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Content Strategy Knowledge Base

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The Language of Content Strategy book cover. Credits: XML PRESS
Literature Review
The Language of Content Strategy
by Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie
Contributors
Freya Essler
Azza El Arabi
Azza El Arabi
Topics

The Language of Content Strategy – an essential reference for content strategists

3 February 2022

The Language of Content Strategy provides a lexicon for the discipline of content strategy. It aims to deliver a set of terms and vocabulary that can communicate content strategy in an understandable way across the industry, practitioners, and stakeholders. It has been published as a book and as a website.

The book (Abel & Bailie 2014) and the website The Language of Content Strategy (The Language of Content Strategy) provide an overview for anyone learning about content strategy or for people working in an area of this complex discipline who want to learn about topics related to it. It shows the connections between the various topics of content strategy.

This book is the first and the only lexicon of content strategy. Many of its articles are still useful especially as reference material in reading other literature about content strategy.

The Language of Content Strategy is a publication by Rahel Anne Bailie and Scott Abel. Both have great expertise in the content strategy field.

Rahel Ann Bailie is a globally active content strategist with high competence in diagnostics. She describes herself on LinkedIn as "I'm the professional who delivers the hard truths and sometimes difficult prescriptions that help organisations leverage their content as a business asset." She is the owner of Content, Seriously, a London based content strategy and content operations consultancy. She is a regular speaker at content strategy and technical communication conferences and the co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, one of the first and one of the most cited book on content strategy. Besides her career as a content strategist, she is also a lecturer at the Content Strategy Master’s Program at FH-Joanneum in Graz, Austria.

twitter.com/rahelab

Scott Abel is an internationally known content strategist. He writes regularly for business and content industry publications, is frequentlyselected as a featured presenter at content industry events, and served on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, Schoolof Information. . His firm, The Content Wrangler, exists to help content-heavy organizations adopt the tools, technologies, andtechniques they need to connect content to customers. Scott is also the producer of The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Series of books from XML Press.

twitter.com/scottabel

But this book can also serve very practical purposes. It can

  • help organizations to understand why and where they need a content strategist,
  • support team leaders in defining content strategy tasks and jobs
  • be read as an introduction to content strategy

In 2014 a lexicon was not only essential to describe content strategy. It was also an important contribution to the evolution of this discipline. By comparing the fields of information architecture and content strategy, Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie explain the relevance of their book for the discipline. In the early times, information architecture practitioners of this field faced challenges in presenting and negotiating deliverables to stakeholders.

According to the authors, content strategists experience similar challenges. Having a common vocabulary and an accepted lexicon are essential aspects of a mature discipline.

In the book, Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie introduce 52 industry terms with articles contributed by experts from the field.

This lexicon was conceived as a dynamic work in progress. The editors hoped that it would grow and evolve as the discipline matures. Until now, this hope has not been fulfilled. But much of the information is still up-to-date, and the need for a common base of content strategy terms maybe even more significant today than in 2014.


The content: A short encyclopedia of content strategy

The Language of Content Strategy is divided into five overarching sections:

I - Core concepts: This section defines the fundamental terms that underpin the discipline of content strategy. These terms are essential to understand what content strategy is, what the main components of this field are, and how they are connected.

II - Core deliverables: This section defines and explains a content strategy project's most common set of deliverables. They focus on the current state, the desired outcome, and the analyses to discover the existing gaps.

III - Technical concepts: This section explains essential technical terms used in content strategy and elucidates the technological context for implementing a content strategy.

IV - Extended deliverables: This section deals with the deliverables that the author argues may be needed for some project types but not others. The authors point out that what determines whether or not an ‘extended deliverable’ term belongs to this section is to some extent arbitrary. The section explains the most common types of such deliverables. In real-world projects, other types of deliverables may be added, such as in domain-specific projects.

V - Global content: This section is for practitioners who need to localize content and understand what is required beyond direct translation. The terms in this section are relevant for content strategies that concern different markets and in multiple languages.

Below are summaries and key takeaways from the terms covered by the book’s five sections:

Section I: Core concepts

Scott Abel explains that content is any text, image, video, decoration, or user-consumable elements contributing to comprehension. Content is important because it is the most-used way of understanding an organization’s products, services, stories, and brand.

