Back in October of 2014, I had a bit of a dry spell at WNET. There weren’t as many new projects coming in, and I was still green to the way our more complex web properties work. Instead of sitting around and reading the various internet news aggregates, I decided to attack a problem I knew about even before starting my job that August.
The Interactive Engagement Group (IEG) website was a flat, two-page piece of brochure ware. It was built to appease the powers-that-be, but was in no way indicative of the type of amazing work that the department was capable of doing. I wanted to take this project head on and lead the way to a beautiful, responsive, and informative website that would not only show off what we could do, but show off the expertise of our team. To do this, I needed buy-in from my boss, head of the technical team, and from the head of our department.
To Get Buy In, I Came Prepared
Though I talked about why I thought it was important with my boss and with the developer team, I knew I would need a lot more than a “good idea” to get department funding to build the site. I put my professional writing skills to work and wrote a content strategy.
This content strategy outlined why it was important we reconsidered the purpose of our website, the type of content we would feature, and an editorial workflow which would make that content possible. It was written to a) look impressive enough to give money/time to and b) provide more than a basic framework of how to move forward.
It worked. Our Chief Digital Officer, Dan Greenberg, read the content strategy and got on board. Of course, by the time all of this happened, projects had come along for me to work on, and the IEG site was a secondary priority. That said, I knew it was important to do it write the first (or, I suppose, second) time.
From brochureware to a portfolio
I stayed on the project as part-client, project manager, and developer. Victoria, one of the most talented web designers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, ran with my wireframe and concept and mocked up page after page of beautiful content. We discussed priorities and how our brand aligned with the overall organization of WNET.
After several rounds of conversation between us and IEG’s creative director, I got to work building the website. It was important that it not only looked good but that it was easy to navigate and quick to load.
Content is King
As with the rest of the internet, the content is the most important part of the website. Sure, the website itself is representative of the work we can do. If anything, it’s one of the more modern designs we have developed. However, the way we positioned ourselves, our client work, was far more important than the site itself.
Thanks to my content strategy and my ownership of the project, I ended up being the primary writer for the various pieces of content on the site. After a database crash, many of my colleagues contributed descriptions to our portfolio, rounding out the selling point of the IEG site. The way we talk about the projects was particularly important; it’s not why the site exists (or what the program behind the site), it’s what work we did to make the site successful that matters.
Along with the description of work, it was important to include the shared set of skills that would tie projects together. These are smaller pieces of meta information that are purely skills we provided in a project. There isn’t context to these skills immediately provided, but it gives clients the ability to ask questions and check off boxes of what they need done.
Bonus: A Technical Blog
The best feature of the new site is, in my opinion, our technical blog. All of the developers, myself included, have pitched in to write about the work we’re doing. We’re including tutorials, think pieces, and general overviews of what’s going on in the technical world. The blog’s purpose is two-fold: we get to leave a legacy of the work we’ve been doing for IEG, and hopefully we leave an impact in the greater WordPress community.
I’m not naive. I don’t think that overnight we’re going to have a successful blog that other developers will cite as inspirational. There’s a massive amount of content out there trying to accomplish that lofty goal. However, I do think that if we play our cards right, we’ll connect with a few people looking for how they can become a better or more thoughtful developer.
So Now What?
The site has been up and running since June. We’ve gotten a few connections through the contact form, companies who I believe would not have contacted us based on our previous site. For the whole department, I hope this means better connections and more revenue, leading to better morale and possibly more team members. For the technical team, I hope we learn more about what each other does and how we can help each other be successful.
For me? I hope I can inspire developers to think about technical writing as a part of their process. I hope we are contacted to create projects that are fun and challenging, so that I can become a better developer. This project was launched but it’s not over. Now begins the constant refinement and challenge to make it even better.