Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway): Every Web writer should prepare some kind of content strategy, no matter how barebones, for each and every gig — before starting to write. Even if it’s just figuring out the main messages the client wants to get across, how they align with the brand, who you’re writing for (personas!), what style guide you’ll be using, who needs to approve your copy (editorial workflow), and so on — you need to know all that beforehand to write copy that’s worth its salt. Most clients with any communications experience recognize that and cooperate, although often you get the impression they think you’re being a tad finicky. (I remember one exec. calling me “methodical” with a slight air of disparagement). Some will even review and approve the document or documents you prepare for them to make sure everyone’s ‘on the same page’ from the get-go.
The hard part, I’ve learned, is (1) getting get busy execs. to recognize that the time and effort required to prepare those documents is worth paying for and (2) the documents are not optional guidelines that can be ignored later or whimsically changed along the way; they’re specific plans that should be respected and followed throughout a Web project if the copy is to be high-quality and not cost more than originally planned. A documented content strategy plan signed-off on by key project stakeholders can work wonders in avoiding the many additional rewrites, follow-up meetings and phone calls that result from not having a strategy.
Here’s a table of contents from a pretty basic content strategy I recently put together for a small company (13 employees) that hired me to write copy for their new website. It includes most, but not all, the main components of a typical content strategy planning document:
- Intro (explain purpose of document)
- Market position
- Market differentiators
- Site business goals
- Brand attributes & messaging
- Web copy voice and tone
- Editorial style guide (published)
- Personas (goal-based)
- Website content support for social media channels
- Blog content support for company brand