Make Your Content Make a Difference

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Content, content, content. It’s an obvious part of any interactive experience. In fact, you’ve probably heard content is king, or queen, or some sort of royalty. Yet, content is elusive. Often, you don’t realize your content isn’t cutting it until it’s too late. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Delayed projects.
  • Broken designs.
  • Uneven voice.
  • Low-performing landing pages.
  • Dead social media channels.
  • Customer confusion and service calls.

These problems and more are documented extensively,[1]1 so I won’t dwell on them. What I will dwell on is the solution. But, first, let’s discuss the false ones.

Beware Of False Solutions

Just because someone articulates a problem well does not mean someone knows the solution. That’s when we’re susceptible to a false solution. In my many years of experience, I’ve found these two fake solutions to be very common, very distracting — and very disappointing.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Snake Oil

Oh, poor JC Penney. This major retailer fell victim to SEO snake oil, such as buying extensive link placements and other “black hat” techniques. And, JC Penney fell hard, with a detailed and brilliant expose of the situation making The New York Times2, no less.

Now, besides avoiding embarrassment, I suggest that you avoid SEO snake oil because it will not bring you results. The spirit of a search engine is to find quality content. A search engine algorithm factors in signs of good content. When someone focuses on tips and tricks to game search engines instead of publishing quality content consistently over time, that person is missing the spirit of SEO. And, sooner or later, that person’s results will suffer for it. Google might punish the website or, more likely, the website will get the wrong kind of traffic, or visitors. If you drive lots of visitors to your content instead of attracting visitors who are interested in the content topics, you will be disappointed with the results.

And, now, a big caveat: I don’t think all SEO is bad. There are legitimate SEO concerns, techniques and advisors. Just remember that SEO tricks are not magic pills for your content ills. If you’re spending lots of time and money on SEO but not much on content, you’re on the way to disappointment.

Andy Budd recently discussed a closely related point of view in his recent article3. He requests to “white hat” practitioners to distance themselves from the world of SEO, stop talking about search engine rankings and start helping clients deliver real value to their users. Therefore we should stop defining ourselves by the discovery medium and focus on the content itself, he rightfully argues.

Overpromised Technology

What else is not a magic pill? A technology product or feature alone. I see this false solution most often with larger companies, who put unrealistic expectations on products and tools such as a content management system (CMS), an analytics tool or a web application.  For example, a prospective client recently vented to me that his organization spent $100,000 on implementing a new CMS but absolutely nothing on planning and creating content worth managing. The result was a one-person Web team destined to fail with its brand new CMS. This short-staffed team was saddled with:

  • managing every aspect of a very large website,
  • responding to strange or political stakeholder requests for new content and
  • dealing with the boss’s frustration with the lackluster content.

Sounds awful, right? Unfortunately, this situation is too common. And it needs to stop.

The Real Solution

No SEO trick and no technology product alone will solve the content problem for you. The real solution to the content problem is hard work that demands change in your (or your company’s) approach to planning, designing and developing interactive experiences. That’s what gets results. There’s no shortcut. And indeed, the path to content that counts is a hard road. But it cannot be the excuse for compromising the quality of experience we provide to our users.

Get Strategic

Content strategy is planning for every aspect of content to get results. That goes far beyond writing the copy. When getting strategic about content, focus on three key areas: analysis, editorial and architecture. While explaining content strategy in detail literally requires a book (or two or three), I’d like to share with you a concise introduction to each area in this article.

Screenshot
Figure 1: Content strategy usually involves analysis, editorial and architecture.

1. Analysis

Analysis is taking a magnifying glass to your content situation. The better you understand it, the better you can plan exactly what needs to change to reach the results you’d like to have. Two typical activities in the analysis phase are a content audit and a context analysis. Sometimes, these activities are lumped together into a content analysis. The exact term is not that important as long as you do the analysis thoroughly.

Content Audit
An audit is a close review of your existing content. If you have any content to start with, you need to know exactly what it is. The audit tells you what you’re working with. By the end of an audit, you’ll have answers to questions such as:

  • What content types, formats and topics do you have?
  • What is the quality of your content? (For help, consult this content quality checklist4.)
  • How is your content structured?
  • Where do you have obvious content gaps and overlaps, or redundancies?