This ties in nicely with Rahel Anna Bailie’s description of a content strategy, which deals with ‘the analysis and planning to develop a repeatable system that governs content management throughout the entire lifecycle. Content strategy is essential in giving a company context to implement its vision integrated to meet business goals.

According to Robert Rose, a Content Lifecycle defines the changes that content goes through, including creation and reproduction. He explains that a content lifecycle consists of five stages: strategic analysis, content collection, content management, publication, post-publication maintenance, and preservation or re-purposing of content. The practitioner needs to have a unified way of managing each stage of the content lifecycle.

Mark Lewis explains that a Content Standard is a design or definition considered by an authority as an approved model. It can include structural and semantic models processes and presentation semantics models.

Accessibility (written by Char James-Tanny) is a legal requirement, refers to the usability of a website’s content regardless of the users’ disabilities, such as sensory, physical, cognitive, intellectual, or situational.

Content optimization (by PG Bartlett) aims to refine language to improve its readability accuracy, clarity, consistency, translatability, findability, extensibility, linguistic correctness, tone, and voice in a relevant context. These improvements can be aided by the presence of Content Quality Assurance (Laurence Dansokho) which is essentially a process that acts to make sure that content meets specific requirements before it is published.

Also linked to optimization is findability (Cheryl Landes), which, as the name suggests, is how easy or difficult it is for content to be found through searching and browsing. Based on the term definitions in this section, several tools help improve findability, including metadata (Laura Creekmore) and search engine optimization (Lisa Trager). The former makes it possible to structure, semantically define, and target content, while the latter deals with best practices that enable content to rank well in search engine results.

Finally, personalization (Kevin Nichols) means targeting users with content relevant to them using information about them.

Section II: Core deliverables

There are several deliverables that a practitioner typically produces to understand the baseline of the content from its current state to the desired outcomes and the analyses done to discover gaps—beginning with a content brief, which summarizes the plan for a content project, as explained by Colleen Jones. According to Kate Kenyon, a requirements matrix enables the practitioner to assess content priorities against defined business needs and goals.

When assessing the current state of content, a practitioner takes stock of the content inventory, which entails creating a list of all content assets and conducting a content audit. The audit is a qualitative assessment of content against business objectives, user needs, and defined qualitative criteria (accuracy, readability, currency, brand, etc.)

As part of examining the content and producing deliverables, the practitioner’s scope will typically include conducting a content analysis, defining content types, creating a content matrix, a content flow, content models, and taxonomy, and evaluating content against the content scorecard. These deliverables deal with tracking the content project’s progress, organizing content in a meaningful manner, and assessing its strengths, weaknesses, and priority level.

III. Technical Concepts

This chapter concentrates on the technical aspect of content strategy. The goal is to understand the terms to communicate with technicians more proficiently. Moreover, it helps to manage expectations towards technological capabilities.

The term single-sourcing means that content is produced once to use in various contexts and channels. One important part of this kind of content production is that the content is formatted after the authoring process so that the authors can concentrate exclusively on the quality and think ahead on where it will be published. On the other hand, designers can adapt the content adequately to different output platforms. Producing content in this manner has many advantages: the time for authoring, editing, and translation is reduced, also the risk of redundant and inconsistent content. Additional XML is generally the format of single-sourced content.

XML is short for extensible mark-up language and structures data for storage and exchange. It is a nonproprietary standard and is widely supported. When content is structured correctly, tools can understand the semantics, e.g., titles, lists, tables, phrases, and quotations.

Content reuse” is mainly used in terms of copy and paste. A more efficient way is to use XML. In this manner, it is possible to edit and author content in one location and use it in another. The advantage is that components can be updated without searching through every location the content might have been used. Another effective way to create suitable content fast is the practice of modular content. Modular Content means that, after analyzing the content, it is divided into components. These components can now be modified for various purposes and different audiences.

IV. Extended Deliverables

The fourth chapter gives insight into the most common deliverables in context and terms of content strategy. Margot Bloomstein, the first contributor to this topic, explains message architecture as follows: “A hierarchy of communication goals that reflect a shared vocabulary.” Message architecture influences: planning for the creation, assigning responsibilities, establishing guidelines, assessing quality, auditing redundancy, and scheduling archiving. She argues that you need to know what the content should achieve for that purpose. (e.g., should it inform, entertain, …) A very similar term is information architecture. On the one hand, IA is a process and, on the other hand, a product. The process focuses on organizing and effectively structuring content. IA as a product would be a conceptual model. As a result of a good IA, the user can find information and complete tasks.

