The Elements of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane, the 3rd book from A Book Apart
This is another excellent book from A Book Apart. I’m not a content strategist, but dealing with content is obviously a big part of any web designer’s job and it’s something I’d like to get better at. I think this book is a great starting point, sort of an overview and introduction to content strategy. The Book Apart series are brief books, which I think is a great idea, but frankly I would have liked this book to be a bit longer; not too suggest I didn’t get a lot of value from it—I did a lot of highlighting and took a lot of notes. Below are some of my favorite parts.
What is Content Strategy?
“Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.” —RACHEL LOVINGER
“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” —KRISTINA HALVORSON
There’s really only one central principle of good content: it should be appropriate for your business, for your users, and for its context. Appropriate in its method of delivery, in its style and structure, and above all in its substance. —pg. 4
Define a clear, specific purpose for each piece of content; evaluate content against this purpose —pg. 7
Publishing content that is self-absorbed in substance or style alienates readers. —pg. 9
publishing everything often means “publishing everything we can,” rather than “publishing everything we’ve learned that our users really need.” —pg. 11
About the importance of editors:
Great writers know what their readers want and need to hear. But the responsibility for validating assumptions about the audience and tuning the content to suit that audience remains with the editors —pg. 18
At the end of the day, we and our clients must remember [that] content is created (and revised and maintained) only when a human being is assigned and paid to do so. —pg. 23
Content and design:
In addition to attending to design considerations like whitespace and typesetting, we can act as user advocates by advising our clients and employers to reduce distractions in sidebars, fight ads that obstruct content, and give readers the equivalent of good light and a quiet room. This is one of the reasons that a multidisciplinary approach can potentially produce better results than content-only gigs for some kinds of projects—when content specialists can weigh in on presentation and design, readers benefit. —pg. 26
For medium-sized and large projects, you’ll want to document the publishing workflow: how content is planned, created, approved, produced, and maintained. —pg. 54
Once you have a sitemap and wireframes to work with you’ll be able to return to the business goals and user needs you collected at the beginning of the project and begin fleshing out the details of your content plan. —pg. 59
High-level content recommendations typically include some or all of the following:
- Primary and secondary messages to be communicated in each section’s content
- Primary (and sometimes secondary) audiences to be served by each section’s content
- Notes on the integration of major new content-related features into the site
- Early recommendations on voice and tone
- Recommendations on integrating community features (comments, forums, etc.)
- A discussion of how each of the site’s major audiences will be served by its content
- Recommendations on delivery channels for the various kinds of content you’re working with (website vs. email vs. social networks, etc.)
One of the great challenges of content strategy—and especially of content production—is getting ideas from the heads of experts into the heads of content producers. If you rely on internal experts without a dedicated editor and approval process, you’re courting trouble. —pg. 66
A bit about the content strategy career field:
Here’s a little secret about content strategy: very few people got here on purpose. We mostly wandered in from one related field or another, found ourselves unable to stop fiddling with bad content, and decided to stick around and try to make things better.
Paradoxically, the best way to “get into content strategy” is to begin doing content strategy, whatever your job description currently is.
No matter where you come from, a few characteristics seem to be requisite. You can’t be ambivalent about the web. You might hate it sometimes, but it has to be in your blood. You have to care about getting things right, while understanding that “right” is something that constantly changes. You have to be reasonably good with people and exceptionally good at high-speed synthesis and pattern recognition. You need to have a solid grasp of the basics of information architecture. You need to care about design and front-end programming, which means you need to know enough about both to be able to care.
Books listed in the resources section:
- Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (New Rules Social Media Series), by C.C. Chapman
- Content Strategy for the Web, by Kristina Halvorson
- Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content, by Colleen Jones
- Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, by Ann Rockley
- The Web Content Strategist’s Bible: The Complete Guide To A New And Lucrative Career For Writers Of All Kinds, by Richard G. Sheffield
- Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning, by Daniel M. Brown
- The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond, by Jesse James Garrett
- Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, by Steve Krug
- Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites, by Louis Rosenfeld
- Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, by Janice Redish
- Designing with Web Standards, by Jeffrey Zeldman