What is ‘Content Strategy’?

Aug 7, 2020

There is so much buzz around the term ‘Content Strategy’ that you would be forgiven for thinking it was something new. But it’s not. It is simply a new name for what the most experienced of copywriters have been doing since the dark ages. Or at least, since the birth of marketing communications.

However, Content Strategy is not the same thing as copywriting. It is much more than that. With the burgeoning of web communications and a plethora of other channels, environments and formats now available to an organisation, a Content Strategist’s role is one of brand manager, planner, copywriter, editor and curator, all rolled into one. As the name suggests, a Content Strategist is involved with the creation of a plan – a plan that will help an organisation to create and publish consistent, relevant and engaging web communications. This article explains how Just Us Agency goes about this task, and how you can develop your own Content Strategy.

What exactly is ‘Content Strategy’?

Content Strategy is, in its purest form, the glue that makes websites sticky. It is an integral component of User Experience practice, and is the bed partner of Information Architecture – the practical layout and navigation of a site. But enough of the jargon. It is a discipline designed to ensure that visitors to a website are engaged, entertained and enthralled, and is typically undertaken when larger sites are being developed.
This is because firstly, a large site more often (but not always) needs to appeal to a variety of different audiences; and secondly, because many owners of smaller sites do not consider it to be a vital investment – thinking instead that either they or their copywriter should already know what content needs to be included. However, a mindset that includes an understanding of Content Strategy is still of immense value when developing even the smallest of websites.

Why develop a Content Strategy?

Content Strategy enables website owners to maximise their website’s effectiveness, whether that’s measured in sales, enquiry rates, a reduction in customer service calls, or whatever. Its focus is on the identification and creation of optimised content for a website, and by adopting a Content Strategy at the outset of a web project, the site owner can be provided with guidelines on what type of content should be included, where and how.

Better Content – More engaging content gives more interesting experiences for visitors, and adds value to a site.
Consistency in Messaging – Content Strategy extends to the creation of guidelines about messages, tone, brand etc. to make sure editors and contributors are producing content that is on-brand and on-song.
Optimisation – Better targeted messages not only mean visitors receive more relevant and engaging information, but it ensures better SEO.
Friction Reduction – Better, more relevant and more engaging content minimises the discomfort of visitors, and reduces bounce rates.
Improve Efficiency – A Content Strategy can help in developing content that has legs, that can be repurposed across different channels.
Better Cost Control – By identifying the content requirements of a site early in its development, you can keep better control of estimated development costs.
Better Project Plans & Timekeeping – Timescales and project plans can be adhered to more easily if you know upfront what needs to happen in order to get the content ready for a site.

What does a Content Strategist do?

A Content Strategist takes a psychological approach to website design, and their focus is primarily on the users of a website. Their task is the identification of a website’s audience(s), and the creation of the most appropriate content for them. Research exists, for example, to suggest that certain types of audience prefer consuming information via video, or perhaps audio, whilst others prefer text-based information. Similarly, different types of information are better suited to being communicated by text whilst others tend to hit their mark more effectively via video, audio or imagery. It is the Content Strategist’s job is to develop personas that provide an accurate profile of the audience(s), and then to lay down some guidelines not just for what information is to be provided to them, but in what format.

A good, experienced copywriter might already be a Content Strategist, but they may never have used that term. It is a natural part of planning one’s writing, structuring one’s messages and deciding what information needs to be communicated, what information is missing and what needs to be researched. It is a discipline that is just as relevant in creating content for traditional print media, but it is not often that a print job runs to hundreds or thousands of pages, viewed by different audiences with different needs and preferences – and that is where the web Content Strategist’s role comes into its own. A Content Strategy can be developed for an existing site as part of a review project, or it can be one of the initial stages of a new website development project. In either case, the task involves three critical phases – the Personas, the Audit & Analysis and the Recommendations.

