The Alphabet of Content Strategy

I am more and more frequently asked how I got into content strategy and what advice I would give to someone interested in joining the field, as well as if I have any good resources to share. I’ve compiled all of my advice emails and scoured the web (just to round it out a bit), and I present to you this Content Strategy Alphabet.

*Content strategists: Please feel free to add/supplement/correct with your in-line comments. That’s why I chose Medium — I’m just kicking off this collection. I need your help to complete it!

Know Your ABCs

A is for Answers.

Any website user’s goal can be simplified to one word: answers. People turn to the web for answers to their questions, and a content strategist’s job is to help users find those answers quickly and easily. (This is why CS + SEO are like that power couple that has everything: looks, athletic skills, smarts, that hip vibe.) Answering user questions is at the core of what CS’s do.

Audit.

When you’re asked to build a content strategy for a new site or provide insight for an existing site, the first place to start is a content audit. The goal of a content audit is to gain a high-level overview of where the site currently stands in regards to traffic, keywords and rankings, content types, recurring issues (like broken links or orphaned pages), and more. There are 1,001 ways to perform and analyze a content audit — my best advice is to customize it to your site and your company based on internal goals, priorities, and KPIs. Content audits can be as shallow or in-depth as you want; here are several examples to get you started:

B is for Beta Testing.

One of the fun parts of being in a still-developing industry is that new tools and platforms are being created all the time. Take the time to sign up for beta tests when you discover them — it’s neat to see a project develop from the user’s side rather than the creator’s side and to have input as projects move toward their final stages. I’ve beta’d things like Gather Content and Flock and LucidChart; GC and LC have grown into industry-recognized tools and I hold out a lot of hope for Flock, too.

That one only ate their faces. Source

C is for Card Sorting.

Card sorting is a physical activity with literal cards. I know, right?! In CS we often use it to help clients or content owners work through the categories, organization, and structure of their content. Card sorting is also useful in helping determine and define internal taxonomy — it can bring content owners, the creative teams, and users to a common language.

Since I haven’t had much cause to use card sorting myself yet, I’ll just leave a few of these here:

Centerline Digital.

Every CS I’ve ever met has come to content from an interesting and apparently unrelated background. I’ve heard everything from library science, copywriting, architecture and engineering, to customer service. Devin Asaro collected twelve of those unique stories on the Centerline Digital blog, and I think if nothing else, they’re an encouraging place to start. Even if you don’t understand the jargon, the backgrounds and skill sets and attitudes of the people doing the job you admire are worth your time and ears.

Competitive Analysis.

We all know copying others exactly is taboo, but is it ok to at least see what the competition is doing? Of course! And what better way than with a competitive analysis. As with most any audit or analysis in CS, you can go as deep as you dare here — there are tools (like Peek and Flock and …) that will make your job easier. A lot of these tools actually work on competitor sites and will help you see what they’re doing. But you can’t copy, right? So take notes and do what your competition is doing — only do it better!

Dragon boat racing seems really cool. Source

Here are a few pieces to get you started on a competitive analysis:

Conducting a Competitive Analysis, by MeetContent.com
Learning from the Competition, by BuzzStream
How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis, by Hubspot

Content Management System (CMS).

Exactly like it sounds, a CMS is a platform or software that (ideally) helps you and your team manage the creation, curation, and publication of your content. They can be as dummy-proof as Xanga (OMG remember that?) or as hands-off as Wordpress or as modular and customizable as Drupal.

The goal of a CMS is to standardize formatting for content creation and reduce production time, but often the CMS is built by a developer who has made assumptions about the end user’s abilities or tech savvy. Those of us familiar with CMSs think of readers as our end users, but Eileen Webb says the content producers who must use the CMS to publish content are also end users. End users perhaps even more sharply affected by the CMS’s capabilities and structure than readers.

I love Karen McGrane’s advocacy for building with chunks and bits of content to not only aid content creators, but to standardize the look and feel for content consumers. She often refers to the NPR case study, in which they say,

“The goal of any CMS should be to gather enough information to present the content on any platform, in any presentation, at any time.”

I’d encourage you to reach out to Eileen about your CMS questions, although I’m sure any content strategist you meet will have An Opinion to share. (HT to Hilary Marsh for this entry suggestion.)

Content Strategy.

I define content strategy as a position that helps balance user goals with business goals in every day creation.

