What’s your content strategy?

Since 1997, I’ve been writing content for the web professionally, and can say with some authority that content is frequently the last item considered and created as part of an overall web site project. It is “sprayed into pageframes,” as I sometimes sarcastically say, meaning that content is usually reactively defined by the design of pages or the capability of web technologies. It’s sort of like designing food packaging, and then later deciding what sort of food might fit into it.

Kristina Halvorson, who runs the content consulting firm Brain Traffic, has written an insightful book about this topic called Content Strategy for the Web. In the book, she suggests the important step of performing an audit of existing content on a site, and asking whether it meets the following requirements:

  • It supports a key business goal.
  • It helps people complete tasks.

“If you assessed all of your current web content,” she asks, “how much of it would meet these two simple requirements?” Slide #42 of her presentation Create and Publish Online Content for Maximum ROI shows how web content can be directly mapped to these two objectives before a site is created.

On slide 46, she advocates for the role of content strategist (sometimes called an information architect), a person who ensures that site design supports content rather than dictating it. I’ve met a lot of site designers and developers in my professional life, but not a lot of content strategists. Usually, site design is seen as the goal of a web site project, but people don’t do web searches for site design.

In conclusion, when you set out to create a web site (a professional portfolio, for example), its tempting to start with themes, color schemes, and page layouts, but your real starting point should be the goals of your site, and what people can learn or gain from visiting it. If you don’t start there, your function will follow your form, to the detriment of your audience.

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