Devising a workable and effective content strategy can be difficult for any company or brand, as the needs and desires of readers, clients, and businesses always vary from individual to individual, and from day to day. With a bit of work and the following content strategy guide to get you started, you should be well on your way to developing a stellar web design content strategy! The most important part is that you start, and these practical and actionable strategies will help you get your ass in gear.
If you’d like a brief overview of what a content strategy is, check out this brief video by Lynda.com.
Begin with Introspective Evaluation
Before taking that first step down the road of content creation, the best tactic is to initially spend some time to evaluate where your company, your content, and your brand currently stand. Begin this evaluation by honestly answering a few simple questions:
How is our brand currently perceived in the marketplace?
What are good and bad aspects of the brand’s existing content?
What content-related goals would we like to achieve?
How does our brand match up to other web design competitors?
With these basic questions answered about your brand and where your company currently stands, you can move onto an overall content strategy design by answering “The Five Ws”:
- Who is the audience of our content?
- When should particular content be available?
- Where (in which channels) should the content exist?
- Why is the content relevant (or) why will the audience care?
- What is the message or purpose of the content?
For example, throughout this article I’ll illustrate examples with a fictional up-and-coming web design firm called Green Lemon Design. The Green Lemon team — who are looking to establish themselves in the web design market as a talented, young, and energetic choice for lower to mid-tier web designs — might answer these questions in the following (simplified) form:
Who is the audience of our content?
Potential clients: Users seeking low- to mid-range website design and consultation services.
Existing clients: Users who have worked with us in the past.
When should particular content be available?
Most content on the website should be available 24/7, while content that is time-sensitive (such as a month-long new client special deal) can be temporary.
Where (in which channels) should the content exist?
Onsite, Blog, Email, Twitter, Facebook
Why is the content relevant (or) why will the audience care?
The audience should be seeking professional and affordable web design services that we can offer (for potential customers) or additional customer support and services (for existing clients).
What is the message or purpose of the content?
To inform and educate our audience on the skills and capabilities of our brand, to impress with our past successes and portfolio, and to establish good rapport and relationships with both potential and existing clients.
Establishing Brand, Voice, and Tone Guidelines
With the basic questions answered that inform you of a need to change your content strategy, now is a good time to evaluate the brand, voice, and tone guidelines you’ll utilize throughout the content.
Fonts and typefaces: What fonts will be used throughout the content? How about sizes for various elements (paragraphs, headers, testimonials, etc)?
Colors and palettes: What colors best suit your brand or company and can be utilized throughout the content? – Example above includes a distinctive color palette that could be applied to other elements.
Images and logos: Which particular static images or logos should be prominent throughout the content? – It’s useful to repeat symbols such as the ‘greenish lemon’ throughout this piece. This may be particular to the content you put out on your site in general, or a particular blog post or content hub.
Videos and animations: As above, are there any video clips that should be frequent or readily available somewhere in the content?
Voice & Tone
Determine early in the process what kind of voice and tone you wish to attach to your content and thus associate with your brand. This can be difficult at first, particularly without much in the way of experienced writers on staff, but finding an appropriate voice can be a huge boon to your content strategy as a whole.
For example, Green Lemon Web Design may elect to take on a very informal, even humorous tone throughout their content. As a young and fresh company, they may feel most comfortable keeping their tone light-hearted and fun, to attract the business and clientele of smaller, younger companies like themselves.
Onsite Content: The Bread of Your Content Strategy Sandwich
Time to get down to the real core of your content strategy by first devising the outline of content that should exist onsite. Remember, anything that exists on the company or brand website (with the exception of the blog) is considered onsite content and should be under your complete control.
For our fictitious Green Lemon Web Design, the outline for onsite content strategy might include the following sections:
Voice & Tone: Errors/alerts, testimonials, FAQ, portfolio should have a fun and humorous tone, while a more serious, business tone is necessary for transactional and billing-related messages.
Images: In addition to the logo and color palette established previously, we’d like some professional photography to splash through the core onsite pages (about us, contact us, etc), but with a refreshing twist: Each photo should contain a small green lemon strategically placed and tucked somewhere in the graphic, to bring a branded element into the design for brand awareness and maximum impact.
Portfolio: A list of clients we’ve assisted in the past with small testimonials from business partners from each when relevant.
About Us: Details about how Green Lemon came to be, including headshots of all employees with short, fun bios from each. Employees must provide a quote (think high school graduation yearbook quote, or ask a curious question to get your team showing their true colors.) In my experience looking at analytics for a lot of sites, people visit these pages more than you might initially think. It make sense, because we want to know about the people in your business. Tell us more, give us the inside scoop, tell your story.
