The Elements of Content Strategy


Today, we're looking at a fantastic book on creating, organizing, and managing the words, images, and media of our world. It’s called The Elements of Content Strategy.

The Book in a Nutshell: Content strategy is a discipline that stems from a family of fields including marketing, editorial, and curation, and requires analytical, organizational, and creative skills to successfully execute.

About the Author: Erin Kissane is an editor for Contents magazine and Source, a community site for journalists who code. She was previously a content strategist for Brain Traffic and edited A List Apart magazine. The book is part of the A Book Apart series, which includes many concise books that are densely packed with wisdom.

Things to Takea Away

The seven elements of good content

I won’t list them all here, but I took notes on a few, including that good content is useful and user-centered, meaning it serves a specific purpose and adds value to the user in a way that makes sense to them. And that good content is supported, meaning there is are plans and resources in place to correct, update and improve it.

The many disciplines that make up content strategy

Kissane walks through how content strategy is a fairly new discipline, but it was borne out of several families, including editorial, which is about getting the story right, and being concise and accurate. It’s also from the curatorial world, which focuses on give context, and selecting the best pieces from a vast collection. Content strategy also comes from the marketing world, where a focus on the user or customer is paramount, and that driving user behavior is a goal. Finally, it comes from the world of information architecture, a topic we discussed in How to Make Sense of Any Mess, as a focus on mental models and organization and structure.

The 3 Major Functions of Content Strategy

First, strategists have to evaluate the situation, through user research, speaking to stakeholders to define the project, getting baseline stats, etc. Then they have to design, whether its a comms strategy, a revision to the website, a system for managing video content or growing a blog. Finally, they have to execute, writing and revising content, implementing publishing workflows, or sourcing and curating 3rd party content.

Taking a content Inventory

If a content strategist is asked to work on a website, they will almost inevitably have to do a content inventory/audit. I didn’t really think about it before reading this, but modern websites are massive, with hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages. That’s where the obligation of “supporting” content comes into play. Doing an inventory (or in case of massive sites, audit) of the webpages, including Page Title, URL, Date published, Date updated, content type, content owner, is critical to understanding what the scope of the project is. Before you can improve something, you have to know where it stands.

The hierarchy of content recommendations

Kissane recommends you start with higher level recommendations first, since they affect what you do further down, and also are likely to have a bigger impact on the organization.

  • Big concepts – the big idea(s), the core messages, the target audience
  • Structural design – site map, grouping of pages, the last chance to be strategic before you get tactical
  • Page design – layout of navigation, title, main content, detailed content, content templates

Content Templates

What is a page template good for? It helps standardize how content is created, managed, and edited. It makes things run faster and smoother. What is a content template? It’s a paragraph level companion to a website’s wireframes (visual look) and it’s a simple way to get useful information from people who are the subject matter experts, to the people who have to communicate that information.

It can include a list of must-have (and nice-to-have) information for that page, what that page is meant to accomplish for the business, specifications on things like capitalization style, words per paragraph, paragraphs for page, style and voice recommendations. And it can include examples for each type of content to help make it concrete.