Part of a short-format series discussing Chapter Three’s approach to digital strategy
Content is for websites what food is for restaurants – it’s their reason for being. And yet, content strategy often takes a backseat to development and design during a redesign. This is kind of like building a state-of-the-art kitchen and creating an opulent dining setting without hiring chefs, planning the meal and buying food.
We know working on beautiful design is inspiring and allows lots of stakeholders to have input. And we know that developing cool features and tools gets everyone on your team excited (That cool map! An intuitive resource library! The interactive piece that keeps people engaged!)
Design and tech tools *are* inspiring and exciting. We agree. But we’re here to tell you to keep content strategy front and center at the start, middle and even end of a website build. Good content serves as the connective tissue and the pressure test against which design and development concepts either succeed or fail to meet their promise.
Below is an overview of our typical discovery phase during redesigns, which we customize depending on the project's scope and client needs. Content strategy is informed by all of the work done during discovery, where we establish the project's overall digital strategy.
Content Strategy 101
Good content requires planning to create and manage over time. For the most part, I’m writing here about content strategy as it relates to preparing for the redesign of websites, since this assumes you have existing content to assess and integrate into the project; but most of this also applies to building out an entirely new site, though likely with different needs during the "audit and analysis" step.
Of course there are plenty of content strategy articles, guidance and details that dig deep on the topics, but as a general matter, content strategy for the web encompasses the planning, creation, delivery, and management of digital materials. It covers the entire lifecycle of content, which roughly divides as follows:
- Audit and analysis
- Strategic communications planning
- Content planning
- Content creation
- Ongoing management
The audit and analysis component will include an internal audit of your content, and could include an analysis of your competitors’ approaches. The goal of this is to confirm the current state of your content and how well it matches to what new audiences you want to reach, what type of content appeals to these audiences, and how well your existing approach to content creation is working relative to your competitors.
The next phase is the real “strategy” part. This is where you determine (or confirm) your organization’s brand voice and tone, the types of content and topic areas that appeal most to your target audiences, and the processes, workflows, and personnel necessary to create said content. This is where a strategic communications plan, complete with goals, strategies, tactics, key messages, and timelines, is highly beneficial. (note: some of this work during redesigns might be more head nods than a deep dive if you've already got a solid communications plan before the redesign project begins).
The content planning phase is where you identify specific topics to be captured in different types of content (blog posts, videos, presentations, downloadable resources etc.) and draw up a content calendar. Ideally, your content should be spaced out in a well thought out timeline based on your organization’s capacity to deliver, with internal subject matter experts identified alongside specific pieces of content.
Content creation and management go hand in hand. Ensuring content is created with well-chosen key messages and taxonomy will make it easier to manage from an SEO perspective and help ensure higher engagement levels. Ongoing management includes monitoring of traffic to specific pieces of content to help inform the ongoing content planning process, which involves both the planning of new content and the repurposing and curation of old material.
When To Do This?
There’s no bad time to create and implement a content strategy if you don’t already have one. However, the outset of a major website build or redesign is an opportune time to get started. A content strategy can have considerable bearing on the way a website is structured and designed, and as such is ideally implemented in parallel – with the people tasked with content creation involved in the process.
Why Do All This?
Content creation is traditionally resource-intensive for organizations. Without a content strategy, you may be spending time on things that don't align well with your business goals and yield poor engagement. Adding content regularly, thoughtfully and aligned with resources and values gives you content that connects with audiences and provides fuel for modern SEO.
In short, if you're spending time and labor to create content, it pays to do it in a way that helps you set and reach goals, track results, identify new opportunities, optimize your marketing team, control costs and effort, and produce content that gets results.