A simple and quick guide to content strategy
Last week someone mentioned that web design was dead. (It wasn’t me, I promise. I don’t usually make statements that piss people off.) Bold statement. Especially when tons of money is spent on design and usability to make it easier for users to get the content they want and need. But how often do you go to a site that looks amazing and doesn’t take 2h to load just to find old content or content that is as useless as “Find us on Facebook” without a link? Even worse, how often do you go to a Facebook page just to find only links back to the useless site? Happens to me too often. That is probably because, as a typical Millennial, I spend too much time online, but I know I am not the only one who complains about the lack of quality content online.
People don’t go to websites or social platforms to admire the wireframes or the design (sorry to burst your bubble), but to find the content they want and need in the format they prefer: copy, pictures, video, infographics, podcasts, etc.; as quickly as possible. Web design isn’t dead, but it serves no purpose without good content and it seems that we focus on the design and usability of new shiny toys and forget about the quality of the content.
We, ad folks, constantly tweet about the importance of brands to act more like publishers, but we often forget that they are not publishers. They are not media outlets that create content based on an editorial calendar. They don’t always think that successful content is what the audience wants to know not what the brand wants to broadcast. But here are my questions: Did we ever give them the tools to be publishers? Did we teach clients how to apply a media mindset and publishing tools to their existing strategy? Did we mention anything about content strategy?
Here’s my attempt to help. (Mostly motivated by my desire to make the web a better and more useful place since I am online 20h a day.)
What is content strategy?
According to Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, content strategy plans for the creation, publication and governance of useful and profitable content. I’d also add relevant, usable, purposeful and productive content that benefits the brand by helping the user get what he/she wants and needs.
It is a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website or a platform by focusing on substance, structure, workflow and governance, all of which guided by a core brand strategy.
How does content strategy help?
The content strategy process answers the most important questions about the content on a site or a social network: why, what, how, for whom, by whom, with what, when, where, how often and what’s next. It identifies the purpose of the content, the key themes, topics and messages that support the purpose, the resources, timelines and measurement goals. The development of a content strategy leads to an editorial calendar with dates, topics and names of the people responsible for the content.
How is content strategy done?
Content strategy is a four-stage process: planning, analysis, creation and governance.
The purpose, the audience, the key themes, topics and messages, and the resources needed are identified in the planning stage. What are the key questions to ask in this stage?
- What is the purpose?
- Who is the audience?
- What content does the audience want and need?
- What types of content does the audience prefer?
- What is the bridge between the audience’s needs and the business goals?
- What messages should be communicated?
- What content features will support those messages?
- What topics will be covered?
- What will be the voice?
- How will the content be sourced or developed?
- What resources are needed to maintain the content?
- What metrics will be used to track content performance?
- How will performance metrics affect the editorial calender?
The next stage is analysis when the available content is audited. The team should use a gap content analysis to decide what content can be reused, what content should be deleted and what new content should be created, as well as how the new content will be created. What are the major questions to help you in this stage?
- What content is currently available and how is it organized?
- What is the quality of the content available? Is it appropriate for the audience? Does it communicate clearly?
- Is all content up-to-date?
- Does the content meet the business goals?
- What content can be reused?
- What content should be thrown out?
- What content is missing?
- Will new content be created or sourced from a third party?
After planning and analyzing the content is the creation stage, when the content is produced and published with the appropriate hierarchy and organization and according to the editorial calendar. Here are the key questions to ask:
- Who will produce the content?
- How to ensure consistent and clear brand message?
- What guidelines should be provided to content creators? Is a style guide needed?
- Who will be responsible for reviewing, editing, approving and monitoring?
- What legal or regulatory approvals are needed?
After the content is published, the team should look back and analyze what worked, what didn’t work, why and plan for the future. To be successful in the governance stage, all measurement goals should have been established during the planning phase. What questions can help you in this stage?
- What happens to the content once it goes up on the site/platform?
- How often should the content be updated?
- Does the content perform as expected?
- What changes should be made to make the content more effective?
And 29 questions later (if I can count) you have a content strategy to accompany the beautiful design of your site.
How else can we improve online content? What are your tips and tricks to create and maintain quality content?