Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Content Strategy



When it comes to creating content for the web, many often confuse strategy with tactics. I think that Wikipedia's definition of strategy will help to clear this up a bit:

"A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. The word strategy has military connotations, because it derives from the Greek word for general. Strategy is distinct from tactics. In military terms, tactics is concerned with the conduct of an engagement while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. In other words, how a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy. Military strategy is the overarching, long-term plan of operations that will achieve the political objectives of the nation. It is part of the four levels of warfare: political goals, strategy, operations, and tactics."

A web strategy, then, is a "master" plan to achieve particular objectives, whether focused on user engagement, marketing or sales, that identifies who the audience is, and what types of content will be most effective. In other words, it's the conceptual planning that needs to happen before you actually do any content creation. However, the act of creating any particular type of content, or the how--whether newsletter articles, blogs, whitepapers, or the like--is tactical. The tactical issues are the necessary practical steps that will enable the success or failure of your strategy.

Conceptual Planning

Ideally, much of the planning that will determine your content strategy will happen in a planning phase well in advance of the website going live. However, that doesn't mean that the strategy won't ever change. It's very common for our clients to gain more clarity or new insight into their strategic direction once the site is live, has been used, and has gathered feedback. It's at this point that those who manage the site may regroup and repeat--often in abbreviated terms--some of the initial planning steps like persona development. We've already written quite a bit on the subject of planning that I encourage you to read through if this applies to you:

For more information on planning and web content strategy, check out our newsletters on Who Are You Speaking To?, The Web Development Planning Process, How Much Work is a Website?, and Developing an Effective Content Strategy.

If you are clear on the objectives and the intended audience of your website, then the next step is identifying the particular types of content that are most appropriate to use. Written content, of course, will enable your site to gain the most traction from users coming in through search engines. The more written and indexable content on your site, the more accurately search engines can determine what your site is about and connect searchers (those looking for your material but not yet aware of it) to your site. But identifying content conducive to search engine optimization is only part of your strategy.

The other part of your strategy is identifying content that will actually speak to users in the most direct and satisfying way while reinforcing your brand as well. For many consumer products, blogs and video are the most user-friendly content types that can easily connect users to your brand and facilitate their engagement with you. However, for more technical products like software and hardware, additional types of content, like user and customer support forums, can be a great way of continuing the engagement beyond purchase, letting happy customers vouch for your brand and unhappy customers vent and receive help all in a setting you control. For business services, on the other hand, more in-depth and informative resources, like newsletters, webinars, or whitepapers, may be the most appropriate way to educate prospects. Whatever the choice, it should be made on the basis of what type of content is most appropriate to your message and intended audience, not what seems the most trendy at the moment.

 

Practical Planning

Once you have identified the types of content that you will be producing, you'll need to get serious about your plan to produce. The best system for this is an editorial calendar that specifies who is responsible for creating each type of content, how often it will be published, and even the particular subjects that each piece will cover. This kind of structure allows you to think in advance about how to communicate your expertise over time and who on your team is best suited for specific subjects and/or methods, and provides accountability for everyone involved.

Keep in mind that no system alone will support your strategy. Everyone, from the top down, must be committed to the goal and the work required to achieve it. Creating content, whether writing blogs or newsletters or producing videos or webinars, takes a lot of time, so your editorial calendar needs to take this into account. If you are just starting out, consider a conservative publishing schedule (e.g. blogging a few times a week, writing a newsletter once a month, and producing a webinar quarterly) so that you can actually sustain the work your plan requires beyond the initial weeks of excitement around it.



Comments

Chris Butler | March 5, 2010 4:37 PM
Russ: That's a good question. It really depends upon the activity that any given post or article generates. There's a general process I follow in terms of promoting content--certain sites I always submit links to, plus sharing via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like, which only takes a few minutes. Once readers start commenting, though, that can take some time to read and respond. As far as my own engagement offsite--reading and commenting on other blogs and publications--that tends to vary as well. I'd probably estimate that I spend an hour a day on that kind of thing.
Russ | March 4, 2010 10:28 AM
Under *Engagement* you mention various ways to push the conversation. Following up on comments, participating in forums, etc. offsite, rep mgmt, and so on. How much time do you spend on this?
Chris Butler | March 4, 2010 9:27 AM
Suzanne: There are some great points in the article by Erin Kissane you've linked to. Her suggestion of content templates is a good one, too. I can imagine that a company like ours could do well with that approach, particularly in the area where the template provides examples. Having done web development for so long, providing actually helpful examples should be easier for the web company than the client. The only thing missing from the template--as far as I can tell--are suggestions for length and strategic focus of the content. The example they are showing is for a product detail page, but other pages, such as those that might describe a service offering or a core discipline, would need to have indications of what goals are prioritized (i.e. a reader should proceed to another page, or a reader should complete a call to action) and even what length of copy and type of imagery is appropriate.

