Content Strategy is All Around Your Project

October 10, 2019
By Rosamund Lannin,
Content Strategist

At its core, content strategy means giving people the content they need, when they need it, in a way that makes sense. That sounds great, but admittedly abstract: how and where does that actually play out in a project? There’s no single answer, but we can look to the practice as a starting point.

You don’t interpret content in a vacuum; you’re noticing what it looks like, what it actually says (hopefully), how it sounds, what form it comes in, how you’re receiving it, and a million other context clues that play into how you interpret information. The thinking that goes into the content of a voicemail is different than what’s on a billboard, which is different than an application form.

Similarly, content strategy isn’t a single, siloed project activity that happens, is finished, and is never thought of again — not if you want your content to shine. Let’s walk through the main ways we weave content into every stage and discipline involved in building an experience.

Design and Build with Content in Mind

graph depicting content strategy at the center of information architecture, development, analytics, and visual design

A good design and well-built experience matters. A lot. But focusing solely on visuals and functionality makes it easy to forget that ultimately, people are coming to a website or application to find something out, even if it’s just the information that leads them to their next step. Ensuring that content is considered in every part of an experience means thinking about content design and system design. It means asking the questions that shape what you’re saying, how it sounds, and the best way to make it happen.

image with content strategy and the question you should ask to shape that strategy

For example, say your company has a goal of expanding its business into Japan within the next year. There are sales goals and traffic KPIs you’re trying to hit. There are new products only available to that market. And there’s the content on your website. You could just create another version of your website and translate everything, resulting in an experience that feels like an afterthought at best. But, by taking content into the equation, you can start to consider what matters to your users, and how information architecture (IA), design, development, and analytics help make that happen and vice versa. Here are some examples of how content considerations might play out, and the disciplines they involve:

  • Do users need a website in the language they’re most familiar with? Or multiple languages common to their country? (Development, Visual Design, IA)
  • Will we need different imagery for our products or services? (Visual Design)
  • Who is going to maintain the Japanese experience? Do we need to expand our content management team? If yes, will the team use a centralized content management model, or manage the Japanese version of the website independently? How will the teams communicate changes to each other? (Development, IA, HR)
  • What are the search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), and social media strategies that will bring people to the website? What other marketing efforts will be used to drive awareness and traffic? (IA, Analytics, Marketing)

Content Strategy, Phase by Phase (And Beyond)

Answering these content questions means engaging with stakeholders and users, as well as the rest of the team that’s helping create the experience. We do this through the activities below.

list of content strategy related tasks

We don’t do all of these activities with every project, but many are common to most engagements: stakeholder interviews, content audits, information architecture, visual design, requirements gathering, and SEO/SEM all play a role in most of our projects on some level. Generally, we explore these through a workshop at the beginning of a project, though as you’ll see, the findings continue to inform the project in every phase. 

Some activities are not solely the provenance of the content strategist — rather, we work with information architects, designers, developers, and analysts to ensure we’re balancing content with other needs and requirements. Here’s how content strategy comes in on some of those common activities. 

Stakeholder Interviews

What information do you need to convey to your users? How should it sound? How does content currently make its way into the experience? How do you want people to react, and how will you measure that?

Knowing what users and business leads want and need heavily shapes content, from big things like overall messaging, to small details like timing homepage announcements. Some of the questions a content strategist asks might overlap with other roles, but the answers are approached from a content lens. This makes sense, as findings from interviews don’t just shape content: they’re key to informing page interactions, technical requirements, marketing plans, and many other parts of the experience. 

Content Audit

What are we working with here? What gaps and redundancies exist?

Taking inventory of every page in your experience and pulling out themes is an important first step. Just like you wouldn’t move or redecorate a room without first looking at what’s there, understanding the size and shape of your content helps you move forward without making the same mistakes. This also can be a chance to clean house: culling redundant pages, considering low-traffic areas, and generally thinking about why certain information exists and what value it brings to your organization. 

“Buildup of content debt may not be as apparent as technical debt, because it’s unlikely to cause software to break. Still, it could easily result in confusion, the erosion of trust between the user and the product, a greater need for customer support, [and] slower progress…​”

-Melody Kramer, Content Strategist, 18F​

Information Architecture

Sitemaps and wireframes are heavily informed by content. Figuring out how pages should be organized on both a high level and page level means thinking about what information should be on the page, how users are going to read it, and what that means for your copy, media, and more. We’ll work with an information architect to balance content with components and interactions, so that shaping your content is a smooth, informed process. 

“A website without content is just a beautiful, empty shell.”

-Sarah Richards, Author of “Content Design”
What We Talk About When We Talk About Information Architecture
By Amanda Ruzin,
VP of Experience Design
· June 17, 2019

Content Governance

Who’s going to manage the content? How and when will that happen?

Once you have a roadmap for your content, you still have to manage and maintain it. Stakeholder interviews and journey maps help form the basis of user permissions and workflows, which can be refined with your technical team (business analysts, developers, and quality assurance analysts). Getting a clear sense of how content management will work can also bring up questions of staffing, aka do you have the staff to keep your content relevant and current? Once the right functionality and team are in place, user acceptance testing and training give users a chance to work with their content, and you to make any necessary changes prior to launch. 

Testing & Reporting

How are users responding to content? What does that mean?

You’ve launched! Now it’s time to align with your analytics team to make the most out of every visitor. Utilizing tactics like A/B testing, multivariate testing, and heat mapping and drawing on Google Analytics for traffic, activity, and other metrics can help figure out where people are going, what they’re doing, and more — these numbers give you feedback that can be incorporated into the user experience. 

Bringing Numbers into the Picture: Insight-Driven Design
By Matthew Motyka,
Lead UX Designer
· August 30, 2019

Content Strategy is Always Evolving

Content strategy doesn’t happen in isolation and it doesn’t end when the experience goes live. It evolves with business needs, user desires, technology, and the many other factors that shape an experience. By treating content holistically throughout a project — recognizing how it interacts with the whole picture — we can create powerful messaging that supports your goals.