You can stick your lorem ipsum right up your CMS

Content creators need to get in on the big decisions too. Just writing stuff isn't enough.

I'm very fortunate to work with such smart people at Search and Social Media company iCrossing. Here's the first in a couple of guest posts from Charlie Peverett our Content Strategist. All too often the person doing the writing for a website is left out of the planning. The end result is a poor user experience and often poor quality content. A number of people have begun to try to start addressing this problem - and the discussion has quickly focussed around the phrase 'content strategy'. (I posted this last night as one long post, but on reflection I think it works better to split it into two.) This first post then describes why we need content strategies. The second will describe what a Content Strategy is and how you create one.

Late last year I left my role as an 'Editor' and became a 'Content Strategist'.

It was, if I'm honest, a bit of a punt. As 'Editor' I wasn't getting into the conversations I felt I needed to be in - and I was fed up with being passed work where 'the content bit' had already been decided on, often by someone with no apparent clue about what producing the content might entail.

'Content strategist' seemed sufficiently high-falutin', and so we settled on that and wrote a job description to support the main objective (in short: getting our oar in early whilst decisions about design, user experience and so on were being made ). About that time I started to look around at what other people meant by the title and I had a bit of a shock.

It was like arriving in the middle of a maze and seeing people converge from all directions - techies, information architects, web editors, journalists. All looking battered and frazzled, but with a glint their eyes. Different paths - same conclusion.

What is content strategy?

I say 'conclusion' when I really mean: a good place to regroup and begin going somewhere else.

Content Strategy™ is a work in progress, bringing together several strands of expertise in ways that are yet to be fully worked through. It's not neat. It doesn't all make sense to me (or, I gather, to others).

But at iCrossing, as at a good few other places, we see it as a promising approach to some of the biggest challenges faced by us and our clients.

Problems, you say?

All the relevant inputs to a web project – on-page optimisation, metadata, UX, brand voice and messages, editorial guidelines, press releases, Ts and Cs etc – everything manifests as content. As videos, pictures, podcasts – but overwhelmingly as written words.

And when does a 'content person' get involved? Usually at what is, effectively, the last minute. When the lorem ipsem (that placeholder copy that's just stuck there  by a designer) needs to be magically transformed into sparkling, all-singing all-dancing 'copy'. At this point you'd be better off with an alchemist than a writer.

Who's made the decision about what form this content takes? What its production requires? How it should be presented?

Will the writer have enough time to understand all the things that they are required to do – to make it findable, meet user needs, be engaging, reflect the brand, hold up in court, etc? And can they cry foul if they can't fulfil those needs because the IA's already been agreed and the dev site built and it's just not right? Often the answer is... no.

Even the least enlightened fool will tell you Content Is King, but more often than not it's treated like a hostage; to be brought in at the end of a project to fill all the containers that have been built for it without its consent. And then left languishing until the next site redesign.

Projects that continue to be carried out like this are built to fail.


So... what do you think? Do you share Charlie's frustrations (and mine too) that the person writing the content always seems to be last in line on web-projects?

Pic by richardjingram

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