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Content Strategy: planning a site pt.2


Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

This time I’m going to talk about content strategy, one of the most important and neglected aspect of the design process. I decided to create a series about planning a site after I got some positive feedback from the first chapter wireframes and concept, and because Nick Finck said so. And you don’t let down Nick Finck.

ContentNapkin_MacIntyre.jpg

content strategy

The web is content. seriously.
People go on the internet to find informations, to do something, to solve a problem. Either way you’re looking for content. It sounds obvious that is the key element of your site, but usually, during the design process it’s the last thing we worry about. Why? Well, usually we think it’s somebody else’s job, or we’re going to use what the marketing has prepared or we think we pretty much know what we want to say. No biggie.
Wrong.
I’ll show you in a while why this is so important, but first let’s see what exactly content strategy means. Please, also remember that when I say content I refer not only to text or copy, but to data, video, audio, images, etc.

what does content strategy involves?

Quoting Kristina Halvorson, a real guru on the subject, “content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.
Content strategy helps you understand not only what content needs to be created, but why.”

It comprehend several aspects:

- editorial strategy: defines the guidelines that govern the content. Values, tone, legal concerns, user generated content, and so on. It also includes the editorial calendar and content cycles.

- metadata strategy: identifies the type and structure of metadata to help the publisher organise, use, reuse the content in ways that are meaningful to the audience.

- seo: edit and organize content on a page or across a site to increase its potential relevance to specific search engines keywords

- content management strategy: the technology to capture, store, deliver and preserve an organization’s content. Choose the tools to publish and maintain the content.

- content channel distribution strategy: what means you’ll use to distribute your content.

Ok, pretty quick and not very detailed, but that should give you the general idea of which are the expertise and functions of a content strategist.

ok, but why?

Yeah, but still I can’t exactly understand why this is so important and I should get into so much trouble for it.
Here some good reasons:

- SEO: don’t deny it, it’s an inflationated word but you do care about it. Here I don’t have any magic tricks, but you can style and organize your content to be more effective for search engines. You should be able to insert some keywords without ruining the quality of the copy. It’s very useful to get a very specific audience on your site which also mean that if you have targeted ads it’ll help your convertions having more click through.

- Design: ever wondered why the nice templates you show the client are never really the same once in production? That’s because you used some place-holders and Lorem Ipsum having just a general idea of what was going to be on the site. If you have the real content at your disposal you won’t break your very well planned user experience at the last minute.
Another reason to plan content before designing the site is that design actually tries to communicate something in relation to the content and the brand. If you don’t know what you’re designing for you won’t create something that helps the content and the brand spirit. (never mention Lorem Ipsum to content strategists, they literally loose their mind. if you do it by mistake, run.)

- Usability: yes, I love this word. And content has a huge role in it. I mean, it’s important to have a clear and understandable interface with simple navigation and so on, but then, if the content fails to be helpful and readable we wasted our efforts.

- Persuation: let’s face it, today everyone is a publisher and you need to catch your reader attention. You want to communicate something and if you can break through it doesn’t hurt.

- Brand: “good content add luster to the brand” says Colleen Jones.

All right, now we have a general idea of what content is and why we need some strategy.

teach me, baby!

Let’s get into the real stuff: How can I put in practice this concept? Karen McGrane is some sort of goddess explaining this and make sure to check the slides at the end of the chapter. I’ll try to summarize the most important steps.

She uses a very effective model to visualize the process that occurs planning a site from a content strategist point of view KarenMcGrane_contentstrategy.jpg

1 – Product Strategy: consider what is your product for, what values does your brand stand for, and how you plan to make money (by subscription, by ads, etc.)

2 – Planning: you need to know what message you want to communicate and which content features will support that message. plus, consider which tone and voice you should use accordingly. Ask youself if you need to create new content and how long would it take to source or develop it.
It’s in this step that you should plan which sections and topics you’ll have on the site (shop, demos, customer service?) If you have a product think of what you want to say about it (it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s better because) and plan which additional features you need (blogs, video, podcast, social networks, infographics.)

3 – Sourcing: Check what content you have ready and what’s missing. Then decide if you’ll create the new one or you’ll source it from third party. Actually to understand what you need or even what you should keep or delete you should refer to what is your business goal. And of course your user’s goal.
In this step you should do a content inventory. It’s a very important thing and I’ll give you more details later with more care.

4 – Creation: decide who is going to create the content and in case it’s not you prepare some guidelines to give them. You need to decide as well who is responsible to review, edit and approve it. Figure out what legal or regulatory approvals you’ll need and the quality control measures.

5 – Governance: consider what will happen when the content will be up on the site. You should plan how often to update it and which metrics use to track the content performances.