Personas
In order to develop workable customer profiles, a good starting point is to look at your site’s analytics. This can tell you the most visited pages, how people are travelling through your site, and how they got there in the first place. You will also be able to discover which keywords are the most effective at attracting visitors, and which pages are retaining people’s attention. If budgets and time allow, it is also well worth surveying existing customers to ask about their needs and preferences, and perhaps conducting in-depth interviews with several key customers. The aim of all this research is to establish a clear idea of your customer profile(s), by investigating the following (non-exhaustive) list of topics:

  • What age, gender and socio-economic categories are they in?
  • What content do they most commonly look for in a site such as yours?
  • Which formats of content (text, imagery, video, audio, blogs) do they prefer to consume?
  • Do these preferences change at different stages of their website visits?
  • What are the critical factors in triggering a particular action being taken by them? – such as a purchase, a request for a call-back etc.
  • What are the friction points that would influence their tendency to take a course of action?
  • What are their most common objections to your product or service, if any?
  • Who and what else might influence their decision to take a particular course of action?

Only by understanding as much as possible about a website’s users can you realistically hope to ensure your communications are appealing and relevant, allowing those users to immediately see why the site’s product or service is important to them and encouraging them to more readily adopt the call to action that’s being suggested (e.g. to buy something, to request a callback, send an application form etc.).

Audit and Analysis

Once you have a clear idea of what makes your website visitors tick, and before any strategy can be prepared, you need to know what elements need to be analysed. This means undertaking an audit of your website, or of your proposed site.

First, it is important to know what content already exists. With very large sites, this can involve preparing some fairly large spreadsheets in which different categories of content can be mapped, alongside comments about the format of the content and your opinion of its quality (based on the knowledge of visitor personas you now have). With smaller sites, it can be as simple as identifying on a site map what each page is about, what content is on them, and of what quality it is.
Areas you will need to consider for each page are likely to include:

  • Focus of content – What is it about, and in which category does it sit?
  • Page layout – Which template is being used?
  • Format – Video, audio, brochure page, product page, blog page, PDF etc.?
  • Apparent audience – Who appears to be targeted by the current content?
  • Targeted audience – What audience(s) do you want to target with the content?
  • Quality of content – Relevance and importance of content to the actual target?
  • SEO suitability – Are the right keywords being applied to the content?

Just as important is the identification of information that is missing, and a suggestion of how that content might be created or sourced. This will often involve identifying specific people who ‘own’ a particular category of information and to whom you will need to go in order to obtain the raw materials from which fresh content can be created for the site.

The output from the Audit & Analysis phase should be a comprehensive breakdown of the website’s content, with clear indications of what needs to be improved, re-formatted or created from scratch in order to bring the whole site up to a level where your audience(s) are most likely to stick on the website and make a purchase, request a callback or whatever your call to action is. For a completely new site, of course, the focus will be on what needs to be created, in what format, by whom?

Recommendations

If you are working as a consultant on a large existing site, the chances are you will need to make some recommendations to someone in the client team. These will typically need to extend beyond your analysis of the site’s content and will perhaps also include suggestions about how content will be curated and updated on an ongoing basis, and by whom.

The net result should be a comprehensive Content Strategy that will allow you or your client to pull together and create the best quality content for a site, with a workable plan for future updates.

What skills are needed?

This article attempts to explain the principles of Content Strategy. It requires a certain mindset that some (but not all) copywriters possess. The other skills that a good Content Strategist possesses are likely to include some or all of the following:

  • A customer-centric view. It is all about User Experience
  • An analytical and pragmatic approach
  • Project management capabilities
  • At least a basic knowledge of web technology
  • A familiarity with Content Management Systems (CMSs)
  • An understanding of Information Architecture and best practice
  • A thorough grounding on SEO principles
  • Experience of branding and tone of voice development

Each project is different, and some of the activities detailed in this article will inevitably be less vital or entirely irrelevant on occasion. However, the ‘psychological’ approach to Content Strategy will remain valid and will hopefully stand you in good stead when you next need to plan a website.

Call us on 01934 820854 or send us a message now to start a conversation.
David Merrifield is Managing & Creative Director of Just Us Agency.