Basic content strategy

Posted by Ellen | Filed under Content Strategy.

Here’s a useful introduction to Content Strategy that applies to even the most basic website.

The slides can be found here.

1) Setting the context.

A couple of Content Strategy projects I’ve worked on:

Working with Fortune Cookie and Fitness First on setting processes in place to audit, order, brand and write their content for their recent site re-juvenation.
On a smaller scale, giving the Ethical Tea Partnership everything they needed to write their own content and track the QA process successfully.

2) Let’s imagine that your online presence is a living, breathing thing. Like a dog.

Whether you’re a big company or a small company, or a one-man band, your dog needs ongoing care and attention. If you’re thinking of owning a dog, you’re going to have to put some serious thought into who’s going to look after it. You need a plan.

3) Prevention is less expensive than cure.

What can go wrong if you don’t have a strategy?

  • It eats £1000s of your money and demands lots of your time
  • It’s untrained and badly groomed
  • It sits lifelessly and ignored in the back garden
  • No-one wants to take responsibility for looking after it

Around 80% of the websites that design agencies and designers put out there don’t have any kind of content strategy. Replacing Lorem Ipsum with copy from a brochure is worse than feeding a dog on cat food. It’s a website killer.

4) How to innoculate an online presence from typical diseases.

The very best way to prevent these problems is to put your audience, their context and your content first. Build your content around your audience and their context, then build your website/ web presence around your content.

It’s all about being relevant to the person reading, at the time of them reading, in the place they’re reading, on the device they’re reading it.

5) What is content?

It’s way more than just copywriting.

Content can consist of your information architecture, user generated content, things people have written about you, it can be dynamic news, tweets, blogs, guides, pictures and even data. Even train times, bus times and ebay entries are content. This means that there’s a lot to take stock of – time to do an audit and think about how you want to curate this stuff. How are you going to make it most useful to people?

Just to repeat. It’s all about Relevance.

6) Let’s not get excited and start making stuff yet.

To start building a website without taking stock of your content is like buying a dog just for Christmas. You’ve got to get strategic (think pet training, kennels, walking rota), otherwise it’s going to be a pedigree website that’s dead in the water – no-one wants that.

So the next few points take us, step by step, through a very basic content strategy process.

7) Who is responsible?

You need someone to be an anchor for the process. You need:

  • A single person who has sign-off
  • A single person for editing
  • A single person to keep momentum
  • A single person who asks ‘why’

This person will be in control of your brand image, have a handle on the Style Guide, hold the reins on the SEO enthusiasts and make sure it all ‘fits with the plan’.

8 ) Establish your objectives (You need to look at the slide that has the graph on it for this one – it’s adapted from Adaptive Path)

It might be easier to reach some of your objectives that are most important to you than others, but some of them might be more do-able than others. You need to work out which ones are most important and do-able.

This is an important prioritisation exercise that needs to happen when you first decide to embark on any web project. Hand these objectives to your anchor person and don’t let her let you forget them.

Examples: You want your website to take away phone enquiries (maybe with an FAQ?) or you want volunteers to feel a stronger sense of community (with blog posts about their good work?).

9) Audit and research

This is the greatest antidote to future shoehorning issues and other great common money-sucking disasters.

  • Take a look at what you’ve got already/ what is successful?
  • Is it good enough to re-use? Really?
  • Check it against your mantra – Is it relevant to the audience in their context?
  • Go out and speak to your audiences. What do they want from you?
  • Look at their behaviour. How can their online behaviour complement what they already do?
  • What do they need?
  • What is their current perception of your brand?

10) and 11) Branding and Messaging

Well… I could go on about this until the cows return to the milking shed. There are lots of activities you can do to nail down what your brand is about. Of course I’d be happy to share them with you but you’ll have to ask me for them. For starters you need to work out:

  • Your elevator pitch
  • Your basic values (try to be a little more specific than Trustworthy, Accountable, Innovative …We all are)
  • Your personality traits (If you were a character on stage, how would you be?)
  • Your brand promise (what would you want to be known for when all is said and done and the world was coming to an end? Think Steve Jobs)
  • Your messaging and your benefits

12) Workflow

There is no end to your content production and maintenance. You need to keep it alive and keep looking after it. You therefore need to have:

  • A schedule
  • A Quality Assurance process
  • An editorial policy
  • Someone who organises the more dynamic content and keeps it fresh (to schedule)
  • A strategy to stick to and morph as you go along
  • Did I mention that it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing?

So there we are. Content strategy, it never really ends. That’s the good news.

I hope that was useful. It was great to have the chance to talk about basic Content Strategy to the WP audience, but got the feeling I was preaching to the converted for quite a few members of the audience already.

If you’ve got ways and means to convince the unconverted, I’d love to hear from you.


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