What is Content Strategy?
“So what is content strategy? Is it even important? Can’t I just copy all of the words from my old site and paste them into my new site?” If you’re asking these questions, you aren’t alone! We like to think of content strategy like this:
Imagine you are building your dream home. You spend numerous hours choosing paint colors, doorknobs, cabinetry, and other various details. After months of tedious planning and building, you are ready to move in. Yay!
Now, it’s time to pack. You gather everything you own, stuff it into trash bags, and toss the bags into your new house. You also decide it’s not important to buy any new furniture because the old stuff will do just fine. You don’t waste any time cleaning or purging old, unneeded items. When you arrive at your new house, you’ll be much too tired to decide where things should go, so you just randomly disperse the trash bags throughout the house because it’s easier. Besides, you have a gorgeous new home! Why does it matter if the stuff inside is outdated, dirty, and unorganized?
Preposterous, right? No one would invest their resources into a beautiful home without considering the importance of what’s inside. Many people treat a brand new website this way. Hours are spent on creating a beautiful design, and then old, unorganized, irrelevant content is placed inside.
This is why content strategy is crucial for a successful website. A content strategist analyzes the current content of a website, strategizes a new and improved layout, determines each section of the site, and works with the client to provide web efficient content.
Content strategy gurus, Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, define content and content strategy well in their book, Content Strategy for the Web 2.0:
“Content is what the user came to read, learn, see, or experience…content strategy guides your plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content…a strategy is an idea that sets the direction for the future.”
In the web world, the word content is thrown around a lot. It’s one of those jargon words that can often be misinterpreted. At a practical level, content refers to any words on a website (such as headlines, descriptions, and paragraphs) and media assets (such as logos, videos, and images).
A Content Strategist’s Role in Web Design
So why is content strategy important for user experience (UX) design? Well, ask yourself this question: “How can a UX designer effectively design a site without knowing what content is going to be included?” Designing a website without understanding the content is like going on a road trip without a map – it just doesn’t work well.
After a website is designed and developed, it’s time to integrate the content. This is when a content strategist takes the content provided and puts it into the website. If the design is not catered to the provided content, this creates a problem. If the website design doesn’t match the available content, this creates an ineffective website.
Here are some examples of what can happen when UX designers create without a plan for content:
- The website design is created with a focus on large and high-quality images, only to reach integration to find that the client has no quality photos to provide
- An e-commerce site is created with the assumption that all of the products will have the same specifications as the old site, only to reach integration to find that the client completely reorganized how they want to display products
- A site that features events is created requiring the client to write a summary for each event and a full detail page for every event, to reach integration to discover that the client only wants to highlight each event with 2-3 sentences and then link off to a third-party site
Without intentional content strategy, UX designers are not set up for success. Content strategy has to be executed before the design phase begins.
Collaboration is the Key to a Successful Website
Even with an amazing content strategist and UX designer, website projects go sour if collaboration is lacking. With any web project, it is crucial that the content strategist, UX designer, and developer do not work in silos. For every step of the process, the content strategist needs to involve the UX designer for creative feedback and suggestions. When UX designs begin, it is essential that the content strategist is involved to ensure the designs match the content strategy.
If there is an established, documented content strategy, it is not going to be effective if the UX designer doesn’t look at it, or perhaps interprets the strategy in a different way. It is vital that the content strategist, UX designer, and developer have a constant flow of communication to ensure that everyone is on the same page. In the web world, assumptions are the key to disaster.
Process is King
Another essential component of content strategy is the process. According to dictionary.com, process is defined as “a systematic series of actions directed to some end.” A strategy can be established, the content strategist and UX designer can collaborate, but if there is no process in place, it can be difficult to maintain consistency.
It is pivotal for any web team to have a process in place and clear expectations established. Maintaining a consistent end result is the key to success. Without a process, each day can feel scattered and important details can often be missed.
Think back to your brand new house. When your friends walk into your new home, you want to wow them. You want to be proud to take them on a tour throughout your new home. Your website should be the same. You want your users to discover organized, relevant, engaging content that logically guides them throughout the site.
Without an established content strategy, users might enter a site to find old, irrelevant content which makes them want to get out quick!