It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that on the web there’s a handy catch-all phrase for all those words, images and messages that populate web sites. Increasingly it’s become the big woolly mammoth in the room; the thing that dares not speak its name; the monster in the closet…hey you get the picture. But I can draw one for you too if you like…
The C-Word Yep, it’s content. CONTENT. C.O.N.T.E.N.T. Say it to yourself, face your fear, embrace it, blow raspberries at it and put ice cubes down the back of its shirt. I shall try and at least help you to do this so please bear with me…
You’ll know by now that these days in marketing it feels a lot like you have to act and behave like a mini-media publishing operation right? Yep, what we need is more content, more stuff, more guff, more, more, MORE!!! This beast needs feeding and it’s as hungry as all hell…And You Shall Know It By The Trail Of Rubbish Web Sites!
The problem is (I’m hearing you cry) there’s so much of this to do and so much to maintain. How are we going to determine what’s good? What’s bad? What’s downright ugly? What’s totally and utterly pointless? What’s simply contributing to the content landfill? What’s bullshit-fuelled marketing dreck? What’s doing what for who and by whom?
Luckily, help is at hand and it’s got a neat name. Wait for it…Content Strategy! Not impressed? Might sound a bit fancy-pantsy and highfaluting for ya? Well possibly but I promise you this is the knight in shining armour and perfectly designed to slay the beast that is bad, irrelevant content. Done properly it’ll turn your web site into a sleak well-toned animal, a perfectly engineered organism; lean, fit and ready to go slay some ugly beasts. I know this because I have been lucky enough to be learning all about Content Strategy in the last few weeks with someone who knows all about it and does it very well.
So what exactly is it? Simply put it’s like this:
“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content,”
and that’s from Kristina Halverson who wrote a very good book all about it, and she definitely knows her content strategy onions. So how important is it to the process of designing web sites? I read an interesting analogy (might have been one of the aforemetioned ‘heavy hitters’) “Content Strategy is to Copywriting what Information Architecture is to Web Design”. In other words if you don’t consider it in your web design process you will probably fail, squished by the metaphorical woolly mammoth lurking in our midst.
Use it don’t lose it (or why you really should avoid avoiding this stuff ) So, super-eager to test out the new stuff I’ve learnt I used Content Strategy tactics on a recent web site project, and I’ll be honest it’s been a bit of a revelation. Designing with ‘content first’ is absolutely the best way forward; as Relly Annet-Baker puts it designing the cover of a book first and then thinking about a story to fill the inside pages doesn’t make a whole load of sense. Content strategy also helps stakeholders to understand the importance of good content versus a pretty design. Things slot into place much more smoothly when you’re not ‘pouring the content into spaces in the design’ in a last ditch effort to get up and running.
The truth is if you are a web designer, copywriter, information architect, pixel pusher or anyone else involved in that whole web design process you really cannot afford to ignore this stuff if you want to create something meaningful that meets user and business objectives. Yes it takes time, yes it needs some skills, but yes it’s totally worth using content strategists or at least talking with someone who knows a bit about it.
You might have guessed that I’m a convert and an advocate, and that’s why for anyone who is at the point I was I was a couple of months ago I’ve decided to simplify and identify seven key foundation points for a implementation of a successful Content Strategy, and all this is possible because I’ve been learning from people who really know and who’ve been out there in the wild slaying the beasts.
It’s a starting point, that’s all…but hopefully it’s useful for you to see what’s involved and what needs to be considered when staring up at that seemingly insurmountable peak.
1. Establish personas and their scenarios Who are these visitors to our site? What will they do there?
2. Design your Design Persona Establish your brand personality – be clear about what you are and what you are not. Create some ‘voice and tone’ guidelines to follow
3. Do the content audit Qualitative and quantitiative: What have we got? What does it do? Why is it there?
4. Your needs/their needs? User objectives aren’t the same as business objectives. Let’s consider them both carefully. Set those goals!
5. Stakeholders and responsibility Who’s making this piece of content?
6. Consider pathways How will people interact with your site, what’s the journey they will take? Where do we want to take them so they can complete the task they’ve come here to complete?
7. Identify the good from the bad Will this even help our users do anything? Does it add to their experience or help them in any way?
Useful links Of course there’s much, much more to Content Strategy than this little taster. If you want to dive deeper then here’s a few choice pieces for you…