When you’re ready to try a complete content audit yourself, check out the guide Content Analysis: A Practical Approach5.

Context Analysis
A context analysis looks at the elements that surround and affect your content. At a minimum, consider and answer these questions about your goal, your users, and your processes.

Goal

  • What is your business or organizational goal? Why?
  • How will content help you achieve that goal?

Users / Audience

  • Who are your users, or the people you want to attract and influence? Why?
  • Where (in what channels) are your users looking for content — on websites, on mobile, on social networks?
  • If you have an existing website or interactive experience, how is it performing?

Processes / Ecosystem

  • How do you create, maintain and govern content now?
  • How do you plan to do so when you launch the website or interactive experience?
  • What are your competitors doing in the realm of content?

As a simple example, let’s look at American Express’ OPEN Forum6, a site for small business owners. Why did American Express want to attract and influence these users? Because reaching these users was a step toward their business goal. Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, SVP of Partnerships & Business Development for American Express OPEN, notes7, “…our biggest opportunity is with small business growth — if they grow, we grow.”  And, American Express decided to help them grow through a unique approach to content. Rather than create more content about their credit cards, American Express decided to create content about small business owner concerns. (More about this approach in the next section, 2. Editorial.)

We could discuss analysis for days, but I’d like to introduce other aspects of content strategy to you as well. For a more detailed explanation of this analysis, I highly recommend the analysis chapter of Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson. Also, I shared my step-by-step experience in the presentation Content Analysis: Know Thy Content8.

The real benefit of analysis is ideas and insights for planning content editorial and architecture. So, let’s take a closer look at those sides of content, using the OPEN Forum as an example along the way.

2. Editorial

Editorial plans mostly for the people side of content, such as:

  • What style or voice should your content have to attract and resonate with users?
  • What topics and themes should your content cover and when?
  • Who is responsible for what content?
  • What are your standards or criteria for credible content?

Many businesses and organizations who are not media properties completely lack editorial oversight for their websites and other interactive experiences.  That can result in problems ranging from errors to missing a competitive advantage. Let’s turn back to our OPEN Forum example. In the world of finance, much content is a combination of dull explanations or legal mumbo jumbo. OPEN Forum takes a different approach.

Screenshot9
Figure 2: In the stodgy world of finance, American Express OPEN Forum offers a fresh approach to content.

The design might not look dramatically different from other finance sites, but the content is much different. To help small businesses, OPEN Forum regularly offers credible content about topics that small business owners care about. American Express produces some content, invited expert columnists create some content, and small business users contribute some content. Even though different authors contribute content, the content is original to OPEN Forum. Can you notice how different it is from aggregating random content or simply optimizing pushy landing pages? Through its consistent voice and handy content on OPEN Forum, American Express has positioned itself as a trusted advisor to small businesses. Because the articles, videos, and podcasts are deeply useful to small business users, they’re far more valuable to American Express.

Of course, having so many content contributors poses some risk of creating content that feels disjointed. To reduce this risk, what’s going on behind the scenes? The right editorial staff and processes ensure the content from different authors is coordinated. For example, while most websites lack an editor, OPEN Forum has an editor-in-chief. And, for robust editorial review and production, American Express partners with Federated Media. As you plan your content processes, you will consider what roles to hire in-house and what roles to hire as freelancers.

Besides the right people and processes, editorial planning results in an important tool: the Editorial Style Guide. This guide documents important decisions about your content for everyone involved to reference. A style guide typically explains:

  • Target audiences / users
  • Key messages
  • Voice and tone
  • Criteria for topics
  • Sample content
  • Usage, punctuation, and grammar guidelines
  • Trademark and legal considerations

For a helpful start, you might want to consider taking a look at The Yahoo! Style Guide10.

So, all of this editorial work sounds interesting, but does it actually get any results? Yes, it does11. Since 2007, OPEN Forum has built an audience comparable in size and engagement with other small business media properties. But that’s not the best result. In the lucrative small business market, American Express’s successful editorial approach is a differentiator. More than that, it’s a quiet coup. The results did not happen overnight. They took time. But, compared to its competitors, American Express now owns small business online.

I know what you’re thinking. “But American Express is a big company. Should a smaller one care about editorial?” Yes. A smaller company or an individual can do it on a smaller scale, with less content, fewer contributors, and probably fewer visitors. Editorial is about attracting the right visitors (or audience) and holding their interest through content. Size does not matter nearly as much as quality.

