Published: May 18, 2021
Read time: 6 minutes, 30 seconds
What is content strategy?
Simply put, it’s a plan to add information to your website, consistently over time, that will attract readers and direct them to the content they’re interested in.
You’re likely familiar with the term “Search Engine Optimization,” or SEO, which is building your website in a way that will make you findable in the search engines. SEO is an important aspect of effective content strategy.
But if you are only writing for the search engines, you are neglecting the very people you are trying to attract; your readers. Sites written only around SEO principals look very different than sites written for human interaction.
Striking a Balance
An effective content strategy finds a balance between following SEO principals and writing with your audience in mind. Both require adding content consistently over time; letting the search engines know the site is active and giving readers a reason to come back. (It also provides fodder for email marketing and social sharing.)
All this new content means you’ll need a plan to organize and add new articles and information over time; that is your content strategy.
A good content strategy will clearly identify:
- Who you’re writing for; your audience
- What information they’re looking for; your content
- How your site will grow over time; your content structure
Defining Your Audience
Most website projects start with a mindset of “Here is what we offer” and everything flows from there. The page hierarchy of these sites is designed based on an internal organizational structure, recreating internal silos with copy written around features and benefits, “Look how great we are! We offer all this!”
The problem with this approach is that it is written around the organization and not around the audience. Readers don’t always see how they fit into this structure, because they’re not included.
The better way is to focus on what you do for your customers. How are you making their lives easier or better?
It’s likely that you have a few services or products that you offer. You’ll want to think about who these products or services help. Now you’re on your way to defining your audience.
Example: Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
BSA is a well-known organization that has been around for over 100 years. Local Councils are made up of professionals and volunteers, many of whom have many years of experience with the Scouting program. Like most nonprofits, they have a lingo all their own. Such short-hand is helpful to keep conversations moving efficiently is a natural byproduct of cultural evolution.
However, this shorthand can be hugely problematic when trying to communicate with those outside of the organization. At best it is confusing. At worst it creates the impression of exclusion and sets a tone of insiders and outsiders.
To create a more effective content strategy for the local Council, we identified specific constituencies based on needs. These segments break down into several broad groups:
Scouters; those living within the geographic boundaries of the Council with experience in the movement as well as with Council camp properties and services.
Scouters from out of Council; those coming from other counties or even other states or across the country. They are familiar with the Scouting movement but not with Council camps.
New-Scouters; those new to the program who are still familiarizing themselves with Scouting terminology and process.
Non-Scouters; those unfamiliar with the BSA program but interested in learning more.
Each audience segment has specific needs.
Organizing Your Content
Understanding who you’re talking to helps to find clarity around your information structure. It’s hard work to make things simple. But when you can break down your audience into segments, like we showed above, it becomes much easier.
Let’s take a look at how this works with our earlier example.
We knew from site analytics and feedback from users that Scouters mostly came to the website to register for events or book a campsite. Making them wade through pages of content about all the great stuff available at any given property would be counter-productive. They were already familiar with the events and properties and just wanted to register.
Quick Links were created to get these folks to the registration pages within one click of the home page.
Scouters from out of Councils, on the other hand, were ordinarily familiar with the program but unfamiliar with Council properties. They were typically looking for information on camp facilities, pricing and how to make a reservation.
Property pages were redesigned to offer “At A Glance” overviews followed by more detailed information about amenities and “Book Now” buttons.
This flow followed the pattern used by these users; ascertaining whether the property met their requirements, digging in for more information, then – ideally – booking their trip.
New Scouters need a more detailed introduction to the Scouting program, events and processes. New leaders didn’t necessarily know how to register 30 Scouts for camp and sign them up for merit badge classes and book special activities.
Here too, we took a more methodical approach, following patterns used by this segment. Information was restructured, breaking down the registration process into three simple steps with links to informational guides for each.
Non-Scouters needed an overview of the mission of Scouting, the value it provides to youth and families and how to find a unit. This information was all readily available from National Council. There were sites with information about the Scouting movement and a site specifically to locate units nearby.
Adding New Content Over Time
It is often an impulse to add new content to the home page because its important and/or timely. So a new section is added.
Then something else needs to get added so a new drop-down option is created in the menu because its sort of related to programming.
Before you know it, the beautifully laid out home page is cluttered with content about any manner of topics. The menu has grown unwieldy with a plethora of new pages.
Advanced planning will account for new content and create space for where it will eventually go. Older content will be allowed to age gracefully in place without bogging down the navigational structure.
Having well-structured content organized into a simple-to-navigation menu when the site is brand new is one thing. Over time, however, if you don’t have a solid Content Strategy for where NEW content will go, your well-structured content becomes muddled.
Example: Mianus River Gorge
Let’s look at another example; Mianus River Gorge, a not-for-profit nature preserve and conservation organization. This dynamic group has numerous programs focusing on various constituencies going on at any given time.
In addition to restructuring the content using the methodology described above, we also created categories that aligned with the three pillars of their mission to provide space and structure for new articles as needed.
For example, The Research Assistantship Program page, part of their Research and Education pillar, provides an overview of the program, evaluation criteria and how to apply. At the bottom of the page, we added a carousel of resent posts inviting readers to meet researchers who have participated in the program. As new researchers join the program, new articles are written and appear in the carousel. Older posts get “pushed down” to make room for newer posts but remain on the site; they age in place.
All this happens without negatively impacting the page layout or navigational structure.
Back in the day, we would say a paper that gets updated frequently is a “living document” and that is exactly what your website should be. Your organization is dynamic. So too should your website be and a content strategy will ensure that it can be.
Content strategy shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be where you start your website redesign project. It requires thinking past your features and benefits, beyond what your site will look like when you relaunch.
A successful content strategy will ensure that your site can grow as your organization grows and will extend the life-expectancy of your website.