Earlier in the month we posed a question to our readers, asking them about an aspect of UX design and how important this element was on their sites. We got some great responses to the query, and as the month wraps up, so does this discussion about the importance of content strategy. Here we have taken the replies that we got to the post and the discussion that was had, and molded it into a useful post that discusses the ins and outs of creating and implementing a content strategy for your sites.
It was easy to see right off the bat from the responses that having a content strategy in place is ranked high when it comes to important design elements. But it was also clear that not every site runner out there understands the value of this approach. They do not understand how much support this design element offers the content and the users. So how do we show that we care about this ever so important design element? By implementing one. How can we effectively develop this strategy for the content to come? Well, that is a bit trickier.
Below we attempt to answer that question using the responses we received to help guide the way. We hope this discussion and the wrap-up prove useful. And we once again would like to thank all of our readers who participated in the dialog throughout the month.
Knowing Your Audience
“Very useful post, thanks. Since I am managing a weblog in another language than english (italian-language to be precise) I think that content strategies need to be planned very differently: italian audience is quite different to the american one (and to the english too) so several different thoughts are needed. For example, american users are more prone to open “positive” threads while italians are more devoted to “controversial” ones… what do you think on this matter?”
If you do not know who you are trying to connect with, then developing an effective reach into that group is going to be beyond difficult. It will end up being downright impossible. And given that content strategy is all about provinding a mechanism by which your content engages and reaches its intended audience, then figuring out how to connect with them means knowing them. You have to understand the audience or you will miss nearly every time you reach them.
Audiences are as diverse as the people that make them up, and one thing we have to remember with our content strategy is that there will be no one sure fire way to reach them all. Our approach must be as diverse as the demographic our design is being aimed at. What elements or aspects we include in our strategy will be determined largely by the audience we are attempting to engage, so there is no way around this important first step.
Understanding the Mission
“I work at a company, (Higher Ground Creative) that develops website as well as other marketing products and services and when working on a new website we always undertake a planning session with the client to understand not only their business and aims but also their audience and competition. Understanding that is crucial in knowing what content to deliver and in how to deliver it on the website, tha will be most relevant and important to them – this will then usually dictate the structure and layout of the site. Don’t always just think about what you have to say, but always take into account what your audience expects to hear from you and try and deliver a mixture of both. Oh, and always adhere to SEO best practice, otherwise what is the point in having great content if you’re not allowing it to promote itself…”
It is also vital that you not only understand the audience, but also the ins and outs of the business and their mission that the site represents. Their brand identity will be calculated into the content equation as you learn about the audience and develop ways to engage them. That mission is important to their message and that has to be understood as you proceed. If you cannot understand what they are trying to achieve then you are less likely to be able to develop a strategy that completely compliments their goals.
Reaching Out Across Channels
Mr Z wrote:
“My employer gives lip service to content strategy, but it will be very unlikely to be implemented. There’s too many competing interests in the enterprise with varying levels of political and financial pull. We never take content off the site either. Once it goes up, it won’t come down. This affects the customer experience as it makes it much harder to find relevant content. IMO content strategy is wrapped with strategic messaging and cross channel communication, but unless the company wants to make that strategy, it will continue to serve balkanized content and messages to its customers.”
Chances are, the audience is there just waiting for you across the web all populating their various haunts and hangouts, so reaching them all through one channel is very unlikely. You have to have a multi-front approach to reaching out to the audience so that you can bring in a wider slice of the demographic you are attempting to capture. This is about supporting the content, and helping carry it to the audience. You should know that doing so is going to require a dedicated effort across a variety of fronts.
From social media and other messaging outlets to SEO and beyond, both the content and audience deserve every attention and effort as Mr Z points out with his comment. Limiting the access in any way would act to undermine the content’s full effectiveness. And if we do not establish a comprehensive strategy for the content, then that is in fact what we are doing. Making the content less available in a sense to the audience we wish to engage.
Finding the Right Direction
Gordon O. said:
“I agree that content is king and you should certainly have a plan. Just adding content will keep your site or blog fresh. However, well thought out content will include keywords and geo-targeting to help boost your SEO results. I recommend a content plan that maps out new pages, blog posts, article submissions, indexing and social media mentions each month.”
As we have already highlighted there are numerous considerations to be made when you are developing a content strategy for the web. But what we have to remember is that the content itself must be optimized as well. If we develop a somewhat bulletproof strategy for delivering the content, but neglect to develop the content in suite then it is still going to fall short of its potential. We have to effectively point the audience in the right direction. And that content development goes beyond just SEO for bringing the audience in.
The content has to be accessible. By rule it needs to be easily shared and found on the sites it inhabits. Keeping it searchable it a must, but as we will get to in a moment that is not just about the proverbial keyword stuffing. Care should be taken to ensure that the content remains engaging and even some would say conversational. We need it to be relevant to the readers and useful, or it will not stand the test of time either. So the content needs as much crafting and thought as the strategy we use to deploy it.
Walking a Fine Line
“Content strategy is considered fundamental in my company, but we’re a startup, we wouldn’t go anywhere without search engines. I endorse Kristina Halvorson’s book as the definitive resource on the matter, it’s absolutely outstanding IMVHO.”
There is always a point where our efforts can effectively go too far, and begin actually moving away from aiding and on the way to hurting our ends. This fine line that we walk needs to be understood. As ngw’s comment demonstrates, there is a heavy reliance for new sites on search traffic. And while keyword rich content can grant you somewhat of a leg up with regards to search engines, we have to keep it reasonable and not just unnecessarily stuffed with random keywords just to grab better search results.
This is where LSI (or Latent Semantic Indexing) can play a big part in helping you keep your content search engine ready without overloading it with keywords. This indexing and retrieval method scans a body of text looking more for the concept than the keywords. If the text has been indexed in this way, then even if the keywords are not necessarily present, but the concept is, then the documents will be returned in the search results. So SEO is not just about those mighty ‘filler’ words.
Remember: Size Doesn’t Matter!
“So many small business owners fail to even contemplate a content strategy. It is rather frustrating that it is done as an after thought. A few weeks ago i was discussing using a copy writer in the initial meetings with an accountant over an over haul of his website and it was met with ‘what on earth do i need that for’ then i read the content they provided me and it was embarrasingly bad.”
Big or small, the site and the content that it will host deserve a well planned and executed strategy for delivering said content to its intended audience. It is not about the size of the company or the market they are working in. Yes, those do figure into the strategy and how it is created, but it does not determine whether a content strategy is necessary or not. It is always necessary! Size does not matter. But the content always will!
It’s About Quality,Not Quantity
“How much content is enough though? is the idea to just keep on creating more and more or is there a happy medium?”
Finally, remember that as long as your content remains consistent, relevant and easily accessible then it is not about how much content you have, it is only about the quality of it. With a properly implemented strategy in place, the content will always be circulating, making the virtual rounds across the channels it has been shared through. It is not about creating content just for the sake of having content. The content strategy that you have developed will help to dictate the frequency with which you update.
That wraps up this half of the exploration on content strategy for now, but as always the comment section is now turned over to you so that we can expand on any of these ideas. And the topic can evolve even further. Once more we wish to thank everyone who has participated, and we will go ahead and offer a word of thanks to those whose participation has yet to come. How else would you go about developing an effective content strategy?