That’s a basic introduction to editorial. But, content concerns don’t stop here. Now, let’s turn to architecture.

3. Architecture

Architecture plans mostly for the machine side of content — while keeping the people side in mind. Architecture addresses how your content is organized, structured and repurposed. Architecture gets your content to the right place. This planning might start with a site map but won’t end there. You likely will need to define content models and taxonomies using metadata. In essence, you need to tell your content management system and other platforms what content you have, where to display it and how to display it.

Let’s look at a simple example, again from American Express OPEN Forum. The site has clearly defined templates for its articles, videos and other content types.  Those content types come together (or aggregate) as meaningful topic pages. Take a look at this one for innovation. That aggregation happens dynamically because of good architecture.

Screenshot12
Figure 3: This topic page brings together all of OPEN Forum’s original content about a topic (in this case, the topic is innovation), thanks to good architecture.

When you plan architecture well, you gain other benefits. Both search engines and people will find your content more easily. Your content becomes more accessible and flexible, not to mention easier and more efficient to keep consistent.

That’s some basic architecture. Now, let’s kick it up a notch. Is OPEN Forum part of AmericanExpress.com, the core American Express website? No, it’s not. Now, that might bother some user experience designers and information architects out there. Shouldn’t this be one cohesive experience? Yes, it should. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of the content has to be in one website or in one place. AmericanExpress.com serves more visitors than small business owners. So, putting all that small business content on AmericanExpress.com could easily get in the way of other visitors. Instead, OPEN Forum and AmericanExpress.com link to each other at relevant points.

Screenshot13
Figure 4: OPEN Forum is not part of the core American Express site.

Okay, now let’s kick it up several notches. Content strategy pioneer Rachel Lovinger has articulated convincingly that advanced architecture also makes your content more nimble to use across different interactive experiences, from your website to your mobile application. She notes14,

“Publishing content that’s marked up with smart structure and metadata allows it to be delivered on a wider range of channels, while still retaining the context and relationships that make it meaningful and useful to both your audience [visitors or users] and your brand. Think of it like providing publishing instructions with the content, where each different platform uses only the instructions that are relevant.”[2]15

For example, if your content is structured well, you can offer mobile versions of your content more efficiently, as American Express has. You also will have a much easier time creating widgets or an API to distribute your content, as NPR1916 did. (See image below.) Does this kind of planning get results? Within 12 months after releasing this API, NPR doubled its users (audience). [3]17

Screenshot18Figure 5: NPR1916 structured its content well enough to offer a useful API.

You or your organization might think such multichannel architecture issues are mostly technology issues. Now hear this: They’re content issues, too. Consider how your content’s architecture will help you reach the right users in the right channels.

How These Areas Work Together

My diagram presents the areas of content strategy as a cycle. Now that you understand each area better, let’s look further at this cycle.

Before Launch: Architecture Last
When you’re about to reimagine a website or launch a new one, focus on analysis, then editorial, and then architecture. Why architecture last? Because that way you don’t waste time and energy planning areas of a site that you don’t need. You avoid scrambling to fill unwanted screens and features with content. You’d never build a house by constructing every possible room, then deciding which rooms you actually need. It should be no different with websites and interactive experiences. Plan the content you need first, then architect it.

After Launch: Analyze and Adjust
After you launch, the cycle doesn’t stop. Analyze how your content performs. Learn how users behave with your content. Stay in touch with industry trends. Watch for problems and opportunities. Address them by adjusting your editorial and architecture. Successful media properties never publish content, then leave it. I like how Tracy V. Wilson, Site Director for HowStuffWorks20, describes her approach to ongoing analysis,

”When we’re looking at metrics, we’re looking at them in light of how we already know our articles work, how we know that they’re structured, how we anticipate that an average reader would come in and go through the article from beginning to end. And we can do the same thing for different types of content. So, we have articles, we have top ten lists, top five lists, quizzes, image galleries … and we’ve developed a different sense of what “normal” is for each of those.

