Today, it’s a thrilling and daunting time to do content strategy. Users constantly demand quality content across a growing number of channels and touchpoints. Fortunately, thought leaders in this space are rising up to the challenge. I recently had the pleasure of picking the brain of one of those thought leaders, Melissa Rach. Melissa co-authored the second edition of Content Strategy for the Web (New Riders). I’m delighted to share our chat with you:
The second edition of Content Strategy for the Web is very different from the first. Could you shed some light on why?
M: The first edition was written primarily as a call to arms. Although people had been doing content strategy work for a long time, the term itself was fairly unknown and content professionals were mostly working in isolation. So, the first edition was intended to raise awareness of content strategy, demonstrate why it was important, and build a community around it.
We started on the second edition just 2.5 years later, but 2.5 years in content strategy time is kind of like dog years. By that time, the community was alive and out there. Content strategy was a buzzword. As a result, the tone of the book shifted from call to arms to proof of concept. For example, we focused more on the people aspects of content strategy—how to get started, how to align different roles, how to develop workflow, and more. Finally, during those 2.5 years, we had the fortune to talk to a lot of people about content strategy, so we tried to answer the most popular and pressing questions we heard.
That evolution makes a lot of sense, and it must be rewarding to see how far content strategy has come in such a short time. In the book, you mention that content needs to have substance. I couldn’t agree more. What is one way to ensure content is substantive or meaningful?
M: The most important way to have substance is to make content intentional. There is a lot of content created on the fly…so much content being created every minute of the day. That doesn’t work too well if you just throw stuff up there without a plan. If you want that content to be truly substantive, you need to put a strategy behind it. So, every piece of content has to tie to a business objective and a user need. When people are assigned to content and they are responsible for creating it, maintaining it, and making it successful, they have the incentive to prioritize what content is most important. Then, the substantive stuff has a chance to rise to the top—making content more useful to people who need it and to the organization creating it.
Planning content thoughtfully, as you describe, takes time. I also find it takes time to see results or benefits from doing content differently. What is one of your favorite success stories?
M: I love a good underdog story. One of my favorite successes at Brain Traffic was with a large retailer. The project sponsor was a longtime content advocate who came to us and said their help content was a mess…the help content literally needed help. She had been pitching a change for years and finally won some budget to do it. So, Christine Benson on our team analyzed what help content they had, where it came from, and why it wasn’t succeeding. For example, people coming to get help are usually frustrated—they don’t want to see your brand message before you help them. Christine helped them prioritize overall content, change the order of things on the page, and set some guidelines for long-term maintenance. Then, when the sponsor put the changes in motion, the retailer saved $500,000 in operating costs, which is the same as millions of dollars in product sales. Help content isn’t always the sexiest content to create, but the results here were sexy.
Those results certainly are attractive. Help content really can help the bottom line. Before I let you go, what does the future of content strategy have in store? Where or how will we be treading new ground soon?
M: Looking into my “crystal ball,” the biggest trend I see is “omnichannel” content. Content that is consistent and coordinated across all channels of communication for an organization. Customers go from channel-to-channel rapidly these days, but our organizations aren’t really set up to handle that. Organizations are still quite siloed—the web team doesn’t coordinate with the field sales team or the PR group. So, for example, the materials health patients get in the doctor’s office can be much different from what they get on the web. Coordinating those different channels has always been a personal interest of mine. You hear about these other trends such as structured content, mobile content, or responsive design. To me, those are sub-trends of this omnichannel trend. There will be no “channels” anymore. Organizations will need to deconstruct their silos and present content in a flexible way.
Down with silos and up with thoughtful, flexible content. I can’t think of a better way to close this chat. Melissa, thanks for your time and insight.
The second edition of Content Strategy for the Web is available at Amazon.com >