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Content without strategy is just stuff

Summary: Does your content have governance, or is it like many organizations, roaming wild on your website, with no fences or rules? Content strategy—and the help of a content strategist—can help reign in unruly content. Your audiences will thank you.

Have you ever walked into a disorganized store and thought, “What is going on here?” You probably didn't spend much time there. And even if you did, you most likely did not find what you were looking for. Websites are the same: having an orderly user experience is more likely to result in conversion. That’s when content strategy comes into play.

Websites have the potential to house a large amount of content—text, images, videos, forms, etc. And unless that content is organized and delivered in a way that is user-friendly, it becomes meaningless stuff, causing friction in the user experience which can lead to a high bounce rate.

Enter the content strategist

What is the role of a content strategist? A fairly new term, many clients and marketers have been grappling with this definition. To put it simply, content strategists are tasked with the creation, organization, and maintenance of various mediums of web content depending on the needs of end users and the goals of the business.

But how is that done, exactly?

It’s tempting to just think of pieces of content as unique, free-standing artifacts, which indeed they are. But a content strategist must also think of them in the context of a unified strategy—making sure that each piece of content serves a purpose and has a designated place. Simply publishing material without a strategy is like tossing it into the air and hoping someone will catch it.

As a newly-minted content strategist with experience as a content creator, I appreciated the talk “Show the Work” that Amanda Mohlenhoff, Senior UX Manager at GetYourGuide gave at the 2021 Button conference. She broke down the process of creating content artifacts, which was both illuminating to me, and a great guide for clients who might see content as a “black box.”

Here’s a synopsis of her approach.

Step 1: Define the task

The artifact you’re creating does not exist in a vacuum. In order to create a piece of content that will be effective for the client and end user, we must first understand the context in which it will appear.

Starting at the top, content strategists seek to understand the company's goals, target audiences, tone of voice, existing brand standards, and current site architecture to create context around the content to be created. This is necessary to determine if the artifact does indeed fit within the greater context of both corporate goals and the website, and how users are expected to interact with it.

To provide this context, a team comprised of multiple stakeholders may be involved. This could include account managers, executive directors, CEOs, digital engagement leads, and marketing/branding professionals may fall under this category. And, depending on the specifics of the artifact, subject matter experts may also be required provide additional information and requirements.

Step 2: Name the artifact

Once the goals and context have been established, we then name the artifact.  It might be anything from a wireframe to a sitemap, Content Management System (CMS) guidelines, or landing page copy recommendations. The order of importance and relevance of an artifact depends entirely on the project goals and deadlines.

Step 3: Mold it to fit the brand objective

It is perfectly normal for artifacts to go through different variations as the content strategist delves deeper into the understanding of what is needed.  It is also normal for artifacts to be omitted (or added) depending on how the project timeline evolves. For example, during a content inventory or audit, the strategist may uncover more websites or internal/external links that were previously unaccounted for. As a result, the strategist must now regroup and decide what material to prioritize depending on the business's goals. Another example is a company that wants to focus on one area, such as homepage redesign, when what they truly need is a new IA so that their users can find what they're looking for easily. So throughout the process, keep in mind that things can change. And change isn’t always a bad thing.

Step 4: Set it free

This is a self-explanatory stage, yet it is the most gratifying. Helping organizations tell their brand's story to their target audience is a priceless gift for any content strategist. Let’s say the artifact is new Information Architecture (IA) and a sitemap. These are now artifacts that the company can refer back to when they are developing and adding new content to their website. These artifacts also help with planning template designs and setting up the CMS.

Content strategy demystified

For clients who only see the first and last steps of the process, the middle parts can be murky, as if content strategists perform magic behind a curtain. We hope this breakdown helps both content strategists as well as clients see the thought process that goes into both artifacts, and their role in the larger context of a website.

Need help wrangling your content strategy?

Reason One’s team of content strategists have helped organizations condense thousands of pages of wild content to just a few hundred that are most useful to their audiences. We use our tools and expertise to analyze, categorize, and streamline your content. Need some help wrangling your content? Let’s chat.

This blog post was written by Reason One alum, Harmony Hamilton.