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Content Strategy for the Web Book Review
Move over Oprah! We’re kicking off 2010 by starting the CDG Book Club. Every month or so, we’ll be reading a book about the web industry and posting our raves, rants, and other unsolicited opinions.
At least a few times a year, I like to rip myself away from screen time and consult a good ol’ fashioned book about the web industry—specifically about content, web writing, and usability. Unfortunately, a lot of the books I’ve picked up are not all that great. They’re either fairly simplistic guides geared toward web newbies or highly academic exercises that are not only a slog to get through, but have precious few practical takeaways.
There are, of course, a few notable exceptions—books that I not only recommend to fellow web professionals and clients—but that I find myself referring to again and again. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug is one; Gerry McGovern’s Killer Web Content
is another. And now I’ve found another gem that I’m going to rely on for years to come—Content Strategy for the Web. This book is absolutely a must for anyone who is involved in conceptualizing, creating, producing, and managing online content. Insightful, practical, and fun to read, Halvorson’s book had me striking my forehead I-could’ve-had-a-V-8-style more times than I can count. Nearly everything Halvorson says should be self-evident to content professionals, yet she presents it in a way that’s completely revelatory.
I could go on about the book’s merit’s at length, but for the sake of brevity, let me paraphrase some of my favorite takeaways from Halvorson:
Start thinking about content on day 1
Content is the meat of a website, yet too often, it’s gets attention only near the end of the project, after technical and design issues have been hammered out. Halvorson spells out convincingly why that’s a grave mistake. (Note: At CDG, we always start projects with a content discovery phase; still, Halvorson gave me some great ideas on how to make this process even more effective.)
Strive for less content, not more
I want to send the author a virtual bear hug for this insight. You don’t have to be a web professional to know that there’s a heck of a lot of unnecessary content online. Halvorson notes that a site with less content is more cost effective, easier to manage, and more user-friendly.
Always ask “why”
This is especially important in the age of social media. It’s not enough reason to start a company blog of a YouTube channel “just because.” Anytime someone recommends new content for the site, you should ask how it will benefit your user and/or your business.
Following on the last point, you always need to remain cognizant of your project’s purpose and scope. When you’re fortunate enough to work with innovative people, you get lots of great blue-sky ideas that aren’t always manageable within your constraints. Don’t discourage creative thinking, but be realistic about what’s possible. (If you have a really fantastic idea, think about a Phase 2 project.)
Wireframes ain’t gonna cut it
Most web agencies, including CDG, use wireframes to communicate the layout and components on a page. Wireframes work a bit like the blueprint of a house—they communicate the framework of site page templates to the design and technical teams. But just as a blueprint doesn’t tell you what color to paint and how to arrange your furniture, a wireframe doesn’t tell you much about content. Halvorson recommends creating “page tables” to specify what belongs on each and every page of a site. The format she suggests is both manageable and thorough. (See p 96 for a sample page table.)
Plan for what happens to content after launch
Again—obvious, right? But you’d be surprised by how many organizations aren’t concerned about how they’re going to manage and maintain the site. Halvorson’s chapter on Maintenance offers guidance on how to incorporate this vital step into a content strategy
Content strategy is not copywriting
If there is one point that I personally wish I could get across to every client, this would be it. Content is too often used as a synonym for copy, and it’s simply not. Content also includes graphics, video, audio, metadata, and more. Similarly, content strategy addresses far more than the copywriting process. (In fact, copywriting should only begin after the content strategy has been researched, articulated, and approved.) In Halvorson’s definition, content strategy involves, among other things: branding, editorial strategy, web writing, SEO, metadata strategy, content management strategy, and content channel distribution strategy. Whew!
Sounds like a lot to take on, no? Yet upon finishing Content Strategy for the Web, I felt incredibly energized and inspired. Without sounding too corny, I really do feel like Halvorson has given me some fantastic tools to think differently about what I do every day, and—more important—to do it better!
What’s on your 2010 reading list?
Next Month’s book club selection: Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug