An Event Apart: Content Strategy Roadmap

by July 9, 2012

In her Content Strategy Roadmap presentation at An Event Apart in Austin TX 2012 Kristina Halvorson talked about how to integrate content strategy into a typical Web design workflow. Here's my notes from her talk:

  • Content is an ongoing problem for Web design and development. People come looking for content but our processes don’t make getting it smooth.
  • We assume content comes from a linear workflow: sit down, write, review, and publish.
  • Content actually lives in a complicated workflow through an organization. It is cyclical, not linear.
  • Content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content that people actually care about.
  • Content is not just the what. We have to ask questions about why we need content, how it will be created, maintained, when will it be created, who is it for, and more.
  • What’s next: we can’t continue to launch and leave content. We need to acknowledge the moment it gets requested, content enters a lifecycle.
  • A core strategy tells you what your content needs to do for your business and your customers. What percent of your content actually does support these goals?
  • Substance/structure: how is content organized, prioritized, and presented?
  • Workflow/governance: how is content going to be created and maintained? How are decisions about content made?
  • The power of content strategy is starting the right conversation s about the hidden aspects of content management.
  • Work within the reality of people and their existing constraints

Discover, define, design, develop, deploy

  • Kick-off meeting: the people who you exclude from these meetings will come back and haunt you. They need to be heard from early on in the process.
  • Ask: how will your content serve your business and your users?
  • 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. They need to manage the content anyways so you might as well get them involved early.
  • 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 also helps you identify workflows.
  • Your answer to most questions should be: “tell me more about that”. This is a very powerful phrase. It takes you from being a producer to understanding people's motivations.
  • Content is not a product. It’s a living thing.
  • Define: Deliverables include things like content requirements. “What” is the easy part. Instead look at content as a whole.
  • 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.
  • Don’t put your core message on your Web site: use it to guide and align your internal teams. Ask: how does this support our core message?
  • 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.
  • 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. Keep it down to one page, so people can use it regularly.
  • Design: this is often where people want you to start. The power of content strategy is asking questions before the design stage. Design is more than just visuals. It's all the work that happens up front.
  • If writers are brought in only at the design stage, they are just filling in boxes in wireframes.
  • 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. This is great place for iteration and collaboration.
  • You can’t do this for every page. Do it for your primary pages.
  • This allows designers to work from actual content the organization can deliver not theoretical ideas about content.
  • Develop: a lot of things can break in development. Its where the rubber hits the road and developers can be stretched to make lots of changes. Effective teamwork can protect people's time and sanity.
  • A content wrangler can keep things moving throughout the development process.
  • 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.
  • Planning for content contingencies and processes is critical to making content first work for Web teams. Don't start with trying to make your organization change.
  • Ask the right questions up front about content. Use tools that can help you not only manage assets but process as well. Start small, pick a couple of tools to apply today.