What is Content Strategy in 2020?

Content strategy is a large field with many facets. Like digital strategy, the content strategy umbrella covers a lot. Commonly, the content strategy covers editorial vision, content goals and objectives, content governance, taxonomy, and classification. A good content strategy will cover these areas and plan for the full life cycle of content from conception to execution across a wide array of channels. A typical content strategy will include search engine optimization, user-centered content, social media channels, and branding considerations like style, voice, and tone. For a content strategy to be effective, it must include user needs and business goals. To monitor the success, therefore, reviews, feedback, and data analytics are required.

Our approach to content strategy:

  1. Audience Understanding
  2. Map user journeys to understand what goals your audience is trying to achieve
  3. Gather and review analytics to inform content strategy (change management)
  4. Create goal funnels and match content to these goals
  5. Don’t interrupt the user experience (UX)

Start with Understanding Your Audience

For organizations getting started with a content strategy we typically recommend starting with audience understanding, the user needs as they relate to organizational goals. Before embarking on content strategy journey a deep understanding of your audience will ensure your content is focused and effective. Frequently audience understanding begins with research and defining “the who.” The key to a great content strategy is moving toward audience segmentations that represent a diversity of needs and goals. If your team is creating content “for everyone” odds are you need to start with this step.

User Personas

Sample user persona created for content strategy.
Snippet of a user persona created for content strategy.

In practice, audience understanding is captured in User Personas and other artifacts of user research. Personas are most useful when an organization has a need to communicate who is being served across departments or teams. For example, if marketing is communicating with sales or membership is working with development. Personas are often a step toward audience segmentation and so are needed to execute a content strategy.

Personas help teams focus their efforts and establish baseline information about a target audience. A good persona will help teams understand that their audience is not homogenous.

A typical persona will establish basic demographic information:

  • age,
  • education,
  • relative wealth,
  • professional experience,
  • family status,
  • and technical acumen.

A more advanced persona includes sentiment analysis and relative awareness of the brand. A few key questions to ask in establishing a persona:

  • what motivates this persona?
  • what are they seeking?
  • what job are they trying to get done?
  • what are their needs?

Frequently, an in-depth audience understanding would supplement a persona with additional tools like user journeys. We typically recommend audience understanding include user journeys are both a micro and macro level. User journeys at the micro-level are required for content strategies that include segmentation and dynamic content based on behavior or goal funnels.

Sample user journey map created for content strategy show many steps required today and ideal steps planned for future.
Example user journey map created to illustrate user experience of content.

User Journeys

The goal of the user journey from a content strategy perspective is to identify what needs a given audience has, and where those needs are being met or not as the case may be. User journeys are often a step toward matching a segment to a conversion goal.

Example Persona - Jess - Persona for Content Strategy
Jess – A mid-career professional seeking career advancement.

For example, if we know that Jess is a mid-career professional seeking to establish professional certifications so that she can beef up her resume in seeking career advancement we can match her goals with a conversion path that pulls content into her digital experience only when it matches her goals. We would not want to show Jess content targeted at early-career goals if she is mid-career moving into late-career. In this way, the user journey helps us better calibrate and personalize our content to meet user needs.

Data & Analytics

In creating a full content strategy we can’t stress the importance of data enough. Data helps fill some gaps in audience research. When data is available we look to determine if our assumptions about user behavior matches what the data tells us. Often, when organizations are creating content they are not including data in research and later in evaluation of content performance. Data can help answer questions like:

  • what is the current makeup of our website audience?
  • does our digital audience match our membership?
  • is our content being discovered?
  • what is the cost of creating content and what is the ROI?
  • do we have any problem areas like content with high bounce rates?
  • do we have content that is not being found?
  • what is our target audience searching for?
Sample from Episerver's website describing Episerver Content Cloud AB Testing Capabilities.
Sample from Episerver’s website describing Episerver Content Cloud AB Testing Capabilities.

In working with non-profit organizations on establishing content strategy we have found that data is instrumental in informing the strategy. Especially for mission-based organizations where content is created in service of a mission we have found that data can help inform content creators of their effectiveness. Data helps move the conversation to goals and effectiveness away from “this is how we have always done it.” Content governance is required for a complete content strategy. In content governance data informs content creators of key performance indicators.

Content strategy in 2020 should include personalized content. To be truly personalized data is required to evaluate, segment, test, and iterate. In fact, data is core functionality in tools like Episerver’s Content Intelligence Cloud. Data inform segmentation and establishing of goal funnels both of which are required to leverage content recommendation platforms. While powerful artificial intelligence may do behind the scenes heavy lifting a content editor is still required into input segments, and establish goal funnels. In other words, it’s impossible to separate data from content strategy today.

User experience design for content strategy showing sketches of goal funnel.
Sample user journey flow sketches for content strategy.

Focus on User Experience

While it’s easy to get caught up in an ocean of data our recommendation is to always foreground user experience. Personas and user journeys help orient a strategy on a real-world audience, with real needs, goals, and feelings. That said, UX and content strategy must meet to bring content into the user experience in ways that frictionless, useful, and relevant. Just because we can recommend content using AI doesn’t mean we should in many cases. Or for example in optimizing content for search engines (SEO) always focus first on the UX of the content. Is it easy to read and scan? Avoiding over-optimization traps like keyword stuffing leads to better and more usable content. In many cases, we want to bring content into the goal funnel but not interrupt the experience. Keep in mind user behavior tells a story. For example, we know from our data that on many websites the first user action on the page will be the search box. We also know that slow to load websites will not convert as well as very fast websites. So consider if a large image, or animation, or heavy video load is worth the cost to the UX. Overall, the best content strategy starts and ends with a focus on user experience.

Actual Disruption Webinar Series

In Actual Disruption Six – Are You A Content Hoarder? Find Cash in Your Content we discussed content strategy with special guest present Reggie Smith, MBA, Director of Digital Products at AHIMA. Reggie’s role at AHIMA is to assist the organization in recalibrating their approach to products and content strategy. Reggie works across marketing, product, and content. Adage and AHIMA partnered on setting an organizing idea for their on-going digital transformation as well as establishing an enterprise-wide unified content taxonomy.

View the webinar recording and register for the next installment.