November 2, 2021

Content Intel—episode 3: The Web Project Guide

Optimizely’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Deane Barker and Blend Interactive’s Director of Strategy, Corey Vilhauer, join Content Intel to talk about their book on CMS development, The Web Project Guide.




Laura Dolan (00:00):

Welcome everyone to another enlightening episode of Content Intel. I am your host, Laura Dolan, Senior Content Marketing Manager here at Optimizely. Today, I am joined by Deane Barker, our Senior Director of Content Management Strategy here at Optimizely as well. And Corey Vilhauer, who's the Director of Strategy with Blend Interactive. How's it going today you guys?

Deane Barker (00:23):


Corey Vilhauer (00:23):


Laura Dolan (00:25):

Awesome. Well, thank you for-

Corey Vilhauer (00:26):

I'm ready to be enlightening.

Deane Barker (00:27):

Yeah, you really set us up there, there's a promise we have to fulfill now.

Laura Dolan (00:32):

Yes, you do. No pressure. Well, thank you for taking the time to be here today. And today we're going to talk about all things content management systems. Deane, you are the mastermind behind CMSs, I've seen some of your brilliant webinars. You guys just released a book about CMSs, so let's go ahead and dive right in and talk about the book. What it's called, what readers can expect. Gentlemen, you have the floor.

Deane Barker (00:54):

Yeah. So the book is called The Web Project Guide and I started, we started this book Corey, three years ago?

Corey Vilhauer (01:02):

About three years ago.

Deane Barker (01:03):

We did. The book got its start in the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory in Omaha, Nebraska. My daughters were both playing club volleyball and I think we were coming back from Kansas City from a volleyball tournament. And I had just been thinking, I think a lot when I drive and I had been thinking all the way from Kansas City back to Omaha, which about two hours. About the different processes that we went through at Blend Interactive, which was a company that I founded and worked out at the time, all the different things that we did to deliver a content website. And I thought, you know what? I should write these down, because we would get calls from people all the time that would say, "Hey, can you explain the process to me?"

Deane Barker (01:41):

And I don't want to say I got sick of explaining the process, but I thought, you know what? Maybe I could write this down once. And so I started writing down all the different phases we went through and I eventually put them in a Google doc and I expanded that a bit. I put two or three sentences under each one and then I sent it to Corey and Corey did the content strategy at Blend. And Corey took a look at it and he eventually turned that into a marketing piece that we used and we branded it and turned it into a PDF, which explained how we delivered projects. Blend Interactive had been doing content management for 15 years by that point, so we did have a process and we had a lot of experience in this space. And so Corey put together this really nice marketing piece.

Deane Barker (02:24):

And then in 2018, I was traveling to Europe a lot, like seven times, and I had a lot of downtime while traveling and I thought, you know what? Let me flesh one of these down and see if I can make it into a blog post, maybe we do a blog post series or something. And so I expanded it and I got one of these out to two, 3000 words and I thought, well, that looks like the chapter of a book, and so then I did another one and then I thought, okay, we could do something here. And so I pulled Corey into my office when I was back in the States and I said, "Half of this book deals with all the things before you implement a content management system and I'm terrible at that stuff and that's your stuff, so would you like to write this with me?" And Corey, why don't you take it from there buddy?

Corey Vilhauer (03:10):

Then I did. Then three years later we finally did something. Yeah, it was interesting, I really loved the idea that, because I think what we run into specifically, like on that side where you're working with clients and you're at a point in which you need to not just do things for them, but also help them understand what they need to do. We can continue to run into the same questions over and over again, we're going to do this, how it's going to be used. We've put together the site map, now what comes next? And this book was a really cool way to be able to actually say those things in a way that we thought really would help our clients. And then again, turn into a gigantic book and by gigantic, I mean, it was, before editing it probably would have been 500 pages long-

Laura Dolan (04:01):

That's pretty good.

Corey Vilhauer (04:03):

[Inaudible], but there's a lot of things that go into making a website, there's a lot of steps, there's a lot of phases, a lot of moving parts.

Deane Barker (04:08):

You say that as if this is super surprising, well, there's of things, it is true though, I mean, once we actually wrote stuff out, we realized, with any process that you've done a ton of times, there's a lot of tasks at knowledge, just things you do. And you realize when you actually have to sit down and write that out, man, there's a lot going on there. Oh, and it's also worth mentioning that the original plan was that each chapter was going to take 10 minutes to read, that was the plan. And so the idea was that over the course of a month, that you'd read one chapter a day in 10 minutes and then at the end of the month, be educated and ready to start your project.

