Why You Need A Content Strategy

Why You Need A Content Strategy


content_strategy

How many times has your web project been delayed due to missing content or issues related to existing content? Wrangling website content can really make your workplace feel like the Wild West. In the 13 years I’ve been working on the web, content problems are the biggest reason for launch delays. You can help alleviate this by implementing an effective content strategy.

What The Heck Is It?

According to consultant Jeff MacIntyre, “Content Strategy” is an emerging discipline within the field of User Experience Design. I believe many UX practitioners (including me) have been doing it for years but didn’t realize there was an official name for it.

Content strategy helps businesses create and manage all web site content within the context of a site’s business goals and user needs. Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, defines it like this: “Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.”

Bottom line, we all need a better way to plan for and manage our website content. An effective content strategy strengthens our up front planning efforts so we’ll have a better idea of what we need and when.

More Than Words

Your web site’s content needs to be accurate, relevant and just enough to communicate clearly. So content strategy includes much more than a site’s branding, messaging and copy. It covers managing and tracking anything that can appear or be measured on your website:

  • Text
  • Images
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Links (working, please!)
  • Forms
  • File Downloads (.PDF, .doc, .xls, etc.)
  • Error Messages
  • Metadata
  • Site stats

Your content strategy needs to define how you will source, create, track, implement and maintain all of these moving parts. Yikes!In the old days at the agency we used the copy deck as the master document to track all this stuff. But that was asking too much from one document/person and it ultimately fell on the project manager to pull all the missing pieces together.

What’s In Your Web Site?

An effective content strategy begins with a content audit. You need to know what you have before you’ll know what you can do with it.

In her book, Kristina Halvorson discusses two flavors of content audit; quantitative and qualitative. First you need to know what you have (quantitative). Then you need to know what to do with it (qualitative).  A thorough content audit will give you the information you need to figure out what to keep, what to delete, and what needs to be created from scratch.

When I was working on a big university’s website redesign, our first order of business was figuring out what exactly was on their 1000+ page site. For our quantitative audit we used a simple yet very detailed spreadsheet template to catalog the site’s content (see below). Yes, it took a ton of time, but the analysis we were able to do afterwards was incredibly useful and had a big influence on the final design.

Why It Works

When you know what you have, what you need, and why you need it you’ll know:

  • What you need to create
  • When you need to get it approved
  • Who needs to create and approve it
  • How much space you need for it
  • How to organize it so people can find it
  • When to update it
  • When (and if) to archive it

Less Craziness, More Consistency

An effective content strategy will help you rein in some of the more frustrating aspects of your web design process – mainly getting the required content when you need it. You’ll also keep better and more informed tabs on how your site is communicating to your audience. For example, you’ll be able to make sure everything stays in the same tone of voice throughout the entire site. This is especially important for large sites with multiple contributors.

How To Get Started

First assign someone to be responsible for your site’s content strategy. Then introduce them to your web design team and get them up to speed on the current status of your website. Their first task should be to conduct a thorough content audit, both qualitative and quantitative.

Next, identify any content gaps and determine who will be responsible for filling them. For example, if the site has video, does the video exist yet? If it needs to be created from scratch, who’s writing the script and when will the final production file be available?

Further Reading

What are you doing to move content strategy forward in your organization? Since it’s a relatively new discipline, what content strategy is and isn’t seems to be a moving target. Follow the pioneers in this nascent field listed below, and let me know in the comments if I missed anyone. Thanks to their insights I now know what this part of my job is called. 🙂

Content Strategy Templates

Download and use the templates below to get started making your website better and more effective.

Content Inventory Form (from the IA institute – please note this is a 6MB file)
Content Plan – I use this to manage all types of content
Content Template  (from A List Apart – scroll down to the end of the article for a very useful template.)

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One Response to Why You Need A Content Strategy

  1. Anna CookNo Gravatar September 21, 2010 at 5:40 am #

    Really like your comment about how a content strategy helps ” maintain all of these moving parts”. I’ll definitely use this phrase when I’m describing to clients how a website is a living thing that needs constant attention. So, thanks!

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