Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Atlanta Content Strategy Meetups

We’ve been getting a great turnout for our Atlanta Content Strategy Meetup Group and rave reviews from attendees. So we must be doing something right. If you are in the area, we'd love to see you at the next event in January. We always have a very diverse group and discussion topics range far and wide.

Registration is now open for our January 21 event, Content Strategy: What’s In It for You?

Margot Bloomstein will travel to us from Boston and speak about Content Strategy: What's In It for You? Drawing cues from this year's heightened focus on content strategy, Margot will address how content strategy differs from just copywriting and how you can incorporate insights from this aspect of interaction design into your next project. Discover how the questions a content strategist brings to the table can enrich your deliverables, learn how your collaboration can benefit your end users, and discuss ways to reframe the RFP to upsell content strategy in your next pitch and bring a new partner into the project. If you're a designer, IA, search engine marketer, or any type of social media or web strategy consultant, learn how insight to content strategy can rock your work from a new angle.

Content Strategy Positions

I recently had lunch with some great people from Engauge Digital, a Web services agency here in Atlanta. We had a long talk about hiring and interviewing potential content strategists, and how content strategy fits into their overall consulting and development methodology.

It is clear from our conversations that they really understand the vale of content strategy and do a good job of selling it to their clients.

Right now they are filling a couple of content-strategy-related positions that you should take a look at if you are looking for a new gig.

Community Content Manager
The Community Manager serves as a Community advocate primarily focused on communicating effectively to members through multiple existing channels and continued growth of the online community. In this position, the Community Manager must be a leader and consultant to internal teams releasing products and other customer-facing changes. Interested candidates should be enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and experienced in the various aspects of social media and online community building. The candidate hired for this position will serve as the editorial and journalistic voice of the site, determining the best content mix for the site, sourcing content for the site, and working with our client and the client’s partners to optimize the site’s existing content.
More Information

Content Strategist
The Content Strategist is a member of a team in our Atlanta office, whose primary goal is to develop meaningful and actionable digital experiences. At Engauge Digital, we are trying to "move someone." The main goal of the Content Strategist therefore, is develop and communicate a content strategy that supports the actionable goals of the project and helps to create meaningful interactive experiences.
More Information

Friday, September 18, 2009

Art & Copy - Film

"The frightening, and most difficult, thing about being what somebody calls a "creative person" is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from really - and especially, you don’t have any idea about where they are going to come from tomorrow."

If you have any connection to "creatives" as they are called i the advertising business, then the new documentary film by Doug Pray is a must see.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

DIY Guide to Content Strategy for Web Professionals

In his Lucid Plot blog, Jonathan Kahn writes a great do-it-yourself guide to Content Strategy for non-content strategist Web professionals. Great advice for when you find yourself in a project where you are pretty sure there is something wrong with the content, but you are not exactly sure what it is.

Jonathan also beats the drum for Content Strategy as a professional practice with a very bright future.

"The commercial aspect: this is going to be huge

Finally, a commercial- or career-oriented reason to get involved in content strategy.

Listen for a second. That crashing sound you hear is what we used to call the media industry, collapsing around us. All that destruction leaves a lot of space for web content. Web content strategy will be in demand for years to come.

So get out there, and Do It Yourself."

DIY Guide to Content Strategy for Web Professionals


Friday, September 4, 2009

Facebook Content Strategy

Using Facebook fan pages is a huge opportunity in the social media space and I'm just starting to get my hands around what you can actually do.

The key with Facebook is to communicate. Ease up on the hard sell and don't forget what FaceBook is for - keeping up to date and communicating with friends.

Here is a good place to start when trying to figure this out.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Content Strategy Is Global!

I've been watching the percentage of Content Strategy readers that come from outside the U.S. grow rapidly this year. Yes, I admit it. I actually look at my server logs and enjoy it.

Content strategy is getting a LOT of global attention. So much so that these days, I get more than half of my site traffic from outside the U.S., and it's growing.

If the big STC event featuring Content Strategy next Spring in Paris is not enough to convince you, then maybe this list of visitor's countries for just the last 20 days will:
(In no particular order)
  1. Finland
  2. Germany
  3. New Zealand
  4. Spain
  5. India
  6. Netherlands
  7. Israel
  8. England
  9. Greece
  10. Canada
  11. Australia
  12. Kenya
  13. Turkey
  14. Switzerland
  15. Puerto Rico
  16. Brazil
  17. France
  18. Portugal
  19. Hungary
  20. Italy
  21. China
  22. USA
  23. South Africa
  24. Denmark
  25. Singapore
  26. Ireland
  27. Ukraine
  28. South Korea
  29. Romania
  30. Nigeria
  31. Scotland
  32. Costa Rica
  33. Ghana
  34. Iceland
  35. Belgium
  36. Sweden
  37. Mexico
  38. Poland
  39. Japan
  40. Russia
  41. Iceland
Content Strategists are everywhere! It just makes sense. I'm sure that crappy, late content sucks just as bad in the Ukraine as it does in Atlanta.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Content Strategy and the Problem with Personas

I'm surprised that I still see so much conversation about having a personalized user experience as a content strategy these days. If you have a large e-commerce site, or maybe a news related site, then you have millions of pages of content to work with and enough data to really offer a unique experience for every person like Amazon does. Most sites are just not like that. Does an online bank really have enough different content to try and create a different site for every user? Probably not.

But what many of us do have is user personas. If you are not familiar with personas then a quick Google search should get you up to speed. But basically, personas are a way to identify and group similar users with similar traits that are relevant to your site. For example “Frank is a small business owner. He is computer savvy and likes to do things himself. Frank likes control and options.”

