I recently read an inspiring presentation on the emergence of specialists in the field of web design. As the field grew and as technologies progressed, specialists emerged to manage the wealth of information and knowledge about the field. One such specialization is the field of User Experience, and within that lies the relatively undiscovered field of Content Strategy.
While it may not sound like something you want to devote budget, time, or staff to, developing a content strategy is essential to the success of any digital project because content is the fundamental unit of communication with target audiences. A content strategy can help define the purpose of your content, the method of production, and surface any gaps and areas of weakness in providing users with the information they are seeking. The burden of successfully developing, organizing and presenting content in an effective way, does not solely rest on the client, or even the user. It should be a critical component of any project and folded into a larger strategy that assesses the meaningfulness of the content.
The Difference between Information Architecture and Content Strategy
I believe there is an important distinction to make here when thinking about Information Architecture and Content Strategy concepts. Information architecture defines the structure of the content, essentially it is the foundation for the house that is to be built. It's the blueprint of the house, outlining where the kitchen is and where the light switch is placed. It organizes the house into rooms and sections and areas.
On the other hand, Content Strategy defines the approach to the "furniture" of the house, the items that populate the structure. While furniture can come in different shapes and sizes, essentially it is all threaded together by the design and feel of the house, the overarching "theme." Content Strategy aims to create this overarching theme and guiding principles by which content producers can quickly create and disseminate meaningful and relevant content to their readers. While Information Architecture focuses more on the organization of the information and their location, Content Strategy focuses on the production of content, the tone, and the curation of content and aims for consistent and useful content.
If you're migrating existing content from a legacy site into a brand new website, take the opportunity to do some "content spring cleaning" which will go a long way toward improving the usability of your site. Here are some tips on getting started:
- Take inventory of your content in a Content Inventory. How much content do you have?
- Create a Gap Analysis. What information is missing? Where are there gaps in information?
- Use analytics to generate a Production Strategy. What's the most popular content and how can you generate more of it? What is the least popular content and why? What's the desired workflow for publishing content?
Showing that your content is well-cared for and carefully curated will go a long way in your user's eyes and will make the launch of a new site, and the maintenance of an existing site, much easier tasks.