Content Strategy Deliverables, ROI, and Best Practices

A recent client request: show me that content strategy is valuable, scalable, and profitable.

It’s a tall order. It has given me me an opportunity to reflect critically on our work and identify the most valuable elements, how to scale our work, and what makes it profitable.

I’m still forming my thoughts on the subject. But here are a few of the key conclusions I intend to share. Find me on Twitter, email, or in the comments if you have thoughts of your own to add.

What is Content Strategy?

Content strategy is the process of creating and using a strategy for connecting the content on our site with what end users need and want. This strategy incorporates branding, message, and concrete goals, and guides all future marketing and content creation. The end result is the right content, to the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

How is Content Strategy Different from UX/design/copywriting?

(Visual) design and copywriting are forms of creation. UX and content strategy are processes. UX is a successful process and has gained a lot of traction because it connects business goals to metrics that will identify success or failure. In fact, content strategy relies on those same two elements:

  1. determining business goals
  2. associating each goal with key metrics

How is content strategy different from user experience? It’s strategic. A content strategist is concerned with ensuring the end project is successful for weeks or months or years. Their work ensures that the goals can grow with the business. That is not to say that a UX designer doesn’t care about the long-term plan, but the deliverables of the content strategist prioritize governance and content management. Content strategy is the difference between a positive user experience today, and a positive user experience for the months and years to come.

Why Do We Need a Strategy?

Every 60 seconds more than 1,500 blog posts, 1,000 new web sites, and 98,000 tweets are published. Content gets lost in the weeds if it isn’t organized, findable, engaging, and relevant to client needs.

More to the point, content isn’t valuable in and of itself. It’s a tool, and a good strategist will use that tool to further the business’s goals.

How Does Content Strategy Help the Rest of the Team?

  • As a designer, content strategy can provide a direction and message with which to align wireframes, and to follow when building user flows.
  • For a project or account manager, content strategy can provide a timeline and future plan for the project.
  • As a developer, content strategy can address consistency across interactions, provide the content and functionality advice on microinteractions, and collaborate (and speak to author needs) on CMS decisions.

What Best Practices Should Content Strategy Teams Follow?

To name a few…

  • Conduct user interviews to gather information on what users say and how they say it.
  • Gather branding information. Designers and stakeholders (and personas!) will help you get a sense of the brand’s voice. Create a voice and tone for copywriters and designers to follow moving forward.
  • Check in with the company goals frequently. Update the voice and tone as needed.
  • Conduct a content audit very early in the process. Learn what content is immediately available for use as-is or with some re-working. Idealism is wonderful, but many projects have failed because they lacked a content strategist who could identify the steps between now and Phase 6.
  • Be specific in the content gap analysis. These comments are what developers and copywriters will use to inform everything they build, possibly long after the content strategist has left the project. This is their instruction manual.
  • Work with designers to understand the layout of a page (even for adaptive content). Creating content guidelines in a vacuum will result in awkward web pages.
  • Work with developers to understand the constraints of the project. Content strategy is often about the people who will be creating, curating, or governing the content, but the strategist is responsible for understanding the technical side of the project as well. Only then can we translate those constraints for the creators/curators/governors to understand.
  • No deliverable is complete without metrics. Even an editorial calendar should include dates for touching base and revising the plan based on whether we are succeeding at our goals.
  • Client (or user) education is not the same as training. A training session is great for allowing the strategist to feel she has done her job. An education is great for ensuring the client/user has the knowledge and understanding to move forward.

What are Content Strategy Deliverables?

Again, to name a few…

  • User needs report
  • Usability report
  • Content audit
  • Content inventory
  • Gap analysis
  • Content brief
  • Message architecture/IA
  • SEO/key word document
  • CMS documentation
  • Editorial guidelines
  • Voice and tone guidelines
  • Editorial calendar

…and so many more!

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