Alex: I agree. Creating web content for many creatives has tended to be an imagery/graphics-oriented exercise. But written content is important for them, too. Being able to describe what you do, in addition to showing image samples of your work, is one of the primary ways to get prospects to understand what they're buying. Your website should do that in addition to inspiring them with the work you've already done.
Alex | March 3, 2010 9:52 PM
I think what @maggieb is talking about is much more common with creatives than others when it comes to websites. I and otherse like me who studied design, tend to redo my own website almost once a year. Maybe too often, but it just seems necessary. What @suzanne mentions probably doesn't hang us up much because our content is image-based and not much writing. This, like the first part, was a really helpful resource for those of us who would naturally make a simple website for ourselves but need to do something bigger for a client. Thanks for the insights.
Suzanne | March 3, 2010 8:32 PM
My experience has been that creating the content takes far longer than anyone really thinks it will, and not only that, probably can't be done by the marketing team working on the website. An article from A List Apart does a great job of showing why the writing process is much more complicated than most people would assume. The big takeaway is that there is a hidden process of getting the knowledge from engineers, designers, product people, sales people, etc. and translating it into good web copy. Just because you know your stuff doesn't mean you can write it in a way that web users can make sense out of it.
Chris Butler | March 3, 2010 10:28 AM
Jiliian: Thanks! That's the idea--to have a detailed resource, between this article and Part 1, on how it all works. I hope it will be useful for some time to come.

Katie: Very true. 301 Redirects used to be something people thought about after their traffic was negatively impacted by a rebuild--"wouldn't it have been smart if we'd..." Having a module built into our sites that allow users to create the redirects during the content entry phase is so important. Too important, in fact, to have been left out! Thanks for bringing it up. In fact, someone should turn our wiki entry on 301 redirects into a blog post...

Russ: I'm glad that distinction is helpful. It's helpful to us to remember, too. We advise our clients on strategy all the time, but it's critical to get the lingo right at the beginning, otherwise any authority you should have is undermined.

Maggie B: Right now, we don't have any similar case studies that show a succession of redesigns and rebuilds, but we probably should. As I said, we've done this for several clients, some of which have been in relationship with us for over a decade. I'll work on getting one into our Featured Projects section.

Ed Bryson: Thanks for the compliment, and for making it that far through the article! Next month's should be a less dense entry...
Ed Bryson | March 3, 2010 7:42 AM
Chris, another comprehensive piece. I like the combination of sophisticated process with the simplest tool at your disposal (e.g. gchat for coordinating the website launch). Makes a lot of sense.
Maggie B | March 2, 2010 8:17 PM
Seeing the timeline of changes to your site over the last decade was fascinating- makes sense a web design company would do so many redesigns. Do you have any similar case studies of doing one or more redesigns for clients? I'd love to see the transitions for a site in another, less creative industry. Also, are there any smart ways to save some money the second or third times around?
Russ | March 2, 2010 7:08 PM
You're nailing something about so-called strategy that's been bugging me for a long time. We've brought in plenty of "social media strategists" or "content strategists" and they all pretty much amount to guys telling us how to blog or use Twitter. I always want to say where's the beef but have lacked a way to say it that won't get labeled being out of touch.
Katie | March 2, 2010 2:39 PM
Chris,

There are so many dead-on analogies in this newsletter. I especially like the comparison of content entry to moving day. The part of moving that always takes 10x the time I expect is dealing with clean out WHILE I move. Similarly, most people have legacy content from an old site that they need to sift through to determine if it stays or goes. That adds a ton of time.

Also, I couldn't help but think of 301 Redirects being equivalent to mail forwarding -- both incredibly important and often forgotten :)

Katie
Jillian | March 2, 2010 10:31 AM
Great newsletter, Chris. It covers all the "hidden" bases that many of our clients don't even realize exist when they initially plan a new website project.

↑ top