Breaking down the barriers to digital: Part 3 – What is content strategy?

BY Clare Bennett

“Content” is everywhere. It’s ads and long form copy, images and videos, stories and metadata. But what’s the point of it all? That depends on the content strategy. Content strategy plans for valuable, findable, meaningful content.

For many people, content seems to begin and end with publishing. But for a content strategist, content begins with defining requirements, and identifying user needs. Before writing a word, content strategists outline the brand’s message, and the organization’s goals. If the project is a site redesign, they might audit and review the pages currently on the site. If the project includes a new site backend, they might research and develop a migration plan for a content management system. The ultimate goal? To have flexible, searchable content that appears to the right people, in the right places, at the right time.

Content strategy basics

Content strategy focuses on the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of content.  Content not only includes the words on the page but also the images and multimedia that are used. Ensuring that you have useful and usable content, that is well structured, and easily found is vital to improving the user experience of a website.

Creating a comprehensive strategy and governance

The goal of content strategy is to create meaningful, cohesive, engaging, and sustainable content.  Throughout her book, Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson discusses in detail the benefits of and how to create your content strategy.  It reiterates that your strategy helps you to identify what already exists, what should be created and, more importantly, why it should be created.

There are broadly four components that come together to help you create a successful strategy and governance which breakdown into content and people oriented components:

Content-oriented components:

(1) Identify goals and substance

Focuses on what content is required to successfully execute your core strategy. It includes characteristics such as messaging architecture, intended audience(s) and voice and tone.

(2) Determine structure

Focuses on how content is prioritized, organized and accessed. Focuses on the content itself, including mapping messages to content and creating detailed page tables.

People-oriented components

(3) Roles and Workflow

Focuses on how people manage and maintain content on a daily basis, including the roles, tasks and tools required throughout the content lifecycle.

(4) Policies and standards

Focuses on the policies, standards and guidelines that apply to content and its’ lifecycle, as well as how an organization will sustain and evolve its content strategy.

Content lifecycle

Producing compelling and sustainable content means that you need to understand and follow the content lifecycle which usually includes the following:

  • Audit and Analysis:  Content stakeholder interviews, competitive analysis, objective analysis and evaluation of the content environment (site, partner content, sister, parent and language sites)
  • Strategy: Determine topical ownership areas, taxonomy, process/workflow for content production, sourcing plan, voice and brand definition
  • Plan: Staffing recommendations, content management system customization, metadata plan, communications plan, migration plan
  • Create: Writing content, asset production, governance model, search engine optimization, quality assurance
  • Maintain: Plan for periodic auditing, advise the client, determine targets for success measures.

Several of the deliverables related to each of those phases overlap with the deliverables of other fields, including brand development, information architecture, user research, project management and web analytics.  Instead of thinking of who owns each deliverable, it’s important to think of who contributes to each and how those different contributions come together to define the final product.  There’s value in including multiple perspectives on deliverables.

Best practices for creating meaningful content

We have identified these best practices to help you create meaningful and relevant content.  Each piece of content should:

  • Reflect your organization’s goals and user’s needs.  You can discover your user’s needs through conducting market research, user research, and analysing web metrics.
  • Understand how user’s think and speak about a subject. Content should then be created and structured based on that.  Doing this will also help you with search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Communicate to people in a way that they understand.  Embracing plain writing principleshelps with this.
  • Be useful.  By being purposeful in the content that you include, omit the needless.
  • Stay up-to-date and remain factual. When new information becomes available, update your content or archive it.
  • Be accessible to all people.  You have a responsibility to make sure that all people can access and benefit from your information.
  • Be consistent. Following style guides, both for language and design, helps people understand and learn what you are trying to communicate.
  • Make your content findable.  Make sure that users can find your content through internal navigationand also external search engines.
  • Help define the requirements for the overall site. Content should drive design and structure.

In summary

In general, understanding content strategy practices – and, where possible, adopting them – will help you in one or both of these ways:

  • You’ll have a happier and more engaged audience because they can find what they need and they have a better experience with your brand
  • You’ll have a happier team that is more efficient, that is producing content at scale, and that is helping the business meet its goals

Getting your content to the right person at the right time and having teams that work efficiently don’t need to be “someday” ideas. If you educate yourself on the topics discussed here – and partner with one or more content strategists – you can work toward those goals today, transforming not only your audience’s experience of your content but your team’s experience as well.

If you are interested in finding out more about content strategy and how Gather can help your organisation, please contact Mitchell Kirkham-Cooper at mitchell@gather.london