Content Strategy is Much More than Web Copywriting: More SxSW Notes

There’s a big difference between being a web writer and being a content strategist, according to Kristina Halvorson, the CEO of Brain Traffic and author of “Content Strategy for the Web“, whose company does nothing but content strategy. She hosted the session, “Content Strategy FTW” at SxSWi.Content Strategy for the Web

The problem, as she sees it, is that the web writer is often disconnected from the rest of the web development team. Where there should be content strategy and SEO strategy, we’re often on projects where we’re focused much more on target audience personas, design standards and project management charts, instead of content. The web writer is then brought in, given the creative brief, the wireframe and two weeks to “crank out the content.” 

Why? Agencies and clients tell themselves little lies to make themselves comfortable that the content is not a big project. Lies like:

  • “We’ve already got the content, we just need to pull it in;”
  • “Everyone knows what they want to say, we just need to write it down;”
  • “We’re the agency, we’re not the content experts, we’ll let the client take care of it later.”

The problem though, is that we have been conditioned to believe that copywriting is the same as content strategy.  But content is much more than that. Ideally, we’ll follow seven steps to content creation. After all, information architecture means much more than figuring out the primary and secondary navigation of a website. It includes the words, the navigation, the imagery and more of a complete user experience. Content requirements need to happen near the beginning of a web development process, right when we think about functional specifications.  The challenge there is that, when it’s considered at all, content requirements are often being looked at from a content management system level, instead of an overall content strategy that talks about what our content will look like, sound like and be like in the next 2-4 years.

Content is not a feature

“Late conent is consistenly one of the reason for project delays. The task itself and resources needed to complete the task are seriously underestimated. Accept it. Plan for it. Charge for it.” Halvorson rejects this quote because it diminishes the power of content. She instead argues for a content strategy model.

“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication and governnance of useful, usable content. And strategy is a plan for obtaining a specific goals or result,” according to Halvorson. This includes text and data, graphics, video and animation and audio that are considered as ways to drive business goals. It factors in not only the website, but what the social media marketers are doing, and where they are sharing content well beyond the website.

Text is more than marketing copy it is page copy, articles, links, labels, flash elements, alt tags, error messages, task instructions and much more. (I can picture the copywriters at our firm cheering right now.)

Content is king

“Content is king.” Everyone loves to say that, but our web development processes don’t seem to respect it. Search is important. And whether your content ranks today is in part a function of the response to your content. So it’s more than keyword stacking. If you can get sharing, you can get backlinks and thereby get more traffic. So search matters.

But, in an era where Facebook drives more web traffic than Google for many sites, resonance also matters. Halvorson compared Quicken’s home page (lots of pictures of Quicken boxes and an offer to buy the software) with Mint’s home page (promises to help you solve your financial problems). Someone in the market for Quicken is seeking solutions for their financial problems, but Quicken isn’t offering it on the home page.

All in all, the message was this: If content matters (and more than ever it does), don’t build a workflow that gives two weeks for a copywriter to crank it out. And don’t abandon old content that may poorly represent you. It was a good reminder that if you use the same web development strategy that we’ve always used, we’re very likely to fall short in 2010.

What do you do?

Here are the steps:

  1. Conduct a content audit. Yes, Halvorson said, it’s a terribly boring exercise, but it’s critical. You have to map that terrain. If your website is too massive, pick a section that’s important and audit that.
  2. Ask. Ask why, what, how, for whom, by whom, with waht, when, where, how often and what’s next? You’ll annoy folks, but you’ll get to a strategy if you answer them eventually.
  3. Analyze. Take a qualitative look at your content (is it any good?), but take a close look at the content ecosystems, including external sources (users, competitors, regulators) that impact your content and how it’s perceived. You also need to think about how people are getting to your content (from search, from Twitter, from Facebook?) and the expectations the users bring with them because of it.
  4. Align. This is one of the most difficult things a content strategist does. They figure out the various needs of the stakeholders toward a content lifecycle. They have to think about launching the content, and knowing when it needs to be updated and/or deleted.
  5. Assume responsibility. The minute we put content online, we assumed the role and responsibility of a publisher. And publishers have to think about those questions in #2 and the plan for having a content lifecycle management process.

Do all this, and you’ll see better user experiences, better branding, improved SEO and analytics and much more effective personalization.

It sounds hard, but in an era when “content is king,” it could not be more important. Good session. There are lots of us that should be thinking carefully about her messages.

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