We hear stories from clients about projects that have gone terribly or worse, failed completely. Luckily for us, though, we get called in to clean up. Usually these projects fail because there was no content strategy.
Content strategy is the most important part of your project. It is where you plan what to put into the website, trade publication, brochure, catalog, fifty foot outdoor advertisement, or whatever. Some companies do content strategy intuitively, but most need a lot of help. Enter the Content Strategist.
Content strategy is the most important part of your project.
So what should you expect from a content strategist when you engage them in a project? I've prepared a list of items you should look for during your next project. I've focused on a web project here, because it is the most common content strategy BIO does, but the principles can be applied to any content development project.
A content strategist will ask questions that help them understand your business objectives. They will try to learn as much as they can about your market, the competitive environment, and all that good stuff. They will identify stakeholders and may want to interview them individually. Be prepared to answer a whole whack of questions. Filling a content strategists head with everything about your company is a good first step toward a successful project.
Your brand has a voice, but the way you use it changes depending on what you're talking about. A content strategist will develop a plan for how your company creates different types of content, focused on what your audience wants from that content and how you talk to them. They will develop your key messages and define topical areas. They will perform user research by interviewing customers or stakeholders. They will rank your audience members by their importance to your business objectives and figure out how to reach those users most effectively.
Boring but necessary, content auditing is the way a content strategist catalogs the content you have now. You can expect your practitioner will perform an exhaustive quantitative audit on your existing content. With web work, this means spreadsheets itemizing every page on your site. Every video, blog post, and product page. Even if there is over 5000 items, it should be done. At the very least, they should spot check your content to understand the breadth of topics and the sheer amount of content.
The fun doesn't end there, though, because next is the qualitative audit. A content strategist should define what content quality is and apply that definition to the content you already have, passing and failing every piece. Combine the quantitative and qualitative audits and you have a picture of what content you can reuse or rewrite versus what you must rewrite, this is called gap analysis.
The kind of structure here is the creation of a site map, which is a document that shows the pages of your site, their relationship to one another (parent-child), and how the different pages are related to one another. Although a content strategist may employ an information architect for the structure, the point is that it must be done.
Taking structure a step further, an information architect or interaction designer may create user work flows for the more complicated interactions on your site. For instance, they may map out how a product configurer feature works.
A content strategist may be writing new content for you, but they might use their own in-house copywriter or hire freelance. It's the content strategist's job to work with the writer to develop all the content. All you need to do is read it through and approve it when it's done.
If your company is writing the content, expect content templates. A content template is a "fill in the blanks" document structured after the site map. If your site map shows you need three calls to action on your home page, then you will be expected to write each one in a content template. The content strategist should give you an idea what is needed for each item: number of words, tone, etc.
Finally, in order for you to succeed, you need to know how content should be developed in the future. A content strategy process typically involves a content management system, which is software used to manage the content on your website. The content strategist should help guide the configuration of that tool to support an ongoing contente creation plan. These kinds of plans include things like how frequently you create content, what communication channel that content lives, and how content quality is controlled.
Content strategy defines a lot about your project. From words on the page to complex user interactions. From search engine optimization to mobile strategy. It takes time and skill to do properly, but engaging in a content strategy process will greatly increase the effectiveness of your project and save time later during design and development phases. I don't know how any project can go without it.
While this isn't an exhaustive list of what a content strategist can or should do for you, I hope this has proved helpful to you nonetheless. Tell me if you worked with a content strategist in the past? Tell me about it.
BIO would love to talk to you about your next content strategy project.