Deane Barker (04:43):

And I came up with 3,500 words because I looked up in the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory that a college educated person could read about 350 words a minute. And so it was supposed to be, but yeah, we just blew through that in a heartbeat. I think one of the chapters was like 7,000 words. So yeah, we totally abandoned that, that was the idea though. And it turns out that both Corey and I are loquacious when allowed. And so it turned into, the final book is 440 pages, it's healthy enough to be used for self-defense, if you should need that.

Laura Dolan (05:23):

That's good to know. It'll come in handy for that, if nothing else. It's crazy when you do get into projects like this, and it's amazing when you factor in muscle memory, and then you start to write something down, you realize, wait, there are way more steps to this than I thought. And was it something like that where you realized there are just way more steps involved than you imagined?

Corey Vilhauer (05:46):

I'll say this, it's funny when you talk about muscle memory and how we, as the people who are writing this have been through projects like this before. And so even though we do this all the time, we still forget all the different things. And we're trying to capture all the different edge cases and trying to make sure that we're touching on all, somebody might have encountered when they come through a project, but in doing that it also helped identify one of the really key parts of why the book is really important. And Deane and I know these things really well, and we still struggle to piece them together. Deane's the technical person, I'm the person who works with the clients at the start. There's a language barrier just between the two of us.

Corey Vilhauer (06:29):

But ultimately it's like if you go into a mechanic and you know what's wrong with the car and they know exactly what's wrong with the car, and you're afraid to tell them, you're like, well, I think it's this, but you're putting a lot on the table because they literally could go do anything on there, come back and be like, there it's fixed. And part of that anxiety and part of that fear, and there is that you don't understand the language or understand the process that that mechanic's going through to make those things work. So the hope was that a book like this can bridge that, so you can feel confident in the decisions you're making so that those people who don't have that muscle memory are able to, at least understand what's happening when we go behind closed doors and start fiddling with the website.

Deane Barker (07:14):

The other thing that I struggled with personally was just the predicate knowledge. I mean, we explain something, but to explain point E, you have to explain point D, and to explain that you have to explain points and how far back do you go? At what point do you think, okay, well, you have to know this, these are just table stakes. And we had to balance that, I don't know how well we did, but we assumed that a person reading this book understands what a website is. And they have a basic understanding of web and web technologies from a user standpoint, they've used the internet, that was all we really did.

Laura Dolan (07:53):

Yeah. I was actually going to ask, who your targeted audience was. Is this someone who has to have prior knowledge of website development? Or is it more for a novice? It sounds like it's a little bit more of an expert level if I'm not mistaken. Right?

Deane Barker (08:07):

I don't think so.

Corey Vilhauer (08:09):

I would say maybe it's-

Deane Barker (08:10):

Project managers.

Corey Vilhauer (08:11):

Yeah. Project managers, marketing, directors of marketing, people who understand why you need a website and the purpose behind it and stuff like that. But they need to know who do I hire to do this type of thing? Who do I need to have on my internal team who understands this? What choices do I need to make when I'm looking at, for instance, selecting a content management system? There are a lot of things there where even though they may be really skilled in their specific discipline, they might have even experienced writing web content or experience interviewing users, there's a lot there. And if you just go into it thinking, cool, we're just going to go build a website and there's three steps. It's really helpful to see that there's at least 24 chapters worth of stuff.

Deane Barker (08:55):

And what we pointed out in the introduction was, this is the entire process from start to finish, if you were going to do everything. Every process is different and then there's, sometimes there's some things you don't need. If you just want to re-platform an existing website, well, you can probably skip a bunch of the content strategy stuff, because you already know what your content is. If you're going to stay on the same CMS, then you can skip the strategy or the chapter on the CMS selection, you have to make the process your own, and the steps that somebody goes through and not the step somebody else would go through. The other problem we had was putting them in order, because the fact is these steps aren't serial, they overlap and they weave in and out of each other.

Deane Barker (09:32):

And what we did at the end of every chapter, we have these little sections at the end of every chapter. And one of them is, this is where this chapter fits in, in the big picture. You might do it here, you absolutely have to have these things done. You might do it here and then we have another section at the end of every chapter called inputs and outputs, which says, these are the things that you have to bring into this part of the process and then these are the things you're going to take out of this part of the process. So we hope that that helps put it in perspective for people, but the idea that this is like a waterfall, do step one, then do step two, then do step three, it's that at all.

