What’s content strategy anyway, and why do we need it?
There’s no escaping Content Strategists these days, we’re everywhere. What’s interesting is the number of people I speak to who just don’t understand what we do. So here, in a few easy steps, I’ll explain how having a strategy for your content can make your work a million times better.
Strategy defines how you will reach a specific goal. It creates a plan to follow, or sets out your journey. You may set multiple KPIs to meet along the way that let you know you’re on your way to meet your overall target, but there’s always an overall objective.
By creating a strategy you can start to identify what you need to achieve your goal – for example resources, budget, or time. It can also help you to identify skill gaps in your project team.
A content strategy could be a high level one, or it could be more goal-specific. Either way, it should be there to help meet two things: user needs and business objectives. Here are three examples I’ve set out to demonstrate how content strategy is often used.
Let’s look at the first example. Imagine a Content Strategist has been asked the following question:
‘How can we us content to give customers a better understanding of how our product benefits them?’
It would appear that this is based on some customer insight – people aren’t buying the product because they don’t understand how it would benefit them. The purpose here for content is to better educate or inspire these customers to take further action.
A content strategist would start by understanding who the target audience, and what the current content looks like (the content that seemingly isn’t doing its job well enough).
They’d define the opportunities to improve or replace existing content, but they wouldn’t stop there. Content Strategy goes much further than just improving and creating content. In short it will look at:
- Hosting (where, URLs, page names)
- The content itself (content type, format, frequency)
- Traffic driving activity – how people will find your content
- Seeding – can your content be pushed into other channels such as social
- SEO – metadata or tags
The strategy will also set success measures to check their content is working; for example click through rates, page views, dwell times, or shares. All of these will help show whether customers are engaging with the content (ie, reading it or being inspired to share it), if targets aren’t met the strategist should have a plan for further improvements.
I’m calling this example micro-strategy as this is on a smaller scale, but it’s by no means less important.
Here’s an example where a strategist might have been asked something like: ‘On this web page how can we make sure our users know where to go next?’
As above, firstly the strategist will understand who the users are, and the context of this content in their journey. They’ll also want to know where the users have come from and what their needs are on the page.
In this case the purpose of your content is direction – ie. what you want your user to do next.
Directional content can take many forms, and of course it might just be a case of simply tweaking micro-copy or button labels. But before taking action there are some other fundamental questions that need to be answered by a strategist. In content strategy there are often overlaps with user experience, so sometimes this work’s done in tandem. This strategy will include:
- Message hierarchy – is the page providing the right information in the right order?
- Site information architecture – Is the page sitting in the appropriate place on site?
- Navigation – are the call to actions clearly defined?
- Wording – is it crystal clear and compelling
The measures set out under this strategy will may be targets such as click-throughs, successful completion of task, page views, or even sales. It depends what you want your user to do.
Content site strategy
My third example is a meaty one. In this example the strategist has been asked to ‘bring three sites together into one’.
There may be some objectives here that involve reduction of hosting costs, improvements in efficiency (as content will only need to be managed in one place) and improvements in search visibility.
The strategy here has a broader purpose, as it will need to outline:
- Platform – where will the content be hosted and served?
- CMS – are you choosing the best one?
- Management (or roles & responsibilities) – who will own, create and edit/publish content?
- Site information architecture
- URLs and metadata – how can you ensure the migration doesn’t have a negative impact on search visibility?
- Build roll-out – and phasing of the content migration
The first step would be to understand who each site is used by and why. Once all the user needs are identified the strategist would carry out a content audit. The purpose of the content audit would be to have a full list of all content in order to understand what can be kept and what can be lost in the ‘move.’
Throughout migration the above points will be considered and you may have targets such as successful completion of task (which can be measured through user-testing), search ranking targets, or migration deadlines. With this strategic kind of project you may also have longer term targets that can’t be realised immediately, but will be ultimately achieved – such as resource cost-savings.
This sort of meaty project is also likely to be done in collaboration with user experience, design and dev.
So you can see that content is more than just a few words. The above are just three examples, but you can see how varied and adaptable a strategist has to be.