Book Review and Giveaway: Content Strategy for the Web

Posted: March 01, 2010 Comments(26)

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of Content Strategy for the Web by New Riders publishing. This review has not been altered in any way as a result of that circumstance, and as always contains my honest opinion.

I’ve been a member of the ‘content is king’ camp for many years now. Although I’m primarily a designer and developer, I quickly realized that without content strategy, your project is just going to be another project. The other edge of the sword, however, is that no one knows about content strategy. Content is always a complete afterthought because the only target on radar is something that looks awesome. It’s extremely troublesome to try explaining that a site design is nothing if it serves no purpose.

Content should be the focal point, starting gate, and mission statement for every project. I don’t mean content in the sense of what text is going to be on each page. I’m talking about asset allocation, page organization, and a plan regarding what to do with it all. It seems like that’s finally taking a grip in 2010 which is a good thing.

Why, as designers, do we need to worry about such things? To be blunt: so we can produce better websites as a whole.

Content Strategy for the Web

Kristina Halvorson gets it. I’ve just finished reading Content Strategy for the Web and I’m glad I did. She recognizes that content should be a top priority before a pencil touches paper for a wireframe. She also understands that content isn’t easy. It’s not. Content is troublesome from the first steps of the project. Even working on an in house project you’re jumping into a deep end full of orphan pages with little to no purpose, and a mountain of organizational work to be done. Switch that to a one off client project and you’re in even deeper.

Content Strategy for the Web book cover

Kristina aims to put a strategy behind your content strategy. She applies a process to it. Everything needs a process. Without process your ship is running rudderless, reacting to anything and everything that happens along the way. Projects quickly spin out of control and to not end up in the red, eating hours, is a rarity.

While I don’t have much one-on-one experience with content strategy, I like the looks of what Kristina has put together.

Content, IA, UX

Perhaps what I like most about Content Strategy for the Web is the global recognition of the need to work amongst a team. Kristina recognizes that a single person can wear multiple hats per project of course, but in an ideal world responsibilities are delegated amongst a cooperative team.

The separation explained between a content strategist, information architect, and user experience director is inspiring. The book discusses the separation between each position as well as how collaboration works.

Closing thoughts

Overall, even though content strategy is not my forte, I really enjoyed reading this book. It confirmed a lot of personal theories I’ve come up with over time and I plan on recommending the book to the marketing department, the sales department, and the SEO division of my company over the coming weeks. I really think it will help everyone get up to speed and on the same page very quickly in an effort to prime ourselves for some major improvements to our content strategy, both internal as well as on client projects.

I truly think that other Web designers will be interested in reading the book as well, especially freelancers. Freelancers should have a content strategy in place for every project, even if it involves outsourcing to a specialist of some sort. Your work as a designer closely ties itself with a content strategist, and if solid communication is not in place, a content strategy will no longer be effective.

Giveaway details

With this review I’ll be giving away three copies of Content Strategy for the Web. If you’re interested in reading the book, leave a comment explaining what your current content strategy involves (at a high level) and how it’s helped or hurt you on past projects. Entires will be open until 11:59pm EST Sunday March 7, 2010.

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  1. current content strategy: pretty much, try to organize it all in a way that makes sense, with as few categories as possible so that it isn’t too complicated to navigate the site.

    It’s not pretty, it’s not scientific but it prevents my projects from completely sucking. I know they could be so much better though, if I did have a process. I’ve been slowly trying to educate myself, in the midst of other things, and this book has been on my radar for awhile.

  2. Content is the most important part of a website… it’s the reason you (in general) have a website. If you didn’t have content… there would be no reason to have a website.

    My strategy (not necessarily with my website, but certainly with clients) is the less the better. Don’t leave the user guessing what your website is talking about – get straight to the point because if you don’t they won’t hang around long enough to figure it out.

    I saw Kristina speak at FOWD and she certainly knows what she is talking about. I’d love to read this book and learn more about what she has to say about the topic.

  3. Actually, I need this book! We don’t have a content strategy and I am trying to get our company to get one in place. We are currently doing a content audit as a starting point. Thanks!

  4. My strategy is to try to get the clients to realize that content is far more important than design and that content management really is about managing content, not a tool for design.

    Perhaps this book could add some valuable information on how to get the clients to provide the right content and to make them think a bit about why they need a website in the first place.

  5. As a web designer, I start by understanding the audience(s) for the site and identifying the goals for the site and for the audience. I generally start with detailed information architectures, both on the low and high levels, and then reorganized or rewrite content as needed, write clear headlines. This goes a long way in making the website clearer and easier to navigate. Since I focus mostly on structure and organization, I’m interested in learning about the other aspects of content strategy that could help improve the content itself.

  6. At the company where I work we generally develop content independent of design. We do have a great internet marketing department which will help clients develop a content strategy, but I really feel that it’s divorced from the design process and so it could use optimization. This book could be just what we need to help improve our total offering.

  7. I too designed and developed sites for years, always with consideration of the possible content to come. To discover later on in the project the design doesn’t fit the content at all, because the content providers changed their mind or didn’t do their job.

    Therefore, I want to control this bit, the most important after all, of a site more than I do now. A good book that teaches me how to handle this and integrate this in my workflow, would be very helpful.

  8. I have trouble getting departments to realize that they need to have a clue as to what content they are providing before we can design. They always say, “Just come up with something that looks good and we’ll fill in the info later.” Sigh… perhaps if I had an actual process to help guide them along it would work better!