Laura Dolan (10:04):

I want to back up to the night in the Cheesecake Factory parking lot Deane, when you talked about, you were going through the questions that people had. Can you define some of those concerns that people had? What was it that actually motivated you to write the steps down and maybe come up with an SOP? And then that developed into a book, is that how it happened?

Deane Barker (10:28):

Yeah. The thing that caused me to write the steps down was just that I had to keep explaining this thing over and over and over again. And as in explaining this over and over and over again to people, I realized how much I knew and just assumed that other people knew. And so I thought if I just assume nothing, like these are all the steps that I would explain to somebody to go through, and the idea is we would get people that would say with an RFP, explain your process to us. Well, I mean, you can only write that down so many times before it gets repetitive. So I felt let's just write this down one time. I will say freely at the time I was a partner at Blend Interactive and Blend is a professional services company that does content management implementations.

Deane Barker (11:04):

And this was meant to be a sales piece, this was a marketing piece, but that was the point, the point was to get over people's fears of the unknown in not understanding what the product looked like. And then somewhere, it magically became a book because I had a lot of time on my hands while I was traveling and I started writing and then I thought... And Corey and I had been friends for 13, 14 years, and honestly I wanted to write a book with Corey. Corey and I are both writers, we generate a lot of content and I thought it'd be fun, I don't know if it turned out to be fun. Corey may have a different opinion than me, but I thought, you know what? It would be great to write a book with Corey and that's exactly what we did.

Laura Dolan (11:47):

Corey was it fun?

Corey Vilhauer (11:48):

It was long. It was fun, I have a lot of pride for the book, I think it's a really cool idea. The thing that I think we were both really surprised by is that there isn't anything else like it out there, the issue with the web industry, whether it's on the development side or whether it's on the content and people side is that there are a lot of books that focus really deeply on one topic. If you want to learn about the concepts of practice of information architecture, there's dozens of books. And they're all just as long as this one, but there was never anything out there that provided a level of context that said, in order to do this, you might need this over here and gave you the high level view enough to be able to, like we said before, make good decisions. But not so deep as to say, okay, well, now you doing great, your sign out and this is how to do it. And we didn't want to do that.

Corey Vilhauer (12:50):

I think if there's anything I've learned out of this assignment, I really appreciate the idea of context, but there's no way I'm ever going to be able to write a book about information architecture, as good as Marvel and Rosenfeld did, I'm not going to write a copy strategy book and try to say, this is better than the one Kristina Halvorson wrote. You were not going to do that, that's just not what it is. It ended up being really long for that reason and that's okay, long in a really good way. It's a great resource. Deane ended up writing two books while we wrote this book.

Deane Barker (13:22):

I did two.

Laura Dolan (13:23):

Okay overachiever.

Corey Vilhauer (13:24):

He started as a publisher of one and at the end, he was a publisher of three.

Deane Barker (13:27):

In the process of doing this, I wrote two additional books, I think while Corey was writing his part, I wrote two other books. So yeah, by the time this came out, I've now written four books.

Laura Dolan (13:42):

Were you guys self-published or did you go through a publisher?

Corey Vilhauer (13:45):

Kind of, depends how you look at it.

Deane Barker (13:49):

It's so weird, the publishing system these days is just weird.

Laura Dolan (13:54):

Is it?

Deane Barker (13:55):

We went through a publisher called a Story Chorus, is that right Corey? And it's odd the poll public... This the other thing I struggled with this book and Corey will probably back me up on this is I struggle with the idea, is a book the right way to convey information these days? In this kind of age, we look into people, sit down and they're going to sit down and read a 400-page book. And so I don't look at it as a 400-page book, I look at its initial communication mechanism, was a 400-page book, but the fact is we have 164,000 words of content that will likely get very mashed up and disseminated. There's a website for it, you can go out and read it on a website if you want to do that. And then Corey and I are hopefully going to do a podcast in the future and turn it into other content artifacts.

Deane Barker (14:46):

The book is maybe just the first part of it, but to go back to what Corey was saying about how there's nothing like it. The whole time we were writing this, I kept saying to myself, we can't be the first people to do this and then I kept thinking, I can't find anything else that fits this. So I don't know if we were the first people to do it, but weirdly, it just filled a niche that hadn't been filled yet.

Laura Dolan (15:11):

So the gist of it is basically how to develop a CMS and go through the steps. Is that the layman's terms, summary of it?

