What’s content strategy? What does it do? Why does it matter? If you’ve been bathing in the world of web content for a few years, like me, these questions have obvious answers. But if you’ve only dipped a toe in digital marketing, it might sound like just another buzzword, more “marketese” that doesn’t really mean anything to you or your business.

Well, my first task as Stikky’s new Content Strategist is to convince you that content (and content strategy) is a very real, very significant and very effective part of any digital marketing campaign.

First things first: what is web content?

Again, this seems like an easy question. Content: “something that is contained”. Web content: something that websites contain. Content is anything and everything that you put out there within the framework of your website: text, images, videos, slides, infographics, ebooks, etc. Content is what people see on your website and usually what they come looking for. Content is why your website exists.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are a few definitions from renowned experts:

Richard Sheffield in The Web Content Strategist’s Bible: “Web content can be anything that appears on a website, including words, pictures, video, sounds, downloadable files (PDF), buttons, icons, and logos.”

Kristina Halvorson in Content Strategy for the Web: “Content includes text, data, graphics, video, and audio. Online, it’s shaped and delivered by countless tools (such as animation, PDFs, streams, and so on).”

Wikipedia (because everyone loves a good Wikipedia definition, even though nobody wants to admit it): “Web content is the textual, visual or aural content that is encountered as part of the user experience on websites. It may include, among other things: text, images, sounds, videos and animations.”

So, there you have it. Content is the stuff of the internet. [tweet this]

Okay, I know what content is. Why do I need to strategize it?

Ah, that’s the crux of the problem, is it? Content is everywhere around us. It’s in our phones, our computers, our tablets. It’s in our news and our magazines. It’s every tweet, every blog post, every YouTube video. It’s an immeasurable mass of data, of 1s and 0s, populating the tubes of the web, stored in massive server centers in the world and yet accessible from everywhere. (For more on how the internet actually works, read Andrew Blum’s Tubes–it’s fascinating.)

Because content is so ubiquitous, we rarely stop to think about why it’s there, who makes it and how it works.

Why do we have content?

The basic answer to this is: because people have things to say. Cave drawings are content. Computer animations are content. Every word, painting, sound and video humans ever produced are content. But web content, especially today, has a different impulse. Sure, some of it is just people having things to say. But more and more, content is the means to achieve a particular online goal: influencing people, attracting an audience, creating leads, making sales.

In 2014, we have content because content is what people want. Content is what people consume on their computers. And people always want more content that’s fresh, interesting, relevant, funny, epic. We keep producing it because nobody wants to read yesterday’s (or this morning’s) stale content. “Oh, that’s old stuff” now applies to content published three days ago. Content dies that fast.

In summary, we have content because people expect it. We may have the attention span of a goldfish (actually 1 second less than goldfish, according to studies), but we expect to be informed, entertained and amused by something different every day.

Who makes content?

It’s easy to just consume content without giving a thought about the work that went into it. Actually, for about 98% of the stuff on the internet, probably no work went into it (because it’s terrible). But what about the last 2%? What about the good stuff? What about the gripping essays, the informative studies, the beautiful infographics, the funny videos? People spend time and energy making them.

Take this post as an example. I’m probably halfway through writing it, and I’ve already worked on it for an hour. Add to that the visual summary I want to make when I’m done, and it probably will have eaten half of my day. As you take 10, 15 minutes to read through my post, do you think about the work I put into it? Can you imagine me sitting at my computer, with my loyal cat Preeya sleeping on the window sill, typing away, stopping to think, finding sources and correcting mistakes?

Because 98% of content is such a cheap commodity, it’s difficult to see the value in spending the time (or hiring good people) to make the valuable 2%. But trust me, being part of that 2% is what makes the difference between developing a successful presence online and being exiled to the second page of Google’s results.

How does content work?

Have you ever thought about what content makes you do? How it can influence your beliefs and attitudes? How it can make you trust some people more than others? That’s the power of good content. Excellent content, the stuff that’s strategized, editorialized and analyzed, is all done with a goal in mind. Example: the purpose of this blog post is to convince you that content strategy is a valuable thing to spend your time or money on. My secondary goal is to increase the trust that you have in my content strategy skills by displaying my knowledge of it. The tertiary goal would be for you to keep Stikky Media in mind if you need a content strategy.

