I didn’t find content strategy, content strategy found me.
When I joined the team here at Graydient Creative I already understood the importance of content. I appreciated its role with users and how it determines web success. What I didn’t understand, though, was the relationship between content and strategy.
However, what I quickly figured out was that content without strategy is, quite often, crap.
Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach wrote a book, Content Strategy For The Web that really nails this point home. If you haven’t read the book, you should. Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a content pro, an intern, or entirely new to web writing. Content Strategy For The Web is a comprehensive guide packed with game-changing insight that will provide you with the tools and resources necessary to deliver killer content.
When I finished the book, I was inspired to share my thoughts and how I’ve adapted Halvorson and Rach’s recommended content strategy practice.
1. Content is a commodity
There’s a phrase floating around out there that I despise. Many other content kids out there may feel the same way about it. You’ve heard it before: “Talk is cheap.”
Okay, sure. Talk is cheap. Fine. But poorly executed content is costly. There’s no denying that. This is communication after all. This is how you’re connecting with your customers. If you don’t treat content like an asset, your relationship with your users will suffer, and your business will suffer as well.
Invest in content. It’s the first step toward improving your website.
2. Get things aligned
As Halvorson and Rach said, “Alignment isn’t necessarily about creating consensus. It’s about creating a common understanding.”
Before you delve into your content project, you need to get key stakeholders aware and aligned with your project and its goals. If you don’t have the right people on board, your ship isn’t going anywhere. (Or it might, but it also might sink. Which is ultimately what we’re trying to avoid.)
Identify these people:
- Vital decision makers – these people can say no to a project. Sometimes they handle money and if they don’t understand what’s going on, they may put an end to it. Others may just be impacted by your new strategy, such as a sales person or your boss.
- Content strategy advocators – these people already have your back. They know the value of content and are exciting this meeting has finally been called.
- Interested others – these people want change too. They might not truly understand content strategy and its importance, but they have noticed that something has got to give.
Once you know who those people are, hold a meeting and acquaint them with your mission. They may offer some useful advice or lend a helping hand, but the real goal of this meeting is to make sure the important people are involved and know what’s going on.
3. Define ownership and delegate responsibilities
Putting together your team at the starting line will alleviate aches and pains as the miles elapse. Halvorson and Rach separate this step in two parts:
- Workflow – Define the tools and resources you’ll need for your content quest to be successful.
- Will there be weekly/bi-weekly meetings? Do you need to set up a timeline? What’s the creating, editing, publishing process? Do you need extra equipment, hardware, software, etc.
- Governance – Identify the people on your team and their function.
- Who are the people who will work in each role? For example: editor-in-chief, content creator, search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, subject matter expert (SME), etc.
Outline this important step to answer the above questions and sooner or later the process will become fluid.
4. Audit the content on your existing website
If you don’t know the content that’s residing on your current website, how can you improve it? Not only does a content audit save time down the stretch, you’ll also likely learn new things about your content that you didn’t before.
While doing your audit, measure the content on a scale. We recommend “Good, OK, Poor.” It’s a cut-and-dry system that’s easy to explain to clients or bosses. (It also gets the message across effectively.)
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your content, prioritize. With the measurement system above, you can identify the weak points and focus on them.
5. GO BIG!
Now that you’ve seen your content, and you understand where the problems truly are, set a goal. And, no, not just a statement that reads, “We want to improve our content on X, Y, and Z pages.” Make it lofty! (Still achievable, but lofty.)
When you’re looking forward, remember this: content isn’t the goal. It’s the means to achieving your goals.
Try something like, “Users will stay on our website 45 seconds longer on average.” “Our bounce rate will decrease by 11%.”
6. Map out a strategy for your audience
Before you begin writing, there are a few things you must answer. Each is critically important, and to effectively define them they must be considered as parts of a whole.
- Know your target audience – If you don’t know your audience, you can’t expect to talk to them – at least not effectively. When you’re analyzing your audience, be as specific as possible. The more precise you are, the more your audience will be interested. Ask yourself these questions:
- Whom do I want to engage in the conversation? Why would they be invested in my content? What are they going to my website for? What are their interests? Where are they interacting with me on the web?
- Identify your channels – The answer to this may seem obvious, and that’s good. This detail, however, is often overlooked and it’s critical to your content’s success. The mediums you choose will directly affect content length, message, and impact. Ask yourself these questions:
- What channels currently exist? What channels will I focus on going forward? How are they all connected? What is the business purpose of each? How will the user take action?
- Define your message – If you’re not sure what you want to say to your user, take a step back. Pinpoint exactly what it is you want the user to understand before you begin crafting content. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want the user to know or understand? What do I want the user to do? Do I have a primary message and a secondary message? (Keep it simple and stick with two.)
7. Write for the user
This is the biggest mistake a content creator can make. If the content on your website isn’t tailored to your audience, the user won’t stay. To prevent that, think like your user, and talk to them in a way they can understand.
Consider this: your user has a specific goal in mind when they enter the web; they’re trying to accomplish something. Figure out what the user’s goals are for visiting your website and help them achieve those goals.
Answer questions. Solve problems. Reduce uncertainty. If you’re not doing these things, you’re adding to the ambiguity. And users don’t respond well to that.
8. Create and deliver your content
This is where all your workflow and governance planning that happened in point number 3 really comes in to play. You may have to update your workflow as things evolve and new projects present themselves, but this is where you’ll be spending most of your days as the ball gets rolling.
9. It’s not over after you publish
Congratulations! You’ve put up brand new content and you’re finally seeing things improve. That’s awesome. Job done! – Just kidding, the job isn’t done. Publishing is only the first day of the rest of your life.
(Whoa, okay. Too much.)
But really, managing and updating your content after you publish is just as important as everything we’ve talked about previously. Don’t allow the ‘recent’ events on your website to be as old as 3 months. Continuously update and renovate after you initially publish to keep things fresh and users happy.
“Content strategy guides your plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content.” (Halvorson and Rach)
BOOM! There you have it. The thesis and guiding principle of content strategy, and why it’s important in one, simple sentence. Now you’re ready to go out there and change the always-evolving content landscape! It may feel like a daunting task when you first begin, but if you dedicate yourself to content and incorporate these 9 content strategy concepts into your web project, soon enough it’ll turn into a web success.
Is there a content strategy process you believe in that’s tried and true? Do you have any questions about how to tackle a specific problem you’ve been facing? Let us know in the comments or tweet us!