Introduction: Content Strategy in 600 Words is based on research I did for a master’s in English–technical communication in 2011. The pedantic-laced title—Effective Content Strategy for Campus Websites at Career Colleges—was an insightful look at content strategy effectiveness, including web writing, aesthetics, information architecture, social media, information design, and usability. The research focus was college and university websites, but the information is applicable to nearly any industry. The article, with updated information and links to new resources is a quick overview of content strategy.
Create, deliver, govern
Kristina Halvorson, a well-known authority on content strategy, defines the discipline as “the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content,” which typically includes lists, text, data, graphics, video, and audio. According to Halvorson, content strategists focus on answering these questions:
- What content do we need to create? Why?
- How will the content be structured?
- How will users find the content?
- How will we get from here to launch?
- What’s next once the content is out there?
These questions, along with my original research results, helped guide decision-making around navigation (site map), content topics, and the final the project plan. The website content strategy is a roadmap with milestones or deliverables that include a plan that is “actionable, achievable, and executable.”
The strategist decides what content to deliver and how that content meets the purpose of the page; how the content gets added to the site; and, finally, who manages the content after launch. The last step in the process is called governance or maintenance. Some would argue that governance is the most important, never-ending task for the content strategist. In addition to the governance plan, the content strategist creates and delivers a range of documents (content inventories, task lists, and site map) that help guide the development of the website.
For the governance plan, I created a simple Excel worksheet that was used to track every web page, using the sheet to report the details of edits (what was edited and when).
Rachel Lovinger is another influential web professional, observes that content strategy is a “philosophy of data” where nearly everything qualifies as content: copy, photos, structure, metadata, design, and more. The figure below illustrates the span of influence of content strategy on website creation.
Halvorson says web content is useless unless it supports a business objective or supports a user in completing a task. I approach each web page with similar goals, putting myself in the user’s shoes by addressing and answering their questions. For example, a web page highlighting an academic program could answer a question like “what are the required courses?” or “how long will it take to complete it?”
Content strategist Erin Kissane has published a checklist for what makes good content; the list includes the item “Good content is user-centered,” whereby she urges us to adopt the frameworks of our users. Notes Kissanne, “On a web project, user-centered design means that the final product must meet real user needs and fulfill real human desires. In practical terms, it also means that the days of creating a site map to mirror an org chart are over.”
As noted above, some college websites have adopted the language of the organization (and filled with academic jargon), rather than the language [cognitive frameworks] of the user. By the way, many B2B websites can also improve their content by focusing on Kissane’s checklist:
- Good content is appropriate: Define a clear, specific purpose for each piece of content.
- Good content is user-centered: Adopt the cognitive frameworks of your users.
- Good content is clear: Seek clarity in all things.
- Good content is consistent: Mandate consistency within reason.
- Good content is concise: Omit needless content.
- Good content is supported: Publish no content without a support plan.
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