I’m being so transparent here to show you how strategized content works. It’s aligned with our business goals, but it’s also something that I hope is useful for you. Self-serving content is never good content; there needs to be something in it for the reader. Otherwise, what’s the point? We all have so little time, so we make our content choices based on what we need the most. We are all inherently selfish content consumers… and that’s okay. Knowing this makes things easier.

I’m not sure I see your point. Weren’t we talking about strategy?

Why yes, we were, but I’m glad you held on until now. It was necessary for you to understand where content comes from to see how far it can go… as long as it’s strategized properly.

Let’s go back to definitions. Kristina Halvorson has another one for us: “Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery and governance of useful, usable content.” In other words, a content strategy is more than “writing blog posts” and “putting things on Twitter”. A content strategy determines the overall goals for the content based on business objectives, describes how it will be produced and delivered, and defines how it will be managed after publication.

If your marketing classes are a bit far (or you’ve never had them), that’s okay. You simply need to know the difference between a strategy, a holistic plan for reaching a specific goal, and tactics, the concrete actions taken as part of that plan. Blog posts, articles, a YouTube channel or tweets do not make up a strategy; they are tactics to fulfill that strategy. [tweet this]

In short, a web content strategy

  • Uses business goals
  • To describe the creation, delivery and governance process
  • Of useful, usable web content.

All right, I understand. But I still don’t know why I should get one.

The real question is, why wouldn’t you get a content strategy? Why would you go without one? Well, if your business isn’t on the internet, and you have no intention of making a website for it, maybe you indeed don’t need one. But then, you probably wouldn’t be reading that far down my article. So if you’re still with me, it’s because you are at least intrigued by the idea of planning a content strategy. Yay!

The short answer is, you should get a content strategy because without one, you won’t make it very far with your digital marketing. This article describes how Google is now focusing on quality content rather than keywords; SEO on its own is definitely not enough anymore. You need constantly updated, relevant and useful content that drives social interactions.

Sure, you could just produce content on a willy-nilly, “I’m inspired today” basis. That can work, sometimes. But for businesses, it’s not a very good investment, either of time or money. Who knows if anyone will read it? Do I believe it will be something useful for them? Will it help me get leads or increase sales? If you didn’t consider these questions before sitting down to write, draw, record or film, I’ll bet you that your content won’t be successful at much except taking up space on your server.

So why should you get a content strategy? To maximize the results of your web content and minimize its costs in time, effort and money. To tie your web content to clear, actionable and measurable business goals. To reach the right audience, give them what they want and have them come back for more. To increase your influence and improve your reputation.

And what do YOU do, exactly?

That’s the fun part! At least for me. I LOVE web content. I love to make it, of course, but I also love to think about it, to look at it from different angles, to analyze it. I love to learn new things (and things are always changing in the world of web content) and I love to help people. I love to help you.

When we work together, first we’ll meet and talk about your business. Where you come from, what your goals are, where you see yourself next year, in 5 or 10 more. I’ll get to know you, your business and its personality. I’ll learn about your clients, your products or services and your past and current marketing efforts. I’ll get all the information I need to understand your situation, identify problems or issues and start thinking about how content can help provide solutions.

The content strategy process is a long and complex one, so I won’t go into details, but basically I’ll make an inventory of the content you already have (called a content audit), I’ll define the particular objectives for the content, develop buyer personas to target the content to, and provide a detailed tactical plan that will tell you every content activity we’ll do together. Finally, I’ll tell you how we’ll evaluate the success of the strategy.

The content strategy process is time-intensive but highly collaborative. I’ll need to know as much as possible about you, your business, your values and your culture to develop content that is true to your business’ personality. Hopefully, this process will also help you refine your own business vision and objectives–without a clear vision or objectives, your content won’t be as effective.

This was super interesting, but I need a summary!

No worries: here’s an infographic that summarizes this post in a fun, visual way. You can print it and pin in on a board or download it for later reference.

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