However, in this still-emerging industry, definitions are as many as do-ers, and job titles — don’t even get us started on job titles! I think the bottom line is this: CS is focused on order, long-term planning, and scalability. It’s an excellent complement to product and service design, website design, content marketing, even higher education, government, and healthcare. We’re still discovering the amazing things CS can do for businesses and organizations.

D is for Design Thinking.

You don’t have to have a degree in graphic design to learn to be a design thinker. Design thinking is another way of saying solution-based thinking. Rather than thinking of how pretty the vehicle will be or how aesthetically pleasing the final product will appear, design thinking considers if the final product meets users’ needs.

And as a content strategist, our first concern is that the final product meets users’ needs.

Here’s a great piece by Tracy Lin on CS + design thinking.
And this piece nicely illustrates how Design Thinking Leads to Innovation.
And here’s how Design Thinking Boosts Content Strategy, too.

Discovery.

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” You’re not going to need a sextant for content strategy discovery, but there are a lot of tools to help this process.

In the discovery phase, a CS’s job is to help create a map of the project landscape for the team to work from. Some team members can glance at a map and know immediately what they need to do next, and others need to study up on the map before they jump in. Customize your map to the members of your team. A CS discovery map could include any of these elements:

  • a content audit
  • a content inventory
  • a competitive analysis
  • a gap analysis
  • an audience survey or demographic report
  • personas for customers, users, readers
  • product overviews or cheat sheets
  • brand guidelines
  • sitemaps and framing documents
  • you name it!

And then you have the freedom (and responsibility) to build out a discovery tool that will guide your team into making good things.

Be creative! Just maybe don’t make your PM walk the plank. Source

Resources on discovery:
In-House Discovery Process, by Liam King
Content-First Discovery, by James Deer
UX and Content Discovery, by UX Design for Dummies

E is for Empathy.

Empathy is learning to think or feel what others are feeling. Easily confused with sympathy, empathy is more the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes — trying to literally understand their state of mind, correlating emotions, and intent. It’s one of the most important tools we have at our disposal, and learning to think like your user will help you produce some of the best content on the web.

Empathy should come into play in every aspect of producing a thing for a person, but it’s especially important in error handling, emergency settings, and automated notifications. Here are some great posts showing how empathy changes the way we create things for users:

Empathy in Product Design, by Amy Thibodeau

Empathy in Support Content, by Intercom

Empathy in Content Creation, by The Content Wrangler

Empathy in Design Work, by Aaron Gustafson

Excel.

Ugh… I hate Excel. It’s too fussy and organized and numbers-oriented and rigid and… It’s incredibly useful. This has been my internal argument for the last four years, and I’ve finally come around to Excel. We’re cordial, mind you — I still have to drag some unwitting SEO in when I get in deeper than my baby skills level. But the more familiar you can be with Excel or Google Sheets or another data assimilation tool, the easier a lot of things will go for you.

Take content audits, for instance: one website can have between 25 and 16,000 pages. How on earth do you keep all that straight? Excel. Between columns (I love that “hide” feature!) and tabs within each workbook, Excel is great for breaking a site out into “Sales Pages” and “Blog” and “E-Commerce” and “Resources” and “Documentation” and so on. It essentially helps you take one gigantic crawl and break it into digestible chunks, or mini-audits. Some of you love that level of organization, and I’m so glad. The world wouldn’t function without you. But for the rest of us, it’s time to make friends with Excel.

F is for Following.

You may not really get Twitter, and that’s ok, but one of my favorite things to recommend is getting on Twitter (or LinkedIn, or Facebook, or a Slack group, or whatever you’re comfortable with… even if that’s Google+) and following other content folks. I started with Kristina Halvorson and Karen McGrane, but those are just two of hundreds who are smart, engaged, and happy to talk shop.

Search for #contentstrategy or just the word “content,” and start building your own list of industry experts. Find one content strategist you like either personally or professionally, follow them, and then follow who they follow. Read the articles shared. Ask your questions boldly.

(If you want, you can start pulling from my Twitter list, Content, Darlings.)

((Or you can pull from my friend Ronell’s list of CS’s he admires.))

Check out these great articles from a bunch of different folks on how they got started in CS:

Jonathan Colman
Andy Welfle
Grant Shellen
Elena Ontiveros
Sara Getz

Just maybe don’t be as stalkery as this…?

