Friday, September 26, 2008

"Want to know what I think is big right now? Content strategy."

In a recent interview, Rebecca Lieb made some great comments in support of content strategy. Rebecca is Editorial Consultant to ClickZ and former Editor there for the past 7 years. She is a frequent speaker on interactive marketing issues around the world.

Here is what she had to say to Search Engine Marketing Vox:

Question: We’ve run online marketing tactics polls with
the usual suspects popping up in the top ten: Blogging, Email marketing, Search engine optimization, Pay per click, Social networks, Affiliate marketing, Blogger relations, Viral marketing, Corporate web site, Online public relations.

Want to know what I think is big right now?
Content strategy. Content as marketing, and marketing as content. Buinesses are finally realizing what’s long been true: if you have a web site, you are a publisher and you have to think like one. The same holds true for bloggers, of course, as well as in e-mail. This whole digital thing is about content. You can’t do SEO without fresh, original, frequently updated content. Since leaving ClickZ as a full-time gig, I’m working with all sorts or companies and organizations to get their content on track, both strategically.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Goes into a Content Strategist's Portfolio

So how do you prove that you have great Web content strategy chops? I've been asked this question several times lately and I'm not sure that I have a great answer. A nice portfolio may not be necessary if you are interviewing for a full-time job. But if an agency wants to hire you on contract, they will usually have to sell you to the client, and to do that they will need a current resume and it really helps to have an attractive portfolio. So what goes into this portfolio?

Here are my suggestions:
  • Writing samples. Writing and editing are still a large part of the job, so you have to show that you are a very competent writer.
  • A Content Matrix sample. When interviewing potential new hires, I'm thrilled if the candidate even mentions that they understand what a content matrix is and how it is used. Show up with a sample as a client, I'd be thrilled.
  • Editorial Style Guide TOC. Just show me enough to prove that you understand the idea and could write something similar for me if needed.
  • TOC for other Content Strategy Documents. If you have done a content analysis or other client-facing documents, include a sample page or two and a TOC.
  • Annotated website screen shots for sites you worked on. Take a screen shot of a page of a site you worked on and annotate it with text explaining your contributions to the project.

OK, that's a good start but I'd love to hear your ideas! Please leave comments or send an email to with you ideas for how to create a kick-ass content strategist portfolio.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Job Ads for Content Strategists Jump 21 %

I just posted a new article to with a very interesting graph showing a 21 percent increase in jobs posted looking for a content strategist for 2008. The graph also shows a clear, repeating hiring cycle with much higher demand from May to July.

Read more - Web Content Strategist Jobs on the Rise

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Content Strategy and the Editorial Style Guide

One project job that consistently falls to a content strategist is the creation of an Editorial Style Guide that is specific to that project. This important content strategy document contains style guidelines that are specific to client and project at hand. The style guide may well offer some exceptions to the AP Stylebook (or whatever has been defined as the official style book). It is critical to maintain a consistent style throughout your project with regard to spelling, capitalization, abbreviations and usage. This helps ensure that the message is strong, clear, cohesive and professional.

The process of creating the style guide can feel a lot like the movie, Ground Hog Day. You have the same discussions and arguments over and over again. As “word people” it is easy for some of these discussions to become rather passionate. We tend to have strong feelings about these sorts of things. “What! You don’t use the serial comma? Are you still using teletype machines and trying to save on transmission bits?”

It’s best to just give your professional opinion on these items, then bite your tongue and let the client have their way if they make seemingly silly decisions. “You want to hyphenate the term ‘Web-site’ in your content? Sure. Fine and dandy.”

The easiest way to approach the creation of a new style guide it to have the basic structure set up in a template that you can use over and over again on different projects.

What? You don’t have an Editorial Style Guide template you can use? Well, I just might have something to help you out added to The Web Content Strategist’s Bible bonus downloads soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What is Content Strategy? Other Voices

Anyone who does content strategy work spends a good bit of time trying to explain and define the practice of content strategy.

Luckily, since most of us are like, ya know, writers and stuff, we seem driven to write things down. I took a shot at the question a few times here on this blog and in The Web Content Strategist’s Bible , but there are other rock star content strategists who are also trying to tackle this question. It’s a lively conversation, please jump in!