  9. I wish I could say the majority of my clients have a content strategy, but they do not. I want to read this book then pass it on to my main client who almost always gives me content at the last minute. I feel like I’m designing blind as I often don’t know what type or how much content is going to be represented.

  10. My strategy: As a photographer I have failed to be as social as I could. Once I knew about twitter I joined and starting following other pros. I listened to what they said, what they did, and how they did it. However this helped me, I never gave back to the community. I only took. Not in a greedy sense, but in the sense of not helping others in my same situation of learning about social media. I have recently been able to recognize this and had a desire to change. This will be my second week of writing a blog once per week. Something that I know will not only help myself in teaching others but giving back to others the information I’ve learned from my own experiences and pros.
    I’m also a newbie/interested in graphic designer and hence why I heard about this blog and contest.

  11. We’re new to formalizing our strategy and this is one of the books on my list to read. We’re moving to a content management system this year which will put us light years ahead of where we are today.

  12. I used to leave this largely up to the client, but that often meant they were late getting me content or even worse had no idea what they had or how up to date it was. I now start with an index by audience and what they already have. From that I can determine what needs to be rewritten, combined, deleted, etc.

    It isn’t perfect and I am always looking for ways to improve hopefully tis book can help improve my work flow.

  13. My Content Strategy generally consists of mid vel magna eu eros nunc dictumst porta, sed adipiscing integer enim nunc mid, turpis enim mauris odio ac phasellus vel lacus mus magna augue dignissim sagittis odio? A! Scelerisque augue sed rhoncus elementum aliquet porta a tincidunt, rhoncus placerat purus quis, duis a elit ridiculus, quis. I definitely need this book.

  14. Hi Johnathan, great book review! I’m about half-way through the book myself and am slowly falling in love with Kristina’s idea of doing content audits. Often times I see the focus is on upcoming content, rather than improving what’s already on the site. What do you think?

    PS – Since I own the book please don’t enter me in the giveaway.

  15. My content strategy is this: everything is content. From the first line of HTML on your website to the “Submit” button on the contact form. By starting the design process with content at the table you are preparing yourself for usability—something most people are scrambling to “design” into their sites after the face.

  16. Great review! I’ve been wanting to read this book and this review enhances this desire.

    Awhile back, I discovered this quote by Tom Johnson, which I think beautifully defines that which content strategy encompasses. In many ways, half of the battle of implementing content strategy is defining it.

    “Content strategy can seem like a fuzzy concept because it encompasses so much. But this all-encompassing quality is part of the definition of content strategy — the content strategist looks at all content, not just a slice of the pie. It easily includes metadata, taxonomy, search engine optimization, information architecture, user interface, multimedia, company presence, social media, web copy, product announcements, semantics, wireframes, and more.”

  17. I learned content strategy the hard way – by inheriting the management of a huge, content heavy, zero strategy, non-CMS website at a job. The day I stumbled upon Kristina and other CS people was a very good day, sort of like angels rejoicing. I haven’t read her book yet, but I want to.

  18. I just started at this company that shall not be named in December and I am the first content person and the lone content person.

    This company has been around for 30 years and has been online for the last 10. I have so much content to get through because the current thinking here is that “everything goes up online”. I’m trying to teach them that we should be strategic in what we place online and how. I don’t like this whole throw it on the website and people will find it mentality. And I’m alone. Very alone.

    I could use some serious backup here. Kristina seems like a tough cookie. Maybe her book will help give me some more arguments so I can teach my new coworkers why this is so important!

  19. For me content is the user interface, so I try to get the clients care for the content as much as the layout and the visuals. I used to allow myself putting lorem ipsum in the wireframes but now I strive to eliminate it altogether and writing / asking for real content for all pages.

  20. I am a Canadian federal public servant where there are legal requirements to review and revise content reguarly, as well as the metadata. Because content is like velcro – what goes up on the web often never comes down [1] – I have developed content strategies that are triggered by key metadata elements. Content owners are notified when certain content types are due for revision.

    Of course, all this management takes planning, client engagement, patience and lots of training and learning – for clients as well as me. The world of information management and content management is constantly changing, so to make our information and content the most accessible to the right people at the rightest time requires constant vigilance to things like SEO, taxonomies, bottomup/topdown, and so much more . It also helps to have a champion who “sells” the idea of content, and information, as a desirable product. And the reminder that there is a legal obligation to revise content also never hurt.

    This content strategy is not an overnight success and requires work, but it definitely does pay off in the end. Content owners develop pride in their stuff, and become the champions themselves. The prophecy self-fulfills. 🙂 And as an information manager, that’s my strategy.


    [1] Credit to J. Stewart for this expression.

  21. I know I run into the problem of wanting to make something that looks cool rather than focusing on the content and designing for that. It actually makes things harder because you’ll have to fit the content to the design when it has always been easier the other way around (and should be done that way). Hoping to snag one of the books so that I can learn more!

  22. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright, believed that form and function are one. A primary function of a website is to provide information content: this facilitates interacton and aids the user to complete a task. Aesthetics, usability and structure are key factors to a successful website. However, time spent in relation to producing and delivering effective content (for the user or SEO prurposes) will pay dividends. Good initial planning at the outset allows the team to deliver an end product.

  23. I want to spearhead the faster adoption of UX/IA principles on our development process by conducting internal company workshops where we can discuss and learn more about the subject and find our way to implement those best practices on our individual work flow and of course in the team as a whole. I believe it would greatly help us to become a mature team and company.

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