G is for Goals.

Goals are self-explanatory, but like any good college professor, let’s read through the syllabus together! The key here is writing them down. Studies have shown that simply writing your goals on paper increases your resolve and motivation to achieve those goals.

So it makes sense for a team of marketers to also write their goals down, hang them somewhere visible, and daily work towards those goals. As the CS of a team, it’s your job to think about other goals as well. The site or product you’re building is filling a space for someone in your business — it is meant to accomplish some sort of goal. Find out what that is, and write it down.

The site or product will also meet a goal for your users — whether that’s answers, tangible solutions, a good laugh, or a product purchase — find out why people come to your site and what their goals are when they land. Write those goals down as well.

See Strategy for more insight on goals.

Gap Analysis.

Along with competitive analyses, audits, and inventories, gap analyses are a great time to be honest with yourself about what you are and aren’t doing well. Just like it sounds, a gap analysis looks at your content and competitors’ content to find places you can improve.

Maybe the gap is an industry-wide one — “None of the reputable motorcycle sites are writing about how to DIY a carburetor rebuild. Maybe we should cover that!” Or it can be product- or topic-level content.

A gap analysis is a great way to find new content topics to pitch to your team — just be sure to do your research and find out if your users are interested in the gap you identified. Sometimes a gap is a gap for a darn good reason: no one actually cares.

Here are some gap analysis resources for you:

Map the Gap, by Strategic Content
Super Quick Content Gap Analysis, by Screaming Frog
SEO-heavy Approach to Content Gap Analysis, by Moz

H is for Hierarchy.

This kind of hierarchy is less like a deck of cards and more like building a story. Often called visual information design or hierarchy of information design, a lot of teams are happy to leave this piece to graphic designers. But I think content strategists can help organize the overall information hierarchy for websites and products as well as the page-level and even the sales-level materials.

By hierarchy, I mean this: considering the single most important piece of information a user needs in a particular context, and helping keep that piece at the forefront. Then moving into which pieces support that key piece and in what order. Probably time for a visual example.

Which of the two shows value and order? Courtesy of TutsPlus

While these resources are geared for visual designers, there’s nothing stopping you from pulling the tricks and tips into arranging content — be it in wireframes, content outlines, brand guidelines, or what have you.

Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, by TutsPlus
Hierarchy of Information, by Bridgewater Learning
6 Principles of Visual Hierarchy, by 99Designs

I is for Iterating.

How many times have you crammed out a first draft and thought, “Yup, that’s pretty good. Let’s roll with it.”

I mean, I’ve been there. Sometimes you have no option. But you can also implement an iteration process and start improving on your draft work.

Iteration is the repetition of a process — and I would add “that seeks to improve upon the previous execution.” Right? It’s a new version — of software, of your app, of copy that’s aimed at conversion, of data sets. Iteration is taking that thing you did the night before and had to publish and making it incrementally better.

From GetHarvest

The space between versions invites user testing, A/B testing, data-driven changes, and more.

So I’d encourage you — whether it’s a process, a prototype, a live page, a finished product — iterate! There’s always room to be better.

Inventory.

In stores, an inventory lists all the products you currently have at one location — both for sale and not yet on the shelves. In content, an inventory lists all the content pieces you currently have on your site — both public and in-the-works.

When you’re taking inventory of, say, your pickled section at your local grocery store, there are a couple things you’re looking for: pickles that are newest, pickles that are expired, pickles that are damaged, and the most popular pickles that will need restocked soon.

In content, an inventory does the exact same thing: what do we have that’s working well? what could use a boost? what’s failed or been ignored? what’s out of date? We have an acronym for this very task: ROT. Is your content relevant? Is it outdated? Is it trivial? Sifting through your content inventory with these points in mind helps you focus in on the things that bear repeating and the things we can chalk up to “been there, tried that, moving on.” (Many thanks to Lisa Maria for helping jog my memory on that one.)

I like usability.gov’s overview of a content inventory as well as the beta tool Flock for Content.

J is for Journey.