So, we’re able to look at when something is deviating from our idea of normal and try to figure out why that deviation would take place. We also use metrics a lot in day-to-day planning, like planning what to feature on our home page … deciding whether that day’s home page was successful; a lot of that is coming from numbers and whether people’s behavior on the site that day is matching up with … what we’re thinking of as the typical user behavior.” [6]21

Get To Work

By now, I hope you appreciate more how analysis, editorial, and architecture work together to make content matter. The next step is to tackle your content. But, how? Every situation is a little different. For example, you might feel you have a good start on content analysis and architecture, but you have no idea how to approach editorial. These resources will help you get your specific plan together so you can move forward:

  • Content Strategy Deliverables22
    This blog post series by content strategy expert Rahel Bailie explains typical content strategy deliverables in handy detail.
  • Content Strategy knol23
    Started by editorial and content strategist Jeffrey MacIntyre, the knol indexes content strategy definitions, insights, blogs, publications, specialists and more.
  • A Checklist for Content Work24
    This excerpt from Erin Kissane’s new book on Content Strategy, The Elements of Content Strategy, notes some essentials.
  • Content Strategy Meetups25
    If you want help with content or just some camaraderie, look for a content strategy meetup near you. If not, consider starting one yourself. When I started the meetup in Atlanta, I was happily surprised by the interest from developers, designers and marketers.
  • Content Strategy Forum26, September 2011
    This conference in London will bring together an international mix of well-known and new voices in content strategy.  I’m as excited to see what others contribute as I am to offer a hands-on workshop27.

Also, I recently wrote a book called Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content, which explains practical principles for planning content. Along the way, I included examples from startups, government, higher education, large business, and more to inspire useful ideas. I invite you to learn more about the book28.

Really, there’s no reason not to take the next step toward better content today. The sooner you move forward, the sooner you’ll overcome those content challenges. And, the sooner you’ll get results.

References

[1]29. Halvorson, Kristina. 2009. Content Strategy for the Web30. New Riders.

[2]31. Jones, Colleen. 2011. Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Content32. New Riders.

[3]33. The Future of Content: Mobile Strategies for Government (panel). Government Web Content and New Media Conference 2011.

Segal, David. February 2010. Search Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets34. The New York Times.

Jones, Colleen. 2009. Toward Content Quality35. UXmatters.

Neisser, Drew. July 2010. What American Express’s OPEN Can Teach Us About Social Media36. Fast Company.

Lovinger, Rachel. 2010. Nimble37. Razorfish.

Footnotes

  1. 1 #b1
  2. 2 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html?pagewanted=all
  3. 3 http://www.andybudd.com/archives/2011/04/are_seo_practitioners_the_digital_equiva/
  4. 4 http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/04/toward-content-quality.php
  5. 5 http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/08/content-analysis-a-practical-approach.php
  6. 6 http://www.openforum.com
  7. 7 http://www.fastcompany.com/1669407/charging-up-small-biz-on-social-media
  8. 8 http://www.slideshare.net/leenjones/content-analysis-know-thy-content
  9. 9 http://www.openforum.com
  10. 10 http://styleguide.yahoo.com/
  11. 11 http://www.fastcompany.com/1669407/charging-up-small-biz-on-social-media
  12. 12 http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/innovation
  13. 13 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/4-architecture.png
  14. 14 http://nimble.razorfish.com/publication/?m=11968&l=1
  15. 15 #b2
  16. 16 http://www.npr.org/api/index
  17. 17 #b3
  18. 18 http://www.npr.org/api/index
  19. 19 http://www.npr.org/api/index
  20. 20 http://www.howstuffworks.com
  21. 21 #b6
  22. 22 http://intentionaldesign.ca/category/content-strategies/deliverables/
  23. 23 http://knol.google.com/k/content-strategy
  24. 24 http://www.alistapart.com/articles/a-checklist-for-content-work/
  25. 25 http://content-strategy.meetup.com/
  26. 26 http://2011.csforum.eu/
  27. 27 http://2011.csforum.eu/workshops
  28. 28 http://content-science.com/clout
  29. 29 #
  30. 30 http://www.contentstrategy.com
  31. 31 #
  32. 32 http://content-science.com/clout
  33. 33 #
  34. 34 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html?pagewanted=all
  35. 35 http://uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/04/toward-content-quality.php
  36. 36 http://www.fastcompany.com/1669407/charging-up-small-biz-on-social-media
  37. 37 http://nimble.razorfish.com/publication/?m=11968&l=1

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Colleen is the author of Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content. As principal of the Atlanta-based consultancy Content Science, Colleen helps everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies improve results from their web content. When she isn't helping clients, she is blogging about content strategy at Winning Content.

