We often get so caught up in the task of creating content that we easily forget the foundation of what content strategy is all about. To quote Scott Abel in his book, The Language of Content Strategy, “Content is the single most-used way of understanding an organization’s products or services, stories, or brand.” When the amount of content used to create the stories or other information begins to get rather large, it’s time to create a content strategy. Sounds easy enough, right? It’s not always as easy as it sounds, and it’s easy to lose sight of the end product while wading through formats, text, and multimedia assets. To set yourself down the right track, it’s best to ask yourself these six questions when creating your content strategy:
Do you understand your audience?
This is the most basic of all questions that content strategists need to understand. Who is going to read the content? Why would they need to read this content? Is it meeting the needs of the end-users? Is it written in a way that a wide array of people are going to be able to understand, or is this for a niche group?
To give you an example of this, I was recently given an HR article to post on the company website. One of the reviewers of the article chimed in, “You use some terms that are commonplace for HR, but would the employees understand the use of those terms?” The reviewer made several changes to make the text more employee friendly, and I agreed with the changes.
Do you understand business goals?
What is the end objective of your organization? Is it to sell a product? Will it drive additional sales? Is it to build brand loyalty? Is it to retain brand loyalty? Are there marketing objectives involved?
Customer service is an often forgotten element of content. How many times have you gone to a website for help, and came up empty? Have you ever found yourself buying a product from the same company at a later date because you knew that the support content was good if you had problems? The business goals are those goals that gain customer loyalty and work to retain it long term.
Do you know your delivery options?
Will this be printed as a hardcopy output (book, pamphlet, flyer, billboard, etc.) or will it be delivered digitally? Will it need to be optimized for mobile? What kind of output will it be–a help screen, a user’s manual, a marketing site, or a support site? Will it include social media and/or a blog to create a two-way conversation?
Content is consumed in so many ways in this digital age, but not all formats are the best way to deliver the content. Responsive design is key—whether it’s in print or digitally—to having consistency in the content delivered to maximize your message.
Do you understand the content value?
Does the text stand on its own, or is a video, 3-D image, or 2-D image needed? Do you even need text to provide valuable content? Steve Walker of Experis talks about the “the need versus the pain” of using content. Do you need all your content assets to deliver the message needed? What addresses the pain points?
Auditing your content to understand what can be used and what can be reused is a necessary first step in any project. I work with groups at my company who often think that they need to have lots of “bells and whistles” for their websites, when what they really need is straightforward information. They get caught up in images when they need to focus on the text and ensuring that the correct information is clear, concise, and cogent.
Do you understand hypertext theory and content modeling?
Understanding hypertext gives a content strategist a better understand of how one piece of content relates to another, whether it’s within the organization’s own body of content, or outside in other parts of the Internet. Helping the audience connect with answers to related topics is a big part of information comprehension, so this leads to creating a content model.
By creating a content model, a technical communicator can create an organized architecture that will support the content structure of the end product. The solidity of this plan creates an organized structure on the back end when updating the content occurs as well as the front-facing end. If your content model doesn’t follow some sort of intuitive logic in its organization, it will not make sense to either the content creators or end users. This is the heart of content strategy.
Understanding hypertext has been a key part of my job. I create several microsites for a global company. It’s not uncommon to find several departments repeating information that’s covered on another department’s site. For example, the Innovation team’s site is involved with University Recruiting. Rather than write original information about university recruiting, I had suggested they link to the university recruiting microsite on the HR website, because it included all the details they had, and then some additional details. Had I not suggested it, there wouldn’t have been a way for Innovation website end-users to have a full understanding of the depth of university recruiting at their fingertips.
Another large part of my job has been remapping and renovating older websites within the company. The content model was confusing, and I found myself turned around several times trying to find where certain links were. My job, in the end, was to make sense of it all so that the architecture was fluid, and that anyone who had a minimal amount of training on the content management system could easily find his or her way to the document or file they needed. I think the best compliment I ever got from my manager was when he covered for me during a trip, and said he had absolutely no problem finding things in the CMS once I restructured the content model. YES!
Do you know how to write and edit your content to include simplified language?
It doesn’t matter what language you speak, whether it’s English, French, Spanish, Swahili or Chinese. In any language, simplified language needs to be used. As it’s often said, even if you are not translating your content, someone out there in the world with Internet access is, most likely using something like Google Translate or a similar tool to do it. If the language isn’t simplified for machine translation, your message will be lost entirely.
Now, I’m not saying that this is an easy process in any way. It’s rather difficult! There are tools, such as Acrolinx, that can help with this process. But imagine something that I have to often with my Ecuadorian in-laws whose first language is not English—I have to translate my English into English. I have to try to avoid cliché expressions and slang as much as possible to provide the cleanest message I can provide for translation. The more this is cleaned up from the beginning—whether on a personal or professional basis—the message will be clear for all to understand.
There are many more components that could be added to this list to make it a “Top 20” list or even a “Top 50” list easily, but before looking at standardizing content for globalization purposes and accessibility, asking yourself, “Am I getting to the heart of the content?” is the key for effective content. By remembering these six questions, you can be set in the right direction going forward.