Hold onto that feeeeeeeelin’. Source

“Don’t Stop Believin’” isn’t actually a terrible comparison for user journeys. When a customer visits your website to research your product, pricing, and company, they are usually hoping for a cohesive, question-answering experience. A user journey is a simplified high-level picture of several things:

  • how your site should lead users through the information you’re providing
  • how your site actually leads users
  • the many paths users can and do take based on their entry page
  • gaps or rabbit trails you can reduce to ease users’ experience on your site

Users come to your site believing that you will offer them the information they seek. They may give up immediately if it’s not on their landing page, but the intrepid Journey fans will keep believing — at least a few pages further. Your job, as a site creator or planner, is to account for all the ways a user may find and traverse the site, making sure to offer answers along each of those journeys.

Here are a few resources on building a user journey map:

The Beginner’s Guide, from The UX Review
How to Create a Customer Journey Map, from UX Mastery
The User’s Journey, an excerpt from Donna Lichow’s similarly-titled book

And here’s how user or customer journeys tie into content strategy:

4 Ways to Make User Journeys Useful for CS, from Content Science
Mapping Content to Customer Journeys, from Content Strategy, Inc.

K is for Keyword Research.

Traditionally, I ask my SEO or PPC expert to do keyword research for me. I still think that’s how it should be — they’re the experts in that arena. I’d just be fumbling around and probably only 40% accurate. However, there are a couple places CSs can look for keyword research that may add depth and a human element to the site or product you’re working on:

  • Review sites, customer reviews, Amazon reviews
  • Search logs, chat logs, phone call transcripts or recordings, support tickets
  • Product or help forums
  • IRL (have a family member or friend look at and handle the site or product, and listen to the words they say, the questions they ask)
  • Wikipedia for related terms, and competitor sites for alternate terms
  • Answer the Public (also just fun to play w/ if you’re looking to learn)
  • Blogs on the subject (check their most popular articles)
  • Quora (either comb what’s already there, or ask a question like you were a consumer)
  • Social media platforms (thanks to hashtags and great search functionality, you can find all sorts of gems here)

L is for Listening.

A huge part of empathy is listening. If you don’t hear what your customers are asking — not the thing you think they want, but the real need behind their complaint — you’re going to struggle in making them happy.

Each business is different, and each customer will have their own opinion about your business. Not all customers will offer you valuable feedback, but as humans, each deserves to feel that they’ve been heard. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Here are some resources on listening to customers:

8 Ways to Listen to Your Customers, by BusinessInsider
Listen to Your Employees, Too, by FastCompany
Listening to Customers, by DuctTape Marketing

A List Apart.

L is also for one of the best content strategy/IA/UX/new web resources on the web right now: A List Apart. Not only do these clever folks curate an amazing collection of articles, case studies, and web goodness, they also organize the annual An Event Apart. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend the AEA conference — it’s usually an lineup of super smart people with their fingers on the pulse of the internet at large. Previous speakers have included everyone from Luke W and Kristina Halvorson to Mike Monteiro, Karen McGrane, Ethan Marcotte, and more. Read, watch, listen — there’s a lot to learn here.

Karen McGrane loves chunks, not blobs. Source

M is for Marketing.

I think this warrants being said one more time: content marketing is NOT content strategy. Even Google is still very confused about this distinction.

Three out of every five results is about marketing, not strategy. Content marketing is a tactic: it uses content to attract traffic and interest with the hopes that readers will buy something. Content marketing wants eyeballs on pages — it subscribes to the theory that if you cram more users in the top of the funnel, your should get more conversions at the bottom of it.

Content strategy informs content marketing. I describe content strategy as “understanding business goals and user goals, and bringing the two together in whatever we create.” Content strategy understands that whether a user is searching for us or happens upon us or is directed to us, we are prepared to quickly and efficiently offer them a viable solution that also benefits the company we serve.

Mental Models.

Mental models attempt to convey in diagrams, pictures, or illustrations how a person views and understands the world around them. Mental models help explain a person’s perceived reality and the thought processes and relationships they develop to enhance their own understanding.

According to Peter Senge, mental models can also be tools to facilitate learning. We each develop a personal catalog of mental models that help us understand the world we live in — being able to share or illustrate mental models then opens us up to possibilities and perspectives outside of our own realm of perception.

As a CS (and UX specialist and designer and copywriter and…), mental models help us empathize with our users or customers. Indi Young (an advocate for empathy in creation) wrote the book on designing and planning for human behavior. Here are a couple more articles on mental models that you may find useful:

Mental Models Mapping, by Lauren Moler
A Summary of Mental Models, by the Nielsen Norman Group

Microcopy.

