Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on August 25th, 2010

The Content Strategy Process: Phases I -II

When I talk about Web Content Strategy around the water cooler at work, everyone stares at me like I’m speaking in tongues. That is because it is a relatively new concept to most online businesses, including ours. While it has informally existed since the Web went public, content strategy is considered an emerging practice that few commit enough time and resources to in order to deliver a spectacular message to Web traffic -- that message being your website’s content. Still confused? Here are a few definitions that are floating around the professional content strategy niche: In the words of the brilliant Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web: “Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, useable content.” Richard Sheffield, author of the Content Strategist’s Bible defined content strategy as: “...a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project, from very early tasks such as analyzing and classifying readers to the very last tasks, such as planning for the ongoing content maintenance after the project launches.” 

Content strategy is a process that can make a significant difference for your web presence, and those of your clients. Depending upon your company’s capacity, you may be able to assign the role of content strategist to your editor-in-chief, content manager, or hire someone exclusively for the position. Preferably, you should either hire a full-service agency or full-time employee for all the content strategy duties, but it may not be realistic for your situation. Pulling generously from the authors and books mentioned above, I have mapped out my own process for a content strategy process from start to finish. Please note: this is a process that I have developed from some of the experts in the field. By no means am I advocating that my process is 100% perfect for each and every campaign, but a launching point for you to use and adapt to your own clients and websites. So please take with a grain of salt and a strand of unicorn hair...

Phase I: Research Overview  This is the very beginning of a project and should be treated as such. In the beginning, roles on the team should be assigned and everyone reviews and asks questions about the overall scope of the project. Introductory and preliminary phone calls are made to the client to get more insight into the problems your team is trying to solve. This is a phase of discovery and learning about what the client is currently doing, what content they have, and how it is being produced. Further research is necessary beyond initial client Q & A. There are a few things you need to research before you can start whipping up strategies and stellar content for a website. When it comes to informational, marketing, or promotional content, the more content you have the worse this job can potentially be. By publishing less content you will have less content to keep track of over time. This leads me to the first step of Phase 1: Track Existing Content You need to know what you have and where it comes from before you can informed decisions about what content you need. How do you do this?

Why, a content audit or inventory of course! Deliverables:

• Project Summary is a short spreadsheet that includes project name, contact, website URL, phone numbers, team players, roles, etc. This should help with managing the campaign.

Content audit or inventory is a spreadsheet that keeps track of all content that is published on your website and out on the web that is branded with your company. For more on this deliverable, read my post from two weeks ago: How to Conduct a Content Audit of Your Website.

Missing Source Content Report is a short (depending on size of project) spreadsheet of content for which you cannot find its source. This is a heads-up to the client that you couldn’t find the digital file anywhere on their servers. You or your client may need to re-create these files in order to move forward with the content in question. For smaller campaigns, this could just be a short punch list.

The Project Agenda is used on larger projects to ensure everyone’s input is added to big decisions. The agenda will provide a list of short workshops in which the entire team and/or client get together and discuss big items for complete consensus on moving forward in agreement. This includes: brand voice, tone and messaging, content-specific requirements, and preferred style guidelines. This is optional if the project is small and doesn’t have multiple stakeholders with strong opinions. Once you have all these deliverables and all your research finished, it is time to analyze the data!

Phase II: Analysis Overview

Time to put on your thinking cap! Once you have gathered all your research and information, you need to start thinking about what you are trying to achieve on the project. What do users want or need? How will you measure success? What can you do with your available time, talent, and budget? You will need to align your thoughts with the following:
Business goals
Requirements and restrictions
Project objectives
Identified risks
Communication ecosystem

A content strategist will spend time creating and understanding proposed solutions and figuring out what content needs to be created for each solution. There will also be a list of deliverables for the client to provide analysis: Deliverables

This is when you deliver your content analysis document, which is a collection of different documents.

• The Existing Content Analysis Report summarizes the existing content in terms of readability, scannability, conciseness, objectivity, effectiveness of communicating the brand message, and recommendations

• The Competitive Analysis Report takes a deeper look at yours or your client’s competitors’ website and what content currently exists there. Look at the differences in how the competitor describes their products and services, how they write and release press releases, and what their content silos consist of.

• The Editorial Process Calendar documents how you or your client currently publishes content on the Web, and includes recommendations on how you should conduct this process moving forward. This is a great time to recommend an Editorial Calendar revision and map out the remaining work on the project.

• The Readiness Analysis is an optional spreadsheet for smaller project, but a necessity for larger ones. This document evaluates how “ready” a content strategist, a team, or a company is for conducting the project successfully. This document should look at three ares: resource readiness, process readiness, and technology readiness. Once you have created and finalized all these deliverables, you are ready to move on to Phase III: Strategy. Congratulations! You have reached the point in the campaign that you can turn your research and analysis into strategy. Join me next Wednesday for the second and final part of my post:

The Content Strategy Process - Phases III-V. Thank You For Reading!

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