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  1. 1

    Colleen Jones, wonderful writing and great article. Can’t say anything else but +1

  2. 2

    Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  3. 3

    The analysis portion of your blog post will help me in the future as there are some great questions to ask yourself about your client and to ask the client about themselves and their brand. Thanks.

  4. 4

    Love the article. Solid, effective content strategy is exactly what the fundamentals of SEO, effective web design, and online marketing *should* be.

  5. 5

    Very refreshing and on target. Thanks for a great read.

  6. 6

    Tom, NewEvolution

    April 12, 2011 10:13 am

    Wow! I don’t think that you missed any details. Good job.

  7. 7

    “Content” is an fuzzy realm few really understand (myself included). Marketers, internal stakeholders and business agendas often get in the way of delivering a cohesive, meaningful experience. As a result, many websites feel like a dumping ground or an advertising ambush.

    I hope everyone out there building things for the Interwebs reads this. Well done!

  8. 8

    Appetizing Article!

    Love & hungry to get more on Content strategy. Good Going Colleen.

  9. 9

    Ms. Jones, FANTASTIC article. You hit the nail! In the section “Overpromised Technology”, seemingly in one stroke you described the nightmare from my previous employment.

    It is so true – companies get sold on pricy CMS packages and treat them as a magic wand. The poor 1 or 2-person web team is stuck with the heavy burden of maintaining that monster of a poorly planned massive CMS, often having the boss breathing down their neck. As you stated “dealing with the boss’s frustration with the lackluster content.” Unfortunately, at my office the big boss took it out on the employees and laid people off rather than accepting that he made a poor decision investing in an overpromised CMS.

  10. 10

    This is probably the best content article ever!! Ok, erase the probably.

  11. 11

    Very nicely explained the role of each point in delivering a great content. I just loved reading this article. Thanks!

  12. 12

    Thanks a lot for the wonderful insights on content. I was never aware that creating quality content requires so much effort. cipro

  13. 13

    Great article, and very nicely written. Something all designers to need take in.

    Thanks for sharing the insight.

  14. 14

    Very useful, some great points. I’m not a content expert but I’m used to working with a similar Plan/Do/Check/Act cycle for problem solving. I’d emphasise the importance of the ‘check’ phase (analysis), which is often overlooked. I’m sure it’s the same in the content world.

  15. 15

    This was easily one of the most useful articles ever posted on Smashing. Thank you for articulating and validating the importance of good content.

  16. 16

    Very helpful and insightful article! Especially appreciated your thoughts about SEO. As a start-up freelancer, I hear so much emphasis on pushing your website to the top, regardless of whether or not it deserves it. But, honestly, when I google a topic, I want the best ones to come to the top, not simply a SEO-to-death website. Thanks for the perspective!

  17. 17

    Great article on a topic, that tends to be over looked by smaller clients.

  18. 18

    Perfect. Thanks for the article!

  19. 19

    Regis Kuckaertz

    April 13, 2011 7:33 am

    “There’s no shortcut”

    This sentence is sooo representative of the state of mind in which just about every commercial company approaches the Internet. Unscrupulous behavior is endemic to our whole industry, I believe.

    I really don’t know what’s worse: black hat SEO or the people who buy the idea behind it (often, their clients).

    I can haz other articles like this one? Brilliant!

  20. 20

    Excellent article! I’ve read a lot on content strategy that’s come out in the last couple years, as well as the stuff that came out in the early 2000s (Boiko, Rockley). This is one of the holistic (yet succinct) descriptions I’ve seen. I like your division of the elements of content strategy, I think it’s helpful to frame the parts of content strategy into meaningful categories rather than a list of “things to worry about.” Providing an example to illustrate your points is also effective.

    Follow up question: Isn’t content strategy really just website strategy? As in, an over-arching purpose/mission and plan for implementation? It seems like SEO, IA and design live under its umbrella… and many say that “everything” is content, so aren’t we really talking about website strategy? To answer my own question, maybe it’s because a website is more than just one distinct site.. it’s a site and many dynamic features and related projects.

