Content Strategy 101: Key Takeaways From Confab 2012

Do you work on websites, or have a website for your organization?

Do you want to make it better?

As a new member of the team who works on the site, I just attended a workshop on May 14 called Content Strategy 101. It was put on as part of Confab — undoubtedly the world’s most fabulous content strategy conference.

This conference was packed with amazing people who work every day making websites better. I was fortunate to get some great insights that I could bring back to work with me at Rackspace.

If you work on a website, you might be interested to know what I learned.

1. Content is why people go to your site.
Any discussion of content strategy starts with the question, “What is content?” We broadly define it as text, video, audio, graphics — any informative element of your site. Put more concisely, it’s the thing that people go to your site looking for.

2. The Internet needs content strategy
We live at a remarkable time in history. Every 60 seconds more than 1,500 blog posts and 98,000 tweets are published. Not to mention videos, photos, Facebook comments, and “regular” web pages.

60 Seconds - Things That Happen On Internet Every Sixty Seconds
Infographic by- Shanghai Web Designers

A lot of this information is hard to access because it’s not organized or marked up for easy search. We need people thinking critically and strategically about web content, so we can make better content, and make it findable and usable.

3.  Content needs more attention.
If you’re really smart, or if your company is really strategically minded, you may have had someone (such as a content strategist or editor) in place for years, making sure everything on your site is usable and up-to-date.

But a lot of companies have focused more on creating content than keeping it relevant. That leads to outdated information, navigation that goes nowhere and a poor user experience.

4.  Your mileage will vary.
So, how do we fix our content problems? Good question. Complex question.

The first thing to learn about content strategy is this:

Content strategy is a process, not a deliverable.

Because it’s a process — a better way of doing things than the traditional, “let’s shoehorn copy onto the site at the last minute” way — and because it’s highly adaptable to the business and context, it’s hard to prescribe exactly how everyone at every time should “do content strategy.”

5. Deliverables: tools of the trade.
Even though there’s not one method that works for everyone, in the Content Strategy 101 workshop, we learned about several tools available for beginning to “do content strategy”:

  • Content audits — Create an inventory of all the pages on your site and record key details about each page, such as how usable it is (a subjective measure, of course, but helpful nonetheless).
  • Stakeholder interviews — Talk to people in various departments at your company. Learn what they think the site is doing, and should be doing, for your customers and your business.
  • A core strategy statement — Generating content ideas usually isn’t the problem — it’s finding time and resources to work on them. Create a succinct statement of what your site should do. This gives you a goal to work toward and, maybe more importantly, tells you what projects to say no to.
  • Voice and style guides — Your site gives your organization a public voice. What do you want it to sound like? Fun and casual? Serious and credible? Silly? Informative? Document samples of the type of copy you want, to help your writers understand what to aim for.
  • Site maps— Similar to an inventory, a site map shows the structure of the site’s navigation. Does that structure make sense?
  • Page tables — Before letting writers loose on a project, help them out by compiling information about each page, such as its goal, audience and desired overall message.
  • Workflow documents — How do pages get written, designed and developed at your company? Does the process make sense? Could it be more efficient?
  • Governance documents — Launching a page or site is just the beginning. Who will keep your content updated? Be sure to name a specific person responsible for each part of the site.

The folks who put on the workshop and conference have also written a book — really, the book — about this topic. If you want more details, read Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach.

Why is content strategy important at Rackspace?

So, why does Rackspace care about content strategy?

As you know, we pride ourselves on providing Fanatical Support to our customers. That means that Rackers will go to any length to provide our customers with what they need.

In the case of the website, Fanatical Support means that we believe our customers deserve:

  • Up-to-date, relevant, useful information
  • Content presented in an engaging way (never boring)
  • Simple, intuitive navigation that helps visitors get what they need quickly

Content strategy is one way of helping to make that happen!

Of course, if you have a question or problem, you can always pick up the phone or open a ticket to get Fanatical Support directly from a Racker. But for those who prefer to find their own solutions online, the Rackspace Web Team wants to make an intuitive, simple, friendly way to do that.

What about you? If you work on websites, is your content more or less in order, or do you find it a constant struggle? Leave me a comment below or send me a tweet!