Rachel Lovinger
Back in March of 2007 Rachel Lovinger wrote a ground-breaking article and licked off quite a conversation on the BoxesAndArrows site. The comments are still piling up as the conversation continues. Rachel is a Senior Content Strategist for Avenue A Razorfish.

The Philosophy of Data:

Kristina Halvorson
Kristina is the founder and president of Brain Traffic, a content strategy, information architecture, and web writing agency in Minneapolis.

She created a great presentation explaining content strategy to the user experience community:

Kristina also created and moderates a Google Group on content strategy. Please join and contribute!

Colleen Jones
Colleen is a user experience consultant with a strong interest in writing and persuasive content in the interactive space. She recently tackled the question on her blog with two great posts:

Jeffrey MacIntyre
Jeff works as a freelance writer and content strategist for a number of leading agencies out of Brooklyn, NY. Jeff created and maintains a very deep Google Knol (unit of knowledge) on the subject of Content Strategy:

There. That should keep you busy through lunch! Let's hear your take.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Content Strategy for Application Content

Sure, everyone wants to write the sexy marketing and persuasive content, but if your website contains online applications (pages that are really small programs that collect and/or display data etc.) then you may be missing a golden opportunity to show your value as a content strategist/expert and create a content strategy that makes the applications much easier to maintain.

Usually, text that is part of an online application is coded into the application itself. This is fine for small items like field labels and column headings, but larger blocks of content may be better handled outside of the application code. This is especially true for content that will change regularly such as copyright dates, version numbers, requirements, product cross-sell/up-sell, etc.

If this kind of text is programmed into the application code, the whole application may need to be re-deployed just to make a simple date change from 2008 to 2009. Re-deploying the application will usually require a complete cycle of testing and QA and can get expensive.

There are many ways to handle separating this content out of the code. There is a lot of talk about structured content and XML, but a simpler method may be to simply use your existing WCMS to generate small HTML fragments (just the stuff between the body tags), store these fragments on your production servers as a file, and have the applications just insert the file whenever the page is rendered. Small WCMS changes may be required, but that would be a one-time thing that could pay dividends for years. Once you have this method in place any changes needed to the text can be made quicky and easily without impacting the application programmers.

If all of this sounds like backwards Chinese to you, the key here is just to ask. This may be something that the developers have not even considered that could save them a lot of time and hassle down the road. If so, they will probably be glad to help you work out all the technical details.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Content Matrix Master Template Available

You guys asked me to help make creating your Web content strategy deliverables a bit easier, so here you go. I just added a pretty cool content matrix template .xls file to the download area for book purchasers. If you are already a customer, you should have received and email from me by now with a note about the content matrix template and the link to the download page.

This content matrix template has 44 columns and captures everything that I could think of regarding the content development and editorial process. I tweaked it with a bit of color coding, column filters, frozen frames, and development phase identifiers. This is pretty much exactly how I use a content matrix in my big projects.To try and make things are clear as possible I also added twenty, or so, rows of sample project data so you can see examples of what the data looks like that goes in each column.

Even having done this dozens of times before, it still took me about four hours to type everything in and get things exactly like I want them. It should save you at least that much time, so grab a copy of the content matrix template, add your own name and company logo, hide the columns that are not needed for your project, then take a long lunch on me!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Content Matrix Question Answered

I’ve received several versions of this Web Content Strategy question, so I thought everyone might be interested in my answer.
“Regarding the content matrix spreadsheet you say we need, are you suggesting that we list every individual block of content that needs to be written or deployed? Won’t that get really big after a while?”
To paraphrase Zoolander – yes, your content matrix may get really, really, ridiculously big. I’m not just suggesting that you do this, I’m saying that it is mandatory. You must capture, assign, review, and track every bit of content that needs to be created, or you will just be lost.

So capture everything. If a page just has a title and a link, capture it. How many versions of the footer do you have? Capture them all. Capture everything:
  • Help popups
  • Error messages
  • Promotional messages
  • Email templates
  • Forms
  • Downloads
  • Rollover text
  • Hover text
  • Text on applications
  • Everything!
Otherwise when that product manager comes to you and says, “hey, you know that product information I gave you two weeks ago? Well I need to make a few small changes. Is it too late,” how will you answer? If no one has started on that page yet, it may be OK. If it has already gone out for translation, then just put it on the list of post launch updates (add another tab to your content matrix for these items) and fix it then.

Stay tuned tomorrow for some content matrix help.