    Anyway, enjoyed the post.
    (ps. just got your book)

  21. 21

    Justin Henriksen

    April 13, 2011 2:30 pm

    Absolutely a great article. This is one of those topics, as a freelancer that I don’t think about near enough. The point was made that good content can make a site sing. Thank you for a wonderful post – I give it a 10!

  22. 22

    What thoughtful comments…I’m impressed!

    Oliver, your cycle for problem solving sounds very pertinent. In a way, content is a problem for many organizations today. A problem-solving attitude will help you make huge progress.

    Charlie, you raise a juicy question. For a website alone, I see content strategy and the overall strategy as very closely related. Sometimes, a website is really an application, and content doesn’t play as big a role (though it still plays a role). But, that’s less and less common. Also, as you note, content strategy often goes beyond a website. For example, a website strategy usually does not plan for all the editorial process that goes on behind the scenes. Content strategy usually involves other channels and social media, too. Congrats on thinking like a content strategist!

  23. 23

    Thank you for such a fantastic overview, Colleen. My company is revamping our website and I’m happy to say my view echoes yours. I’m sharing your article with my colleagues to reinforce the content strategy message.

    Last year I remember reading an article or two claiming that content is no longer king. I never agreed and still don’t!

    One thing I might add, if it’s appropriate (possibly on the architecture side?), that it’s imperative that the content team be empowered to do their thing, to publish when they want to, to edit when they want to; ie to have flexibility and control over their publishing tools. They should not have to go through an IT middleman when they need to change a page. Unfortunately, at least where I live, those scenarios still happen in some organizations.

    • 24

      Going through an IT middleman has several major set-backs IMO.

      1. It poses the risks of the producer or wanting content that just isn’t fiesable or too complicated from a web design approach for what it’s worth.

      2. Their are usually communication barriers between departments and IT personale because of the lack of contextual knowledge on both sides to understand where problems may arises.

      3. It also slows down delivery of content especially of it is a small contribution which could be done by your content team.

      I would suggest if it is possible for you to have your employees working on social media, and online marketing/advertising take a night course in web design. I am a recent college graduate of the advertising program in Canada and we were taught design skills as well as marketing and advertising. This has provided me with the contextual knowledge to know what is possible on the intenet and in design and be able to better manage design and IT personale.

  24. 25

    This article is just what I needed to read. I was at a loss as to how to help my clients provide me with content for their projects and you’ve provided great pieces of insight and tools to get me started. Thank you.

  25. 26

    Massimo Nastasi

    April 14, 2011 1:22 am

    Fantastic Article

  26. 27

    Well written article! I like the idea of Analysis, Editorial & Architecture your content.

  27. 28

    This has to be one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject. Thank you for the new insights.

    OPEN Forum is a perfect example of a content strategy by American Express to reach out and attach it self to a consumer touchpoint. OPEN Fourm represents “knowledge” for small business owners to learn from discuss and share their own experiences, this is a huge touchpoint for them because all business owners are trying to make their way, and usually without marketing, advertising or MBA education.

    The positive traits of OPEN Forum no doubt translates into perceived credibility, and knowledge for Americain Express. It’s makes perfect sense that American Express would have done this because by supporting their consumers in their persuit of personal and small business success they are increasing the value of their services.

  28. 29

    I heart Colleen. I gave her book to my team for Christmas, and I make her articles required reading. Content strategy is a really tough discipline to explain within Target, as most people have merchandising backgrounds. Her clear language and demonstration of value have been essential for me in overcoming my communication challenges. I wish we could work together again:)

  29. 30

    Thank you for your article. Your breakdown and summary makes me feel like my ongoing struggle to make my website ‘count’ is justified. Thank you for your encouragement.

    I wonder about the strategy duration, though. Do you propose that this be produced and executed over a prescribed amount of time? I would think that no company has the luxury of generating a content strategy that remains static. You mention the need for ongoing analysis, but how and when does a company determine that a shift or even change to their current strategy is required?

  30. 31

    Gilberto J Perera

    April 14, 2011 7:40 pm

    Wonderful article that leaves a lot of food for thought. I’ve always enjoyed the Open Forum site for many of the reasons listed here.

