Op-Ed: What is Content Strategy, Really?

Alas, our usual Extractable contributor Simon Mathews is sitting this month out, but we gladly welcome this rather epic debut from Dana Larson, VP/user experience at the aforementioned San Francisco agency. Larson has spent 20+ years in the biz, holding a wide range of positions including copywriter, CMO, content strategy director and ECD. Seeing as she has some experience in the content strategy field as noted, Larson offers a comprehensive look into what this job exactly entails. Read on.

Recently I was reading a discussion on LinkedIn Groups about whether or not it was a promotion to go from copywriter to content strategist. I asked one of my old colleagues what he thought, and his response was, “I don’t know…what is content strategy, really?” Actually, that’s a good question as I think a lot of people don’t really know what content strategy is. Erin Kissane explains this phenomena in her book, The Elements of Content Strategy, by saying, “In an industry in which the efforts of visual designers, information architects, front-end developers, and content creators can be seen center-stage when a new website launches, content strategy is a fundamentally backstage discipline.” And because content strategists typically work with all of these more visible roles, it can make their role seem even less clear-cut.

I’ll get to just what a content strategist does in a bit, but first let’s set the stage by taking a look at a website that was clearly designed without the aid of a content strategist. I’m kind of at a loss for words at how a renowned organization like Massachusetts Institute of Technology could produce something like the Center for Advanced Visual Studies website. Its haphazard placement of text islands obscured by clouds of floating type combined with random web 2.0 animations is a recipe for digital indigestion. Wow. Go there. Now. Resize the window. Experience the wonder. It’s the site that keeps on giving.


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