of that programme is to support you to confidently develop a unique and effective tone of voice and user experience.
Coming up, we have lessons and advice from our website and digital user experience expert, Joel Hughes, on how to lead a website refresh.
Joel and i will be helping you take the right steps and make the right decisions to ensure your brand has an exceptional, modern and effective corporate website.
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