  31. 32

    Get article, thanks for sharing

  32. 33

    Great article. I particularly like the opening points about SEO ‘snake oil’ and over-promised technology. Too often this is used by companies to sell products when it’s not really the issue. There is no magic wand where content’s concerned; only a clear strategy and good management. If it’s a good article (like this), people will link to it, comment and share – which improves it SEO; so no oil’s required!

  33. 34

    James Mathewson

    April 15, 2011 9:02 am

    Colleen,

    I love this work. I just have a quibble about SEO. It’s kind of like the word “content.” I just got off a call in which I argued that all the words on a site (in buttons and tabs and such) are content, whereas the common understanding (I guess) is that the content are the assets that sit on the page, and all that other stuff is UX/IA. I define content much more broadly, because the alignment of those navigational words with the assets is the secret sauce for better content experiences for users.

    I also define SEO much more broadly, as a powerful lens through which to craft better content for the audience. Perhaps SEO is a sullied term, but you can’t learn about the desired nomenclature of your audience without using search insights. And you can’t learn how effective your content is without using search metrics. Here are a couple of articles that clearly state what white-hat SEO is and how it is essential to content strategy.

    Search is Not Just a Tactic
    http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=1660183

    Google Gets Tough on Black-Hat SEO
    http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=1695975

    Kind regards,

    James

  34. 35

    Brian Ostrovsky

    April 15, 2011 9:30 am

    I often talk to people who understand the importance of having a marketing strategy but never think about the fact that you also need a content strategy… as you say, your best marketing will always be your content. Nice job coalescing this broad topic down into a digestible piece of content.

  35. 36

    Excellent article! Love, love, love it.

  36. 37

    wow winderfull information guys

    this is an awsome article very much usefull for me

    thanks fr sharing

  37. 38

    Great article, Thanks

  38. 39

    To me, this article was a bit of rehashed information that basically says that you should do what you said not to do. Without the means to reach an audience, don’t bother creating copy. Therefore, create all copy with the goal of reaching audiences in mind, first and foremost. From there, creating unique, engaging copy is simple, as you have already established the means of reaching your audience, which fashions that copy. This article might provide some information for newbies with blogs, but they should be aware that the goal is to reach searchers, and when you’re doing that on the Internet, you have to be able to get people to see it in order for it to be worth your time.

  39. 40

    James,
    In my process, search considerations are activities in all three stages.
    Analysis: Keyword analysis is especially important here. What words are users searching for at what point in their decision-making process?
    Editorial: How do we create useful content that supports the appropriate keywords at the appropriate decision points? What process do we need to produce quality content regularly?
    Architecture: How do we structure the content so the search engine can read it and rank it efficiently–but so that it also works well for people?

    I really appreciate your take on search. My only quibble is that your arguments are exactly the kinds of arguments that lead to lots of budget for SEO and little budget for content. In your case at IBM.com, you already have editorial oversight and resources. A lot of companies and organizations currently do not, and the case for SEO overshadows the case for good content. I’m trying to correct that.

    MJH,
    You lost me at calling content “copy.”

    Regarding search, search is not the only gateway to content. Social networks are a growing gateway, as Nielsen has reported. And, once you have a relationship with customers, they’re more likely to go to you directly and skip search altogether. If you’re obsessed with search only, you’re missing the big picture of attracting users and growing relationships with them.

  40. 41

    Robin Jennings

    May 3, 2011 12:56 am

    I have just finished a meeting with a potential client who wants an 8 page website.
    We discussed marketing, design, images etc. but when i asked him what he wanted done with the content he told me he has everything in a lengthy word document.

    Opened the word doc, low and behold its under 1 A4 page. Lucky i haven’t quoted yet.

    The clients i’m dealing with really don’t understand how much good content is required for a website.

  41. 42

    Thanks so much – this is invaluable, and I think the lesson learned (or confirmed!) is that there is no substitute for hard graft! If you put in the work to make good, enticing content then people will want to come back for more.

    When I think of my favourite bloggers they are engaging, interested in what their audience looks for, and, above all – put in the legwork to write authoritative, white-paper style posts.

    thanks!

  42. 43

    Exactly exactly where might I discover this Blog?

  43. 44

    Excellent post, thanks! This helped me a lot in putting together my thoughts about a content strategy. Looking forward to reading your book!

  44. 45

    Great article :-) we are looking for someone who can help us to improve our site ranking, pls check it out and message me if you think you can help.

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