This calls for a strategy

Planning session - photo by (Creative Commons)

Content – whether in the form of written words, data, graphics, audio, or video – is the key factor that’ll determine whether a user finds value and meaning during their visit to your website. It has the power to influence, educate, inform, and entertain its audience.

So what can we, as web professionals, do to ensure the content on our websites approaches something close to its optimum state? Well, a little planning goes a long way.

Asking the questions

Looking back at the last web project you were involved in, where did the organisation of content fit in the grand scheme of things? Were the following questions asked?

  • What content have we already got and what state is it in?
  • Who are our audience and how will the content meet their needs?
  • Who is going to create the content?
  • Who will maintain the content post-launch and how can we help them?

All these, and more, should be answered before anyone settles down to write, sketch, or record anything towards the website.

But what does this mean in a practical sense? What are the deliverables and how will they help us?

  • Like all good plans, extensive research, in the form of Personas and Scenarios, will need to take place to develop a deep understanding of the intentions of the stakeholders, as well as the needs of the audience. You’ll really need to know what tone and language your audience resonates with.
  • To give you access to the bigger picture all pre-existing content should be logged in a spreadsheet, commonly referred to as a Content Audit/Inventory. I know it sounds, and is, a painful, laborious task (your fingers certainly won’t forgive you) but it’ll allow you to quickly spot any immediate gaps and helps to reveal patterns and relationships within the content and metadata (your Information Architect will be delighted).
  • Another tool for understanding the existing content’s structure, organisation, and location is the Content Map (think boxes, and lots of arrows). Its visual nature alone will get everyone thinking about how to progress from this point.
  • On top of that, you’ll be expected to provide solutions for the creation, organisation and use of content, including content management systems and search engines.
  • Looking ahead to post-launch, a Styleguide will provide instructions and examples that’ll enable others to continue creating content in the same voice.

These, and far more besides, are the common tasks and challenges undertaken by a Content Strategist. A role that sits neatly alongside other user experience (UX) practitioners like Information Architects (IA) and Interaction Designers (IxD). They all share the collective responsibility of fulfilling the user’s expectations.

This emerging web practice

It was Rachel Lovinger’s article on Boxes and Arrows, that really drew my attention to the practice of Content Strategy. As a self-described Copywriter, Information Architect and (budding) Search Engine Marketer, it brushed up against all my roles. It’s nice to be able to attach a singular term to something of many – especially your job title.

Every new frontier has its pioneers. For Content Strategy, the leading lights who’re making the most noise (and often sense) are really beginning to bring the practice, and its tangible benefits, to the surface in the form of articles, tweets, seminars, and a certain webinar. There’s a burgeoning, energised community where ideas, beliefs, and processes are openly exchanged. It’s really gathering pace.

If, like me, you’re are a web copywriter and prepared to undertake the role of collecting, analysing, and organising the intricate content elements that make up the modern web project, then Content Strategy could form your next professional development.

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