I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing web folks — creative directors, marketers, digital strategists, designers, developers, information architects — and a distinguishing quality of their work was an understanding of content strategy. Being smart about content is the road to success for all web professionals.
As prospective employees and consultants step up to the plate to bridge the content strategy knowledge gap, colleges must also step up to understand their own content requirements and assess who they need to help make their website work.
Content is a problem when you don’t plan for it. The web is a multidisciplinary medium with dozens of roles and skills needed to breed success. And content is the tie that binds these different elements. Really, no one on the web can do great work if the content stinks.
Imagine working on a web project where a web team prioritizes design, development, and user experience (UX) over content strategy. You might think that since these elements can’t exist without content, it’s safe to assume all this work would have to include content strategy, right? Ha. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
While I know many content-savvy web practitioners in related disciplines, it’s still more common than not to encounter a lack of expertise in content strategy. The following are some issues I’ve encountered where content strategy knowledge gaps have seriously compromised websites.
Incomplete Content Requirements
User personas are a valuable tool for user experience design, but one of the risks associated with their development is making assumptions and losing sight of the broader audience and content needs. Websites require a holistic view of content. For example, if your personas are overly focused on prospective students, you may lose sight of internal audiences and other constituents.
In order to make smart decisions about organizing, labeling and structuring content, you need to dig deep to understand both your business goals and users’ needs—your content requirements. Your website is both a marketing tool and a customer service tool. Content strategy helps you plan for both.
Unsustainable Content Plan
Your website is a long-term investment. For any content plan to work, it needs to be sustainable. You may have many compelling content ideas to get excited about, but if you focus too much on these ideas without considering how the content will be created and maintained, you’ll run into problems down the road. With content, it’s not enough to answer what? — we must also answer how?
Inefficient Content Use
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of brainstorming ideas for new and better content instead of coming up with a plan to improve existing content. However, in higher ed, where limited resources are a real concern, we need to be smart about how we use the content we have before taking on new content.
(I’ll share ideas on thinking smart about existing content in the free upcoming Meet Content webinar, Reimagine Content in Higher Ed.)
Information architecture is not a sitemap. It’s not a best-guess list of necessary webpages. As with all content planning, the devil is in the details. Without a careful review of existing content, it’s easy to overlook critical information. It’s like hiring someone to redo your kitchen and saying you want a “sink and a fridge.” The chances of you ending up with your dream kitchen are pretty slim. (I don’t know about you, but I need a dishwasher.)
Lack of Content Structure
In addition to making sure we understand what content we have and what content we need, we must also be able to prioritize content. Organizing web pages on your site is part of the information architecture equation. You need to consider the hierarchy of information on each page so that readers can effectively navigate on-page content and understand what information is most important.
This is even more crucial when considering tablet and mobile wireframes and design, which often require more careful thought about prioritizing content.
Evaluating a Content Strategy Knowledge Gap
These content planning problems are just some of the many examples colleges are faced with daily. When you’re planning a web project or filling an internal role — regardless of whether it’s a content-specific position — be sure to evaluate content expertise.
Specialists in UX, design, development, SEO, accessibility, project management and other web disciplines who understand content strategy are worth their weight in gold. Seriously. Find them. Love them. Hire them.
To help assess content strategy readiness, here is a short list of questions to consider asking a prospective consultant or employee before hiring them.
- How do you plan for content that meets business objectives and users’ needs?
- How do you assess what content is working and what needs to be archived or improved?
- What is the potential for using existing content in new or better ways?
- What content expertise or tools will be needed to govern content post-launch?
- How will you ensure our content plan is sustainable?
- How will the content plan scale to include social media, mobile devices and other publishing platforms?
- How will we measure the success of our content plan?
- How will our content plan affect processes and resources? Will it improve or hinder operational efficiency?
Do you have any examples you can share where a content strategy knowledge gap compromised a web project? I’d love to hear about your experiences and lessons learned.