The Content Strategy Toolkit:
Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right
By Meghan Casey
New Riders; Peachpit Press, 235 pages
It’s a good season for content strategy tools. A coalition of content strategists including Noreen Compton, Paula Land, and Kevin P. Nichols just published The Content Strategy Alliance Tools and Templates: A Best Practices Handbook. With a practical focus on guidelines and documentation, the handbook presents more than 40 tools for content strategy projects, and I’ll review it in a future post.
Earlier this summer, the content strategy tools season began with Meghan Casey’s Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right. Casey is a lead content strategist at Brain Traffic, Kristina Halvorson’s content strategy consulting firm. It comes as no surprise that Casey approaches content strategy from a consultant’s viewpoint, but content strategists embedded in enterprises will also find plenty of valuable insights and useful tools in this essential content strategy resource.
What might be surprising about this book is how long it takes to get to the nitty-gritty content strategy stuff. I passed the book to a colleague, and, glancing at the table of contents, she said, “She doesn’t even get to content strategy until chapter eight.” That’s when Casey presents information about the inventories and mapping that many people think of as content strategy. Of course those tasks are critical, but Casey is smart enough to know that a number of other steps need to happen before that work can be effective or even happen at all.
That’s why Casey begins her book with two chapters about getting the money and organizational agreement to begin the content strategy project in the first place. Even within a big company, the content project sometimes begins as just a notion about how to make some content improvements. Casey provides guidance into how we can guess at what can be improved, quickly test our hypothesis with an audit and/or user testing, and then document the areas for improvement, which we are advised to call opportunities, not problems.
But solving those problems, er, opportunities, takes resources. How do we talk to the money people to get budget and buy-in? Many content strategists may not have the business-budget background, so Casey spells out a straightforward way of turning a discussion of opportunities into budget. Yes, math; she goes there. But in just a few pages, she shows how even the most number-phobic content person can document business risks and compare them to rewards. These are the kind of numbers and discussions that can get content strategy efforts funded.
Even before the content strategist can dig in to deliver on the promise of rewards, additional organizational communication and negotiation needs to happen. Casey explains that we need to identify stakeholders, especially the ones who can derail a project. We then need to get them all involved and communicate with them throughout the project.
Sounds like project management, doesn’t it? If you’re in a larger organization with a department of skilled project managers, then some of these steps might be their job. If not, Casey explains, then you need to play an active role in running the project and communicating about it.
Other steps Casey describes are sometimes product management or research tasks. This emphasizes how collaborative content strategy needs to be.
Regardless of who does the work, Casey offers guidelines for how it can be done. The tools you can download with the book are a sound start for accomplishing necessary content tasks and moving the project along.
One of the highlights of the book for me was the chapter on content design, which Casey defines in a section entitled “What I Mean by Content Design”:
The names, deliverables, and artifacts for this phase in digital projects vary. I’m sure you’ve heard terms such as information architecture (IA), sitemap, wireframe, template, content type, content model, structured content, page outline, component library, and so on. I like to wrap all these items and more into the umbrella term content design.
This is a term that is gaining prominence in the user experience design community, and some content strategy professionals have even renamed themselves content designers. The terms Casey lists in that paragraph are certainly becoming expected of more content strategists.
Casey breaks content design into four areas:
- Prioritization: Determining what content is most important for users (and for the business too)
- Organization: Developing a sitemap and taxonomy so users can find the content they want
- Presentation: Using a core model and content modeling to detail how content will be presented
- Specifications: Detailing what content appears on each page or screen
Many of the content strategists I know are deeply involved in these steps. I know I am. It was helpful to hear some of our thoughts reflected and refined in this chapter, and I’m looking forward to putting the tools Casey presents here to work.
Other content folks will probably have other favorite chapters and tools, depending on their interests and the needs of the projects they’re working on. I’m sure that’s why many content strategists will be keeping this book near their desk, for guidance about how to get content done at almost any stage of a content strategy project – from initial budget to product launch and into the governance that happens after.
This book might not be a definitive toolkit. There will always be some projects that have unique problems (opportunities?) that require a unique approach or deliverable. Casey herself admits that the spreadsheets and presentations and Word docs she offers will often have to be tailored to your clients and companies. But Casey does present thoughtful, business-tested methods, tips, and templates that are a great foundation for any content strategist – knowledge we all should have in our toolkit.