Thursday, January 26, 2012

The two faces of content strategy

I had a really interesting conversation last week with Tim Frick, owner of Chicago web design firm Mightybyes, about content strategy. Tim had a great perspective about content strategy that really resonated with me, that there are actually two faces of content strategy:
  1. The strategic, outward-looking face
    This aspect focuses on what content will help customers, members, and other target audiences of an organization meet their needs and, in doing so, enable an organization achieve its business goals. This involves understanding users and the organization, knowing the terms people use and the channels they frequent, and thinking strategically about online channels. Search engine optimization and analytics are part of this, as are the strategies for using social media. This face of content strategy has become known as content marketing. In fact, there's a content marketing retreat going on as I write this post.
  2. The UX, inward-looking face
    This piece involves identifying the specific behaviors of various types of content, determining the fields in the content management system, documenting the dynamic content that will surface for public and logged-in users of a site, creating a metadata strategy, and forming the content buckets that shape the information architecture for the site.
Together, these comprise true content strategy. Both are necessary. We need to identify the details in order for the organization's intellectual property -- what the content is about -- shine. (For more on that, see my previous post.) And we need to spend the time thinking through the details about how the strategy will actually get realized and built, or the content won't have the opportunity to do what it needs to do.

Sometimes, we're talking about one when we mean the other, and sometimes we forget that both need to exist. Is it one person who creates both faces for a website? Is it only content strategists who do this work? The answer depends on the size of the effort, the degree of change needed, and whether it's an internal team or external agency doing the work.

(There's also a huge third piece to content strategy, which is organizational change and workflow -- look for another post on that topic soon.)

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this topic!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Your content is about who you are, what you think, know, and do

In the dozen years that I've been practicing content strategy -- yep, since 1999 -- I've often asked myself why organizations have been slow to make content strategy a top priority. I think it's the name "content strategy." Even a newer version of the name, "content marketing," really doesn't capture what the effort is about and why it is a critical, essential part of how an organization presents itself online.

Here's the issue: Content is not about itself. "Content" is information about your company. It's your programs, your lines of business, your strategies, your thought leadership, your benefits to customers or members, your offerings. In short, it is you. In particular, online content strategy is you online.

Moreover, it's all the things that your customers/members want from you -- who you are, what you do, what you think, what you know, and what you offer them.

In order for customers/members to really get you, find you, and use you, your online content strategy must be centered on getting the word out in a customer- or member-centered way. If you describe yourself using your terminology and your mental models, they may not find you, or may not really get that when they come across your website or Facebook page, they've found the solution they are looking for.

So, online content strategy really stands for customer-focused, benefits-centric, readable, relevant, useful, and usable
  • thought leadership communications strategy
  • business communications strategy
  • corporate communications strategy
  • marketing communications strategy
  • program communications strategy

Online content strategy is creating each of these in a customer-centered way -- starting with the understanding of how customers or members see you, what they currently want from you, as well as what they currently want but don't know you offer. And all of this, with the layer of online content best practices: clear, share-friendly headlines; short, scannable paragraphs; and others.

But the writing and online presentation are the packaging -- what the content is ABOUT is at the heart of all of it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

SEO is like the game of jeopardy

(I first wrote about this concept back in 2006, and the notion is even more true now.)

Optimizing your Web site for search engines is just like playing "Jeopardy." 
  • What questions do people ask for which your company, your offerings, your information is the answer? 
  • Who are those people? 
  • What words do they use in asking those questions?

You need to research these questions (a great starting point is Wordtracker.)
Then, you need to make sure that your website answers each of those questions. Be sure to use their terms and phrases in your content. Be sure to address each of the questions on individual, separate pages on your site.

The example I used back in '06 was Web advice for a relative who runs a company that makes the "trees of life" and other products that organizations use as to honor and recognize their donors. 

The issue was that someone on a fundraising committee at that organization probably doesn't know the term "donor recognition." My relative wanted to understand how to improve his conversions -- he has people trickling onto the site, but extremely low numbers who actually contact him.

I told him to keep three things in mind:
  • You want to put yourself where your target audience is, online
  • You want to describe your offerings in terms your audience uses
  • You want to create words and images that will resonate with the people who arrive at your site.
His research showed that people were searching for "plaques," "trees of life," and "donor walls." He learned that they wanted information about their specific type of organization -- healthcare organization, house of worship, charitable institution, etc. -- even though the actual choices are pretty much the same.

The reality is that it's possible for my relative to create almost any kind of recognition product that a client could dream up -- but they weren't on Google searching for "freeform recognition product," so concepts to that effect weren't drawing prospective customers to his site.

After applying the Jeopardy principle to his online presence, his traffic is up and the conversion rate is greatly improved.