This month’s Homegrown featured Michael Gowan, of Gowan Communications. Michael is a content strategist, writer, and editor with more than 15 years of experience creating web content. His expertise was evident throughout his presentation.
He began with a little humor in demonstrating things that are better together, like beer and pretzels, or Bert & Ernie. The point: content & design are better together.
Michael calls content and design best buds. They are inseparable in the user experience, they accentuate each other, and they are both essential for a successful site.
Content that matters
The context of content is just as important as the quality of the content. It has to be the right content In the right place at the right time. It needs to be what the user wants at the moment they need it. Take steps to find out what they want. Identify needs of users and how they fit within the site. Ask your audience what they are looking for. Use surveys or conduct interviews to get valuable feedback on what’s working and what’s lacking on your site. Use the data from your site’s analytics to see what pages are getting the most traffic, and which ones aren’t.
What is content strategy?
Content strategy is a field of practice encompassing every aspect of content:
- Content analysis, SEO, metadata, taxonomy, editorial guidelines, workflow, social media.
- It’s more than words or pictures, Michael defines is as content with a purpose.
Why it Matters?
Good content strategy creates a better user experience, it makes your clients happier (and when they are happy, you are happy), and it makes for more efficient content management.
Good and purposeful content makes for for efficient management, which makes the site easier to maintain (something else to be happy about).
Who does content strategy?
- Writers and editors
- Information architects
- Web strategists
Pretty much anyone who can think about content can be a content strategist. (So congratulations, you are a content strategist!)
Playing well with others
Need to work as a team to get best content strategy in place. Designers, User Experience, Development, and Marketing & Communications teams all need to be involved in the planning and implementation of content strategy.
Content Planning Process
Content Strategy is less about the actual production of the content, and more about the process you go through to create that content. Think through the process before creating any content. There is a work flow to this process:
Plan > create > manage
Know your audience, identify goals and objectives, and document and share all information collected with the entire team. Your tool kit consists of interviews, metrics, and performing a competitive analysis. Interview users and other stakeholders, review the metrics for the site, and identify what competitor sites are doing well and where they are falling short. Borrow what they do well (but make it your own). Weaknesses on their sites are opportunities for to improve upon what they are not doing well or lacking in.
Perform a content inventory. Go through the whole site and use a spreadsheet to index what’s there, discover what you have and what you need. Then taking goals and tasks you identified by talking to audience to discover the gaps in content. Identity items that are redundant, outdated or trivial and mark them for removal.
There are tools to automate the collection of content, but it is mostly a manual process, as everything needs to be assessed, and there is no automating that process.
“If you don’t like spreadsheets content strategy might not be for you”
Now that you’ve analyzed all your content, identified items that are needed and those that can be eliminated, it’s time to establish requirements for the content that will be created (or revised).
Take your detailed findings—audience, user goals, business goals, competitive analysis—gathered during the planning phase and use them to identify content types and create your content recommendations. Start laying out what you want the site to be. Document it all and distribute to all involved in creating the website.
Content Strategy Statement
At this point it is useful to come up with a content strategy statement. This is a snapshot of the content requirements, audience, and the top goals of the content. Distribute the statement to all involved and let them know if they want more information they can request the full document.
Style and voice
To maintain consistency throughout the site and all your communication channels, create an editorial style guide. This helps establish and maintain the brand voice, strengthening the brand and creating a better user experience.
Establish marketing guidelines that can be applied across all channels and media.
You can have different voices for use in different platforms, but should overall the tone and messaging should be cohesive.
Content inventory, check, content analysis, check, content requirements, check, strategy statement, guidelines, check. Now it’s time to think about creating the content you’ve so carefully planned. And what do you know, you’ll need to a process for that too. So start by
defining what the content creation process will be. Next identify the content creators and make sure the read and understand the content srategy. Then develop content tools and templates,
Content Creation Process
There needs to be a process In place prior to creating content for how content will get approved and how it will be maintained.
- Identify needs
- Assign resources
- Gather content
- Edit and approve
- If you can’t maintain content long term you should not put it on the site. Only create what you can maintain.
- Consolidate information if you can to reduce the number of pages and remove duplicate content.
- Evaluate content by asking:
- Does it exist?
- Does it need revisions
- Does it meet the needs of the primary audience target?
- Does it meet the needs of audience secondary targets?
- Questionnaires given to audience and stakeholders. Responses will determine the primary source of content.
- Content templates, wireframes depicting where content will be placed on the page. Will need templates for various page types throughout the site.
- Publishing checklist before going live.
If the content exists forever, it must be maintained forever. Content management is an important part of the overall strategy. The management phase is a time to review, revise, and remove content. Content management is an ongoing process, luckily there are tools to help.
- Feedback (user testing!)
- Editorial calendar
- Plan for upcoming content. Know what’s coming up and assign resources to create what’s needed.
- Tie in marketing plans, social media, and blog promotion
- Apply content strategy to social media as well
- determine link strategy, what is goal—to keep people on site or platform, or send to another channel.
- Content management system
- Track review dates
- Detailed notes, why changes were made,etc.
- Link checker
- Use keywords that were for searched analytics
- Set up to monitor internal search, on google analytics
- Search logs
- do searches on own site
- identify content to remove or add
When it comes to mobile, well-planned content is even more important. While there are different tasks users will complete in mobile, the same content strategy tools can be used. Your mobile content strategy is part of a wider content strategy that encompases all your communication touchpoints.
How can Content Strategy improve the relationship between your design and copy?
- Use content strategy as you plan a website redesign.
- Use the user experiences research you’ve collected to help define content strategy.
- Content strategy should be tied into the site design. It can help guide the creation of wireframes.
- Use content strategy as filter for what content stays and what goes.
And now that you’ve planned your content strategy, are creating the content, and have put systems in systems place to manage it, the process begins again. Content strategy is an ongoing process. You will need to continually re-evaluate your goals and make adjustments to reflect changes in the organization and in the competitive landscape.
Thanks so much to Michael Gowan for sharing his expertise in yet another wonderful and informative Homegrown. Thanks also to Maura McDonald for organizing this event and the Homegrown series. Homegrown will be on hiatus for the summer, but will be back in September with more local experts sharing their skills and insights with us. See you in September!