CONTENT STRATEGY:
WHAT WE DO & WHY
JENNIFER DENNIS
What is Content Strategy?
“Content strategy is the practice of
planning for the creation, delivery, and
governance of usef...
But, how, exactly, do we do that?*
1. We immerse ourselves in the details of all
our client’s current efforts and digital ...
Research, Audits, Best
Practices
Immersion
Stakeholder Discovery
Developing an
understanding of
needs,
aspirations &
pain points
 Assess marketing/business,
product...
Content Audit
Thoroughly
evaluating all
resources a
company has to
support online
engagement
 Assess and categorize
exist...
Competitive Analysis
Determining
what’s required
to remain
relevant within—
and move to the
forefront of—the
competitive s...
Best Practices Review
Going beyond
the competitive
set seeking
best practices
aligned with
user & brand
needs
 Examine on...
Content Plans, Gap
Analysis, Content Matrix
Planning
Content Plan
Organizing
information into
meaningful,
usable
structures
 Develop the
hierarchy/priority of
content types a...
Gap Analysis
Determining
what content
exists and can
be leveraged,
and what
content must be
created
 List the existing co...
Messaging Guidelines
Moving from the
“what” of the
site’s content to
the “in what
manner”
 Outline the beginning of a
sit...
Content Matrix
Providing a
page-by-page
blueprint for the
site
 Create a detailed resource for
all who will be involved i...
Creative Collaboration, Style
Guides & Governance
Documentation
Content Creation
Creative Collaboration
Working with
creative teams
to transition the
plan to reality
 Discuss the content and
messaging n...
Optional: Copy Points Deck
Making sure each
key message
makes its way to
the final
deliverable
 Create a list of key
mess...
Style Guides/Governance Info
Creating
guidelines to
ensure the site
continues to
evolve post-
launch
 Coordinate with des...
Editorial Calendars
Keeping site
accurate &
generating
enthusiasm for the
content online
 Provide deadlines for
upcoming ...
I’d love to hear from you:
jendennis2000@gmail.com
Questions? Comments?
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Content Strategy: An Overview of What We Do

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This deck is a quick overview of the work a content strategist does--and the value a content strategist adds--as a member of the build team of a website.

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  • This is a pretty widely circulated definition of content strategy; a variation of which was first seen on Rachel Lovinger’s blog post in A list apart, and now has shifted into common parlance. It’s a good working definition, broad enough to encompass the work of a huge range of strategists.
  • Content strategy is often a bridge discipline on many projects we work on. We come to know a client’s business and marketing needs, and thus serve a marketing role. We also delve into the details of user personas, needs and habits, which makes us a user advocate during the site’s development. And we work with the creative team to give them the ‘right stuff’ to mold into design and other content. On a well run project, we’re among the first to arrive at the party (during the strategy phase) and the last to leave (since we’ve created the workflows for ongoing site maintenance).
  • Of all the project phases, this is the one which is most often shortchanged timewise. I think there are three key reasons. First, the discipline sounds like it’s business or digital strategy and thus already done (not so!). Second, content strategy doesn’t sound like something that should take long (believe me, to do it right, you need time and a bit of breathing room to think), and third, because going over everything that’s already been created and discussed feels backward looking and introspective when most digital projects are all about the new, the future, what’s next, and wow-factors.

    But scrimping here can cost big later: It’s in this phase that we sometime uncover process issues that the client doesn’t see because she’s too close to the day-to-day of doing her job—inefficient systems for creating content, for instance. But it’s also through this process too that we tend to find buried treasures—content that’s hidden in a bad site architecture (or—yes it still happens—a file cabinet somewhere) or sources of content that have been overlooked, like the experience of stakeholders who talk to our audience every day and may know something we can share on the site.

    We can save money when we leverage what’s there, even if we’re talking about a total site redesign.
  • It’s worth noting here that talking should be valued as an element of the content strategist’s stakeholder discovery process. All too often, we’re provided a pile of ‘stuff,’ that we dutifully evaluate, but key information remains in the heads of people on the clients’ team. Prioritizing the interviewing and discussion that a content strategist does at this stage can result in truly enlightened content development later that highlights in-house resources & expertise, and can limit the need for ‘do-overs’ when we haven’t anticipated an unarticulated pain point.

    We’re looking not just for “content” during this phase, but for an understanding of how content is thought about, created, and managed within a given organization. And of course, for a sense of what staffing or technological resources we should consider as we develop a point of view, plan, and sourcing documentation for a project going forward.

    A range of specific deliverables can come out of this discovery process: Whitepapers or “State of the Union” decks that provide common agreement on starting point and end goals are among the most critical.

    Time spent here is valuable because it allows us to sense the culture of the organization and plan for content based on that reality, not abstract theory.
  • Assessment doesn’t mean merely noting content’s presence or absence from the site. Content strategists looks at all the content on the site for its quality, suitability for the tasks at hand (you’d be amazed at how many totally off-the-point content elements we find during this process), the format its in, and—and this is often key—whether its worthy as a starting point for the content you do want to create for the site going forward.

