Content Strategy is not Copywriting. Design is not Window Dressing. Information Architecture is not Boxes and Arrows.
Content Strategy (CS) isn’t a new practice, but it may be the most comprehensive practice, and one made possible through the maturation and morphing of many puzzle pieces—editorial, print, digital, design, CMS systems, SEO/SEM/search, IA/UX/IxD and advertising.
When done correctly, Content Strategy requires practitioners to follow every piece of content, in every direction, for every use case and optimize the message in order to support business goals. That last line is the anvil in the pillowcase—“in order to support business goals.” Long gone are the days of wanting a website because brick and mortar businesses were “old hat” and Red Herring was four inches thick.
Results matter. And if the downturn in the economy has taught us anything, it is this: Seeking out short-term gains are fools’ errands. Content Strategy, or at least the type Eat Media practices, is firmly rooted in a long term strategy we call “What Then?”
It goes like this:
“Let’s do a content inventory”
“We should tag it and see how it aligns with new biz strategy.”
“There’s going to be a boatload of content that doesn’t fit anymore.”
“We need to create a sustainable content cycle to support their message.”
“We should look at the CMS and see if it will support this new taxonomy.”
“We need to look into how their Social Media strategy is tied into this message.”
We zoom in and out, micro-to-macro until we have looked at a client’s content problem from every angle and we reach this:
“Traffic and sales are up. Way up.”
Getting to this result is all well and good, but how do we know, how well our CS work has actually performed? When paired with SEO/SEM, we can definitively tell what was clicked on, in what order at what time. When Content Strategy is paired with a quality information architecture plan, we can see measurable results that align with how information is organized throughout the site. Similarly, when partnered with tried and true user experience techniques, Content Strategy speaks volumes, and subtleties in button placement and checkout behaviors shine clear as daylight.
But on its own, not so much. The analytics attributed to Content Strategy remain an asked and unanswered question that many of us are still quantifying.
Listen up, Content Strategists
In order to make the leap from buzzword to boardroom, Content Strategy needs to do more, fast. Without analytics, measurement and a crystalline clarification, our relevance is not rising outside our circle. We are simply defining and redefining what is and isn’t CS—erecting and mending fences. While we (me included) think CS is the cat’s meow, many of the decision makers I talk to have a hard time discerning IA from UX from CS from “whatever the programmers are supposed to do.” This is where our work should be focused.
Here are my propositions:
1) I only differentiate IxD from UX by scope.
Go ahead slaughter me for this!
2) UX is its own animal. UX’ers initiate the kind of changes featured in Smashing Magazine. I speak some UX but feel it should be more intertwined with CS.
Someone may have written the speech, but UX is the face and the voice. And that’s just fine with me.
3) The best programmers I’ve worked with are uber-keen on message and user experience. As we begin to build leaner, more targeted applications and websites we need more programmers (front and back-end) to think more about content.
One programmer/friend is the best copy editor I’ve ever known.
4) IA can, but probably shouldn’t operate independent of CS.
5) CS and IA are the same thing, or at least they should be.
I, for one, cannot do CS without doing IA. You start talking about CS problems and I open up OmniGraffle/ConceptDraw and look for the nearest whiteboard. I start thinking about relationships and content life cycles and wireframes. I recently spoke with Karen McGrane, President of Bond Art and Science and this is what she had to say on this the CS/IA relationship
“I think all those ‘word’ functions should be owned by a single role, and the content strategist has a broader sense of ownership across a site. I could also make the argument that IA and CS are really the same role and you should recruit for whichever one (or both) will help you attract the right people. But in the long run I would imagine that information architecture would be seen as a function of CS rather than a role and a job title of its own.”
—Karen McGrane, President, Bond Art + Science.
Project-by-project practitioners develop, organize and choose the appropriate tools and tactics. While it is impossible for one person to excel at all these fields, it is time that we ask more of ourselves, and one another, in bridging the gap between practices. In my mind, IA and CS fusing into a single practice will deliver more a comprehensive, cost-effective solution with richer, more measurable results together than if they are separate. There will be less inter-dependency confusion within the practices, client’s business goals will be better supported and analytics will be more practical.
Without content, the web would be a search box and a check out cart. (Both the search box and the check out cart have been successfully monetized.) But all the stuff in between (content) requires fewer experts with broader skill sets, not more experts with more finite expertise (which requires longer integration and usually much more duct tape).
Eat Media, “Pointing out the elephant in the room since 2003”