Creating a different user experience based on these personas seems very do-able for most sites, but usually will require the creation of a lot of new content to fill in all the gaps for each user type.

The Problem that Can’t be Solved with Content

Here is the main problem I see with many persona-based content strategies:

How do you get people to accurately self-select themselves into a persona type?

The usual solution is to get them to register, and enter enough information so that the system can make a good decision. If all your personas are comprised of people with only positive personality traits, then this may work. But most persona groups are not like that.

Almost every persona group has at least one user that is something like this: “Gary is a technophobe who still likes his VHS tapes. He avoids risk, avoids change, and does not like investigating new and innovative features.”

What kinds of questions can you possibly ask during the registration process that would get someone to place themselves into that group? Few people want to willingly associate themselves with these kinds of negative personality traits.

Personas are great for use during design so that you make sure that a design can accommodate all kinds of users, but they may have limited ability to drive a content strategy for the creation of a “persona-ized” user experience.

If you are working content strategy for a project where different content is planned on being served to users based on user type, be sure to figure out exactly how you are going to automatically place each user into one of these groups before you get too far into development. Don’t let the designers and programmers assume that somehow the writers will magically solve this problem with clever content. Address it up front.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Content Strategist Needed for a Great Cause - Job Opening is looking for an awesome content strategist who is passionate about content strategy, children's issues, and community service.

They are a fun group to work with who understand the importance of a good work/life balance and never miss a chance to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Work for a cause that brings permanency to the lives of children in foster care.

The mission of AdoptUsKids is to recruit and connect foster and adoptive families with waiting children throughout the United States.

As of today - 11,138 children previously featured on AdoptUsKids now live with permanent families!

AdoptUsKids is a non-profit project supported solely by a cooperative agreement between the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children & Families, the US Department of Health & Human Services, and the Adoption Exchange Association. AdoptUsKids collaborative partners include: University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, Northwest Adoption Exchange, North American Council on Adoptable Children, and The Adoption Exchange Inc. The project is currently funded through September 2012. is the project’s online resource for recruiting and connecting foster and adoptive families with children waiting in foster care. The staff is responsible for the design, development, monitoring and maintenance of the website.

Content Strategist/Writer for Electronic Media


  • Help AdoptUsKids build and maintain a consistent editorial voice in all communications and a compelling story that supports the recruitment, retention and connection of prospective foster/adoptive parents with children who are in foster care
  • In addition, the Content Strategist/Writer will work closely with a writer with expertise in child welfare and adoption to develop content specifically for an audience of child welfare professionals
  • Determine content structure and requirements for the website, inventory existing content, identify gaps, evaluate possible sources for additional material, and manage the process of getting content into production
  • Collaborate on an overall UX strategy, restructuring the website and creating, reworking/rewriting content to meet the business objectives
  • Develop, implement, and maintain frequently updated content and the editorial calendar. Work with partners to establish a process for keeping content current and relevant
  • Assist in the content development of AdoptUsKids social networking and marketing strategies to assure a consistently identifiable brand across the AdoptUsKids project
This is a great opportunity for the right content strategist do to a job that you can feel good about on many levels. They seem very flexible as well. The Preferred locations are Seattle, Detroit, or Baltimore metro area, but off-site employment will be considered depending on qualifications.

More information on the Content Strategy Job

Do you need help filling a Content Strategy job position?


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Content Strategy Storms South By Southwest Interactive!

Those of you who know me or follow this blog know that I make pilgrimage to Austin, TX every year for the South by Southwest Interactive festival. SXSW Interactive is part of a larger two week event that also features the best in movies and live music.

I attend to learn what is hot and what everyone in the design and Web development world is up to. I don't go to learn about content strategy issues as content is just not a topic of discussion. Until next year that is.

People have submitted their panel proposals for next year and content and content strategy are making a big appearance in the list!

Part of the process for selecting which panels will actually be offered includes a public voting component called the Panel Picker.

So if you are inclined to go to SXSW next year in March, or you just want to help out your fellow content strategy peeps, check out the online Panel Picker and vote for some or all of the content strategy focused panels! (registration is free and easy):

It's always a blast to attend. It's the only big conference I attend every year where all the evening's parties are listed right in the official daily calendar along with the panel!

Once it gets a bit closer, we can see who is planning on going and set up one or two content strategy meetups.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Content Strategy Jobs Postings Up 79% Since 2008

Despite the bad economy, the number or job postings for content strategists is up 79% since January 2008 according to statistics gathered by job posting aggregator,

It looks like the cyclical pattern in content strategy hiring that I've noticed for the past three years will repeat itself again this year. The pattern goes like this:
  1. Flat demand from January to April
  2. A big spike in April and June
  3. Slowly falling demand for the rest of the year
I'm guessing that projects get ramped up early in the year, things really heat up in late spring content-strategy-wise, then new hiring slows down as projects end and everyone waits to see what budgets are like for the next year.

This year's peak in June was higher than the peak in 2008. More evidence that content strategy is continuing to expand as a practice. We must be doing something right!

Any way you look at it, this is good news for content strategy as a practice and for working and aspiring content strategists.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

AIMA - CHI Atlanta Content Strategy Gathering

I needed a bit of prodding from @flannelenigma and others (thanks), so here is a brief summary of what happened at the recent Content Strategy vs. IT vs. Marketing vs. Design vs. UX smack down panel sponsored by AIMA and Chia Atlanta.


Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic, President
Author, "Content Strategy for the Web"

USER EXPERIENCE: Karen McGrane, Bond Art + Science
Senior Partner

MARKETING: John Muehlbauer, InterContinental Hotels Group
Director, Distribution Marketing

VISUAL DESIGN: Brian Ikeda, Philips Design
Senior Art Director

CMS / IT: Ryan Esparza, Content Management Consultant
Past Online Applications Manager at The Home Depot

Despite some poking and prodding by moderator Kristina Halvorson (who was delightful and smart, as usual), the panelist were all just too nice, reasonable, and professional to get into any kind of really heated debate about why content continues to be an issue for Web projects. But that fact remains that it IS an issue. I can’t believe we have not figured this out yet - we’ve been doing these projects for fifteen years now right?

Anyway, if only everyone was as easy to work with in my real-life projects as the panelists!

Putting aside the overall niceness level, these were all very sharp folks with some interesting things to say.

The two points that struck home for me are:

1 - The CMS is never done and dedicated IT professionals are needed to run it.

This was a surprising statement from the IT side and I completely agree. Too often (maybe always?) I see the CMS treated just like any other back-end system by the IT team that supports it. The support and development team is staffed by generic developers with no real interest in content management systems and no interest in becoming CMS experts and having that be a career focus.

I’m hoping that eventually the IT practice will be broken up into specialized areas that support a particular business function. The Web group would have their own IT resources, accounting would have theirs, operations would have theirs etc. This would encourage them to be more focused on their internal customers and less on pleasing the CTO.

In my group the people who produce content and new website designs and improvements are graded on items that are 180 degrees opposed to what the IT group gets graded on. The IT group gets evaluated on making sure the site is up, that there are few bugs and defect logs. The best way to accomplish this is to never change anything. “Isn’t the Web site done yet?” Whereas the design/content group gets graded and how much we can change and improve the site, get new users, increase conversions, etc. We want to change the site every day! We are never going to see eye-to-eye with the current structure.

2 - All departments represented strongly agree that there needs to be a “decider” for all Web content issues.

There needs to be someone with real power to make decisions stick, not someone who is just a speed bump in the escalation path. When the escalation path is used for every difficult decision, then people at the lower level just stop making decisions. Why bother, you are just going to get run over, reversed, or second guessed by people greatly removed from the details.

Kristina pointed out that IBM actually has an editor-in-chief who is close to the projects and has the final say. I’m sure final is not always final, but I think having someone in that role helps keep the process moving.

It was great to see so many people in Atlanta show up for yet another Content Strategy focused event. We are getting a lot of support here and hopefully, good things will spread and we can find a way to reduce the number of projects plagued with content issues.

We should be having another CHI Atlanta - Content Strategy Meetup before too long so stay tuned for that!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Content Strategy and Information Architecture - Can't We All Just Get Along?

There is an interesting new thread of conversation going over in the Google Groups Content Strategy area about how content strategists and IAs can partner.

In my view, both disciplines are similar in that you can't NOT do them. You can do them intentionally, completely, and with a plan, or you can do them by accident, partially, and just get what you get.

If there is content at all, someone decided on the voice and tone and structure. They decided who needed to approve and review it etc. The same goes for IA, if there is information and structure, then there is an information architecture, it just may be a really bad one.

Content strategy and information architecture attempt to put structure, intent, best practices, and customer focus around these activities and often have similar skills, just with a different focus.

James puts it well when he describes how content strategists and IAs are working well together on his project and how content strategits have really added value to the process.

"In my view a Content Strategist has attributes of Web Strategist and an Information Architect, but there focus is different. One of the major pieces of our project was auditing our existing content, and learning what we thought we could leverage and what needed to be written. Naively I thought there was a lot we could recycle based on what I read Ann Rockley's book "Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy" and her thoughts content re-use - excerpt here: However the more we reviewed the more we realized that to move away from Corporate Centric content to a User Centered approach we realized none of the existing content could be re- worked, it needed to be rewritten. The oher item we realized was a web content format needs to be much tighter and to the point balancing user needs, SEO and site goals. Again a custom template needed to develop for the Copy Writers to follow to balance these elements. All of these insights and the approaches to address them were brought toour attention by our Content Strategist."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Content Strategy eBook to Print Version Conversion

Great to see that so many folks liked the ebook version of The Web Content Strategist's Bible enough to come back later and get a printed version! Thanks :)

Price-wise, it all adds up to the same amount whether you buy both at once, or get the ebook first and come back later for the printed version. Come to think of it, it's actually even a little cheaper to get the ebook first since the shipping and handling are included in the $9.00 if you get the ebook first and come back to get the print version later.

For those who missed the announcement, if you have an ebook version of my content strategy book, just send and email to me ( and I'll confirm your purchase then send you a printed version for just USD$9.00 (U.S. only - outside the U.S. it's $6.00 plus actual shipping charges.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Content Strategists and Semantic Drift

Interesting article in last month's Fast Company about the shifting usage of technology terms and what is becoming the new normal for how we talk about all things geeky.

"Job titles are an obvious example.
Over last couple of years new roles for geeks have come into existence within agencies: content strategist, social media something, creative technologist, user experience designers, developers, digital ninjas and chief technology strategists, [ahem] to help us service the growing need to understand and connect to consumers enabled by technology. "
The article goes on to describe how technology is at the core of this year's award winning projects from the communications industry (formerly known as advertising).

Article link

Friday, July 17, 2009

Content Strategy - A New (Only Half-Joking) Definition

When I first started working on Web content projects, I found that the clients and agencies that really understood the value of having a structured and planned content strategy were the ones who had recently gone through a nightmare project.

