Digital Reviewer

#EmptyShelf 2016 #15: The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines and Templates for Getting Content Right (New Riders, 2015)


Meghan Casey, New Riders, 2015

The foreword for this book is written by Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, and the two books work well together.

In her introduction Casey gives a useful working definition:

Content strategy helps organisations provide the right content, to the right people, at the right times, for the right reasons.

This is a much more tool-focused book than the other book, with many tables, and strategies to follow. It encourages us to look at what’s wrong, and to seek out where the opportunities are. Gov.UK undertook a simple user test for their site (via @petegale):

  1. Choose key pages from the site, print off for participants/you
  2. Ask participants to read content
    1. Highlight in green content that makes them feel confident, smart and ready to act
    2. Highlight in red content that makes them feel less confidence, confused or hesitant
  3. With a clean copy, highlight everything participants did in corresponding colours
  4. Look at the intensity of green/red highlights to see what is working, and what needs work (especially the repeated areas).

Also on p9:

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A content audit is key, analytics needs checking, and user testing needs to be undertaken to understand what makes the user feel confident.

Remember that everyone involved in the content creation process likely has good intentions and is trying to do good work within their skills level, and all processes/tools were devised to solve the problem in hand. Remember that in considering this content you are dealing with human beings – focus instead on “Help me understand why you do it this way” so that can move forward from there.

Those that need to persuaded will be helped to understand if the need is quantified – for example, if information is hard to find on the intranet/internet, it can cost hours in staff time to find this information – searching or answering calls. If this information is restructured using a content strategy, the gains can be quantified easily in time/cost savings. Identify the risk and potential gain, but recognise that there is a cost to cultural change.

Create a stakeholder matrix which identifies roles/types, including project owner, decision maker, influencer, champion, derailer, strategic, expert, implementer, user proxy. Record how you’d like to get information from them, make notes about topics, concerns and your pitch. Think how you’re going to engage with them, which specific questions, and note key themes.

On p40 – see the sample agenda for meetings – don’t skimp on the introductions

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P43 summarises a key kick-off emails, ensure personalised – introduce self, give a project overview, indicate why it is key that they are involved, and summarise the focus/timing of the workshop. Need to work through – and the book gives a lot of hints and tips for how to do this, with a focus on persuasion tactics:


See p55 – the importance of a clear strategy/timeline, the importance of project management:

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Casey highlights how to undertake interviews, and identifies the internal and external factors that are important related to content strategy.

Internal factors are more easily controlled, and typically relate to products, costs, desired customers and revenue.

External factors are more complex and include competitors, legal compliance, current events, and customers.

Casey focuses on the importance of market research and user research, including the identification of psychographic drivers.

A useful exercise is to encourage users to think about a website that they’ve used, and identified where they were frustrated, satisfied or delighted – then encourage themselves to put themselves in the users shoes. Undertake a brainstorm, name the user/persona, create a user story – write a scenario including what the user is thinking, feeling, seeing and doing en route. See p89:


Research with real users is even better, but the above is often a good starting point.

Undertake a content audit – including name, location, history, status, audience, purpose, traffic, whether to include in the analysis and any further notes. It may then be useful to create a ‘map’ of the ecosystem – know how your content cross-links and supports each other (and fits with the user journey). See p98

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The content strategy needs to be really clear (p110):

Commonly, content problems are symptoms of a lack of clarity around what work to do, who should do it, and what is realistic to accomplish.

If the website is a dumping ground for all content, organised by business units, a front page with a welcome from the CEO, a homepage with unrelated content from all over the business, a new section is being launched without any clarity of content source, blog post off-brand but no one wants to say take it down, HR launched a microsite because they didn’t want to wait, get emails from 2 different colleagues/managers about the same thing, your team is expected to do twice the work possible and it’s all top priority… all of these indicate that roles and responsibilities need to be much more clearly defined, and a focus on management planning is also needed.

On p119 we see a useful diagram for content planning, publishing and maintenance:

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A strategic alignment summary is required, ensuring that content is clearly aligned to business goals, producing a document something like this (note that it’s not overwhelming, and has clear priorities aligned to awareness, conversion and retention) – p124:

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On p138, we understand how to create a core strategy statement, which is useful for all budgets (and none).

  1. Content product: What content should be produce, procure, curate, and share?
  2. Audience: Who, specifically, is that content for?
  3. User needs: Why do those audiences need or expect that content from us?
  4. Business goals: What outcomes does providing this content help us achieve?

On p140, Casey suggests a table with ideas for consideration. Ideas such as ‘Repurpose word-for-word content from the customer service call center knowledge base’, with Yes/No to tick after discussion/analysis.

On p148, we return to the business goals and content objectives on p124, and start looking at KPIS, objectives and metrics that need to be measured, and some possible ways to measure (including analytics, heuristic assessments (measure against best practices) – e.g. p.152

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Where possible, undertake frequent surveys of your users, using tools such as

On p156, we move to measuring content effectiveness, which is often subjective – but we are dealing with humans, so not everything can be objective. Reports need to be pulled together and given to appropriate stakeholders, a simple scorecard, like this one on p.158:

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Moving onto designing your content, the focus needs to whittle down to what is really necessary to include, so that it’s easier to manage, find and use.

P163 has a useful diagram for user scenarios:

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All website content has structure – on p169 a layout of a simple blog post is given to highlight e.g. title, introduction, byline, etc. Read Sara Whacter-Boettcher Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content for more.

Ensure that all user tasks are clear and aligned to business goals, see. P175 for an e.g. from a cancer charity:

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Think back to p119, and think through how you will assign people to each step.

On p202, we move onto thinking about the content lifecycle, and how this involves strategise, plan, create, maintain, audit, strategise, etc. On p207 we have a diagram that highlights how to do this:

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On p210/211, we have a couple of simple diagrams which assess how to devise priority.

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There’s a lot more practical advice in this book, take the opportunity to buy the book.