The Discipline of Content Strategy

by Kristina Halvorson

52 Reader Comments

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  1. Matthew: this is a really good question, and I think it’s central to the whole discussion here. In working with my clients (mostly small business and non-profits), I find that they may have a specific goal for a web site, but they have not really figured out what they want to say. The part that’s fun for me, and almost always appreciated by the client eventually, is helping them articulate their message or purpose. This can bring benefits far beyond the web site.

    In your example, why does Joe think his coffee shop is a great place for people to come? What is special about the place, the service, the people, ….? It may be something he or she feels strongly about, but has never considered advertising. Or it may be something that they have not quite put into words – but that’s the part where you can help. Once you draw out those ideas, that message, then you can go to work.

    Sometimes it’s easier for the client to accept paying for development time than for this process – even though this beginning is the most crucial part – but you can build that into your proposal. If things go well, your client will be a more enthusiastic and productive partner in the development process.

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  2. I am really pleased to see this article out there and it is something that has been ignored for too long. Not only from the clients, but also from professionals in the UX field.

    There are always those who say “˜yes but of course, we do this implicitly as part of our jobs as editors, writers, producers and publishers —it is nothing new’ but actually real content strategy work is more than just producing great engaging content.

    I wrote an article about managing evolving sites and actually the core of this concentrates on points raised in this article. Content strategy is a discipline in its own right. It actually combines all the separate elements of user experience, information design, content and knowledge management into one cohesive philosophy and importantly, actionable area. Without content strategy, all the information that a site produces will be lost, due to no metadata, no logical structure or SEO consideration.

    Time, resources and energy are all necessary ingredients to this domain, and I do not doubt that you will have your detractors. But I am so happy to see this formed and especially at the IA Summit. All the best with it Kristina and Rachel and thank you both for bringing it to the fore.

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  3. I totally agree with the thrust of this article. I work with clients in the non-profit world who seem to have even less time or capacity to write meaningful content. In my experience with them, though, it’s not that they don’t have content – it’s that they don’t know how to organize and edit it. And unlike HTML or other technical skills, it’s not something you can teach. Becoming a expert content writer/editor can only be done by experience. Unfortunately most of the powers-that-be don’t see this skill as important or worth allocating budget for.

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  4. Working in e-commerce I have consistently seen companies considering content as a sideline, something that gets prioritised only to assist SEO, or provide information so fundamental to the sales process they see a step change in conversion by not having the content on the page.

    It seems obvious when stated that a website is simply a means, not an end.  Without compelling content you very quickly have an undifferentiated site.  This is something that has shown up on user research run on our site recently. 

    The good news is that because the bar is very low in ecommerce at the moment, there are low hanging fruit to be had by all!

    The difficulty is that trying to put a business case around the benefit this can bring is very difficult.  However, pointing the decision maker at this article would definitely be a start!

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  5. As technology has advanced, people have become more and more informal in their communications.  In a lot of ways, this is great;I think people are writing and reading much more than they used to.  However, what they’re writing and reading isn’t always grammatically correct, and people don’t seem to want to take the time to proof their writing.  While this is okay when you’re sending a text or email to a friend, it is definitely not okay when you’re sending an email to your coworkers or posting a blog on your company’s site.

    Editing and proofreading aren’t fun for most people.  It takes time and knowledge, and it can be extremely tedious.  However, if company’s don’t want to take the time to edit their content, then they shouldn’t bother writing it in the first place.  It’s like the saying “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”.

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  6. I attended almost all the CS panels at this years SxSWi and was initially blown away. Here was a newly emerging practice that seemed to solve all the problems of wasted production time on assets that miss the mark.

    As I dug, I realized that to be effective at CS, a Content Strategist must have the most diverse skill-set in the entire production team. One part web writer, one part UX / Designer, one part social media specialist, even with splash of advertising and traditional marketing experience. That is like trying to find a unicorn!

    Yes, there are well respected CS practitioners making waves in the industry, but most of their websites do not reflect what they are pushing. It is my belief that good CS is the marriage of copy and design. If one is out of whack, the whole thing doesn’t deliver. The practice is so new, I am on the fence about exactly what constitutes a good Content Strategist and what balance of skill-sets one must possess to be effective in that field in a real world production environment.

    Looks great on paper, loved the book, all the buzz is great… now show me the goods!

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  7. The technical separation of design and content seems to have been good for the explosion of content onto numerous platforms but if “good CS is the marriage of copy and design” (quoting AXZM above) aren’t syndication and CSS the enemy of good CS?

    I’m really liking what Boing Boing and Dustin Curtis are doing with their “special features” blogs, making blogazines rather than blogs. Sure the content will read okay in a reader (or Instapaper) but they’re designed to be consumed as a marriage of copy and design.

    Perhaps HTML5 and CSS3 will help us create something that is both beautiful and semantically sensible – a marriage of WYSIWYG amd WYSIWYM.

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  8. Kristina,

    Thanks for this great post. I referenced it in a training session presentation I put together called “A Content Strategy Toolkit” at my agency. I posted it on SlideShare, so I hope you find that useful too.



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  9. Well, it’s almost 2011 and our publishing team is still grappling with defining roles/processes for website content publishing. And we’ve been at it since the mid 90s! For example, amongst our group of a dozen bright people with impressive skills/backgrounds, “Who is responsible for catching typos!?” is still a common cry when some sort of ‘gotcha!’ sneeks onto the public website.

    With over 25 years of design/publishing experience (first print, then online), I’ve evangelized and diagramed myself blue in the face regarding publishing roles/processes as I understand them. Still, our group struggles with ‘learning to float’.

    Can you throw me a life-jacket ALA? Is there quasi-definitive documentation on web publishing roles/responsibilities to be found? Don’t think I . . . can tread water . . . much longer . . .. Please help me! (blub, blub, blub)

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  10. The need for content strategy, and one or more content strategists, on a design and development project is definitely apparent. In a situation where there isn’t the manpower to assign one person to that job title exclusively how would a small development team, or even just a single developer, best be able to integrate more content strategy into their work flow? Basically, if you had to narrow your bullet points down by half, what items would you select as the most important? Understandably this may result in a product that is not ideal at first, but at least it would be progressive steps that could be worked into the work flow eventually creating better products.

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