Content Strategy for Web Editors

By Jennifer Ford

I believe content strategy is something web editors should understand and incorporate into daily practice. But I am no content strategy expert, so I invited a friend and long-time content strategist to answer a few questions. Monica Hays has been a web content strategy professional for 6 years and shares some information here you won’t want to miss.

1. What is content strategy? 

Such a simple question and if you ask 100 people, you’ll probably get 100 different answers. Here’s my stab at it.

Content strategy is the planning, implementation, and maintenance of a successful experience for the end user using words.

Using words? Sounds pretty basic. But at a base level, a successful user experience is comprehension. Did the user accomplish what she wanted from your site? Were you able to get across your business goals to the end user? A content strategist looks to achieve goals for both the end user and the business using words.

2. Who uses it?

We all use it. But before I invoke the ire of content strategists everywhere, let me explain: in planning for a site, app, process, or anything that will be consumed by your user, there are three equally important elements that work together. The content strategy, information architecture, and design. In my organization, we’re fortunate enough to have individuals working in these three roles. In our planning sessions, the information architect will chime in on how she thinks something should be written, the designer will chime in with how the page should be organized, and I will chime in with how I think something should look. But ultimately, we each have our disciplines in which we focus and are responsible. The content strategist (and subsequently the editor) is the decision maker when it comes to how we speak to our end user.

3. How do you use it in your current role?

I work for a relatively large organization where I’m able to focus on the words and their presentation. This entails visioning with the information architect, designer, subject matter experts, business managers, etc. In this planning process, we research what the client wants and how we are uniquely capable of delivering it. Then we devise how we want to present this to the user. My job is to write to this, marrying the clients needs with business objectives.

But it doesn’t end there. I work with the development teams using a content management system. I adhere to style guides and follow brand standards. I govern and maintain this content through elevation and into post-production. In my world, all of these elements run concurrently which leads to additional challenges (cough, agile methodology, cough), but that’s another topic for another day.

I must admit that I’m lucky to have all of these roles in place. So many of my colleagues and respected leaders in the CS community are freelancers, consultants, or they are simply the only person on the team wearing the UX hat. But when it comes to content strategy, the goal is the same: to help the user achieve success using content that is clear and concise. (For more info about what “clear and concise content” actually means, please see question 4.)

4. How can web editors incorporate content strategy into their work with managing website content?

This is a really great question. Editors are integral to a successful content strategy. While I may write the content and figure out the best way to speak to users, I’ve had the benefit of countless hours of research with subject matter experts and planning with IAs and designers. Editors are often brought in near the end of the project cycle and as such will have no effect on changing the organization, look, or feel of the page or flow. The editor is then limited to moving around words on a page or even worse, be relegated to simply proofreading for grammar and misspellings. (Not that this is bad per se, but the editors I know generally enjoy flexing their red pens in a more meaningful manner.)

Join your writer or content strategist often and early in visioning and development. Ask questions. Learn the goals of the project. The biggest challenge I face (and probably to the frustration of my editor) is that I’ll send my copy for review but then I’ll need to disregard suggestions because they just don’t align with the project. Perhaps the changes don’t mesh with how we want to speak to the user. Or even worse, the edits just won’t work in the space given.

These suggestions are definitely perfect world scenarios. Where there are writers, there are even fewer editors. But I think being engaged with the different elements of the project will provide a broader understanding and will only make the edits more meaningful to produce a winning content strategy.

5. Can you recommend resources you find helpful for learning more about content strategy?

Join your local content strategy Meetup group! In Philadelphia, we generally try to meet once a month where we’ll have cool speakers, fun workshops, or just a happy hour for mingling and networking (http://www.meetup.com/Philly-Content-Strategy/).

Read the CS bibles. Killer Web Content by Gerry McGovern (@gerrymcgovern), Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson), and The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane (@kissane).  I’m also really looking forward to Karen McGrane’s (@karenmcgrane) book, Content Strategy for Mobile.

Follow peers in the industry. I love the Brain Traffic blog, and I read a ton of great articles linked from super smarties I follow on Twitter (@abookapart, @GeraldGant, @angelacolter, @ahaval, @hejhejnatalya, @rahelabto name a VERY small few).

_________________

Monica Hays is a content strategist for an investment firm, where she plays with words and fights against excessive ellipses. Follow her at @SuprMonica.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re a web editor and a content strategist in one. Share your experiences below!

One thought on “Content Strategy for Web Editors

  1. Most web editors that I know actually are also content strategists and are deeply involved in creating the vision for the pages. Copy editors often aren’t. So perhaps we should broaden the titles here a little more.

    The exception often is a website where a site owner, designer, and developer bring in a writer and have concepted the site without the services of an editor, or without involving an editor early on. These usually are smaller projects or even agency-driven sites where the emphasis is more on graphical design than on communication. Web editors can help avoid a host of problems and help achieve significant goals by being involved in strategy much earlier.

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