All it usually takes to understand why content strategy is important is one really embarrassing project where the content is either late, completely wrong in voice or tone, or completely wrong for the design.

Getting content strategy added to the project plan and staffing plan for these clients is usually an easier sell.

So for clients and agencies who have learned the hard way, here is another, very basic, definition of Content Strategy:
Content Strategy is all the things you should have done so that your content would have been useful and on time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Content Strategy Mind Map - Rebuilt and Printable

A couple of months ago I published a mind map showing all the facets of content strategy that was very well received. Since then, I've had many requests for better access to the files.

I tried in vain to make use of the free online software I had originally used to build the map, but eventually I had to give up and rebuild the entire thing using the iMinMap tool. It took a while, but I think the result was well worth it.

So the new, much prettier, content strategy mind map is now available. You can get access to it in two ways:
  • Free download of the JPEG files - There are two versions of the mind map that you can just download (one with a white background and one with a dark background.) These full-sized files are distributed under a Creative Commons license so feel free to use them however you wish as long as you don't sell them.
  • Purchase a printed poster - I took the JPEGs to Kinkos to get a printed version and was surprised at how much it cost. It was actually cheaper for me to set up page on and have them print them for me. They print on heavy card stock and do a good job. So I've opened this page up to everyone who wants to get a printed version.
I've also given the content strategy mind map a more permanent home over on

Take a look and let me know what you think!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Content Strategy Jobs Are Still Out There

I was just doing a quick check on the Content Strategist Job Board and saw that there are a lot of content strategy jobs listed! I saw 265 content strategist jobs listed. More than I would have expected in this economy.

One of the Content Strategist jobs was even for Facebook:
"As a Content Strategist inside the Design and User Experience team at Facebook, you will be responsible for the overall content strategy at Facebook. This includes the development of style guides, feature naming, language creation for new and existing user experiences, and executing all day-to-day content needs."

Salaries also seem to be holding well. The average content strategist salary about the same as when I last checked back in December of 2008.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Price Cut for the e-Book Version of The Web Content Strategist's Bible to $16.99

Now that I have a print version of the e-book, it just makes no sense to have the two versions priced so closely together. So I'm giving the e-book price a 15% haircut and dropping it to $16.99.

I've also added a way for those who buy the e-book version to get a print copy later at a big discount - for just $9.00.

If you are interested, but on the fence, take a look at the e-book - if you like what you see you can always get a printed copy later and it all adds up to the same price. And it's always guaranteed, either way.

Hey, I like options :)

Own the e-Book version of The Web Content Strategist's Bible? Get a printed copy for $8.00.

Now that there is a printed version of The Web Content Strategist's Bible, I want to give those who didn't have that option a chance to get one.

If you bought a copy of the e-book version, just send me an email with your name (and receipt number if you have it, but no worries if you don't) and I'll set you up with a printed version for $8.00. (If you are outside the U.S. the cost is US$6.00 plus actual postage.)

If you check the site, you will notice that this offer is open to all future purchasers of the e-book version as well but it will cost them $9.00.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Actual Content Strategy Has Slowed the Content Strategy Blog

I apologize for the lack of recent content strategy posts here. Doing actual content strategy at work has kept me from having any time to focus on the blog. This is one of those crazy times for me where multiple projects overlap and there is just too much to do in too little time.

As some of you know, at we do our big projects on a 6-month cycle, relaunching the site in July and January. Because of this cycle, June and early December are always crazy times. Right now I'm finishing up projects that will launch in July, we are already starting work on projects that will launch in January 2010 (actual writing starts soon to give us time to get everything translated), and I'm also doing sizing, scoping, and evaluations for projects planned for July of 2010!

Hopefully things will settle down soon and I can post more frequently. Stick around :) I'm working on some interesting ideas.

A Creative Content Strategy Just Requires Finding the Art in the Process

I had a recent conversation with a very good writer who was arguing that having a strictly designed content strategy would have a negative impact on the creativity of the writing. I couldn't disagree more and we nice polite argument about it.

I think having a defined process, whatever it is, frees other parts of the mind to ficus on generating creative ideas rather than dealing constantly with trying to figure out what comes next. Visual artists and writers usually have a process that they repeat every time so they can shut down that critical, logical part of their mind and create. Stephen King writes at the same place and time every day and uses the same process. Picasso had a process, Jackson Pollack had a process (however odd it was), so I see no reason why a content strategist shouldn't have a well-defined content strategy process.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kiva Loans Made

As I mentioned in a previous post about giving back, my little content strategy/publishing business is doing well, so I wanted to find a way help other small businesses. I combined this desire with another goal of mine which was to fund some person-to-person loans through and decide to use proceeds from sales in April to fund loans through Kiva.

So April has come and gone and I was happy to just receive notices from Kiva that my loans have gone through and been dispersed to the small business owners already! Now that's fast :)

Here are two of the people that you all are helping out, both are in a Africa in Oda, Ghana:

Theresa Swanzy

Theresa is forty-four years old. She is married and has four children, two sons and two daughters. She runs a provisions store on one of the principal streets in her community. She procures her goods from wholesalers in Oda and other nearby towns. She has been in business for five years and wants a loan to procure goods in bulk to expand her business.

Ama Asuo

Ama is 36 years old. She is married and also has four children, two sons and two daughters. Ama is a trader. She trades in smoked fish. She procures the goods from nearby towns and sells on a tabletop in the market square. Ama has been in this business for more than 15 years and desires to expand her business.

