I realize this is my first post on the WebComm blog– funny, though, because I’ve been on the team for more than a year and have been putting it off.
Either way, what I do here at WC (that’s the official abbreviation, or at least I’m making it that) is organize and strategize the placement of content on a website. Simply put, a content strategist. And believe me, it really is that simple.
But I think most web design teams get caught up with the task of developing and designing a website, that content becomes secondary and is left for the end.
Look at this way: you just sauteed some onions and mushrooms on a skillet, but forgot to put oil or butter on the pan. Your mushrooms and onions are harder to cook this way, and simply putting oil at the end can destroy the texture of the mushrooms and onions.
Point is, content is the first thing you should focus on before diving into the technology of your site– the design and back-end of your site should be built around your content, not the other way around.
In a way, content strategy has aspects of marketing, journalism, web-writing, communication and design. I mean the list can go on really; the job requires skills from so many departments. But simply put, content strategy is communication strategy.
When you start off with either redesigning a site, or even starting from scratch, you need to identify your audience and what they want from you. Many clients think the question revolves around what they want for their audience–the answer gets lost in the fray.
That’s why we have usability tests. To quantify the user experience for your website, you conduct tests on users with a list tasks for your website. Stuff like “Find an Economics professor by starting from the homepage” or “What’s the first day of class”. Depending on how easy or hard that question is for users will determine/gauge what needs changing.
So much depends on what exactly they need/want from you, it’d be ridiculous to make it harder for them to find.
Usually, though, with our team we create client surveys. Basically, a list-long questionnaire of what clients want for their site.
Stuff like “what’s the issue with your site right now?” or “what kind of experience would you like to give your audience?”
With those concerns/goals out in the open, doing a content inventory of the site will be easier. Now a content inventory is a website’s each-and-every-page laid out on a spreadsheet (or document– I use Excel).
Map it out almost like bullet style, so all the main tabs on the site’s navigations are at the top, and each page inside those main tabs are sub-pages under them. If you visualize it, it would sorta look like a sideways pyramid.
You also need to pay close attention to details (i.e. grammar, broken links; these are content mess-ups that needs to be addressed)
With all of this in mind (client survey, content inventory) we can start with the information architecture (or IA, for short). The IA is similar to the content inventory, layout-wise, except instead of organizing the existing site, you’ll be organizing the new site. This will determine page count and how exactly things will look like on the site.
This may sound easier than you think, because you’ll most likely be meeting with your clients a couple of times during this process. In this phase, you have to keep in mind two things: client needs and audience needs.
Things like mission statements, newsletters, etc. These pages typically don’t get viewed by audiences (unless they personally wrote it), so if pages need to be shaved off the IA, present good reason for it.
The client/content strategist seasaw can be a shakey one, so you have to meet somewhere in the middle. Don’t get discouraged by this– this is a communications industry, and you don’t want to be too wordy with how you communicate things (your website).
It’s the content strategist’s job to confirm what goes in, and what goes out.
IA Review/Design hand-off
Couple meetings later, you have an IA to present to your client. Give them some time to look it over. Once it’s approved, you send it off to your designer. Some sit-down meetings (and coffee) may be involved, to really get a grasp of how the site should look. After this, though, you move on to the next client.
It’s that easy. But you’d be surprised how much work is involved. People have a hard time communicating ideas, and since we’re dealing with web (and its hyper-changing climate) communication changes all the time. A lot about content strategy involves keeping up with all the new ways people receive information (but that’ll be for another post).
So yeah that’s what content strategy is, in a nutshell and 815 words. If you’d like to chat more about it, e-mail me at email@example.com.