An Event Apart: A Content Strategy Roadmap

by December 13, 2011

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

  • We all want content first. It helps our workflows and collaboration across teams. But you can’t design for content if you don’t have it. Since this happens often, we often design without content.
  • Content first is not copy first. You can’t wait for the copy. Content lives in a complicated world –across different ecosystems of review, creation, etc. Often this makes it out of our control. But content is your problem because it impacts your designs.
  • Content strategy is not content planning. That’s part of it but there’s more. Content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.
  • This isn’t just “what” is the content. It’s why, how, when, for whom, with what, where, when, how often, and what next. These are all important considerations.
  • Real content is created by real people. Content strategy connects those people to the processes they need to deliver on time, relevant content to the design and development team.
  • Up front ask: how will you use content to meet your user objectives? Think of this as your guiding light –telling you where you are going and what you are trying to accomplish. Plans will change. Your objectives shouldn’t.
  • Content components are where we usually get hung up. But the workflows are what really matter. These workflows are usually messy and difficult to navigate.
  • People components: what processes and tools do we need to deliver content? How do we make decisions about content and when/how does it get changed?
  • We want to get to place where content is more than just “launch and leave”. There is a lifecycle of launching, updating, and removing. This lifecycle is not how most people work with content –but they need to.
  • The website doesn’t do anything. They make the content go.

Discover, define, design, develop, deploy

  • When we typically build a web site we discover, define, design, develop, then deploy. How does content fit into these phases?
  • Discover: where you determine what content is needed. Deliverables include things like “content audits” which are an inventory of everything on your site. They are hard to create but very important because they tell you where things are. Include: who owns this, when was it updated, what’s the metadata associated with it?
  • Involve the copywriter earlier in the process. They can be more than the writer. They can also be the content wrangler.
  • 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.
  • Define: Deliverables include things like content requirements. “What” is the easy part. Once you write down the content you need, you’ll automatically have an impact on what the workflow will be and more.
  • Core messaging helps you figure what you need to communicate with your content. Take your communication goals and pair it with what your customers expect. Every word in your core message has purpose and meaning. Very complex sites might not be able to have a single core message but each product or project can.
  • Style guides that just reference standard AP content guidelines are not useful. They don’t help you create a common vocabulary. Instead start small with a few adjectives about your voice and good/bad examples of it.
  • 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.
  • 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. Page tables will significantly improve the quality of your content.
  • If you can introduce core messaging, content inventories, page tables, and an editorial calendar it will improve your process significantly.
  • 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?
  • Design: this is often where people want you to start. The power of content strategy is asking questions before the design stage. This allows designers to work from actual content the organization can deliver not theoretical ideas about content.
  • Deploy: After content deploys –think about how you will take care of it. There are some people who really care about content –get them on your side to help keep content relevant for you customers.
  • We need content to exist in modules so that we can bring them together in ways that make sense for users. The advent of multiple networked devices makes things even harder. We need to change our processes sooner rather than later to cope.
  • Ask the right questions up front about content. Use tools that can help you not only manage assets but process as well.