Kiva is such a great program. For me, I see it as a delayed form of payment, my money just makes a detour through some other businesses before it eventually comes home to me. Since I don't have to have the money right away, it's a perfect way to help.

Learn more about As the loans get repaid, I'll post an update.

Thanks to everyone for helping!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Content Strategy Mind Map - Updated

Wow, thanks for all the great Content Strategy input from comments and email. Based on your suggestions I made a few updates and corrections.
The biggest changes are:
  • Changing the Design label to Structure
  • Adding a Business node
  • Many new tasks associated with the Writing node

And there are other smaller changes here and there.

To open the Mind Map viewer in another window - Content Strategy Mind Map

URL to link directly -

Here is an easier-to-manage PDF version of the Content Strategy Mind Map that you can download.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Content Strategy Mind Map

I was looking at Jeffrey MacIntyre's Knol on Content Strategy and really liked the back-of-the-napkin mind map he did about the different components of Content Strategy. That seemed like an interesting project so I decided to take a few minutes and take a stab at how I think about the various parts of Content Strategy.

Well if something is worth doing, it's worth overdoing - so I eventually came up with this. I tend to think about Content Strategy as having four basic components:

  • Technical

  • Creative

  • Process
  • Design
So I built my map around those nodes. Of course, I already see many things that I could change so I'll probably be messing with this forever, but it's a start. I'm hoping that you guys have some ideas too. I'm sure there is a ton of stuff I've missed.

Here is an easier-to-manage PDF version of the Content Strategy Mind Map that you can download.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Content Strategist Title is Becoming a Standard in Web Agencies

While out in Austin for the South by Southwest Interactive festival, I had a chance to talk to a lot of agency people. A lot. One of the questions I always asked was "Do you have people on staff with the title Content Strategist?" Almost all of them did and content strategy was part of their standard offering to clients.

Certainly all of the really big agencies I talked to had content strategists on staff and also frequently brought them in on contract along with extra information architects.
Here are a few of the big names that hire content strategists:
  • IBM
  • UPS
  • Sapient
  • Avenue A / Razorfish
  • HUGE
  • Think Interactive
  • Ogilvy Interactive
  • Macquarium

We're going mainstream!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Web Content Strategy Blog URL Change

I had to finally face the fact that I made a bad content strategy decision when I built this blog on the Blogger blogspot domain instead of one of my own.

To correct this I've moved this blog to a new URL:

A redirect is in place so old bookmarks and links will continue to work just fine.

Finding a good URL is not easy these days so here's a little trick I figured out. By adding the word "weblog" to my main SEO keyword phrase "content strategy" I was able to sneak the words "web" and "blog" into my URL.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring is Here – It’s Time to Help Out by Funding a Kiva Project

I give myself a break around New Years by avoiding all the planning and goal setting that usually arrives with a new year. It’s cold and dark, I’m generally suffering from post-holiday grumpiness, and I’m facing going back to work with no official holiday until Memorial Day in May. Not a good time for optimistic and ambitious planning. So I wait for Spring.

For some reason Spring has a profound affect on me and my mood rapidly improves even though I’m covered with a quarter inch of pollen. The first order of business this year was to revisit, and add to, my Things to Do Before I Die list. One of the things I added this year was to fund a project.

Kiva is just an amazing program that facilitates person-to-person lending. It connects the richest people in the world (you and me) to the poorest.

For a few hundred dollars, Kiva will let you fund a project for a family or small business that will have a profound affect on their lives. Something as simple as funding the purchase of a new cow, or the parts to fix an old motorcycle can take a family from just getting by to having a little extra. Plus, they have a payback rate of over 99%, much better than most U.S. banks these days.

Once I added that goal to my list it became obvious to me that there was no reason to wait on this one, I could accomplish it right now.

So I’m taking everything I make on The Web Content Strategist’s Bible this month and using it to fund as many Kiva projects as I can. Thanks up front to everyone who buys the book (print or ebook versions) this month, I’ll let you know what projects I fund and include updates as I hear from the recipients.

Learn more about

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Content Strategist’s View on Content in Wireframes

I had an interesting conversation the other day with an information architect regarding the use of greeking/lorem ipsum in Web design wireframes (yes, I know it’s actually Latin). As a content strategist, I was arguing in favor of using real client content and he was arguing in favor of using almost no content.

The funny thing is, once we talked it through, we finally came to agreement on almost all issues. The sticking point turned out to be our internal idea of what a wireframe is used for. He was focused on using a wireframe to communicate functionality to an application development team while I was using thinking about using a wireframe to communicate the implications of various design decisions to stakeholders. Two very different uses and two very different audiences.

We agreed that the higher the fidelity of the wireframe, them more it needs real, representative content.

His argument against real content was that stakeholders can be distracted by it and not focus on the design. My response was that I though having that distraction was a good thing. If a content strategist has been involved in the project and written wireframe content that fully represents final copy based on what he knows, then that needs to be verified.

If the content used is not very close to what the stakeholders envision the final content to be, then the design may have to change. In the end, the information needs to fit the architecture.

Just as in war where, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,” (Helmuth von Moltke) most wireframes need to be adjusted after the design is filled with real content for the first time.

The sooner we have the design come into contact with real content, the quicker we can react to misunderstandings, un-managed expectations, and design challenges that are now informed by reality, not assumptions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

O'Reilly Insights into E-books and Digital Content Strategy

A great quote from O'Reilly's Andrew Savikas about how they have re-tooled their book publishing production process to support the creation of multiple formats from a single source:

"Something my colleagues are probably sick of hearing me say around the office is that these are not printed books that we happen to sell in digital format--they're digital books that we might happen to sell in print. All publishing is now digital publishing, and all writing is now writing for the Web."

