Content strategy and web writing

contentstrategyforthewebBoy, it must be getting harder and harder to be a web writer. I’m reading Content Strategy for the Web, and the web writer job description is intimidating! The quote that stuck with me talks about the Web Writers Real Job: problem solvers who write well. I do hope this quote describes many technical communicators today.

“The web writer’s mission? Useful, usable content that’s also enjoyable. It’s her job to begin a conversation with the reader that results in mutually beneficial outcomes all around. A problem solved. An article found. A connection made.”

All of these outcomes can be tied to thinking about technical documentation as a conversation starter. My book talks about social media enabling those conversations. Often, though, social distribution is simply the technique, but the web itself is the medium. When writing in that medium, we must be the best writers with the most considerations taken into account while writing. Search engine optimization. Style and voice when writing for the web versus print. Information architecture, organization, and label naming. Maintaining a content inventory. Auditing and editing content. Testing content. Handling workflow, reviews, and deadlines. The list could go on and on.

And here’s the thing. People are not backing down from figuring out a great web strategy despite the challenges, and finding great success. I had a great lunchtime conversation with Brian Massey, the Conversion Scientist. He basically mapped technical publications’ typical goals to the personas that help you encourage a conversion. Fascinating! He describes four personas typically used by marketing writers on the web in the blog post, Relate to Four, Connect with Thousands:

Methodical – Probably the first persona to come to mind when talking about traditional technical documentation, perhaps not even all that web-hungry. They want proof, answers, solutions, in an orderly fashion. They’d probably download and read a PDF file if it’s offered.

Competitive – They want information that will make them better, smarter, or cutting-edge. They may be the implementer at a company who will train others in the product you’re documenting, so they’d want scenarios that make them look good.

Humanist – To me, this type of persona, one who looks for relationships and the human element, might be difficult to deliver technical documentation to. They might pick up the phone to call tech support faster than looking up a question online, unless a community is behind the documentation that they can relate to. The humanist may also appreciate case studies that help them relate to a real story.

Spontaneous – They want to know the answer quickly and move on, so scannable headlines and topic authoring with any topic being a potential entry point will probably work well for them.

I’m definitely looking at my web writing in new ways. Not just in terms of deliverables, but also in terms of the content I can deliver to the right audiences, to help them meet their goals.


  • December 18, 2009 - 9:50 am | Permalink

    I just finished this book and wrote a review of it if you’re interested:

    I agree with your points. I kept reading this book and thinking how technical writers are doing a lot of this stuff already. However, this book takes it a little further and really talks about the process around taking care of content (not just creating it). I loved it.

    I think content strategy is intriguing, because it seems like a marriage between usability and content. I’m glad some focus is being placed on that relationship and how to make the two disciplines work together.

  • December 18, 2009 - 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Awesome, Rachel, thanks for sharing your review.

    I like “taking care of content” – thanks for that phrase. 🙂 I just mentioned to someone yesterday that I really appreciated the fact that a concept of “governance” has been in books I’m reading lately – Art of Community and Content Strategy both respect it, describe it, and expect us to do our part to make it work by measuring, maintaining, and shifting the fundamentals every so slightly. I wonder if “governance” would turn others off though.

  • December 19, 2009 - 6:13 pm | Permalink

    No problem! “Governance” is probably a scary word to people outside our field. I think talking about it in terms of making sure content doesn’t get stale (and thus cause a revenue loss or stop generating revenue altogether) is a better way to present it to non-writer types.

  • Patrick
    December 19, 2009 - 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading both yours and Rachel’s review of this book, thanks for that!

    I see much of what both Richard Sheffield and Kristina Halvorson discuss already being used by ‘teams’. Maybe not as consolidated or solidified as they put it but it does exist; as Rachel points out in her comment, a process. I’m still undecided as to Content Strategy being its own discipline yet, as always time will tell I guess.

    Concerning the word governance I actually made use of it while rewriting a recent client’s project evaluation process & development methodology, and no one was the least bit scared or intimidated by it. In fact the director I was working for felt I absolutely ‘nailed it’. That word was actually introduced a number of years ago to IT via ITIL.

  • December 21, 2009 - 2:21 pm | Permalink

    These 4 typical personas are great and valuable for someone like me who keeps writing personas for each project. I think you could probably continue to break them down from these 4. I also think it’s important to remember that many of these personas can switch within each actual person, depending on the content they are looking for.

  • December 23, 2009 - 12:09 am | Permalink

    Agreed – people searching web content for work are going to act according to a different persona than those seeking something for personal use.

    That said, I think these personas are based on Meyers-Briggs type indicators, which is such an accurate test that the results shouldn’t change even as a person gains experiences. So, people may take action because of their basic perceptions of the world and decision making process. Wowsers.

  • March 31, 2012 - 12:55 pm | Permalink

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