Contact Us/Get a Quote: Standard form with name, email, and (optional) telephone fields for potential clients to get in touch. Should we include our company promise to establish return correspondence within 4 hours?
FAQ: Answer basic questions, primarily focused at potential customers. What is our typical turnaround time? What post-design support can we offer? Include a handful of fun and humorous questions at the end as well.
Services: Describe all services we offer, broken into categories (consultation, marketing, technology, industries, etc).
Errors & Alerts: 404 error should be squeezed green lemon with one final drop of juice falling out. Logged in clients with unread messages or invoices should see amusing flash message on each screen until dismissed. Little alerts and responses to contact form inquiries can be an opportunity to show a bit of the companies friendly, human character as well as display being adept with technology and attention to detail.
Blog Posts: That’s the Good Stuff
While strong onsite content is of course critical to the success of any strategy, very often the real meat and potatoes of your online presence is contained within the blog. The blog offers an avenue for expressing ideas and sharing content that is timely, relevant, and inspirational for the audience.
A blog is also a more appropriate channel to take risks — even slight ones — with the content your brand produces. Blog content can be anything from industry news and competitor-vs.-self comparisons to tutorials and how-to guides.
A successful blog is a channel for content that relates to the brand or company, but then extends well beyond the purview of the brand to provide relevant and interesting content for the audience to consume.
Don’t get caught in the old-school idea of a blog, where one or a handful of curators post personal stories and anecdotes. While that type of content is certainly acceptable and sometimes appropriate to a modern blog, try to expand the content well outside the bounds of that traditionally small umbrella.
For example, Green Lemon might highlight some potential blog ideas for their new web designer content strategy:
A post discussing highly influential creatives in the design space and how they have inspired Green Lemon and other designers. We should emphasize the great projects these creatives have worked on over the years to entice our readers by illustrating how Green Lemon understands the industry and that our team (or freelancer) strives to meet the same standards of excellence.
Discuss the importance of social media contact, even amongst these influences, by tagging them on Twitter with a link to the blog post. An ideal tactic is not to directly ask a question of the power user in question, but to ask a question of our general Twitter audience (e.g. “Designers: How has @Influencer inspired you in your own projects? #GreenLemonDreaming”).
Content Hub Posts
Posts that emphasize a highly-curated and relevant series of links and posts found elsewhere that relate to a particular topic, such as web design. Since a popular group of articles gathered in this singular “content hub”-style post will drive a lot of SEO traffic and referral linkbacks to our site, we can be confident that the effort in putting together these posts is worthwhile and will generate a great deal of buzz and traffic for Green Lemon.
As a relatively new company, we cannot be afraid to try emphasizing localized keywords to drive interest and traffic to Green Lemon and bring in potential clients.
A great technique is to create a series of blog posts that highlight particular keywords and heavily focus the relevant aspects of the content on those keywords.
To drive localized traffic we can start with “Web Design in Minneapolis” and “Web Design in Minnesota,” which should feature some location-specific content mixed into the standard information. This can be as simple as pictures or mentions of local attractions in the city or state that residents of these areas who read the article will relate to.
Conversely, we’ll need more broad language and images to accompany our post about “WordPress Web Design,” which should shy away from localized content but instead contain information solely about the techniques and technologies (CMS organization, colors/typefaces, content release schedule, etc).
Inactivity is a Death Sentence
While the initial questions and answers when getting started in the content strategy process as seen above might seem at first to provide only a very rudimentary insight the steps to implement a strategy, there is one key lesson to learn when it comes to anything related to content: Don’t get bogged down by the minutiae and thus never take action.
The biggest mistake anyone can make when it comes to content strategy is to be too passive, to over-assess and over-plan to the point of inaction. Particularly in the online space — where content moves at the speed of light (both figuratively and literally) — failing to act at all on a new content strategy is far worse than taking action and modifying or adjusting the content strategy plan as you learn and grow along the way.
That’s not to say planning and strategy are not important, but in many situations for both companies and clients alike, it is far more important to just “get out there” with the content so the audience can begin to interact with the content or brand than it is to delay far too long with nothing to show for it from a public perspective.
Maintaining Your Flexibility
Content strategies come in all shapes and sizes and should not be solely thought of as a brand-wide, all-inclusive methodology for every piece of content the brand creates.
