For many of us in the public sector, being a content strategist is another hat we’re supposed to wear as jack-of-all-trades web specialists. If you haven’t done much research on how to develop a content strategy or why, this post will help you get started.
What’s in a content strategy?
To define content strategy, Rachel Lovinger uses this analogy: “content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.” She defines her job as a content strategist as “the person with specialized focus on making sure that the content is meaningful and the site is designed to make the best use of it.”
A strategy creates best-practices and goals encompassing the entire process of creating and publishing information. Kristina Halverson’s A List Apart article on content strategy is a great place to start looking at some of the components that might be a part of a content strategy — everything from defining the “key themes and messages” of your content to recommendations for content governance.
Why have a defined content strategy?
Because content matters! Content is the primary tool by which we relate needed information to others.
A content strategy can help you: reduce content, create smarter content, improve your web publication workflow, and improve your site rankings (SEO).
Where do I start?
Of course you can start anywhere, but here are a few suggestions and what purpose it serves.
Define your site’s purpose and the key types of content that best serve its purpose. Search your site for content that is outside of this purpose. Look for content better suited for other sites. Howto.gov confirms, “Given the many resources available throughout the federal government, the best practice is to only create content about items you are an expert in. For example, in emergencies, federal agencies shouldn’t duplicate efforts of other agencies, but instead stay “in their lanes” contributing only what is unique to that agency so the public can quickly and easily find critical information.”
Use these guidelines to create a plan for trimming unnecessary content from your site.
Creating Smart Content and improving SEO rankings
Creating smart content is largely dependent on the system you use to publish it. Do you have a way of creating helpful metadata or ensuring you don’t have to duplicate content to publish it to multiple places? Your content strategy might include recommendations for the future when you update your technology. Take a look at NPR’s COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) strategy and watch The Future of Content Management, Rachel Andrew’s talk at the Smashing Conference in 2012 about how CMS development can be centered around creating smarter structured content.
Improving your metadata, especially making use of clear page descriptions, will go a long way toward optimizing your site for search engines or your site’s internal search. Structured data (when pieces of content are broken up into semantic fields) helps with this as well (see Rachel Andrew’s talk for details).
Improve Your Web Publication Workflow
Map out your current workflow for publishing content: who creates content, who publishes it, when is content retired. Are there best practices associated with different types of content? Look for improvements – using applications like siteimprove that can look for out-of-date links, a marketing strategy for featuring content and a plan for removing or updating out-of-date content — perhaps through the use of an editorial calendar. Mapping out your current and ideal workflows can help you spot common sense improvements you might not have thought about otherwise.
Great resources for getting started:
Content Strategists to Follow
- Kristina Halvorson – @halvorson and braintraffic.com
- Rachel Lovinger – @rlovinger and blog.rachellovinger.com
- Erin Kissane – @kissane and incisive.nu. Erin wrote The Elements of Content Strategy from A Book Apart Press.
- Kate Kenyon – @kate_kenyon and whipsmartcontent.com
- Karen McGrane – @karenmcgrane and karenmcgrane.com. Karen wrote Content Strategy for Mobile from A Book Apart Press.
- Corey Vilhauer – @MrVilhauer and eatingelephant.com