Thoughtfulness, strategy . . . these things seemingly take a back seat when due dates rapidly approach and queues ostensibly bust at the seams. It’s often the case that deliverables get churned out, produced in silos in the interest of expediency and meeting client expectations-timeline expectations at least. Then, inevitably, clients feel disconnected or disappointed with the end product, or have a War and Peace-long list of changes. I would submit to you, in my right mind, that adding an extra deliverable could actually speed up (in the very least, not slow down) your project and make the client feel far more connected and satisfied with the end product. And most importantly, increase the effectiveness of your client’s new online presence.
This magical deliverable you ask? A Content Strategy proposal. I know, nothing earth shattering right? But you may be surprised at how many agencies still put content in the corner . . . and I’m not Swayzeing around here. I would even submit that content strategy should be the very core of your project. I can already hear it, “But nobody reads website copy.” Good point. However, a content strategy is much more encompassing than just copy. It’s about understanding your client’s goals and identity, knowing the users and what they care about and going through exercises like a content audit, researching SEO themes, analyzing gaps and so much more. It helps determine content hierarchy, tone, messaging, nomenclature and should even impact the user interface choices made by designers.
Step 1: Define
There are several complex elements to fleshing out a content strategy, but you can break it down fairly easily in a way that seamlessly syncs with a typical project process. In order to define your content strategy you must first have an understanding of the target audience, the client’s goals and the property and its differentiators. This information should be found as part of your initial discovery process, the first step of any project—a deep dive into the brand/property that helps in gathering that important information.
Step 1 Deliverables: Some sort of test draft or proof of concept
Step 2: Plan
Once you’ve completed your define phase, and concurrently your discovery exercise, it is time to rev up the Information Architecture engine. This is where the planning begins and you create a page-by-page content strategy. Before you can do this, you have to identify what the goal of each page is (where you’re pathing your users to next, what CTAs will be employed, what the SEO theme is and what message you are trying to convey), what information you’re working with and what the value proposition for that page is. For our purposes and specific vertical, I would describe a value proposition as a succinct summary of the benefits or value being delivered as part of the experience in a way that enforces a buying decision. This is typically where your design team will begin work on a wireframe. Ensure the content strategy is driving that conversation and that your designers fully understand it.
Step 2 Deliverables: A page-by-page content strategy plan that should accompany the proposed sitemap
Step 3: Create
It is after the content strategy and wireframe are approved, that the content should be written. This is where the rubber meets the road with your content strategy and you start with a top to bottom approach, answering the user’s most important questions, pathing them to the most crucial content and being sure to create headlines and bulleted lists that matter, as your visitors are likely just scanning. Additionally, you need to be sure that the content flows well, is relevant and speaks to the approved SEO themes . . . quite the balancing act! This is the culmination of all the hard work you’ve put in.
Step 3 Deliverables: Completed copy – that should be previewed in the context of a completed site.
Step 4: Manage
The management aspect is largely up to the client and their Account Manager if they opted to retain those services. However, you can create a helpful roadmap that contains the page-by-page content strategy, recommendations for changing, adding and deleting content and other bits of informed guidance. Your client should understand the potential SEO, UX and conversion implications of revising the content.
Step 4 Deliverables: Content roadmap.
Content should no longer be an afterthought. No, it’s not as sexy as the design, but a good agency can marry the two into harmonious matrimonial bliss that results into meaningful conversion.
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