Absolutely. Read the full article...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Content Strategy - Why?

I used to get this content strategy question all the time, and I still hear it more than I would like - "Why do I need a content strategist on my project?"
The quick answer is easy -

"Because without a content strategist your project will be late, because content is hard. There are things you don't know, and you won't know what you don't know them until it's too late. You'll recover, but you will be late."

A straight, simple, confident answer based on my experience with dozens of projects. But it's often not a satisfying or convincing argument, so here's another way to respond.

"So let me answer your question with a question. Why do you need content?" You'd be surprised at how often that stumps people. Once you dig through that conversation a bunch of other questions come up:

  • "So how do you want to talk to your customers, conversationally, professionally, sarcastically?"
  • "How do your best sales people talk to customers?"
  • "Who are your best sales people? Are they male or female? How old?"
  • "You have a link to White Papers in the wireframes. Do you have any white papers? Have you ever written a white paper? Has anyone in your organization ever written a white paper? What goes into a white paper? Are you sure you want white papers and not case studies? In your mind, what is the difference?"
  • "You plan on re-using some existing print content. Does it need to be edited for the Web? Do you have the source files. Do you even own the source files? Do you know where the source files are? Not just the final flattened version in a Quark or Photoshop file, but the actual text that can be copied and pasted?"
  • "Who is going to be writing and reviewing all the content? Do they know and have they agreed? Don't they already have full-time jobs?"
  • "Do you have legal or regulatory content governance issues that must be evaluated and planned for?"
  • "Do you have all the content development milestones in your project plan? Who made the time estimates? Have they ever created content? When will you know if you are running late? Is it too late then?"
  • "Do you have a style guide for Web content? Do you say "website" or "Web site," and who gets to decide?"
  • "You say you want to translate the site into Spanish. Which version of Spanish? Mexican, Puerto Rican, South American, Castillian?"
  • "How complex is your Web Content Management System? Or are you going to be using a new WCMS? If your WCMS is hard to use or, heaven forbid, brand new - just go ahead and double are your content development times now."

To a good content strategist, these are not even hard questions. But the wrong answer to any one of them could delay your project for months.

The point is, if you don't know the answers to all these questions, and a hundred more, before you start development on you project, you can't create an accurate project plan. Without an accurate project plan you are just running on wishes and hopes. "Faith-based" projects rarely finish on time.

So that's the long answer.

Here's another short answer - How excited are you about paying your programmers to sit around and surf the Web and watch YouTube videos while you are waiting for your content? If the the answer is "not very" then find a content strategist.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Print Version Now Available for - The Web Content Strategist's Bible

Thanks everyone for pushing me to get this done. After receiving numerous requests for a print version of The Web Content Strategist's Bible, it is now available on my Web site.

Obviously, this is not news to the several of you who have already grabbed a copy today!

If you already have a copy of the ebook and you would like a printed version, drop me an email ( and we can work out a heavy discount that mostly depends on shipping costs.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Anti-Tech-Writer Bias in Content Strategist Hiring?

I keep a pretty good watch on what companies are looking for when seeking to hire a new content strategist. It's rare that I see a new requirement or new job responsibility listed. Most job ads are pretty much the same, they shamelessly copy one another. So I was pretty surprised to see this listed in a job ad posted by Perfect Link, Inc. in Oakland, CA looking for a senior-level content strategist.

Ignoring the eight or nine blatant spelling, grammar, and capitalization errors in just 30 words of text, and the fact that none of the Top 5 Skills listed are actually skills (impressive), the requirement for No Tech Writers really surprised me.

I'm guessing that this line was added for a couple of reasons.

First, I think there is a subtle bias against tech writers in the more "creative" agencies. They really don't understand a lot of what tech writers do these days and how much of their work is very similar to Information Architecture and Content Strategy. A lot of agency people still see tech writers as the people who produce those awful software user guides. They don't see, or make the connection, to all the online help and performance support system work.

Secondly, and more to the point, I don't think tech writers do a very good job when marketing themselves to agencies for Web content-related jobs. I've seen this myself when recruiting content strategists. Tech writers need to take a few minutes and adjust their resume to show more Web-related experience. In many cases it's just a matter of being a little creative with your job titles and description. Even if your actual job title is 'Technical Writer,' it's acceptable to list the role you performed on a project. So listing your "role" or "responsibility" as Web Writer or Web Editor is fine if that's what you were doing. You should also emphasize any work you did that was focused on marketing or customer communications. This helps reduce the negative impact of other, more technical, writing projects.

I've always said that tech writers make great content strategists. That was my background and I've worked with and hired others with similar backgrounds who were excellent content strategists. Hopefully this is a one-time thing and will not become widespread.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Do You Want to Hire a Content Strategist?

Despite the bad economy, many Web development projects must go on. If your organization is looking for a Content Strategist, the Web Content Strategy Job Board will expose your opening to a steady stream of highly-targeted readers. For just $49 you can post your job on the board for thirty days, plus I'll write a blog post about the job and send it to my email and Twitter lists of experienced Content Strategists and other skilled writers who are seeking content strategy positions.

