Finding yourself wishing you’d read a book a few years earlier often indicates how useful it could be to your work, your life, your knowledge. Since Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web only came out last year this wouldn’t have been possible, but if your work involves web content in any way, my advice is simple: Read this book!
Have you ever been part of a web project where people talk about design and multimedia and shiny objects, but when you ask “who’s providing the content?” they stare at you or say “we’ll worry about that later”? Here is a book to back up the importance of content, who creates it and why a content strategy should be part of any major web decision.
It’s a quick read, providing, in her words, “a high-level overview of the benefits, roles, activities and deliverables associated with content strategy.” It isn’t, she stressed, a be-all-end-all book on the web (she offers great reading suggestions), about choosing a CMS (which is merely a delivery system) or a marketing manual. It’s divided into four sessions: Learn (broken into Solution, Problem and Discipline), Plan (Audit, Analysis, Strategy), Create (Workflow, Writing, Delivery) and Govern (Measurement, Maintenance, Paradigm). The writing is crisp, non-technical and compelling.
Among the key points, which many of us often feel like we’re preaching in a wilderness:
- Less, not more. Adding more and more pages without strategy just creates a confusing user experience and makes the website unwieldy and hard to maintain from the inside. I’ve seen sites that add new pages while abandoning old ones because they weren’t perfect, and the result is a veritable graveyard of content of no use to anyone.
- Have a plan. Why is content created at your workplace? Where does that information come from? Do you have quality control? For more dynamic sites, do you have an editorial calendar of how often new content is generated, who’s generating it and how it is organized? Unfortunately, these questions don’t have good answers for way too many sites.
- Ask “why” and “who”? If departments want to plug a new shiny tool into their website, or add a Facebook page or YouTube Channel, two great questions to ask are “why do you need it?” and “who’s going to keep it current?” Especially in higher education, buyers get easily excited about a new product or social media platform, but after the novelty wears off they have no plan — and maybe no idea — how to maintain it at a baseline level, let alone how to keep it fresh and engaging.
Would I have liked to have this book a redesign or two ago? Absolutely. But since I can’t go back in time, I can say this book has already positively influenced planning and discussions going forward. And just mentioning it around campus around trainings and meetings has made several people interested in reading it. In my experience most people WANT to make their content better, but aren’t sure how and welcome any help. From a big-picture standpoint, this book is not just helpful but essential for those aiming to make their websites great.