Author: Kristina Halvorson
Read: 28th January 2022
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A solid introduction to the world of content strategy that also acts as a comprehensive summary of the steps involved. This book was recommended to me by my manager as I got really stuck into the work during my first internship, and realised that there's much more to content marketing than just scheduling a campaign and copywriting.
The first section of this book had me thinking it, and content strategy generally, was a breeze. In retrospect that was Halvorson's intention, breaking down the unfamiliarity and using realistic business situations as examples for content strategy's usefulness. However, don't be fooled. The later sections, especially section 3 Strategy, dive deep into the tools and processes needed to execute a successful user experience whilst managing internal team members and business expectations. Enjoyably, throughout the read Halvorson maintains an upbeat and cheeky tone which provides some entertainment among the medium-dense information. I should mention here that the author is the founder and CEO of Brain Traffic, a globally-recognised content expertise organisation.
Whilst the book does assume you are working as part of a larger team in most circumstances, the ideas can really be adopted for any size of business. In my experience, Content Strategy for the Web was a one-stop shop for all the steps needed for content strategy and much greater than just a starting point for learning about content strategy. Some terms can't properly be explored in depth, such as SEO, but overall I highly recommend this read to anyone starting out in this field, or already working on content for a website and looking for further inspiration/ structure.
Interested already and want to read the book yourself (or just want to browse Amazon.com more generally)? Feel free to use the affiliate link below. I will receive a small commission which assists in offsetting the costs of running the site. 🙂
Otherwise, read on for my summary below.
(Section 1) Reality
- Think Big, Start Small. This includes performing a content audit and managing less content that is based on listening to colleagues and users.
- Put someone in charge and take action immediately whether big or small.
- No Finger-Pointing Allowed. Do not treat content like a commodity and always have a strategy before execution.
- The content process is more than copywriting so do not assume you will know all the details, accept it is political and be ready to answer different questions in several conversations.
- Content Strategy guides your plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content.
- A content strategist is responsible for overseeing the success of content initiatives, and their work will be within, between or inclusive of messaging and branding, web writing, information architecture, search engine optimisation, metadata strategy and content management strategy.
- Call the terms what you want, but focus on getting the actual work completed.
(Section 2) Discovery
- Everyone needs to be on the same page because many people affect your content, and your content strategy affects many people.
- Keep everyone in the loop but be smart with how you communicate with the five stakeholder types: Strategic decision makers, Money people, Champions, Showstoppers and Interested others.
- Create a compelling story arc - problem/ opportunity, urgency, request for help, the players and the payoff - and then kick off on the right foot by establishing the team, individual responsibilities and expectations. Keep engaging afterwards by encouraging communication, distributing documentation and celebrating milestones.
- Audits are necessary and can be immensely helpful. To determine the type of audit to conduct, use the table below (Figure 2).
- For quantitative inventories, record an ID, Title/ Topics, URL, Format, Source (if internal, note who creates, approves and publishes each piece of content), Technical Home, Metadata, Traffic/ Usage statistics, Last update and Language. For qualitative audits, use Figure 3 below.
- Collect this information into a spreadsheet with subsections/ indexes where necessary. If there is a lot of content, use a sample adjusted to your audit’s needs.
- Tabulate your results. Then share your findings through a formal detailed, casual summary or presentation-style report depending on the audience.
- Scale your analysis according to project size and resource constraints, but do not skip past it.
- Internal Impact analysis involves interviews, group discussions and questionnaires. The factors for these include Target Audience, Messaging, Channels and Workflow/ Governance. For Channels, contact communications producers and the IT team. For Workflow/ Governance, understand the process through assigning roles such as Requesters, Providers, Creators, Reviewers/ Approvers and Publishers.
- For External Impact, perform user research and combine website analytics with usability testing. When looking at competitor content, notice any trends and opportunities for differentiation in website organisation, topics covered, content formats available and brand and messaging.
- Finally consider the “Power Player” influencers whose opinions inform and shape customers’ opinions of your organisation. This bubble includes current events, technology advances and trends and best practises.
- Combine all the above information in an analysis summary document that will focus resources appropriately, prevent scope-creep and identify opportunities.
(Section 3) Strategy
- The central Core Strategy from the circular figure 1 above sets a long-term direction for how an organisation or project will use content to achieve its objectives and meet its user needs. It is flexible, aspirational, memorable, motivational and inclusive.
- To develop and define a core strategy, use “Achieve-Be-Do”. What you need to accomplish, what content products will be created and what the organisation needs to do to support the content effort.
- Do not fear the Magic Layer (the space between research and deliverables). You will need to invent instead of copying for successful content strategy.
- Create a Core Strategy Statement for internal purposes that is short, memorable and meaningful.
- Substance is the content you need and the requirements it fulfils. Factors to consider:
- Audience - Get specific with users, then prioritise for each content channel.
- Messaging - Define a message hierarchy with one primary message for all, then multiple secondary messages with details.
- Topics - Create a map and ensure every piece of content has a purpose, e.g. persuade, inform, validate, instruct, entertain.