If you have questions about the job board you can contact me directly at You can take a look at the board and currently listings via the widget in this blog's right-hand side bar. If you are ready to get started, use this link to post your content strategist job now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Content Strategy and SXSW

People frequently ask me why, as a Web content strategist, I list South by Southwest (SXSW) as my one, must-go-to, conference each year. SXSW panels are mostly about design, and User Experience, mixed with some small business/startup info, with a strong dash of blogging and social media. Not much at all that is strictly about content. So why do I go?

  • I already know how to create good Web content so that’s not what I’m looking for at a conference. What I get from SXSW is context. I get to see what is on the near horizon for new content delivery platforms. I get to see how content will be created and consumed two years down the road.
  • At SXSW, I always learn about what will be hot in about two years. The new apps that get a lot of attention there are not, brand new, and that’s important. Once an app starts to generate a lot of buzz at SXSW, it’s usually, almost ready for prime time. This is a large group of users, so people will actually be USING hot new apps, not just talking about them.
  • I don’t work for a hip design agency; I work for a big, results-focused, corporate giant. I don’t have time to play with new media toys and make bets on which ones will grow into the “next big thing”, and which ones will become, “what ever happened to?” SXSW distills a lot of what’s new down to the few hot ideas that actually have a following and a chance.

For what I go for, SXSW has a great track record. I learned about Twitter years before most at SXSW along with very early conversations about Facebook, LOLcats, wikis, Web 2.0, tagging, the semantic Web, blogging for dollars, AJAX, user generated content, cloud computing, Web services, and mashups. There's a content strategy implication in every one of those subjects.

When August rolls around, I’ll be completely behind again. But, for a week every March, I feel like I’m hip and completely caught up with what’s going on in my fast-moving industry.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Content Strategy and SEO

From a great article on content strategy, content marketing, and SEO:

Joe Pulizzi - "All companies, no matter what the size, must start to think more like publishers than ever before. Consumer behavior has changed drastically over the past few years. Customers are more accepting of content from “non-media” sites and the barriers to publishing are now non-existent. "

The entire article:

Content Strategist Job Requirements Deconstructed

Job ads seeking someone to perform content strategy for a Web content development project are specifically written for those already in the Web development world. So they are full of jargon and industry speak, and sound very intimidating to the average reader. In reality, most of the requirements are easier to perform that they sound. Lets' look at some content strategist job requirements from ads that are currently live on the Web and I'll try to explain what they mean in plain English.

Content Strategist Job Requirements:
  • "Work closely with merchandising, product information and marketing departments to help create taxonomies and metadata frameworks for grouping and tagging content"
  • "Help establish general taxonomy guidelines and assist in the development of new taxonomy structures and controlled vocabularies as needed."
  • "Creating taxonomies and metadata frameworks for grouping and tagging content"
What They Are all Really Seeking:
We need your help figuring out what to call things, and groups of things, on our Web site.

When you have lots of products and product categories, you have to give the site user a way to logically navigate to the exact product they are seeking. You wouldn't want to send a user to a page with 1000 product names on it with links, they would never find anything and leave. So you have to create groups and sub groups with logical names that the reader would understand all leading him to a single product.

An Example Hierarchy:
Shoes - Men's Shoes - Boots - Work Boots - Individual Product 1

There are a lot of decisions that have to be made along the way to creating these product hierarchies (taxonomies). In this case, a question might be - Do we want to use the name 'Work Boots' or 'Construction Boots'?

Once you understand what is being asked, its not as complicated as it sounds. In looking through the latest online job postings, I saw very few entry-level content strategy jobs that could not be performed by a good tech writer, or other writing professional, who has an interest in technology and a little bit of training in the basics of content strategy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Content Strategists and IAs

As a content strategist I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a lot of information architect friends. A lot. There, it's out there. Now everyone knows.

So when we are talking about what they do on a project vs. what I do on a project, we tend to run into a lot of potential overlap. I often hear, "I don't see why a good IA couldn't do that." And I agree, but why the heck would you want one to? It's just not a good way to run a business.

Here are 4 reasons why an IA shouldn't be asked to work on content strategy tasks:
  • IAs are too busy already. In almost every project that I've worked, the IA was on the critical path. Giving them more to do would just extend the project duration.
  • There are not enough IAs to go around in many organizations. In many organizations the number of projects they can take on is constrained by the number of IAs they have on staff, or that they can supervise as contractors. So it makes more sense to move your IA resources on and off projects as quickly as possible. Don't slow down the process with content work that could be done by others. Go do more projects.
  • IAs are expensive. If a job can be done equally well by an IA or content strategist and the IA cost 30% more, you can increase the project's profit or decrease the project cost by using a content strategist.
  • IAs generally don't want to do this kind of work anyway. Sure, there are more than a few IAs with literature or library science backgrounds, but they are designers at heart and by training. I don't know any IAs who wake up the morning looking forward to building new CMS inputs forms, or researching and writing content for 2000 product pages that are all built using the same wireframe.
The last point is where most of these discussions actually end. After I explain what I do on a daily basis we almost always end with:

"Whoa, I'm just sayin' that I could do it, I'm not sayin'
that I actually want to!"

It's funny that not too long ago I was asked if I could produce wireframes for a content-only project. Hmmm. Maybe there are some IA tasks that a good content strategist could do. I'm just saying that I could, I'm not saying that I want to! Wink.

Neutral Spanish and Web Content

Yesterday's post about Content Strategy and Neutral Spanish sparked some questions and conversation, so I'll go into a little more depth here.

What is Neutral Spanish?
The idea of "neutral" or "standard" Spanish has been around for a while. In previous incarnations it was even considered a new lect, or language version, since it had some grammatical tense structure that was different than other versions of Spanish. Well, the Internet has changed that a bit.