For a long time, help text and error handling has fallen to whatever unlucky dev has to code the entry fields. I think, in the last several years, we’ve seen a shift towards content strategists helping shape these instances of microcopy. We realize that sticky points, where users may have questions or need clarification, fall more into the realm of the strategist who has researched consumers than the dev whose expertise is code.

If you’d like to learn more of the basics around microcopy, I’d recommend this article by Richard Sison as a good primer.

Here’s one of my favorite examples of well-strategized microcopy, found in a CMS — can you imagine being a new writer, being given a login to the CMS, and told to upload your article draft? Without these tiny bits of copy, your job would be ten times harder, and you’d be very likely to make mistakes.

All the small help text is written to explain exactly how to do a good job.

And some articles, because there are so many good ones:

Good Microcopy, a collection of examples, by Richard Sison
Improving Microcopy for Better UX, on Justinmind.com
How to Design Words (For People Who Hate to Read), by John Saito

N is for Nielsen Norman Group.

Because bless those two old white men with enough money to do such thorough user studies. Nielsen and Norman are usually the best place to look when you have a question about what your users think. They’re thorough, they’re global, and they’re highly relevant: here’s a bit about why they do what they do.

Nutella.

This is just essential. Obviously. To everything in Content Strategy

Thank you, Amy Mihlhauser! Source

Numbers.

But seriously. This is even more important than Nutella (only marginally).

Measure everything you can! Content Strategy is a worthwhile effort (we all know this), but traditional metrics and KPIs are hard to apply to the work we do. It takes longer (than most C-levels are willing to wait) for CS to begin showing results. But we can and do have tools at our disposal to measure our success in numbers that will be meaningful to those who hired us.

I’ll add, too, that in my experience CS isn’t often asked for metrics. This would be an area of initiative, where you can start tracking launches and responses and learning Google Analytics, and surprise the company with validating your work a step further than they expected.

Here are a few articles to get your wheels turning:
Making Content Measurable, on UXBooth.com
A Whole Category on ROI, on Contently.com

O is for Optimization.

If we really believe that we should be creating things of quality over things of quantity, shouldn’t we make sure the things we create are working? This is where optimization comes in. A content audit, an SEO evaluation, and a little dedicated time, and we’ll be making the world a better place instead of just cluttering it up.

Content Maintenance Is the New Brainstorm, shameless plug
A Confused Number of Content Optimization Tips, by Marketing Land
A Thorough Overview of Optimizing Content for Users, by tutsplus

**It has come to my attention that there is very little written about making content for people. Ahem.**

P is for Page Tables.

Page tables, in Tracy Playle’s words, are “a way for you to apply your content strategy and plan to every page on your website.” Page tables are guides that work for website pages, blogs, social media posts to help you structure, create, and iterate great content.

Gigi Griffis explains a great way to incorporate page tables into existing content templates. And if you want even more on the topic, everyone (myself included) recommends buying a copy of Content Strategy for the Web, by Kristina Halvorson.

And a great article by Adam Lefton with cool illustrations on how they used page tables to build out their website content strategy.

Personas.

*For the record, I think personas are often used to skew creators and justify work (purposefully or accidentally). They best represent large, sweeping categories of people that may or may not be accurate. I prefer user testing — whether in person or on the internet — with real humans in the actual context of the content you’re creating. I’ve always learned more about how people read, shop, and research that way, even after just five quick user interviews.*

However, soapbox aside, personas can be great in context. I’ve used them very effectively with dev teams who are making broad assumptions that everyone uses the internet like they do (everyone doesn’t). They’re also great when tied in with market research, user research, card sorts, and other discovery tools to help highlight multiple facets of a project.

Source

For more on this, start with Ginny Redish’s book, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works. Then follow Neil Allison on Twitter: @universityed. And check out this great little article by the Marketoonist on personas.

Q is for Questions.

All users have one thing in common: they need answers to their questions. That’s why they turn to the internet and things called “search engines” for help.

I believe that if we’re not answering user’s questions (even the ones they may not know they need to ask) we’re failing at our jobs as content strategists.

R is for Rightness.

Hand-in-hand with “questions” is rightness. Giving users the right answers in the right place at the right time is also a huge part of our job.

Imagine going to a search engine, asking for step-by-step instructions for tiling a floor, and getting sent to a twine and string website. We all know that’s a terrible user experience, but it does happen.

