Planning content

Last updated January 11, 2021

How to decide what is useful, the content lifecycle and why accessibility must be planned for.

What is content?

Content is the thing that people come to your online sources for. It’s not just the written words. It’s the text, images, video, audio or whatever you’re publishing.

When to do user research

Do user research when you’re:

  • Starting a new project
  • Improving existing content

Use user research to:

  • Find out what users need
  • Test assumptions you have about what users need

Guidance on user research and evidence explains the different types of user research and when they’re helpful.

Assess what you have, and what you need

This is typically called an audit of your content, which will help you understand what content exists, and what content needs to be created. The audit can be a count of pages (quantitative),  the quality of the pages (qualitative), or a hybrid of both.

The audit can be assemblied from pageview reports in analytics, from online audit tools, or manually.

This document can also be your central source of content information. It can be adjusted into a document to track,  group, and organize your content.

Your content lifecycle

It’s bad form to post content and leave it without thought for how to manage it. There are different ways to describe the lifecycle, but they tend to fit into these phases:

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.


In this phase you determine what you are working with. This might involve content audits, stakeholder interviews, research, analytics reviews and reviewing how content gets published.

Tools: Data and analytics research, User research, Content strategy checklist, Quantitative content audit, Qualitative content audit


In this phase, develop your plans on how to manage, design, and maintain your content, including how it will happen, and who will do the work.

Tools: Creating a successful style guide, voice and tone, governance models, information architecture, goal setting.


In this phase, you use the tools you developed in the strategy phase to inform the work effort including: categorizing content, iterating on your information architecture, content migration plans, customizations to your content management system, editorial calendars, staffing recommendations, time estimates

Tools:  Page tables, image accessibility, taxonomies, workflows, SEO strategies, editorial calendar and guidelines


In this phase, you are creating new content or editing existing content, then placing it into your content management system. You will implement your governance model and workflows, then review for brand compliance and search engine optimization.  You are also migrating content and tracking it as it moves.

Consider collaborative tools to create or edit content like Google Docs that allow co-creation.


In this phase you are sticking to your editorial calendar, determining when to check your analytics, and then iterating your content based on the analytics and other feedback you gather.  More on content maintenance.


UW Madison content and services need to be as accessible and usable as possible.  There is a legal obligation to make sure people can access the information we produce. This includes users with visual, hearing, cognitive or motor impairments, as well as those with learning difficulties.

When planning your content, it’s important to think about:

Why plan for content?

The practice of planning out your content can help lead to a better user experience. If users feel like you are not wasting their time with extraneous information, they are more likely to trust and return to your content when they need it again.

Planning also helps avoid duplicate content, which produces poor search results, confuses the user and damages the credibility of UW–‍Madison as a brand. Users end up frustrated, and need to continue searching, or contacting the university because they are not sure they have all the information or the right information.

Planning your content can save time and money. By creating a strong foundation for how your content is structured, it will make it easier to make future iterations.

Need help?

The Center for User Experience can help with your design research and design strategy.