Content Strategy for the Web (2nd Edition), Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach

Content Strategy for the WebAn introduction to practicing content strategy for the web as told by Kristina Halvorson, an industry-leading advocate in the field. More than an introduction, Content Strategy for the Web is an ebook that will give you insight into the processes for creating content that is compelling. Key issues revolve around the methodologies which include content audits, analyses, evaluations, and management of all resources.

This ebook is meant for our clients. But it falls on us, the web agencies, to promote these methods for getting the content out, and getting the content right. Precisely because we are talking about web content, and all of it has to melt together: the strategy, the SEO, the UX, the governance, etc. There is so much to consider. Kristina though sews it all up in a very easy-to-read, albeit very dense at some points, ebook.

Overall thoughts

This is a great hands-on ebook to activate the process of writing excellent content. The basic rules Kristina lays down help set the tone :

You can significantly improve your organization’s content in a fairly short amount of time by taking on any of the following efforts:

  • Do less, not more.
  • Figure out what you have and where it’s coming from.
  • Learn how to listen.
  • Put someone in charge.
  • Take action … now.

Better said than done, of course. Kristina has covered a vast territory, one that is attainable, but one that requires a certain stamina when you’re faced with the daunting task of collecting and analysing 10,000 pieces of content or more. Where I work we have created web sites for several large companies, so I can see how the organisation and rigor behind managing sites with 10,000 or more content pieces is necessary.

But no matter how great or small a project the goal is to help the client publish great content that evolves over time. So it is key to be able to apply that same big business methodology on a smaller scale accordingly.

First, it helps to just set the tone for what is expected, as Kristina simply points out «Your content must help you achieve your project objectives, your business goals, your user goals, and your long-term strategy.» So that is what we look into when we begin a project. This is perhaps also why in many ways Content Strategy is the first step in leading a web site to a successful user experience.

I was impressed with Kristina’s exhaustive overview on conducting a full scale content audit. She doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do step by step, but moreso what are the questions to ask. And that it pays dividends to be a good listener. An audit includes, but is not limited to:

  • Target audiences
  • Messaging
  • Communication channels
  • User lifecycles
  • Workflow and governance
  • Competitor analysis

The audit part should not be passed by. For smaller projects, audits remain just as valuable, but can be quite quick to accomplish. Any project needs to recognize its target market, and to be able to clearly state the message it wants to send. Most of the work comes from prioritizing any given list. Particularly useful is to establish the expected user lifecycles. Without going into personas, it is important to identify the key results for any given user, be it contacting the client, or buying on-line.

Kristina breaks down very well the need for governance :

  • Who makes the decisions about content standards?
  • How is content success measured?
  • Are there content policies, standards, style guides, or other editorial tools in place?

Of course, it’s the content strategy chapter to which we impatiently wait to get.

Most important there’s the core strategy right smack in the center. A core strategy, according to Kristina, needs to be flexible, aspirational, memorable, motivational, and inclusive. Again, if we help our clients define a core strategy, we can certainly help them to relate their business according to those factors. To help the client imagine the future (get aspirational), we can simply set up a core strategy statement that is «short, memorable, and meaningful». But to get there, you have to crunch the data. That means going through the content components and the people components.

Content is about substance and structure. The pratical gude to using page tables is a must for organising the content. This is quite simple even for 20 page web sites. Again, it’s all about prioritizing and structuring. Kristina briefly touches on IA, but her approach is more about a communication logic for the user. That means focusing on the wording, the tone, even going into the microcopy, and being consistent and thorough at every step. In the end it means being able to say «what you want your users to remember» through messaging, which according to Kristina «brings your core strategy to life.»

The people component is about an organisation’s ability to channel the content strategy through policies, guidelines, planning, supervision, and writing (yes, there is writing). Though less developed, the role of writing content is no less important. I think Kristina sums it up best: «the Content creators are responsible for producing accurate, compelling text that clearly conveys the required messages to the target audience and supports your content strategy objectives.»

There was also great insight in the governance of content, and this can be applied on a small scale as well. Again, I’ll let Kristina do the talking for managing it all: «We often break the overall process down into these four areas of focus, each of which contain their own complex sub-processes:

  • Create/source new content,
  • Maintain existing content,
  • Evaluate content effectiveness,
  • Govern strategies, plans, policies, and procedures.»

I could go on and on, but I can only suggest you read the ebook Content Strategy for the Web. You’ll get a better appreciation of the sense of detail on which Kristina sheds light.

Personal thoughts on why I appreciated this ebook

I can’t say I loved this ebook, that wouldn’t be fair. I did however highly appreciate this ebook for its wonderful synopsis of preparing a content strategy, and asking the right questions. This is a reference ebook for me when I want help clients get their thoughts out and define those objectives, and prioritize their goals. If possible, I’ll even convince one day a client to read it (if ever a French version comes into being).

Publishing info

Title of book : Content Strategy for the Web (2nd Edition)
Author : Kristina Halvorson
Date of initial publication : 2012
Publisher : Newriders
Where you can buy it : www.newriders.com