    And it’s best when content strategists get to review as much content as is humanly possible. Not just online marketing materials, but printed materials, product factsheets, materials provided to customer care reps, speeches/papers/public appearances given by corporate leadership. Even unfinished materials & notes. We’re looking here not just for content that’s ready to go, but for raw materials that we and the creative team may be able to turn into something amazing later.

    By the end of a good content audit, the content strategist is a subject matter expert on the company/brand she’s working for. This also makes us a great reference for creatives going forward. We know where the bodies (or at least the good information) are buried.
  • A smart approach to competitive analysis involves first determining what’s cost-of-entry: The features and information a business needs to remain in the competitive set as a user surfs the web, but then looking also at the overall landscape of competitive sites for unique positions or opportunities to meet unrecognized needs and push forward to online leadership in the market. This process is key for informed creative development later--the creative team can brainstorm around opportunities as well as more general needs for the project.
  • Like the competitive review, this is a content strategist’s forward looking evaluation of what’s possible. We may opt to evaluate sites in totally different industries that are meeting similar user needs in a different way.

    Also, while it’s sometime’s thought that skipping this more high-level evaluation is okay because “we’re just doing the website this year” it’s a good idea for the content strategist to keep the broader picture in mind even when you’re only working in one platform. This will allow the content and content development plan to scale over time—to adjust to meet upcoming needs without requiring a complete site overhaul.
  • This is when the excel fun really begins! The planning phase of the project is when all the strategy and research starts to become something real. In a properly timed project, this phase will not coincide with creative development, because it’s about getting down on paper exactly what we need the creative to accomplish.
  • The site hierarchy here is about giving each message and user goal its logical place on the site. Putting the information where it’s easy for the user to find, and making sure the information that’s easy to find is what the business wants prospective or current customers to know. This is a macro-level process, in which we establish where key objectives will be met, but if we want to get the best for our creative dollar, we are not dictating HOW that need will be met.

    Essentially, we’re working with the information architects (Ias) to create a high-level site map that says “all the stuff about this topic goes here. Stuff about that topic is separate, and will have it’s own section”
  • Here’s where the planning work begins to really pay off. If we’ve done the audits and interviews, we will know what we don’t know, and to whom/where we need to go to get that information. It allows us to share with project management (PM) the level of work required to source/create what’s needed (is it highlighting sections of a user manual or taking a tour of the plant?) so that sourcing can begin at the proper time. (I’ve worked on projects where the CS did this research, and where it was handed off to the writer/designer. Both approaches work, as long as the team remains open and communicates effectively.)

    Note that leveraging content can take many forms: We might love a tool, but change the steps, we might strip the words or the images from a flash presentation to re-use in a new look and feel. We might remove an article, but propose a video or blog post covering the same information.
  • We know what we have, and what we need, in terms of content for the project. What we need to do now is start to think about how we want to present the information to the world. A content strategist, based on understanding of business needs and the competitive environment, can begin to outline the goals in terms of voice at this stage, or begin working actively for the creative team to put more specifics into the guidelines.
  • This document can be intimidating because it tends to be rich with detail, but when a content strategist gets buy in from the team on the content matrix, it leads to a smooth development process. The content matrix is a living document—as the creative decisions roll out through their process, the pages and messages may shift and morph. It’s not final until launch, and can actually live beyond the build: A site matrix can evolve into the editorial calendar for the site post-launch, because it defines what needs to be here and how often that information must be maintained for accuracy.
  • Often (too often) the creative work begins before the details of the content matrix have been fully realized. It’s best when you’re able to share with a creative team everything their solutions are expected to solve for. Whether the two workflows (matrix/creative development) are happening together or separately, the creative process has a profound impact on the final matrix.
  • As the design/development goes forward, creative solutions may result in pages being combined or separated, moved, or messages being presented in a way that has some impact on the overall site development (after all, content can take the form of text, images, tools, apps, widgets…). THIS IS A GOOD THING. It does not mean the matrix was flawed or incomplete, and contents strategists should welcome this input from creative teams, while they serve as a first check for them that the great stuff they’re proposing does the job the client needs done.

    As creative decisions are made, the matrix is updated to reflect ever-more specifically what the page will do.

