A straightforward, easy to digest guide to building content strategies. Pitched more at the person in a business (and who is more likely to be writing) than it is the broader spectrum of 'content creators' that exist today. Most helpful for its descriptions about how to frame your strategy and translate it into content that will actually help.
'Generally speaking, content is more or less worthless unless it does one or both of the following: A) Supports a key business objective, B) Fulfils your users’ needs'
The key messages of content strategy.
Having an unending fountain of content is not necessarily a good thing because it can be incredibly difficult to manage. Instead, prefer quality over quantity. Benefits of having less content:
'Too much content means information is harder to find, whether on the page or within your site. And that means it’s harder for a customer to make a decision in favor of your product or service.'
Create an inventory of the content you already have. It might be that you already have much of what you need, or you may not be aware of the gaps that you have.
After you know what you have, it's just as important to assess it for quality. Is it support objectives and fulfilling user needs?
Ask the right questions of your colleagues and customers. More often than not, they have all the answers—you just need to get it out of them.
'When working with engineers, I tried to make things simple and empirical, often relying on spreadsheets and “if-then” statements. With designers, I went visual. And with executive stakeholders, I always made an effort to reference bigger-picture goals.'
Someone needs to own the content that your company has. Is that going to be you, or a handful of people across the team you work in? It doesn't matter, but you need to make sure that someone owns it somewhere.
Ask your boss what drives them crazy about their content currently, ask your colleagues what they think is missing, educate people, get to know people, but ultimately find some good things you can crack on with and get them done however you can.
'Demonstrate value on your own terms. Be proactive, and identify tiny projects that will showcase the benefits of content strategy. Then get them done, with or without resources.'
We treat content like it's a commodity. It's not—it's an asset, 'an asset that requires strategic consideration.'
More content often leads to more confusion. It ages quickly and users don't particularly want loads of.
We buy it on the cheap from content farms, or aggregate low quality material and just shove it out there onto the internet.
We publish as much as we possibly can. This can be super unhelpful, but boy it feels good to look busy doesn't it?
Content is political: legal wants this, marketing wants that, product needs the other.
'Delivering great content requires some kind of investment: user research, strategic planning, meaningful metadata, web writing skills, and editorial oversight.'
Content strategy is three things:
Content strategy != tactics like blogs, white papers and articles.
'Content is what the user came to read, learn, see, or experience. From a business perspective, the content is the critical information the website, application, intranet, or any other delivery vehicle was created to contain or communicate.'
In reality there is a Core Strategy at the centre, made up of Content (Substance + Structure) and People (Workflow + Governance):
'In summary: Content strategy guides your plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content.'
it's the person responsible for all the content! But this doesn't mean they write every paragraph. In general, though, they:
The role can overlap with others, sometimes more often than not:
Messaging and branding - what's the story, how do we tell people and how do we differentiate that story across different audiences?
Web writing - useful context, basic UX design, managing content inventory, keeping good metadata
Information Architecture - determines content requirements for websites, understands and addresses structural issues, determines messaging hierarchy.
Search Engine Optimisation - leverages content for better visibility with search engines, on and offsite optimisation, metadata, site structure
'Ultimately, the important thing is simply that someone is paying close attention to the critical questions that will make or break your content: why, what, where, for whom, by whom, when, how much, and what’s next. It doesn’t matter what you call it or who does it ... as long as the work gets done!'
Alignment is not consensus, but a common understanding. People affect the content and vice versa. It's important first to identify your stakeholders, who will broadly fit into five camps:
You'll want to engage your stakeholders with a good story arc:
'Alignment is about providing your stakeholders with baseline information about the content, each other, and the strategy process. Then, for the rest of time, it means keeping people up to date, asking for input, and responding to questions. (Yes. Seriously. Forever.)'
It's important to know what you have, where you have it and whether or not it's any good. This is the case today AND tomorrow.
There are broadly two types of audit: Quantitative and Qualitative.
Quantitative audit: what have you got and where is it? An inventory of sorts.
Qualitative audit: is it good, well-written and benchmarked against industry standards? Is it in line with business goals? Does it follow your content strategy?
A quant audit seeks to get the facts about all the content you currently have and all the relevant information about it that you might need:
You may not need all of these, and this can get more complex if you have content in more than one location, but a simple spreadsheet and most of the above as headers makes for a good start.
This part of the audit is more to do with subjective analysis if the quality and effectiveness of the content as it stands.
Factors to consider and rank either on a scale, 1-5 or from pre-selected criteria:
For a more strategic audit, use the following questions:
If you have under 5000 pieces of content you should aim to look at all of it—this is doable, believe it or not.
Report your findings:
Your content won't exist in a vacuum. 'Business goals, resource constraints, user needs, and competitor activities are just a few things that influence your content in a big, big way.'
Internal impact factors: How does your organization impact your content?
External impact factors: What effects do users, competitors, and influencers have?
