Content Strategy and Why You Should Care About It

Sara Zailskas, a content strategist with, tells us why it takes more than intuition or seriousness of purpose to consistently deliver engaging content.

I recently took a job as a Web content strategist for an association’s Web site after four years in editorial with a group of housing industry trade publications.

When I shared my new-job news with colleagues in the publishing world, 99 percent of the time I had to explain what content strategy is.

And fair enough! I had only discovered the term a little over a year ago, which is shocking because it’s essential. Content strategy is important, and if we all employed it, we’d be more efficient and more successful.

What is content strategy?

Content strategy is determining the best way to present information to your audience so that it’s valuable and makes them want to come back for more.

Sounds like what you do, right? Probably to a degree. But as an editor, my team and I got so caught up producing and editing copy it was easy to forget to plan for it beyond the basics.

As a content strategist, I ask our content producers (read: writers and editors) questions like these:

• What’s the goal of publishing this? What are you trying to accomplish?
• Who are your trying to reach?
• Is this the best format (Q&A? List? Video interview?) for this information?
• What related content is in the pipeline?

I take a look at the content and ask myself how Joe User would react to the information. I consider where Joe would expect to find it. I think about whether Joe would find it useful. And I assess the likelihood Joe would return to – or better yet, refer to -- us as a resource.

In the middle of discussions or debates, my supervisors will always come back to our guiding questions: what’s best for our audience and what makes the most sense. And isn’t that what all businesses want for their customers?

Why you should care

If you give people useful information, they’ll come back for more. And if they’re coming back from more, that means your traffic, audience feedback and audience loyalty are going up – which hopefully means more money in the bank.

Of course, caring isn’t enough: you need to back up your strategy with metrics. Start with one piece of content. Come up with strategy, employ it, track the numbers, tweak what’s necessary, and keep that top of mind for the future.

Hiccups and how to get rid of them

Content strategy can be tricky. Here are just a few challenges you might face and solutions:

  • Time to plan. You’ll have to make it part of your planning routine. If you need to post a list of content strategy questions next to your computer to ask yourself, do it.
  • Resources. You likely don’t have a content strategy team to turn to for help and thus are your own content strategist. This isn’t a bad thing! Consider the payoff for your business and for your career.
  • Team or management buy in. The fact you’ll have to do a lot of educating about the topic means it’ll take longer for folks to wrap their heads around the concept – and devote money to it. Have patience.
  • Silo’ed thinking. Cross-promotion is a buzzword among us content strategists, but that’s difficult to grasp if you have a specific beat or focus to your work. Keep Joe User’s perspective in mind throughout.
  • Knee-Jerk publishing. The urge to “file away” information or “just get it out there” as opposed to optimizing it. Don’t stop at the first answer you think of.
If you have a content strategist, have discussions with him or her. And if you don’t, I challenge you to become one to elevate your content. Hopefully your traffic, audience loyalty, advertising and other important measures of success will rise too.

Sara Zailskas loves her job the National Association of Realtors as a content strategist for and relies on her editorial background every day.

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This is a terrific, timely blog. I agree with the author about the "content strategy" process described.

However, there is nothing new about the recommendations. Ideally, no matter what you call the process,it probably has been employed for years by many alert B2B editorial staffs.

When it hasn't been employed, lack of resources usually is the culprit. There always have been publishers who have been guilty of under investing in editorial development.

No matter how bright you are at
employing content strategy, the process simply can't be executed well without resources.

Thus . . . if the field trip budget is cut to the bone, you don't get out into your industry. And if you spend most of your time chained to the office, you begin guessing at what counts for your readers. Those occasional readership studies attempted from time to time do not replace face-to-face contact.

Then, say, in the case of e-news execution, if you are a terrific content strategist, you still need sufficient staff to follow-through on your plan.

Without sufficient staff, the prospect of an enterprise-packed e-news package is unlikely. My own studies on e-news delivery confirm this reality.

Today, everybody talks about the need to deliver web 2.0 content. Clearly, there also is a need to engage in print 2.0 content delivery. But you can't do either well if you are out of touch (e-mail exchanges alone are no substitute) and lack the resources to follow-through on in-depth investigative reporting.

To their credit, despite the hurdles described above, many editors, somehow, have demonstrated an ability to deliver great packages probably based on solid editorial planning (for which "content strategy" probably is a euphemism).

"Content Strategy and Why You Should Care About It" is a blog worthy of circulating to all B2B top brass. But you need to add a paragraph or two emphasizing that top content and adequate resources (including in-house training) go hand-in-hand.

Howard Rauch, President
Editorial Solutions, Inc.
& Chairman, ASBPE Ethics Committee
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : November 2, 2010 at 3:05 PM
"The most common user activity is fleeing the site."
-- Edward Tufte, author, "Envisioning Information"

Good show on these 2 content strategy posts. Most important.

I'd like to add another equally important, related pursuit: good information architecture. The bridge between research and design is information architecture strategy.

You can have a good strategy for content but how easy is it for readers to find the content, understand it, use it, come back for more and still have it easy to find?

There are numerous systems for organizing content (print or Web). How do they fit into the different personnas of your readership and the data you've uncovered via research and via strategy you only think is appropriate?

• Can your readers find the information?
• What labeling systems or consistent vocabularies do you use?
• Have you developed semantic relationships among various concept/topics that could help your search efforts?
• Do you understand the numerous ways to build a navigation system to hep readers get to the information they want quickly?
• And always know where they are within your linear/nonlinear/hierarchical systems?
• Are your systems and structure scalable when new concepts must be added?

Moreover, what type of research would you do before actually build in the strategy?
• focus groups?
• anecdotal evidence from face to face meeting at conferences or company visits?
• quantitative research?
• qualitative research?
• card sorting for taxonomy development
• case studies
• personna development

What deliverables are necessary?
• content mapping and inventories
• prototyping and blueprints
• detailed wireframes.

And how do you know it all works?
• solid user testing

One strategy development process
(from Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, O'Reilly, publisher):

Think (convert Research to ideas) > Articulate (diagrams, scenarios, metaphors, blueprints. wireframes) > Communicate (present, brainstorm) > Test (internal with card sorting for taxonomy work, prototype

Strategy phase deliverables:
• the IA report (detailed scope and direction)
• IA presentation (high level strategy, direction, scope)
• Plan for design (teams, deliverables, schedule, budget)

External user testing

Thoughts on content strategies and content management cover the entire process.

Robin Sherman Editorial & Design Services
Editor / Designer, Content Development / Marketing, Print / Internet, Publishing / Association Management
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : November 3, 2010 at 11:44 AM
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