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Published on June 11th, 2009 | by Rahel Bailie


Redefining content strategy

The definition of content strategy, according to Wikipedia, is “a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project.” This definition, not surprisingly, is taken from the The Web Content Strategist’s Bible, by Richard Sheffield. While there is no explicit connection of Web copy to marketing copy, the implication is that Web sites are marketing sites.

I would argue that, depsite the perception that websites consist of marketing content, for many sites, the marketing content is only the top layer – the icing on the cake, and what supports that top layer is a substantial amount of technical content – the cake itself. 

Layers of content on a website

Layers of content on a website

That technical content is often far more valuable to the corporate or product brand than the persuasive content. In doing user research for one client in particular, a manufacturer of power generators and inverters, I saw how guys used their site. Consistently, they would bypass all of the marketing material and go right for the specs. (Of course, before the site revamp, a lot of the specs were missing or buried in a PDF in some obscure area of the site, but that’s a whole other story.) They knew what inverters did, and what to look for, and went directly to find what was, to them, the important piece of information.

In effect, the technical specifications were the marketing material; if the inverter had the right oomph to it, that’s what the users wanted to know. And had the content been wrong, had the inverter been used with some disastrous results, then the ensuing fall-out would have become a marketing problem. The artificial siloing of content between organizational departments – marketing, techdocs, training, support, engineering – is reminiscent of the discussions we had about information arhcitecture, some 8-10 years ago. The difference is that for many organizations, these larger silos have become de facto standards in which they bucket their information for consumers. They assume that when a content consumer arrives on their site, they want to see a certain type of content. They try to funnel the user through their site navigation or constrain the path to the cash register. But if you look at the way consumers actually use a site, you can see that they will not be constrained. In this case study, Jakob Neilsen reveals that consumers will breeze past the feel-good content and head right for the techincal information, product reviews, and other information pertinent to their decision-making process.

The content that was sought out by the consumer, in this example, is probably produced by a department that publishes to multiple channels, not just the Web. Their content strategy likely has to take into account single-sourcing for print as well as Web, and other channels such as training materials (possibly print, e-learning, and a Web output), manuals, product data sheets, and other end products. The Web is but a slice of a greater strategy. When we talk about content strategy, then, my contention is that the type of content we include in the definition needs to broaden beyond Web content, as does the recognition that the content, even if just for the Web, includes not only persuasive content, but instructive/informative, user-generated, and even entertainment content.

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

2 Responses to Redefining content strategy

  1. Hiya, I actually agree with you! For my group, 95% of the content we spend our time working on is support, application help, technical, and rates/pricing information. I never intended to imply that content strategy was all about marketing copy (or what I heard a consultant from Interwoven refer to today as “romance copy”).

    We give a lot attention to both and make it easy for users to jump back and forth between flashy product information for things they make not have, and detailed, task-oriented support information for products they are currently using. There are lots of use cases that have to be satisfied besides trying to force every visitor down the sales funnel :) Nice post!

    We actually should do more marketing than we do, it’s just not our corporate culture to push as hard as we probably should in some cases.

  2. Gina Fevrier says:


    While researching more about content strategy and starting with your Web site, I found your post. This is particularly of interest to the technical writers at our company who have converted our user documentation to a Confluence wiki. It’s the first time we’ll have direct contact with our customers. Our goal is to allow them to collaborate by commenting on the existing user documentation as well as creating their own pages of tips, best practices, etc. We hope to see our customers help shape our content strategy by letting us know what they want. I’ve seen Confluence tech writers change a help topic on their user docs wiki within a day after I’ve made a comment on the page. We’ve got so much legacy content that we aren’t sure is being used, and I believe the wiki will be a good start to find out. Thanks for continuing to post valuable information on your site. I’m looking for to learning more at your workshop “Architecting Content: Content Strategies” at the STC Summit on May 2.

    Gina Fevrier

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