Internal analysis can be conducted by acting like a journalist, getting comfortable with silence and, on occasion, asking 'silly' questions. These are often the best things to get to the bottom of what the truth really is.
It's important to understand what people think across four key areas.
A - What Are Our Target Audiences?
Audiences can be any number of things:
Different stakeholders will value and prioritise different audiences at different times for different reasons.
B - What Is Our Messaging?
This is about how you get the information and the ideas of the business into the heads of your users, whoever they may be.
You can use messaging to:
What messages do we want to send to what stakeholders?
What messages exist right now?
What messages do we need to have out there in the future?
'Messaging is the art of deciding what information or ideas you want to give to—and get from—your users.'
C - What Channels Should We Use?
It rarely pays to be on every channel all the time talking to every audience member. There are many:
Important to understand the user lifecycle—how do people interact with your content from first hearing about you, to making the decision to buy, and beyond as an active user?
Where have the sales come from so far?
What lifecycle are your customers moving through?
D - How Should Content Be Managed?
Many people involved with many roles in content strategy:
These are all steps in the process and how they interact will depend on people's capacity, internal politics, the abilities that people have, the tools and templates that are available for everyone to use at each step.
Knowing what your users think and want is important. While it can be helpful to gather endless amounts of date, data != information.
What are your competitors doing? How can you get an advantage on them? Not just parity, but better.
How is their content covered?
'The core strategy sets the long-term direction for all of your content-related initiatives—ensuring all activities, big or small, are working together toward the same magnificent future. Tactics might need to change, but your core strategy stays consistent. It helps you withstand the changes and keep moving forward.'
The core strategy sits at the centre of all content activity. It must be:
When we say 'aspirational', we mean that the core strategy needs to 'achieve', 'be' and 'do':
Then, once you've outlined all of these things, be able to put it into a single sentence which you can annotate to bring it to life. This is only for internal use, of course.
Substance: what and why?
Structure: how to format, organise and display?
Get really specific about who your audience is and who you're talking to at any given moment. It may be helpful to put together 'personas' for these different audiences:
It's then vital to prioritise by channel—the website is for customers, email is for... etc.
What do you want people to remember?
Primary: the main thing you want people to take away, found in everything you put out for all audiences. These might be interpreted differently, depending on the audience you are talking to. It will be different for investors, customers and end users, in all likelihood, but conveying the same message underneath that either way.
Secondary: multiple groups of key messages that support the primary message and give context. Advantages, differentiators etc. May not be applicable to every audience.
Details: proof points that support both types of above message.
Example 'Primary message: AwesomeCo is the best-kept secret in business software.
The audience you are talking to, plus the messaging you will use with them, decides the topics you will be writing about.
Creating a topic map of all those possible things you might write about, and how they all interrelate is a really useful way of showing where the pinch points are.
'Your analysis helped identify what your audience wants. Your messaging communicates what information you’d like them to understand. Now, you can select topics to focus on what will fulfill both of your needs.'
Every piece of content needs a job:
Voice and Tone
You have the same voice you use day to day, but you change your tone depending on who you're speaking to. The same can be true of brands and businesses. It's important to always talk with one voice and a consistent tone, otherwise it can feel like you're interacting with an inconsistent business.
Your Defining Voice is how your content will feel, what values will underpin it and will manifest different types of media. Often best described using a handful of clear adjectives, e.g. 'aspirational, inclusive, authentic'.
Your Defining Tone is the emotion and the energy that sets the voice off. What are the native voices of your audiences—how might the tone shift for each of these different groups? Funny? Calm? Punchy? Bold?
Mailchimp have a really good Content Style Guide that is available under a CC license.
The MailChimp voice:
It can be hard to know where to start when putting content together, but there are five criteria we can use to build a better sense of this:
How we structure our content is important. If we just write a bunch of content, we need also to make sure that it lands in the right places structured in such a way that will actively help it. We need to think about:
How you move about and navigate a website is incredibly important and can have as much of an impact on whether or not we make a buying decision as anything else.
Navigation - is it intuitive? Does it support key messages?
Links - how are they driving customer task completion, information submission and actions? If you want your users to do a certain thing, do your links call them to do those things?
Microcopy - how are you using copy in your menus, form fields, captions and buttons? Can it be done in such a way as to carry across the tone, voice and messages of the company?
Sitemaps and Metadata - how has your site been structures? Does it work well with search engine crawlability? Is it plugged into Analytics, Search Console, Yoast, AHRefs?
It's important to define ownerships and roles within the content strategy:
Governance processes are also very important to make sure that things are managed well at a high level.
Tends to be an ongoing process of:
An editorial calendar helps act as the drumbeat to this ongoing process. In creating this calendar, you'll want to define why it exists:
Perhaps it is used as a shared point of reference for who needs to do what, or perhaps it is more to measure the effectiveness of the messaging that's going out there.
Either way, governance processes need to be established and recorded to make sure that everyone sings to the same tune.
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