The Content Strategist’s Axe

[April 20, 2010]

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of talk about content strategy, even to the extent that it might now be “the next big thing.” Now, this topic has been around for some time and I’m a little surprised to see it’s getting so much attention, as if it were the latest Apple app or Justin Bieber download.

But when was content strategy not on our minds? Am I to assume that, up until recently, Web site development has been a process in which content blocks were simply thrown together willy-nilly?

Having analyzed a large number of Web sites over the last few years, I guess that’s quite possible. And considering that one piece of advice consistently given by content strategy consultants is to “know all the content on your site,” I see the issue is woven more deeply into the fabric of digital space than I realized. The situation is so bad that people are actually hiring consultants to snake out their Web sites, Roto-Rooter style, and find out what bubbles back up through the drain.

So perhaps the sad fact is that the digital revolution has so far been carried out in a singularly haphazard way. As I see it, the root of the problem is a generalized obsession with all-inclusiveness: We expect each Web site to do too much.

Original. Fresh. Relevant.
By now, if we are to believe the statistics, it’s clear people are popping on and off Web pages in mere seconds. Given that, should we really strive to pump every consumer-facing site full of “the best of the Web,” including newsfeeds linking to other sites offering “the best of the Web?”

Surely, if we are to believe that the average American has the attention span of a gnat and the education of a Fifth Grader, our only hope is to provide more narrowly focused and more frequently updated content. Just as important, that content should be original. In fact, if a site can’t deliver original content on a regular basis about a particular range of topics aimed at a specific target, I doubt there’s any reason for it to exist at all.

Even within merchandizing space there’s room for frequent updates on shopping trends, consumer advice and advocacy. How much more useful the average e-tail site would be, if it came out for or against product lines or market trends.

Sharpening the blade.
Seen from this perspective, maybe the way around the content strategy dilemma is not to hire more consultants, but limit what’s posted to information immediately relevant to visitors. And by “immediately,” I mean to strike out 99% of what, through a never ending chain of word associations, often ends up on a Web page.

Given that, perhaps the only content strategy tool you’ll ever need is a scalpel—or in some cases, a pick axe. If you don’t believe me, take a good hard look at the featured content on a dozen or more sites—even those from major brands. Can you honestly say that more than 1% is worth saving? Look long enough and you’ll even discover that a large amount of it is even copied verbatim from some other source.

Chances are, once you carry out this exercise, you’ll realize that the best thing you can do for your Web site is start over from scratch. This time, build your content strategy around only those topics that directly support your brand message. If it’s true that “brands are becoming media,” then what you show on your channel is more than a window display: it’s the store itself.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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