Nice to meet you, Content Strategy (A polite introduction)

If you hang out in the same general virtual space as information architects, user experience specialists, and the like, you may have started hearing the phrase “content strategy.” (Or maybe you haven’t – but I bet you will.) What the heck is that, you may wonder? And what’s that got to do with me?

Wonder no more. Reader, meet Content Strategy. Content Strategy, meet Reader.

As an emerging discipline, content strategy is one of those multi-talented beasties that draws from many different disciplines and sources. In general, it includes:

  • elements of editing, of curation, of information architecture, and of user experience design.
  • the process of managing – not necessarily creating – the content on a website (you know, the actual reason people come to your website in the first place), making sure it’s clear and usable, making sure there’s no ROT (content that is Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial), making sure information is displayed in places and in contexts that make sense, and so on.
  • analyzing and inventorying the existing content on a website, identifying redundancies and gaps.
  • managing the metadata on the site, so that people can find what they are looking for.
  • working with all of the site’s content providers to help them create content that is clear, timely, and consistent with the overall style and mission of the site.
  • selecting a content management system that will work with users in such a way as to make it easier for them to create good content, and will help them to repurpose content so that it can display in multiple places rather than rewriting it over and over (once for the mobile site, once for a branch library site, once for a policies page, once for a link on Oncourse… you get the idea).

Sound like stuff we might need to do with the IUB Libraries website? Well… yes indeed! Whether or not you hear the phrase “content strategy” in the near future, some of what you’ll be hearing from DUX as we move forward towards a better website will be driven by the principles of this emerging discipline.

If this all sounds kind of intriguing, here are a few resources that will help you understand content strategy a little better.

Start here: The Discipline of Content Strategy by Kristina Halvorson. This article from A List Apart is a nice introduction, covering some of what I mentioned above and more.

If you liked that, you might want to read more articles on content strategy from A List Apart; it’s one of the topics they cover regularly. Check out, for example, “Infrequently Asked Questions of FAQs” – and then think about whether an FAQ is really the best “container” for the information you are offering your users. That’s content strategy in action!

Another introductory article I really like is “Content Strategy Can Save Us All From Slobdom” by Meghan Casey, from the Brain Traffic blog. This is not an in-depth article, but it uses a metaphor many of us understand all too well – trying to clean up a cluttered, messy bedroom. Read through the entertaining description of how the bedroom problem is solved and you will clearly see how the content strategy process works and how it can help your website be neat and tidy, with its contents easily findable. Plus, it has Fraggles! What’s not to love? Brain Traffic has much, much more to offer the budding content strategist or the curious onlooker – highly recommended.

For those of you (myself included!) who still love books made out of paper, here are a couple that we can recommend; DUX has desk copies of these but you may have trouble prying them out of our grubby little hands (we’re actually referring to them with some frequency as we begin to evaluate our website and plan a content analysis):

Content Strategy for the Web book cover Halvorson, Kristina. Content Strategy for the Web.
Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010.
The Elements of Content Strategy book cover Kissane, Erin. The Elements of Content Strategy.
New York: A Book Apart, 2011.

Of course, most people who serve as content providers for a website like ours don’t need to become content strategy specialists. Not at all. But understanding the basic concepts will help you to understand how to create better web pages, and why DUX makes some of the decisions that it does about the Libraries’ website as a whole. (And as a bonus, it seems that content strategists are often pretty good writers – a lot of these articles are very readable and even entertaining!)

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Leave a comment on this blog post, use the “Contact Us” form, or talk to anyone in DUX! We’d love to hear from you.

Author- Anne Haines

Web Content Specialist in the Discovery & User Experience Department, IU Libraries. I've spoken at events including edUi, Confab Central, Confab Higher Ed, IOLUG, ILF, the IU Libraries' Digital Library Brown Bag series, and the Libraries' In-House Institute. You can find me hanging out at the intersection of content strategy and librarianship, singing a doo-wop song under the streetlight. Follow me on Twitter: @annehaines

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