- Voice and tone - the singular voice must be a reflection of the organisation, but multiple tones are needed to reflect the audience’s emotional state towards the content.
- Sourcing - judge whether to use original, co-created, aggregated, curated, licenced or user-generated content.
- It is necessary to trim down/ prioritise content. Use the following keywords as criteria: requirements, reach, relevance, richness and revenue.
- Structure may be done by multiple people, but needs to meet content requirements. Consider:
- Channel, platform and format - what is best for your content, where are audiences located and are these formats achievable?
- Navigation, nomenclature (labelling) and metadata - support key messages and ensure it is intuitive to end users through context, consistency, clarity
- Links and microcopy which support the user’s usability experience on the web
- Tools to help range from a basic sitemap (unless there is a detailed page stack breakdown attached) to wireframes (which are unwieldy for an entire website and need another layer for content) and the fantastic page tables (pictured below in Figure 4).
- Some websites are exceptions to the above tools due to their magnitude and content type. These should instead have a requirements template for pages with the exact same purpose.
- Workflow (processes, tools, HR) and governance (decision-making) despite their different appearances are interlinked through the ownership and standards set.
- Using Figure 5 below as a macro level view of ownership, you should designate envoy/s who have content strategy in their job descriptions and communicate with other teams. Together, you will form a content strategy team as seen in Figure 6.
- Further areas of responsibility (different from roles) to assign are: web editor-in-chief, web manager or editor, content creator sourcing manager or curator, search engine optimisation (SEO) specialist, subject matter expert (SME) and reviewer and/ or approver.
- The question of whether you should hire or outsource is answered below in Figure 7.
- Committees and councils are groups of informed stakeholders who can provide unique insight into content initiatives at regular intervals, regardless of real decision-making power. They could be an:
- Internal advisory council - representatives from multiple teams participating in high-level planning meetings as an often temporary/ need-based way to get people aligned and comfortable with new processes and policies.
- Audience advisory committee - a group of ideally 5-7 users trained/ provided with insight and committed for a specified length of time. They possess different levels of involvement and history with the organisation and can provide regular feedback on your content.
- The overall process of designing workflow and governance processes is a continuous and interlinked lifecycle made up of these four activities:
- Creating and sourcing content - typically done through original content creation, curated or aggregated content and content migration. Tools to use include an editorial calendar (define a clear purpose and prioritise variables accordingly, see Figures 8 and 9 below), a content requirements checklist, a curation/ aggregation checklist and a migration spreadsheet.
- Maintaining content - have a documented process for updating, archiving and deleting content. Helpful tools include a content inventory (Figure 2 above), content maintenance checklist and content maintenance log.
- Evaluating content - you should use two or more measurement methods when conducting these ongoing “health and wellness” checkups to test how content performance changes with business and user needs over time. Helpful tools include a qualitative audit spreadsheet and report, measurement scorecard (Figure 10 below) and measurement history.
- Governing content - ensure strategies are actionable and always up to date with the right people involved and in charge. Helpful tools include a style guide (let this be accessible online and organically grow with someone in charge and addressing frequent issues), content planning and prioritisation matrix and meeting participation guide.
- To make the process and sub-processes happen, make people feel included, communicate the benefits and give it time.
(Section 4) Success
- Start the conversation by “banging the drum” (making lots of noise about the importance of content strategy; boost this approach by first practising on those sympathetic to your cause) or going stealthy (subtly but persistently pointing out content errors/ opportunities without making it seem like “just more work“). Always tailor your message to the context of your audience’s world.
- Use these high-level themes when pitching your project:
- Our users deserve better content - point out poor user experiences or testing results.
- Content strategy will make us more efficient - highlight overlaps and gaps, impacts to the bottom line, errors and inconsistencies and embarrassing misses.
- Our competitors are winning - ensure you perform a comprehensive, content-focused competitive review so you can concentrate on competitive advantage.
- The numbers say it all - identify pain points and unearth the importance of content to the user experience
- When getting the budget, either start small with a section of low visibility content that has high potential or go big and ensure the whole team is behind the investment of content strategy. When doing the former, ensure stakeholders are aware of the differences between small projects and all-inclusive content strategy.
- Ensure you ask in person, know your current budget and understand the organisation’s fiscal year. Act like a salesperson and get creative with getting the budget.
- Talk straight, not tech (use plain english in a conversation with the uninitiated rather than front-loading insider content strategy terms) and champion “content always” over content first. Finally, take to the streets by getting a template off slideshare and doing a presentation, collecting and sharing good sources of information and looking at content strategy blogs like the ones below (this is the list of still-active websites from the book’s recommendations):
- Clinton Forry – content-ment.com
- Matthew Grocki – grassfedcontent.wordpress.com
- Richard Ingram – richardingram.co.uk
- Corey Vilhauer – eatingelephant.com
- Content strategy is hard, but it becomes easier with like-minded friends. Get in a group, follow the hashtag #contentstrategy and go to or start a meetup. Overall, share the dream of great content and continue to remind yourself and others of the rewards.
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