Neutral Spanish and Web Content
When used in the context of Web content the concept of neutral Spanish is really more of a translation process than it is a language variety. When translating content, a translator trying to create a neutral Spanish version will not only remove localized idioms and grammatical structures, but also try and "normalize" word usage.

A commonly used example is how do you translate the term"swimming pool" neutrally? When Argentines dive into a swimming pool, they dive into a “pileta”. However, in Uruguay, where swimming pool is “piscina”, they would be jumping head-first into the “kitchen sink.” Similarly, “swimming pool” in Mexico is “alberca”, which means “reservoir” in Spain. The translator's job then involves choosing the most common (or sometimes, least offensive) word and then using it consistently. In this case they might choose “piscina” since it is much more widely used. (

It becomes very important that these decisions are documented for words and phrases that are important on your Web site. Where possible, you need to set a standard and write it down in a translation glossary that can be used by anyone performing Web content translations.

When is Neutral Spanish Needed?
I've found two instances where using a neutral version of Spanish is helpful - when writing for the U.S. Spanish market, and when writing for all Spanish readers.

The structure of your site will affect this choice. For the site I work on, the products and services offered vary greatly by country, so we have different content for each country and languages used for that country. This makes it easy for us to use Castillian Spanish in Spain and Mexican Spanish in Mexico. If you just translate your site by language and don't have a different version for each country, then neutral Spanish could be an option depending on your market.

Also, neutral Spanish is ideal for content that is technical or scientific in nature.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do We Need Another Version of Spanish for the U.S. Market?

One of the most complicated parts of developing a content strategy for a project at UPS is dealing with the translation impacts. Translations not only add to the cost of a project, but significantly impact the project plan and project complexity.

When translating content into Spanish, we currently support four versions - Castillian Spanish (Spain), Puerto Rican Spanish, Mexican Spanish, South American Spanish. Whenever we talk about adding the ability for customers in the U.S. to view content in Spanish, the "which version" question comes up.

The Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. is just as diverse as the English-speaking population, maybe more so. I've long argued for another version of Spanish for the U.S. market that is neutral to country of origin.

Should Web content in the U.S. be translated using one of the existing varieties of Spanish, or do we need a new, neutral, version of Spanish to support a more diverse population?

Here is an interesting article that supports the "neutral" argument.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To Web Content Strategy from Technical Writing

OK, I confess that I’ve not always been the cool Web guy (ha!), I worked my way into a Web job as a technical writer. And not just any kind of tech writing, but seriously geeky stuff. My first exposure to the Web involved converting a 900-page programmer user guide from print to HTML. It wasn’t even a popular programming language, but a language only used in what was known as CASE tools - great plan back in the 90’s to generate mainframe code by drawing diagrams. Anyway, not glamorous stuff.

So I’ve always contented that tech writers make good Web Content Strategists. You are not usually writing about technical issues, but you have to function in a very technical environment. The biggest hurdle I see for most tech writers is getting past a mental block about writing “marketing stuff.” Marketing is not a dirty word, and if properly done, it can sell and inform at the same time.

If you have a background in tech writing, and an interest in the Web, content strategy could be a great career move. I find the work much more interesting and Content Strategy certainly pays better.

Here is an interesting, STC-related, article about Tech Writers and Content Strategists.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Content Strategy is Like Cooking

I've often said that, like cooking a meal, one of the most complicated parts of content strategy is making everything come out at the same time. If you drain the pasta and the sauce is late, the pasta quickly turns into a big sticky blob. And if you start with bad ingredients, or have a lousy process, the finished product is going to be crap.

Here is an excellent article that compares a good content strategist to chef Gordon Ramsay on the show Hell's Kitchen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Content Strategy and Emergency Communications

While US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger was busy becoming a hero, the US Airways folks that run their Web site were left standing in a puddle of crap and they didn't have the shoes for it. Even hours after the crash, they still had no news at all up on the site. Now I'm sure they had an approved emergency communications plan for the site, but when the worst happened, it failed in epic fashion.

Do you have a way of quickly communicating to your customers should the worst happen? Most of you probably do. Do you have content that is already written, approved and ready to go? Probably not, and that's what slows things down when a crisis comes. Everyone who needs to approve and sign off on this critical content is too busy handling the crisis to be bothered.

If US Airways had just posted a quick notice acknowledging the crash, providing a contact phone number for families, and a promise to provide updates as quickly as possible, they could have avoided this black eye. And a template for that content could have been written and approved long before the crash so anyone could have filled in the blanks and posted the notice without waiting for approvals.

Here is a detailed look at the US Airways Web response.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Content Strategy - Don’t Forget Your WCMS during Project Requirements Gathering

If you generate your HTML code using a Web Content Management System you must take that system in account when setting requirements for a new project. Over and over again I see projects come my way that have been approved and completely wireframed, that I cannot build with the current WCMS. When I bring this issue up people tend to blame the WCMS. This is totally unfair. The WCMS is not magic, it can’t just generate anything. It has to be designed and programmed like any other piece of software. It’s not that the system can’t do what is being asked, it’s just that it will take some work and time.

Push as hard as you can to get someone who understands the capabilities of your WCMS system involved as early as possible in planning for new projects. Evaluate all page layouts with an eye towards what your current WCMS can do. Usually, supporting a new page layout just requires a new WCMS output template that may only take a few days to program and test. But someone still has to be assigned to do the work, and that work has to be completed before any real content development can be completed.

Figure this out early and it’s just one more thing to track and complete, find out late and it’s a show stopper.