  • Most content strategists come from a text-based background, so we can often provide detailed information around the creation of words-based elements of the page. Copy points get into the specifics of the exact things that need to be said at a particular point in the development process—but it’s important to note that they are not the same as a copy deck. These are lists of ideas to get across—not the words that will be used to do it.
  • Creating style & governance documentation allows the content strategist works with the design & copy team to create a single handbook for the site. From the discovery period, the content strategist should have a good sense of the people in place on the client side in order to keep track of what’s on the site. The CS should have built the plan for the site content with these parameters in mind, so in addition to any training the content strategist might lead on site maintenance, the document should merely formalize ideas that have been shared throughout the development.
  • Again, the content strategist’s work on the matrix informs this work. I often include a column in my matrix that notes how often the content should be reviewed or updated, then use that information to create a single at-a-glance calendar for those with ongoing responsibility for the site to see what needs to be done when. This documentation can be delivered with the style/governance guides or later, but it shouldn’t be overlooked: Sites with outdated content erode user trust and are the equivalent of paying to have staff in the but keeping the doors locked so no customers can come in.
  • Content Strategy: An Overview of What We Do

    1. 1. CONTENT STRATEGY: WHAT WE DO & WHY JENNIFER DENNIS
    2. 2. What is Content Strategy? “Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, useable content.”
    3. 3. But, how, exactly, do we do that?* 1. We immerse ourselves in the details of all our client’s current efforts and digital goals. 1. We develop a concrete plan to help clients accomplish their strategic objectives. 1. We work to get the content created—for launch and after. * The tasks listed here represent an ideal state that may not be possible on every project. However, I believe this process continues to be worth striving for insofar as it’s realistic.
    4. 4. Research, Audits, Best Practices Immersion
    5. 5. Stakeholder Discovery Developing an understanding of needs, aspirations & pain points  Assess marketing/business, product, and customer relations goals  Examine key user needs and online goals, develop online target personas  Study recent traffic data and user feedback  Evaluate any in-place CMS, or of any systems under consideration  Review and understand current staffing and workflows
    6. 6. Content Audit Thoroughly evaluating all resources a company has to support online engagement  Assess and categorize existing website content  Survey any other digital outposts for brand-related content (social media, video portals, blogs, etc.)  Audit all brochures, catalogs & printed materials  Review any manuals or tools used by customer service employees
    7. 7. Competitive Analysis Determining what’s required to remain relevant within— and move to the forefront of—the competitive set  Evaluate key competitors for cost-of-entry information, functionality, or other elements  Determine digital strengths & weakness of all within the competitive set  Seek opportunities/unmet needs for prospects within the category
    8. 8. Best Practices Review Going beyond the competitive set seeking best practices aligned with user & brand needs  Examine online leaders to determine the leading edge in user expectations  Explore solutions beyond webpages, including mobile and social applications  Establish a wish list of features and functionality for the current project and future
    9. 9. Content Plans, Gap Analysis, Content Matrix Planning
    10. 10. Content Plan Organizing information into meaningful, usable structures  Develop the hierarchy/priority of content types and messaging  Establish groups of content necessary for user and brand tasks  Create a system to achieve objectives on the macro-level (i.e., site nav) and the micro-level (required elements per page)
    11. 11. Gap Analysis Determining what content exists and can be leveraged, and what content must be created  List the existing content that can be leveraged or used as-is as the website is developed  Outline required content that does not exist to meet site objectives  Provide potential sources for necessary content, as determined during the stakeholder work
    12. 12. Messaging Guidelines Moving from the “what” of the site’s content to the “in what manner”  Outline the beginning of a site “voice” based upon business & brand needs, as well as usability issues  Collaborate with creative team to finalize this direction. This is a high-level document which establishes a meaningful direction for creative development, it is not a style guide for the site—though it may evolve into one as the site is developed
    13. 13. Content Matrix Providing a page-by-page blueprint for the site  Create a detailed resource for all who will be involved in the creation of the site. This document can include:  site map identification  user objectives  brand objectives  messaging guidelines  SEO recommendations  Workflow/responsibility  linking strategy  content types  source documentation  editorial maintenance strategy
    14. 14. Creative Collaboration, Style Guides & Governance Documentation Content Creation
    15. 15. Creative Collaboration Working with creative teams to transition the plan to reality  Discuss the content and messaging needs outlined in the matrix  Brainstorm with the creative team around engaging ways of meeting the objectives  Adapt plans to incorporate the creative realization of the content strategy
    16. 16. Optional: Copy Points Deck Making sure each key message makes its way to the final deliverable  Create a list of key message points to be delivered within the creative execution  Double-check the creative deliverables to ensure all objectives are achieved
    17. 17. Style Guides/Governance Info Creating guidelines to ensure the site continues to evolve post- launch  Coordinate with design and copy teams to create a single handbook for adding any type of content to the site post- launch  Establish governance rules and workflows to ensure there’s a process in place for maintaining the site
    18. 18. Editorial Calendars Keeping site accurate & generating enthusiasm for the content online  Provide deadlines for upcoming content deployment  Include digital activity not taking place on the site itself, such as email or other CRM initiatives  Highlight key product interest periods  Note timeframe for reviewing content that should be reviewed for sunsetting as well
    19. 19. I’d love to hear from you: jendennis2000@gmail.com Questions? Comments?

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