Content Strategy: The Unsexy Step in Making Great Websites
Building a website that goes beyond being a pretty digital brochure, has many interrelated pieces. It has a great design that engages its visitors; it’s flexible and easy to update for site owners; and it ranks well on Google, driving targeted traffic to the site.
Having of these qualities in your site surely help make the argument the site launch was a success, but there is a piece often times overlooked, that will make or break a project, no matter how well the previously mentioned pieces were executed: content strategy.
In this article, I want to provide an understanding of what content strategy is and why it’s crucial to the build of a website. I’ll highlight the specific places where content strategy is a key element in the building process, and the essential items you need to consider when building your own strategy.
Content Strategy, defined.
Before we dive into why Content Strategy is important, let’s define what Content Strategy is.
Wikipedia defines Content Strategy as:
The practice of planning the content creation, delivery, and governance. A repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project.
Another description, from Kevin Nichols, is:
Getting the right content to the right user at the right time.
My own personal definition would be:
The planning of a website’s content, messaging, and media to create a framework of communication, inspiring users towards a targeted goal.
Why is Content Strategy important?
Content Strategy is important because it’s the strategic foundation on which your entire site is built.
You want to provide information (content) to people, and enable them to utilize that information to accomplish things. Design, functionality, all of the big ticket items that come to mind when you think about building websites, are only there to improve the presentation of your content.
Without great content, the design and development you’re paying big bucks for is (excuse the cliche), are just lipstick on a pig.
Planning your Content Strategy
After establishing the goals of your project, content strategy should be one of the first things that is discussed. On a high level, answering the questions:
- Who should the website speaking to?
- What actions do you want visitors taking on your site?
- What style and tone of voice best delivers your message?
These questions, while so obvious they are sometimes overlooked, establish the foundation for nearly all aspects of the project. Most notably the design phase.
Building your Content Strategy
To start, answer the questions I’ve mentioned above, as literally as possible.
Who is your audience?
Create personas for the groups of people your website is targeting. Build a list of the following qualities, to establish who these people are:
Married/Single/In a relationship
Motivations for visiting your site
Information most relevant to them
Goals for them on your site
By creating these personas, the design of the site can be crafted to engage directly with these types of people. Highlighting the goals for each persona helps you start the process of determining how people will interact with your site, helping to create measurable conversions that literally show the site’s success.
What are your goals for site visitors?
These actions relate directly to the goals of your site. For example:
“I want people to place an order for my product”
“I want people to sign up for my email list”
“I want people to learn more about our services”
Defining these actions puts focus on the real goals your content needs to encourage. If you want people to place an order quickly, make sure the content reflects that. Keep the ecommerce experience simple and easy, directing the consumer to the purchase funnel as quickly as possible.. You don’t need to worry about 1500 words of About Us copy.
What’s the tone of your communication?
You know who you’re speaking to, you know what you want them to do, but what is the best way to deliver them the message?
If you’re a spunky startup targeting millennials, relaxed language and playful interactions might help build a friendly relationship with your visitors. If you’re an established organization whose customers look for trust and security, a more refined and confident tone would be favorable.
Again, knowing how your voice should be received by visitors, gives your design team direction in how copy should be formatted and presented.
With all this information documented, you’re ready to begin the design phase of your project.
How does content strategy relate to the design of a project?
At Authentic, our design phase is broken into three deliverables: Moodboards, Wireframes, and Visual Designs.
In the Moodboards, we’re establishing the high-level aesthetic styles which we’ll use during the visual design phase. Decisions are being made on colors, layouts, typography, and photography styles. While these decisions may seem surface level, they absolutely relate to content strategy.
Going back to the persona’s you defined, these will impact the choices made during this phase. The style and tone of your communication, will also factor into these decisions.
If you’re wanting to target recently retired baby boomers, looking for their next adventure in life, you’re content should reflect the qualities these people admire. It should also be formatted in a way that’s accessible to them. For example, using confident and encouraging language, and making sure the typography is legible and easy to read.
After moodboards are established, we’ll transition into the Wireframe stage where content strategy is the number 1 factor in what’s being delivered. In this step, decisions are being made on the layout of the website. Where should individual pieces of content be on the page? How long should that content be? Where will people be interacting with the site and how will this work?
Wireframes quite literally take your content strategy and represent it as a website. After Wireframes have been approved, you should have a thorough document which highlights exactly how your strategy will be presented on your site. At this point you could start writing copy, tailored to how it’s being presented in the wireframes.
In the last step of the design phase, the Visual Designs, we’re putting together the strategy from the wireframes and the style from the moodboards into the final representation of your site. What’s left should combine both of these key elements, derived from your content strategy, into a polished design that engages with your audience, and does so in a way that will inspire action towards your goals.
Writing final content
At this point in a project, you’ve created your content strategy, worked through the design phase of a project, and have been provided a series of deliverables (wireframes and visual designs), showing your how copy should appear on your site. Now your job is to write the final content.
Before you begin writing, note that this part of process brings in a new element of your final content strategy, SEO.
Having a smart content strategy is a prerequisite for having an SEO optimized website. Here are several key items to consider when writing your final content.
Review hierarchy (h1, h2s, h3s)
While modern web design gives us the ability to format our content however we please, content on the web should still follow fairly standard writing conventions. If you go back to Business Communication 101, the 7 C’s are very important. Above all else, writing clearly and concisely, making the content on your site as scannable as possible.
As you’re writing the content on each page, use the wireframes provided as a guide for content length and style. If the designs show a headline with 8 words, don’t add a 20 word sentence. If your image needs to be of a certain size or style, ensure the images you’re finding, meeting the quality shown in the designs.
If you’re writing longer content, treat it as if you were writing an essay. Break it up into your main heading, subheading, and tertiary titles. If a user only skims over the headings of content, they could still have a decent understanding of what you’re trying to convey throughout your page.
This style of writing facilities an optimal user experience, and as a rule of thumb: good user experience = good SEO.
As you’re writing content, ensure each page has a main heading, at least one secondary headings (h2), and any potentially additional subheadings (h3, h4, etc.). When a developer transitions into writing the site’s HTML, they should be adding one h1 and at least one h2 on every page.
Meta Tags, Social, Shared Images
In addition to the content on each page, the individual pieces of meta-data, used to boost SEO, and make your content shareable across social platforms, needs to be accounted for.
There are plenty of best-practices when writing descriptions for each page of your site, so feel free to brush up on those before penning this content.
What’s most important is you’re taking the time to think through the strategy you want for your site. It’s easy to brush off discussing these small pieces of your site, but when it comes to optimizing for SEO, diligence pays off.
Beyond meta tags used by search engines, don’t forget about the social tags used by Facebook, Twitter, and many other social platforms.
With any modern website, you want your content be as distributable as possible. Having a strategy in place for the content you want shared within these social cards, ensures (again) these small details are not missed, and you’re not left scrambling to get them in place after your site launches.
For social embeds, on the most basic level, have an idea of:
- An image for your piece of content
- A short description of the content
- The type of content you’re sharing (article, website, recipe, etc.)
- The author of the content
If you have rich content (audio, video, etc.), there are additional tags you can use to correctly share this as well. Be sure to double check the capabilities of all the platforms you want to optimize your content for.
If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you’re feeling more confident with the ins and outs of content strategy, and why it’s so pivotal in the launch of a successful web project. No matter the type of site you’re building, or the industry you’re within; content strategy will play a big role in shaping all aspects of your project.