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Creating a Unified Content Strategy for the Web and Beyond

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Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper explain that the only way to create content that meets changing customer needs is to adopt a unified content strategy. Such a strategy allows you to develop adaptive content that’s modular, structured, reusable, and not tied to any device or platform.
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A typical organization has multiple content creators who design, create, manage, and distribute customer-facing content. Content is created and delivered on the Web, in print, and on multiple devices. The processes and best practices to create and manage content at an organizational level are undergoing a dramatic shift as content creators adapt to the increasing demands of a volatile content world.

The Web

With more than two decades of website creation behind us, you’d think that the processes for effective website content design and development would be well defined. But content best practices and methodologies have only come into their own with the advent of content strategy.

In the early days of the Web, when large volumes of content had to be uploaded and integrated into the web environment, the focus was on how to achieve this process as efficiently and accurately as possible. Content wasn’t considered part of the solution; it was considered more a problem to be solved.

Many organizations felt that if they purchased the right software tool, they could create a great website. Not so. Content management projects have a 30 percent failure rate, with failures occurring when software tools are purchased without a clear understanding of requirements and design. That’s because a tool doesn’t make a website; a website is only as good as the content you put in.

Ironically, content—the heart of a website—isn’t usually coherently designed or managed. It’s typically driven by groups saying, “We need content that talks about this, or covers that,” rather than by the groups that drive the customer experience. Content is measured by how well it’s written, not by how well it conveys the right message or elicits the right response. Content is handcrafted to get the message right as opposed to getting the correct content to the right customer in the right context. Disparate groups across the organization create their own content in isolation, resulting in a disjointed customer experience.

The concept of content strategy has been around since the late 1990s, but it really took off in 2009 when Kristina Halvorson wrote Content Strategy for the Web. This book has galvanized web content authors, designers, and editors to put content once again front and center in website design. Kristina defines content strategy as:

Content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content.

While not yet fully formalized, the concepts of content strategy have made huge inroads, moving website content creation from an art to a methodology. However, content strategists have fallen into the same trap that print designers fell into before them. They continue to design content for a given platform, a certain screen resolution, or a given size on the screen—the container of “the page.” But content is no longer restricted to the page; people expect to be able to consume or use content on the device of their choosing.

Focusing on the issues of screen size, many organizations are adopting responsive web design principles that scale the visual design down for small screen displays and up for very large screen displays. However, responsive web design only resizes a website; it does nothing to provide the right content in the right context for customers. Only adaptive content design can give customers what they want, in the form they want it, and in the right context. Resizing visuals is not the solution to platform proliferation.

The only way to create content that meets changing customer needs is to adopt a unified content strategy. Such a strategy allows you to develop adaptive content that’s modular, structured, reusable, and not tied to any device or platform.

Adaptive content automatically adjusts to different environments and device capabilities to deliver the best possible customer experience, filtering and layering content for greater or lesser depth of detail. Adaptive content can:

  • Be displayed in any desired order
  • Be made to respond to specific customer interactions
  • Change based on location
  • Integrate content from other sources
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