Instead, content strategies can and should be developed in a modular fashion. Similar to a well-crafted website, an interchangeable content strategy allows for flexibility throughout the process over time, as variables change and the success (or failure) of a particular strategy evolves over time.
This technique should most commonly be used to distinguish between the various channels in which your content resides. A strategy module that suits email campaigns is likely not as well suited for handling social media interactions on Twitter, just as the static onsite content used throughout the site will differ significantly from the content posted on a blog.
Embrace these differences and freely develop multiple modules of your content strategy to fit each appropriate channel. You can and should still maintain an overall parent strategy that infuses elements into every child strategy below that (fonts, colors, common logos/images, etc), but much of the content beyond that will shift as the medium changes.
The Necessity of Taking Risks
A very useful tool when first developing a content strategy is to evaluate the various levels of “risk” involved in any given style or example of content. That is, when a reader or user engages with that content, how likely are they to expect it versus how likely are they to be pleasantly surprised? Additionally as the content creator, how likely is a piece of content to feel standard and safe versus something risky that could fail or be taken poorly, but provide benefit if successful?
There are numerous risk strategies out there, but a solid standard for content strategy used by Portent, Inc. is the 70-20-10 rule.
This rule effectively states that 70% of your content should be safe and expected, 20% should be moderately risky and challenges the standard 70% of your content, and the last 10% should be very risky, such that it is entirely unexpected content or may horribly fail in some way (but will offer large benefits if successful).
For the fictitious Green Lemon Web Design, they have elected to disperse their content using the 70-20-10 rule in roughly this manner:
70%: Most onsite stuff, such as About Us, FAQ, Services, Contact Us/Get a Quote, etc.
20%: Most blog posts that relate to the industry; those that provide assistance to clients, potential customers, or casual readers.
10%: A handful of blog posts that go against the normal, such as emphasizing the great work our competitors have been doing in the past few months or a post about a seemingly unrelated topic to drive traffic and user interest (books, gaming, fishing, etc). We’d also like to add a comparison chart of services and pricing between Green Lemon and popular competitors, which may include features we are weaker at than others but may ingratiate readers to us for our honesty.
Whatever the exact risk assessment is that your own brand settles on, it is vital to not be too afraid of taking risks from time to time. Being a little out there or edgy with your content will make a lasting, memorable impression instead of the countless other examples that are boring and forgotten after a short glance.
A Handful of Content Examples
Below you’ll find a list of example content titles that a new web design firm like Green Lemon — or even you — might find useful to pursue, roughly categorized by intended audience and/or creators.
For Web Designers
Web-for-All: Accessibility for Modern Web Design
Why Improved Design Cannot Solve Content Issues
Content Optimization for Mobile Platforms
Why Email Requires a Responsive Design
And Dash of That..: How A/B Testing Dramatically Improves User Experience
A Bridge Too Far: When Additional Feature Requests Should Be Ignored
This Ain’t Your Granddad’s Pixel: How Modern Displays Are Changing Web Design
Creating Beautiful Graphics and Logos in Pure CSS
The Homepage: When Automation Must Take a Back Seat to Human Control
For Web Marketers
Identifying Your Audience and Content to Meet User Demands
Community is Everything: Why Building a Community is Critical to Content Strategy
Risk vs. Reward: Why Safe is Often the Least Safe
Cultivating Client Relationships
I Like You: Spreading Your Content via Third Party Services
Localization, Love, and Liberation: Why i18n is Critical to Content Strategy
Miniature Adults: How Children Utilize the Web and Interact with Your Site
Stay Awhile and Listen: How to Genuinely Engage with Readers
Establishing a Content Strategy for Personal Websites
Online Trapdom: Why Free Services Rarely Are
Just You Being You: How Social Media Encourages a False Sense of Self
Look At All My Resources!
While this article should provide a great starting point to establishing your own web marketer content strategy, there are multitudes of resources online with great information to boost your knowledge and get you down the right path toward content nirvana.
Below are a handful of prime resources to chew through at your leisure, so please enjoy!
Creating a Content Compass: Explores the diverging content strategy of a particular web project across the entirety of a brand’s content universe.
Being Real Builds Trust: Discusses why trust with users and clients is among the most vital components of strong marketing content strategy.
Future-Ready Content: Developing a web design content strategy that is as future-proof as possible, not just technically but in the manner in which content is created.
Contently Comic: Sponsored Insanity: Explores the pitfalls and trouble that can come from unnecessary sponsored content.
The Most Important Audience for Your Content Marketing: Your Own Employees: How brand and businesses should ensure employees fully understand and adhere to the marketing content strategy.