An Event Apart: A Content Strategy Roadmap

by June 14, 2011

In her presentation at An Event Apart in Atlanta, GA 2011 Kristina Halvorson talked about how to integrate content strategy into a typical Web design worksflow. Here's my notes from her talk:

  • Too often on Web designs and redesigns, when we get to the content things blow up. But it’s not the content that is the problem, it’s the map we use to get our websites done.
  • After 15 years of Web sites, we still don’t have content figured out yet it’s what people are coming to our Websites for. Content belongs in the middle of everything we do. It fills the sites we build.
  • Content strategy is a discipline that has been around for years. It helps you plan for creating, delivering, and managing content over time. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Strategy without tactics is just a good idea.
  • Content strategy gives us a core framework to start to tackle the bigger issue of content. Content is not just about the what (do we put on pages). But questions that are more important: why, how often, what next, for whom, when. How will we use our content to meet our Web strategy objectives? How can we find alignment on that? We need to push the alignment process further up stream.
  • Content strategy will end up saving your content. This applies to everyone –not just designers & developers waiting for content.
  • Substance is the meat of the content: what do we want to deliver, what is the core message. Structure is the organization of the site. Workflow is how content moves through your organization: who writes it, who approves, etc. This impacts the substance that makes up your site. Governance is a simple set of principles that define what we want our content to do. It forms the core of coming together to tell a consistent story. It’s a framework within which we can perform.

Discover, Define, Design, Develop, and Deploy.

  • People feel fixing the content is out of their control or not their job. But it actually has to be part of your job. If we keep leaving it behind, we’ll fill our sites with crap.
  • Discover: where you determine what content is needed. Deliverables include things like “content audits” which are an inventory of everything on your site. People do it because they understand they need to account for existing content. But in a content audit: who owns this, when was it updated, what’s the metadata associated with it?
  • When you are in the discovery phase ask a lot of questions: start with finding duplicative, dated, or unnecessary content (content rot). This gives you an ability to start talking about owners of content. From there you can identify who is in charge, what their process is, and more. Discovering content owners gets you ask to the real motives behind content. You can identify why things are evolving the way they are. It’s like solving a mystery. It also helps you identify workflows.
  • Ask: Who owns the content? Where do request come from? Who needs to approve it? Why does this content exist? What do you think needs to exist? Listen, dig, listen dig, that is where you’ll find the good stuff.
  • The most important thing you can say is: “tell me more about that.” This will help you learn how things work in the content lifecycle and why.
  • Content rot: is content that is no longer being updated, no longer applicable, or just plain wrong.
  • Content owners: find out exactly who is responsible for content.
  • Define: Deliverables include things like content requirements. Requirements tend to expand because there’s room for everything on the Web. “What” is the easy part. Once you write down the content you need, you’ll automatically have an impact on what the substance will be, what the workflow will be, and more. There are lots of consequences.
  • In almost every single project, people responsible for content are subject to their over commitment. Lots of the content on our Web sites is nice to have. Make sure what you are committing to meets business objectives.
  • Ask: how will this content help us meet our objectives? What primary user-facing message do we want to convey? How will the user want to access this content? How will we care for this content over time?
  • In the definition phase pay attention to the content lifecycle. Commit to something over time.
  • Design: this is often where the client wants you to start. The power of content strategy is asking questions before the design stage. This puts things on people’s radar. It won’t all get solved right away –things take a while.
  • When we think about design of content, try to introduce page tables. Page tables are put together for people creating content. They list the page objective, source material, key messages of the page, and the priorities. This is not copy, it’s guidelines to create content around.
  • You can’t do this for every page. Do it for your primary pages. Where people are going or where clients are most interested.
  • Editorial calendars hold people accountable. They let you know what is coming next. This helps you create workflow and helps you tie in what’s happening on the website to what’s happening in other parts of your organization.
  • If you can introduce content inventories, page tables, and an editorial calendar it will change your process significantly.
  • Develop: if you set things up at the beginning by asking the right questions, this phase should go really smoothly. You don’t need all the deliverables. You just need to ask the right questions.
  • After content deploys –think about how you will take care of it. Rolling content inventories can be used to go through content in chunks. 5 pages a week or consider using governance board reviews.
  • There are some people who really care about content –get them on your side and put them into a health and wellness check-up to keep content relevant for you customers.
  • Do you really want to be creating your content for all the different environments that exist today and will exist tomorrow?
  • When we are creating content, we need to answer all these questions (mentioned earlier), we also need o be thinking about how to structure that content up front for re-use. This is called structured or nimble content. The core concept is to get content outside of Web pages.
  • We need content to exist in atoms so that we can bring them together in ways that make sense for users.
  • We need to ensure the content we manage in this manner is content that we want to stick around. A lot of content on the Web might not need to exist.