By now most people working in the digital channel will have heard some of the buzz about content strategy. But unless you’ve worked on a UX project with a content strategy component, its exact role can be a bit of a mystery. Even those who have incorporated it into their work have trouble explaining it.
At Teehan+Lax, we feel that the content components of any user experience are tied closely to the visual design and functionality. Content strategy gives us a set of methodologies for planning content with as much attention as we pay to visual design and functionality. This means determining not only what content should be part of each user experience, but how that content will be created, delivered and managed, and what people, processes and technology need to be in place to make that happen.
But my elevator pitch might not get across what content strategy brings to a project. I’ve been finding that what’s more useful is to talk about what can happen if you don’t have it — in other words, the actual problems content strategy solves. Here are three common ones:
1. A design that you can’t make the most of
Have you ever undertaken a large scale design effort, but after hand-off it was difficult to implement? Maybe the design relied upon images of a certain quality and quantity being produced and published on a regular basis, and you didn’t have the staffing or technology in place to make that happen. Or a 3rd party API that was supposed to incorporate a data feed into your site didn’t seem to work with your existing content management system. In most cases, these problems show up as you’re trying to implement and launch your project, leaving you wondering why you weren’t aware of a problem sooner.
Content strategy makes sure that all the moving parts are in place for content to be created or acquired, published, and managed. If the technology or resources aren’t there, we figure out how to get them. And if a proposed design demands content that’s way beyond what you can produce, we work with the UX designers to make adjustments and deliver a system that you can support and maintain.
2. Content that is tied to its containers
Sometimes content get developed in great detail as part of a UX design without a plan for how it will live outside that design. One example that’s becoming more and more common happens with efforts to create experiences for multiple screens (most commonly adding a mobile experience to an existing desktop one). Content often gets produced and published with just one experience in mind, and it isn’t structured for cross-platform use, so you have to re-create and re-plan the content for mobile or tablet experiences.
The problem? Your content is tied to the ‘container’ you’ve initially published it in — in many cases the pages and sections of your website. And while content strategy isn’t going to save you from doing some content planning for those hypothetical future projects, it can help you to publish content that is structured and organized effectively for re-use. As a bonus, adding this data to your content will mean it works much better with intelligent RSS feeds and search algorithms, making your content more accessible, flexible and findable. These qualities are becoming increasingly important as users access content not only on different devices, but through feeds and readers that take that content outside of its original context.
3. Great design. Not so great content.
This happens all the time: content isn’t planned and developed alongside the UX strategy and design process. Your project launches and it looks fantastic — until users start reading, viewing or navigating, and discover that content is irrelevant, of poor quality, or simply just not meeting their needs. This can happen in the case of a site re-design when no analysis of the existing content is carried out. It also happens with new platforms, where no one really ‘owns’ the content and assumptions are made that it will fall into place once the design is complete.
UX designers have enough to manage without making content planning part of their work. And clients — if they haven’t got a designated person or team actively planning your content — won’t be focusing their energy on content, when main responsibility might be technical implementation, marketing or project management.
Without someone advocating for your content, it can fall through the cracks with huge gaps and poor quality going unnoticed until it’s too late, resulting in a mad scramble to fix it with little time or resources.
Content strategy alleviates this problem by paying attention to your content from the very start, beginning with an inventory and audit of your existing content, analyzing it against competitors and best practices, and mapping it to your users’ needs. This process starts during the strategy phase of your project, and continues alongside design and development.
In doing this, we figure out the best way for your digital content to help you achieve your business goals and meet your users’ needs; we also make its production, publication and management more efficient, strategic and productive.