Content strategy … you may know you should have one … but you probably don’t. In the past 18-24 months there has been a growing trend in the use of the term “content strategy” within businesses that rely on the web for the marketing and/or delivery of their products and services. Over the last 11 years, I have worked at 4 different companies that were focused on helping people create a compelling and relevant web presence. During these years, I have seen one consistent trend – regardless of a company’s size or focus, people like to talk about content strategy but very few actually invest the time and effort to actually have a content strategy.
What is content strategy?
At its core, content strategy attempts to take a holistic approach to understanding what content you need to make available and how you should manage the creation, upkeep, and retirement of said content. Content strategy involves people in many departments of your company. Marketing, Sales, IT, and Legal are just a few of the groups that have a vested interest in your content.
Content strategy is more than just information architecture or copywriting or implementing a content management system. It is all of those things and more. An analogy I like to use is a restaurant. A restaurant needs cooks, waiters, accountants, marketers, menu planners, etc. to be successful. Each of them on their own has an important role to play – but unless all of them are in sync and aware of their role in the restaurant’s goals, the restaurant will be less than stellar.
Why content strategy?
The practitioners of content strategy believe that in order to effectively manage content you need to understand a variety of factors around your content such as:
How much content do you have?
> Do you have too much or too little content? (rarely will you have too little)
What is the production process for creating / updating content?
> Is the process over-cooked and complicated?
> Do you really need 12 people to approve that press release?
Who manages the schedule around when and why content is created?
Is your content written in a consistent fashion?
> Appropriate reading level?
> Consistent voice and terminology?
What metrics do you have to measure the effectiveness of your content?
> Do you know what parts of your site are “hot” and “cold”?
> Are you spending significant time on content that is never visited? (if so, why even have the content)
Do you have a maintenance plan for your content?
> Why is that article from 8 years ago still on the site?
> What is a reasonable time frame for “weeding your web site garden”?
While these are just a few examples, the point here is both simple and complex. The general idea that you should have a content strategy is something that most people will agree makes sense. But like many things in life, those same people don’t find the time and effort to properly manage their content.
How do I get started?
The most overwhelming part of moving toward an effective content strategy is to admit that you don’t have one today. Many business people struggle to acknowledge areas where they are deficient – but until your key people acknowledge that they don’t have a content strategy it will be very difficult to start down a new path.
In my time as a consultant, I saw many companies that were very good at churning out mass quantities of content – but don’t confuse the generation of content with a content strategy. Generating an overwhelming volume of useless content is neither beneficial to your customers nor a good use of your company’s time.
If you are interested in learning more about content strategy, I would strongly recommend you look at two books as a primer on this topic:
- Content Strategy for the Web (Kristina Halvorson)
- The Web Content Strategist’s Bible (Richard Sheffield)
These books are relatively short yet provide excellent insight into the emerging field of content strategy and why you need to have one. We here at Ephox believe that our tools can help you execute portions of your content strategy more effectively, but no set of tools in and of themselves are a strategy. People with a plan and a vision execute a strategy – tools simply help you execute a strategy.