When I first heard the term “content strategist” a few years ago, I thought, Yay! That’s me. That’s what I do—somebody’s finally named it.
Turns out content strategy is a distinct discipline—more than planned, targeted copywriting created within a strategic framework. And while some think content strategy is synonymous with content marketing, others do not.
To learn more about this emerging practice, I picked up a copy of Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson.
This slim, 181-page volume provides a terrific overview of content strategy: what it is, what it isn’t, why you need it and how to go about developing and implementing it.
Explained by lesser writers, certain aspects of content strategy might make your eyes glaze over. But Halvorson—who began her career as a copywriter—writes with simplicity, clarity and a refreshing absence of jargon.
Here’s what this useful books tells us…
Content strategy is a hybrid
Content strategy interweaves a range of practices and skills: user experience design, information architecture, user interaction design, SEO, web analytics, metadata engineering, content management systems (CMS) and writing.
If you’re like me, you find this insight both scary and comforting. Scary because, hey, content strategy is way more technologically specialized than we imagined. Comforting because someone finally acknowledges what content creators have known for a long time: Content is hard. At least good content is hard.
“Content is messy.”
Halvorson tells it like it is: Content is complicated. It’s time-consuming. It requires planning and resources. It’s difficult to wrangle.
But content is also a “critical business asset”—and one that deserves the macro-micro attention to detail that content strategists give it.
The ugly truth about content development
Any writer who’s struggled to create content for a big, complicated website will appreciate Halvorson’s wisdom—a sort of “Myth and Fact” of content development.
The myth of content development
We like to think content development rolls out like this:
The fact of content development
In reality, Halvorson explains that content development evolves more like this:
Yesssss! No wonder you panic when your marketing director wants to “go live in two weeks”—why is it always two weeks?—with boatloads of content that exist only in her mind.
How to plan, create and govern content
Content planning: The whole enchilada
Unfortunately, most organizations don’t know much about their content: How much they have, where it lives, how useful or useless it is. That’s why, Halvorsen tells us, planning is so critical.
Content planning involves:
- An audit of existing content. Halvorson advises you to inventory each and every page of your website. She provides tips on various inventories, from quickie “low-hanging fruit” audits to far deeper, qualitative examinations.
- Analysis. Once content is inventoried, you need to ask questions. What’s the point of the current content project? What are its objectives for your organization and site users? What are the project’s requirements and restrictions—legal, CMS and more? How will you incorporate branding, SEO, user research, web analytics?
- Strategy. Exactly what content do you need and why? What form will it take? How will you source the content—will it be created, co-created, aggregated, licensed, user-generated? How will you navigate from concept and recommendations to launch?
Content creation: Beyond clever wordsmithing
After the planning stage, content strategists think about…
- Workflow: How does content happen in your organization. What tasks need to be completed to turn content from concept to reality. Who will do what.
- Writing. “To write truly effective web content, a writer needs to care deeply about—and take responsibility for—helping online readers find information and complete tasks,” notes Halvorson. (I’ll ignore the hazy qualitative delineation made between “copy” and “content” in this section of the book.) Halvorson provides a good checklist of skills and talents that any and all writers need to create useful content for the web.
- Delivery includes—but is not limited to—your content management system. You also need to consider how your content will be used across channels that include email, banner ads, mobile and social media and more.
Content governance: No more “set and forget”
Yippee! You planned carefully and created superb content. Its live on your website. Now you’re done, right? Afraid not. Halvorson tells us, “Content needs care and feeding.”
- Measurement. Web analytics let you know how your content is performing—how useful it is to your organization and your site’s visitors.
- Maintenance. Content is a living thing. A maintenance plan helps you keep content accurate and updated. It assures that links and navigation work. It maintains brand voice, archives older material and axes redundant, outdated content.
Who needs Content Strategy for the Web?
Content Strategy for the Web is a must-read for strategic-minded writers and marketers who care deeply about creating useful online content.
The book is manna in the desert for content creators who find it
excruciating and almost impossible difficult to continue grinding out tactical, rather than strategic, content.
Content Strategy for the Web is gratifying for the writer who’s a thorn in the side of status quo marketers. The writer who asks questions like, Why are you creating this content? How does it fit into your sales/conversion/learning/donation cycle? How does it integrate with and support existing content? What are your objectives for this project? Can you give me all the existing content that relates to it?
If that sounds like you, hie ye to Amazon or your local bookstore and get a copy of this book.