As humans, we are very drawn to visuals. As a content strategist, you can use that fact and embed your information in a visual representation. Information visualization is an excellent way to bring your message across in a compelling way for your audience. Another visual aid is a so-called wireframe. A wireframe is a simplified version of how a website or application would look on screen. Mostly wireframes are kept very minimal to maintain the attention on how a site would work instead of what content is presented.

A valuable tool to guide the tone and voice of a business is the style guide. A style guide captures how a company wants to address its target group. This is helpful to writers and editors and makes it easier for them to produce good content. A further important tool for guidance is the governance model. A good content strategy must know who is in charge; otherwise, you may get stuck. Making decisions is unavoidable, so it is best to determine the responsible persons right at the beginning.

An editorial calendar is a tool that helps in different ways. Firstly, it helps to keep an overview of when content is published and prioritize it, but it also helps maintain a consistent voice and not overwhelm your audience. When it comes to the structure of an editorial calendar, there are no “one fits all” solutions. It needs to be customized to the needs of the business.

V. Global Content

The final chapter of the book talks about making the content suitable for a global audience. Lori Thicke quotes Nelson Mandela to stress out how meaningful translations are:” If you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." A study shows that if a person is addressed in their native language, the chance that they are buying a product is six times higher. So, the first step is to translate your content. Regarding translations, the book gives insight into machine translation (MT), translation memory, and terminology management. In most cases, there is just too much content on a website that a translator can translate. So, as a content strategist trying to globalize your content, you need to look at these tools.

It is a sensitive topic to distribute content globally. As a content strategist, you need to be careful and conscious about how other cultures react to your content. To make your content more meaningful for local audiences, you need to localize it. According to James V. Rarnano, localization is a strategic process: “it requires a comprehensive, planned approach in which all parts of the content system- the messaging, technologies, audience- come together in a dynamic, creative process.”

The last topic of introduction into the language of content strategy is multilingual search engine optimization. The best translation is useless if the target group cannot find it. The google keyword tool is an excellent opportunity for finding relevant information. Besides the correct metadata, hosting on a local domain is an advantage.

Take away: Still the best compendium of content strategy

For any practitioner in the content strategy field, The Language of Content Strategy provides a very useful, highly applicable collection of terms to help guide, inform and communicate their work. As the discipline continues to grow and mature, we expect that some term definitions may be revised, while new ones might get added to reflect the evolution of content.

Rahel Bailie

Source: XML Press

Scott Abel

Source: XML Press

While it follows in the footsteps of the many books on content strategy published in recent years (Clout, Content Everywhere, Content Strategy for the Web, etc.), The Language of Content Strategy stands out because of its stated desire to contribute to the development and standardization of an expert vocabulary for content strategy.

– Isabelle Sperano

Reception

"The Language of Content Strategy" is among the most cited works in the discipline of content strategy. It has been reviewed by scholars like Isabelle Sperano (2014). Praise by important voices of the industry is quoted on the web site (Reviews).

The work is a foundation for many texts that present content strategy for practitioners. However, it has also been received and repeatedly cited as an important source in the academic literature on content strategy (Semantic Scholar).

It has a special place because it bridges the content strategy community within technical communication and the tradition of content strategy within the web and online marketing field.

References

Abel, S., & Bailie, R. A. (2014). The Language of Content Strategy. XML Press.

The Language of Content Strategy. (n.d.). Retrieved 30 June 2021, from http://www.thelanguageofcontentstrategy.com/

Reviews. (n.d.). The Language of Content Strategy. Retrieved 30 June 2021, from http://www.thelanguageofcontentstrategy.com/content/reviews.html

Sperano, I. (2014). Review of The language of content strategy (French). Interfaces numériques, 3(2), 341–343.

The Language of Content Strategy | Semantic Scholar. (n.d.). Semantic Scholar. Retrieved 30 June 2021, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Language-of-Content-Strategy-Abel-Bailie/1784c958c4e01d086159668c7500ffd2a7274902#citing-papers