Google has a lot of advice about right time, right place, right content. (UK version) And surely Google knows what they’re talking about.

S is for SEO.

I know, it’s not in the job description, but it’s so incredibly valuable to just understand what an SEO’s priorities and concerns will be. The way I understand content strategy, we’re the hub of our team, pulling each of the pieces together, highlighting strengths, good ideas, and innovation to move the product forward. It doesn’t matter what the product is — we help center the team around our users and our business goals, over and over and over.

This is an example I created for my team, to help visualize what I meant.

In order to understand a teammate’s ideas and interests, and to represent them well in the final product, you have to have some idea and appreciation for what that teammate does. I recently had a conversation with a fellow content strategist about their mobile experience. Her concern was that if she built a user-centered touch-based mobile site, the SEO would be upset at the reduced word count.

We talked through their current H1s and supporting paragraphs and realized that while the word count was impressive, the H1s were incredibly weak. She was able to go back to the SEO on the team and offer a compromise: keyword-strong, relevant H1s and supporting text in a touch-based, UX-friendly site. Her empathy for the SEO’s interests and feeling of balance will bring that site to a place where users are getting their needs met and the company is selling a lot of products. Everyone is happy.

Strategy.

I heard Kristina Halvorson speak at a conference last year, and the thing she said that still rings in my head is this: We’re overlooking the strategy part of our jobs. “Strategy connects random tactics with goals. And it forces us to prioritize.”

Without strategy, we are literally throwing spaghetti at the wall. Without testing and measuring, we have nothing to inform the strategy we outlined at the beginning. There’s an awful lot of content on the web these days, but strategy is hard to come by.

T is for Templates.

Content templates are great tools for the modeling or mapping stage of building something new. A content template will outline not only what elements are needed on the page or in the product, but also strategic pieces of information like user demographics, SEO and usability directions, a maintenance plan (for after the thing goes live), and more. Gigi Griffis does a bang up job of outlining all the possibilities for templates in her Guide to Strategic Content Templates. (And there are downloadable examples in there, too…)

Test All the Things.

Remember how we talked about optimization? Making things you’ve already made better? Testing is a key avenue to optimization.

There are all kinds of tests you can run on content: A/B tests, readability tests, usability tests, surveys, preference tests, and more. Really, the sky’s the limit. As long as your results can be measured, quantified, and the findings applied to other examples. Because really, if 7 out of 10 people like your posts on BBQ sauce recipes, but 7 out of 10 people are all your family members…that’s not going to help anyone make a decision on what kind of post to write next, now is it?

Good grief, I love Allie from Hyperbole and a Half. Image Source

Here are a bunch of smart articles on how to test content:
Testing Content by Angela Colter, on A List Apart
Practical Advice for Testing Content on Websites, by Nielsen-Norman (those guys! ❤)
Testing Content Concepts: A UX Approach, by Colleen Jones, on UXMatters
Usability Testing Needs to Include Content, by Rahel Anne Bailie, on GatherContent
Looking at the Different Ways to Test Content, by Emileigh Barnes and Christine Cawthorne, on 18F

U is for Users.

Why do we build websites?

To sell things.

Who buys the things?

Users of our websites.

If our website is terrible, will the users buy things?

No.

If our website is pretty easy and pretty quick and pretty painless, will the users buy things?

Yes!

The common thread through content strategy, marketing, content marketing (ugh), and most of the things in this alphabet are those users.

Here are the frustrating facts:

  • You are not your user. You don’t think like them or act like them or buy like them.
  • Users are human beings. You can’t expect them to follow the logic or steps that a robot (or search engine spider) would. They need things plain and simple.
  • Users are irrational, unpredictable, emotional creatures. They don’t like feeling manipulated, they don’t like barriers between them and the thing they need, and they sometimes change their minds for no apparent reason.

But they’re the whole reason we do this! They make our jobs and make them rewarding, too. So don’t give up on your users — find ways to ask them what they want, and act on those requests. You’ll be glad you did.

V is for Video.

An underutilized medium when it comes to Content Strategy! There are a lot of tutorials on how to create a content strategy for your video content, but we need more content like Andy Crestodina’s video defining content strategy.

But video is expensive, you might say. Or it takes too long to create a semi-professional looking video. I’m not buying it — we have enough technology, apps, editors, tools and more at our disposal. You should be able to identify what type of video content works for your audiences and create to your heart’s content.

