Just what is content strategy and why do we need it?

Rachel McConnell
Jul 30 · 4 min read

I don’t know about you, but I need methodology and theory to be really simple, and also visual. ‘Draw me a diagram’ is often my go-to line. I find it very hard to make the abstract tangible and practical without clear diagrams and examples.

For this reason I sometimes struggle to articulate content strategy to clients and colleagues. It’s essentially the substance, tools, people and process that get you to your outcomes — or how to focus your efforts to achieve your goals. And that’s important, because without focus you’re just building ‘stuff’ without purpose.

But when it comes to breaking that down into tangible things that a business can do, I just couldn’t find a diagram that said what I wanted it to. So I’ve created my own.

Content strategy as a process

It made sense for me to think of a strategy in the form of a process – the steps to get from here to success. So the steps I’ve come up with are:

1. Focus

What are you trying to achieve as a business, and what do your users need? Thinking about your user goals in terms of business value can help to align these.

For example, if customers are seeking more information on a particular topic, by providing that info you can keep customers onsite for longer and increase the chances of them buying. You meet their needs and by doing so, sell more.

While the overall goal you are trying to achieve through content is probably sales or loyalty, think about the more granular metrics that contribute towards this about might be more relevant to user needs.

Once you’ve drawn out the areas to focus on, you can define a content mission statement.

2. Foundations

In order to create effective content you need to lay the foundations. This consists of:

  • your values (which are aligned to your content mission)
  • voice and tone
  • the substance and structure of your content, ie. WHAT will you be creating or refining?

Once you know what you need to create, it’s easier to work out how to get there.

3. People

It goes without saying you’ll need someone to create or refine your content. Perhaps multiple teams and disciplines need to be involved? Setting out the roles and responsibilities is particularly important when you don’t have a defined content team. Who needs to provide product information, and who has overall accountability for the content once it’s live? No accountability isn’t just dangerous from a quality point of view. If no one’s reviewing the existing content once it’s live then you’re accumulating content debt.

4. Process

The next thing to focus on is your production and build process. This could be very simple if you’re a team of one or embedded in a product team. But if you’re in a large, fragmented organisation it’ll be more complex. Creating briefing templates or setting SLAs (service level agreements) might even be necessary if you’re managing a vast number of stakeholder requests. The great thing about defining metrics and KPIs is that you now have a criteria to prioritise content against. If it’s not contributing to business goals or metrics then is it really a priority, or do you need to include other objectives options in your brief such as ‘legal requirement’?

If you have a CMS it’s best practice to document the workflow and list out creators, editors etc. Even if this is just to keep track of who has access. You’ll need to make sure there’s a process for removing users when they leave the business or adding new users when they join too.

Under process I’d also include style guides and QA checklists. Part of any content production is ensuring it’s governed in such a way that whoever produces it achieves a high quality and consistent piece of content. When multiple content creators exist you’ll need guidelines to make sure this happens.

4. Measurement

Much like the agile process of test and learn, we must make sure we’re tracking against our targets. Whether this is through analytics and data, or more qualitative feedback such as usability testing, we need to revisit what’s gone live. In the case of a large website with multiple content producers, it’s advisable to review the content at regular intervals and check it’s still accurate and fit for purpose.

5. Maintenance

Once our content’s live our work isn’t done. Iterating content, testing new versions (through AB testing) and optimising for usability isn’t just advised, it’s essential if we want our site to be the best it can be. We all like to think that when we hit publish that it’s the best work we’ve ever done. But the chances are that looking at your site with a critical eye will highlight lots of room for improvement.


Content strategies are only achievable with buy-in from senior stakeholders, which is sometimes tricky. My top tip is to include them in the strategy creation process. Start with stakeholder interviews to understand what they think the company should be trying to achieve through content, and bring them into any workshops you run. In a recent presentation by Gather Content I heard:

“70% of businesses don’t feel their content adequately addresses user needs”

so the appetite for better content is there. But better content doesn’t just happen — it starts with a better strategy.

Clear Thinking

Thanks to Dominic Warren

Rachel McConnell

Written by

Content strategist at Clearleft and author of Why you need a content team http://amzn.eu/d/2j4OrHx

Clear Thinking

Opinions and learnings from the team at Clearleft. Since 2005 our purpose has been to advance the practice of design to transform organisations and people’s lives for the better.

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