Deane Barker (15:22):

I'm going to give you a pass for not having read it, but literally Corey, I see we're doing this for audio, but I actually have Corey on camera. And Corey behind you, you have copies of the book. Why don't you pull that out and why don't you read a representative sample of chapter titles? Start with the first, end with the last and read a few in between.

Corey Vilhauer (15:45):

Yeah, I can say from the start that this much of it, this small amount right here is all that's about actual development. This is from host to launch and then the rest of it-

Laura Dolan (15:59):

For those of you who are not on camera, that was about an inch wide.

Deane Barker (16:03):

That was about 25% of the book.

Corey Vilhauer (16:05):

Yeah. So we have it essentially, it's broken up into six sections. There's a planning section, which is around understanding scope, understanding expectations, really, the opening thing, the idea of, we need a website who do we even need to have in the room and what is it going to be? Then it goes into discovery, so it's interviewing, understanding audiences, knowing what content you currently have, like inventories and stuff like that. The third section is what we call strategic design, it's content strategy, it's information architecture, it's actual graphic design. There's a section, three chapters, just on system requirements, which is really around what integrations are going to be. And I guess that technically would be on the development side, but it's integrations requirements and selecting a content management system. And then there's five chapters about development, and that includes hosting and that includes migrating.

Corey Vilhauer (16:56):

And then it's launch and beyond, which is testing, planning for post-launch operations and then ongoing maintenance of it. So what I've said about it is that it's not going to teach you how to make a website, but it's going to teach you how a website is made. So it gives you enough, like I said, you can't pick this up and have a website by the end of it, but you'll know the people you need to bring in or the resources you need to reach out to in order to get those next steps down.

Deane Barker (17:22):

We're trying to make the unknowns known, I always go back to Donald Rumsfeld's quote that there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Unknown unknown, is the thing you know that you don't know. And unknown unknown is the thing you don't know you don't know. And when you start this process, everything is an unknown unknown, you don't even know what you don't know. The end of this book, you will have a bunch of known unknowns and some things will have been resolved and become known to you, but you will also think, holy cow, I'm not good at this, I need to get someone to do this. These are all the different problems that I will encounter. The other thing that we actually brought to bear quite a bit in the book, especially in the early chapters, is that Corey and I, we did professional services together for 12 years. And when you work in services, you end up doing a lot of social, psychological therapy with your customers.

Deane Barker (18:11):

You work with a lot of customers and you come to realize that their problems are not technical, the problems are organizational and also psychological, company dysfunction, work a lot of organizations that are just not running well from a human perspective. And we touched on some of that in the book. I mean, this is how you drill through human issues. I mean, the first chapter of the book is, why do you want to do this? Do you have everybody in the same page? What are your basic goals for this? And how can you make sure your organization's isn't going to self-destruct halfway through it? I mean, we have a sidebar in there about cognitive fallacies and how they differently apply to these projects. An enormous amount of what Corey does and what I did in the services world is just helping organizations and people get out of their own way.

Laura Dolan (18:58):

As someone who works in a CMS every single day, I won't name which one, but I am a content manager, so I do manage content in a CMS, have been doing that for years in many different types of platforms. Does someone like myself benefit from reading this book and how may I obtain a copy?

Deane Barker (19:19):

Well, Corey has got six of them sitting on the shelf behind him.

Corey Vilhauer (19:22):

These are all claimed, one is for my grandma, one is for my mom and one for my dad, these are all family copies, I stole from work.

Laura Dolan (19:28):

I figured that those were spoken for already, so.

Deane Barker (19:31):

I always fall back to what they called T-shaped skills. If you look at all the different things that you need to do in your job, you can be very shallow understanding a little bit about all of them, or you could go really, really deep on multiple skills. And there's quite a bit of writing and quite a bit of research in the idea that the ideal thing is to have T-shaped skills, which just mean go superficial shallow on everything, get a broad overview of everything, but then pick one and go very deep on that. And Laura, it sounds like you go very deep on content creation, editorial workflow, and things like that.

Laura Dolan (20:02):

I do. I mean, and I have HTML background, so I can even apply that, so.

Deane Barker (20:07):

Would there be huge value in you understanding the rest of the process from start to finish? Absolutely. My son is 26 years old and they just entered the working world three, four years ago. And I told him, I said, 'Even beyond your job description and what you were supposed to do at a company, learn as much as you can about every different part of the company, because that will benefit you over the long run." I watched a great documentary about Enron. The Enron scandal was called The Smartest Guys in the Room, and they said, one of the reasons why Enron failed is nobody actually knew how the company made money. Everyone just did their job and they assumed it was a viable business behind the company, but it turns out there wasn't, everyone just was a little silo and assumed somebody else was making money.