For example: I worked on a moving website for a while. We used Instagram’s :15 video tool to record a series of stop-motion videos demonstrating how to pack common and unusual items. When you’re moving, is it easier to follow written instructions or watch someone pack the thing? Same for fixing a leaky sink or making a child’s dress or even using a tool like Screaming Frog.

How great is this! Created by Hot Studio

I found a bunch of great content pieces on video in CS:
Advice on Content Strategy for Video, by Alyce Currier, the content strategist at Wistia
8 Quick Tips for Doing Video Well, on Vidyard’s blog
23 Bits of Info about Video Strategy, from Content Marketing Institute
YouTube’s Own Advice for Doing Video Well, featuring the adorable Hannah Hart #girlcrush

W is for Wireframes.

(W is also for Winding Down — I’m clearly losing my mind here.)

Wireframes are skeletons that describe the intent and hierarchy of your website (or app or video or content piece or product, even). They are great for conversation starters between designers, CSs, developers, copywriters, SEOs, and other teams. They are not design guidelines, hard-and-fast blueprints, or “everything’s done but the colors!” frames. If your wireframes are too specific, you take away the value and authority of other people’s jobs. The more vague, the better — focus on relationship between elements, priority and hierarchy, and flow.

Wireframes are typically internal documents — clients and users have a hard time interpreting black and white sketches without getting hung up on details they’re used to seeing, like color schemes, imagery, and copy. [For those elements and how to present them to stakeholders, I’d point you to Samantha Warren’s Style Tiles — they’re genius.]

Here’s a quick couple examples of my own wireframes and a few more resources on building them (as well as one controversial opinion that the era of wireframes has come to an end! *gasp!):

Desktop, mobile iterations, product simulations — wireframes can convey a lot with just a few lines.

A Hands-On Guide to Building Wireframes, on UXPin
10 Best Practices for Wireframing, on DTelepathy
A Content First Approach to Wireframes, on SmashingMag
Are Wireframes Obsolete? by James Archer

X is for User EXperience (UX).

User experience is a key component of content strategy. They aren’t the same discipline, but they overlap nicely and each does a bit of the other’s job. UX is primarily focused on the functionality and visceral experience of a website, product, place, or tool.

The best example I can think of is Disneyland. The creators of Disneyland pay an incredible amount of attention to how a person feels when they are in the park, and go out of their way to make that feeling the thing people remember when they leave. For instance, Disney sponsored a study of colors on a spectrum and identified the color of green that goes most unnoticed by the human eye. They call it “Go Away Green” and paint all the things they don’t want you to notice in this color: trash cans, employee entrances, fences, maintenance buildings and more.

The Imagineers (the team behind crafting a fantastic Disney experience) have more tricks up their sleeves: the buildings on Main Street USA leading up to Cinderella’s castle are built at a slight skew to create perspective. Visitors don’t notice the buildings being misshapen — they just get a clear perception of distance: when you’re walking towards the castle, it feels large and far away with much to explore in the shops around you, and when you turn to walk away from it, the walk to the exit feels much shorter than when you came in.

In every day life, designers, content strategists, and UX specialists apply similar principles to guide users through a sign up form, an app download, a new product, or a line in the airport. I won’t go much further here, because I feel like we could do an alphabet of UX too. So here are two get started guides to UX, and a promise for one day writing an alphabet of UX (maybe):

UX Crash Course: 31 Fundamentals, by The Hipper Element
User Experience Basics, from Usability.gov
A Whole Website Dedicated to UX — UXBooth.com

Y is for Your Turn.

If you’ve made it this far,

All the best gifs come from Giphy.com

But now it’s your turn! I chose to post this ginormous article on Medium because I love the in-line comment functionality. And in my head, I could see all of you amazing content and UX folks using those internal highlighting and responding capabilities to finish out this alphabet. I know it’s not complete — I was counting on your help! I just wanted to give you a place to start. And now you’ve got it! So go nuts! What did I miss? What do you want to record for new CSs? What do you think needs to be added?

Z is for Zombies.

And they’re about the only thing that could stop this CS train. Wooowooo!

General Guides and Overviews

Complete Beginner’s Guide to Content Strategy (by UXBooth)
Moz’s Guide to Content Strategy (under the umbrella of content marketing)