I mentioned that you should do, and then keep updated, a content inventory. It’s really what it sounds like, a list of all the content you have on the site. Usually a excel table. Sarah Rice share her model here or Jeffrey Veen gives another exemple here. At the beginning of a project it’s useful to know what you’ll work with. List the content and try to categorise it by tone, accuracy, consistency, relevance, and so forth. It helps Information Architects that now have the means to know what is possible and what not in their planning, and it helps writers because they want to know where their work is needed, not just randomly write stuff.
For a more practical guide check the link to Veen I gave you few lines above, it gets into details about an optimal process.

quality content

The process for a content strategy we’ve seen so far it’s really good but I think you may like to look at it from another perspective: how to create some quality content?
Colleen Jones has written an article on UXmatter about that, let’s see if I can shrink it a bit for you here. To ensure content quality a style guide isn’t enough because it usually address only word choice and brand voice. We should instead use some content heuristics.

- usefulness & relevance: consider if the content meet the business goals and the user interests. If you’re positive that it’s useful now try to understand when it will expire. in a couple of words, it’s timely and relevant?

- clarity & accurancy: first of all you should make sure that you’re content is understandable for readers and it’s logically organized, but it’s also very important to avoid typos and grammatical errors. Check & double check. yeah, check one more time.

- influence & engagement: use influence and engagement techniques trying to make it effective and appropriate for the context.

- completeness: Make sure the content icludes all the informations users may need or want about a topic.

- voice & style: the content should always reflect the editorial and brand voice, obviously adjusting to the context (sales VS customer service). try to convey the brand qualities, having a style and keep it consistently. In the end check that your content read, sound and look professionally crafted.

- usability & findability: you probably already know the rules, create a content easy to scan and read. Usually this means to keep it short, good hierarchy with headings, bulleted lists, master the white space, and so on. However findability needs much more effort. Use appropriate metadata and some guidelines for seo without compromising the quality of copy. Check if the user can find content searching specific keywords.

These are some useful guidelines but still, you should get an expert opinion, do usability testing and and check users feedback. Additionally always use a content inventory and analysis.

content analysis

Assuming you now have a general idea of the process for a content strategy and you may have already done your content inventory, you should check for significant problems with these content analysis heuristics that Fred Leise has listed on BoxesAndArrows.contentInventory.gif

- Collocation: content should be easy to find for users, so you should collect it and make it available in one area (by subject, author, date, etc.) Depending on the quantity you could also use subsections.

- Differentiation: use separate, meaningful, well labeled sections for different content.

- Completeness: all content should exist, there’s no excuse anymore for 404 errors. It’s your job to make that content available.

- Information scent: a good site will provide users with strong clues as to the content that can be found clicking on a link. Use good labeling, don’t made-up words in navigation, try to meet users expectations.

- Bounded horizons: use good navigation clues and hierarchical structure to let the user quickly learn how long the search could take. Avoid that sense of labyrinth when browsing the site.

- Accessibility: always make sure your content it’s easy to find through navigation. Content is useless if it can’t be found.

- Multiple access path: users think of content in different ways, they should be able to take multiple path to reach it. Provide search filters by document type, author, date, additionally to subject.

- Consistency: consistency helps the user build a mental model of your site to easily navigate and find content. Ensure conistency across the whole site providing the same structure of elements and conventions.

- Audience – relevance: you may have a diverse audience so make sure site labeling and organization it’s relevant to all your audience segments.

- Currency: content should be up to date. Check it periodically and could be useful to put an expiration date on all content in your cms.

There’s so much to say on this subject and I don’t have the space here. Check the reference I listed below as usual in the “Get to know more” section, but I would suggest as a good start the Braintraffic blog, Kristina Halvorson’s place, which has tons of practical tips on content strategy. Karen McGrane, Margot Bloomstein, and Jeffrey MacIntyre who runs Predicate, LLC are the other names to follow in this business if you want to learn more. Kristina Halvorson has also recently published Web Content Strategy, obviously a must read. I’ll soon get my copy.
finally, the Knol on Content Strategy is a wonderful starting point to found everything related on the web.

I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did share it so we can spread the word :) If you have any question I’ll try to answer everything in the comments or you can get in touch on twitter.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.





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Comments   5rss

    1. Comment by greenville web design

      October 16, 2009 @ 11:06 am


      Thanks for the great write-up. This gives me the inspiration to go through and re-write/organize my content again.

      Thanks for all the great links too. I got like 9 tabs of reading to get to.

    2. Comment by Michel (admin)

      October 16, 2009 @ 1:00 pm


      I’m glad I helped!
      it’s such anextensive topics and I tried to sums it up.
      it’s an aspect of a website you don’t hear about a often, still if you look for it there’s a lot of stuff on the subject.
      Have a good read!
      and God bless who invented tabs, I couldn’t live without. :D

    3. Comment by Polprav

      October 16, 2009 @ 8:44 pm


      Hello from Russia!
      Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

    4. Comment by Michel (admin)

      October 17, 2009 @ 5:18 am


      Yes Polprav, if you put a link making clear I’m the author there’s no problem at all. I’m also glad you liked it and want to share it.

    5. Comment by Alex

      November 11, 2009 @ 10:43 am


      As @greenville said before, that’s a great content, and I’ll have to go through several links because of you, now.

      Kudos.


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