Deane Barker (20:47):

And I feel like when you look at any process or any job or any professional responsibility, learn as much as you can about the process from start to finish and go very deep on your particular skillset. So long story short, yes. I think you would absolutely get value for it and Corey can get you a copy.

Laura Dolan (21:02):

That sounds great.

Corey Vilhauer (21:03):

Well, also, if you'd like to order one, for anyone else who's listening, you won't get a free one, it's So the site, we secure first of all, barely they have dot guide domains, which is very fun, but we moved the site over to And so that's where you can see the full book. That's where the podcast will be hosted when it finally gets started, I do have a to do on my list today to schedule a time with Deane to record the first one. And then it's

Laura Dolan (21:37):

Corey Vilhauer (21:40):

Yep. It's also on Amazon, if you just want it.

Laura Dolan (21:42):

Amazon. Okay. Give us the title one more time.

Corey Vilhauer (21:44):

It's The Web Project Guide. Yep. And you can search that or you can search Corey Vilhauer or you can search Deane Barker, it pops up to both.

Deane Barker (21:50):

The Web Project Guide: From Spark to Launch and Beyond. And the real spark to launch beyond... Oh, I do want to call out a guy by the name of Sam Otis that we really have to talk about here because Sam Otis is the Senior Designer at Blend Interactive. And I will say this Sam Otis is the most talented artist and designer I've ever worked with ever, anywhere. And we were coming up with a theme and we came up with a theme of rocket ships and exploration. And that's why From Spark to Launch and Beyond is the subtitle. And one of the things that's great about this book is that it's in color first of all, and all of the artwork, including the cover artwork, to back artwork and all of the chapter headers are original artwork by Sam Otis.

Laura Dolan (22:32):


Deane Barker (22:32):

And he is just a shockingly good artist. And this is one of the best-looking books you're going to find. He even did little caricatures of us for the sidebars, every sidebar has a little head caricature of us at the bottom based on who's speaking in the sidebar. And I just want to make sure that Sam gets recognition for this because he did such an amazing job on it.

Laura Dolan (22:53):

Of course, I love that. It sounds like he brought a lot of personality to the book. How did you get him involved? Did you tell him about it from the get-go or did you recruit him halfway through?

Corey Vilhauer (23:02):

We just told him.

Deane Barker (23:04):

Yeah, he's the senior designer of Blend and I was a partner at Blend the time. So I said, "Hey, Sam, you're going to do this." And the fact is, Sam is a digital designer clearly, but he had a background in print and Sam is probably listening to this and I don't know if he'll disagree with the statement, but I think that Sam misses print to some extent, and he does beautiful print work. He's one of the greatest free hand artists, he can just sit down on a piece of paper and draw. And I think he misses print; this was an opportunity for him to design a book from start to finish. And I thought it would be a great project for him and he just did an incredible job. A, physical thing that doesn't move or change, there's no browser incompatibilities with print.

Laura Dolan (23:42):

No, it's absolutely true. I'm still in the camp of, I love turning pages, I don't like to just swipe screens. I like to actually hold a book, smell a book, just the whole physical experience with a book. So, I'm glad you're keeping that alive.

Deane Barker (23:55):

There's value there for sure.

Corey Vilhauer (23:57):

Yeah. Absolutely.

Laura Dolan (23:58):

Well, gentlemen, thank you so much. Anything else you'd like to talk about before we wrap up?

Deane Barker (24:03):

All I'll say is that if you have enjoyed listening to us talk, you will get a chance to listen to us talk again, because as Corey indicated, we are going to do a chapter-by-chapter podcast of the book. We're not going to read the entire chapter; we're just going to randomly talk about stuff. And so if you go to, I believe that you can sign up for the mailing list there. And we will let you know when that podcast is available.

Laura Dolan (24:25):


Corey Vilhauer (24:26):

Absolutely. Go buy the book.

Laura Dolan (24:28):

Yes. Go buy the book, you guys.

Corey Vilhauer (24:29):

Is that what I was supposed to say? I did it. I podcasted!

Laura Dolan (24:33):

Awesome. Well, Deane Barker, Corey Vilhauer, thank you guys so much for being here today. Thank you for those of you who have tuned in to this episode of Content Intel, I am Laura Dolan, and I will see you all next time.