Top 10 Content Strategy Pitfalls

    Melissa Rach, vice president of content strategy at Brain Traffic and coauthor of Content Strategy for the Web, Second Edition, sees far too many organizations making similar mistakes in their outreach attempts. The “throw it together” approach that most people employ tends to create havoc, rather than useful information for potential customers and clients. She shares 10 of the most common (and dangerous) pitfalls that everyone should learn to avoid.

    Web pages, mobile apps, print materials, and social media create an endless stream of content that can be a challenge for any organization. A content strategy can help ensure that all of your content efforts are beneficial to your business, and ultimately to your content users.

    Adapted from Peachpit for IT Business Edge

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    Click through for the top 10 most common (and dangerous) content pitfalls everyone should avoid, as identified by Melissa Rach, vice president of content strategy at Brain Traffic and coauthor of Content Strategy for the Web, Second Edition

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    Managing content efforts can seem like a constant game of catch-up. You need to keep up with your organization’s new products, changing brand campaigns, and executive pet projects. To get out of constant reaction mode, you need to stop, drop everything, and strategize. Although it seems counter-intuitive, taking time out to create a flexible, long-term strategy will help you focus and prioritize your content efforts. Even better, a good strategy will help you proactively plan for the future and recognize progress over time. You’ll still be busy, but not behind.

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    Lots of people try to keep their content strategy efforts secret until they are complete. Unfortunately for them, “going it alone” is probably the single best way to ensure content strategy disaster. Why? People are much more likely to accept a strategy if they helped create it. Don’t be afraid to get key stakeholders involved early — ask for their input, understand their perspectives, and earn their trust.

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    People throughout your organization are involved in content projects. Workflow — the art that defining how, when, and by whom the work will get done — is critical to any content strategy. When you take a good look at your current workflow, you might realize you need totally new processes, resources, or tools. Or, you might just need to refine what’s already in place. With more clearly defined processes and roles, your team will be better prepared to create and care for content.

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    For most business people, the most frustrating thing about content strategy is proving ROI. They want a quick, easy, and undisputable way to ensure that an investment in content is worth it. Sadly, there is no silver bullet. Calculating content ROI is a complex, work-intensive exercise. But with time, effort, and a host of educated assumptions, you can generate a solid estimate that will win the confidence of decision makers.

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    Speaking of measurement, when you ask most businesses how they currently measure content effectiveness, they’ll give you a Google analytics login and a smile. Analytics are great, but no single measurement method captures the complete picture of content. Try to use a variety of measurement methods — such as user research, expert reviews, and competitive comparisons — to get more well-rounded results.

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    When you’re faced with short deadlines and limited resources, it’s tempting to skip content-focused research and jump right to solutions. But, no matter how clever or time-crunched you are, skipping research and analysis is always a big risk. To create an informed content strategy, it’s critical that you understand all the factors that impact your content — from internal factors such as business goals and workflow issues to external factors such as user behaviors and competitive activities.

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    Before you start any content strategy project, be sure to review the content you already have. A thorough audit will help you better understand how old and new content will interact AND avoid common pitfalls — such as creating duplicate content or publishing conflicting information. As an added bonus, you’ll spot any out-of-date, inaccurate, and irrelevant content that needs to get fixed or nixed.

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    Many organizations try to create content to everyone. Truth is your content will be much more effective if you set some parameters and priorities about who your content is for. Defining and ranking your audiences isn’t always easy, but it helps you avoid the headaches that come with trying to be all things to all people. For example, you’ll be able prioritize your content efforts and set expectations your colleagues. (This makes it easier to say things like, “Sorry HR, but the team has agreed that the customer content is a higher priority than the job listings.”)

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    More content isn’t necessarily better. More content costs more to create, is harder to maintain, and can give your users information overload. So don’t be afraid to go small. Scale back your content efforts, by ensuring every piece of content supports a key business objective, fulfills a user need, and has a person assigned to maintain it. You’ll be surprised how much content gets eliminated using those three commonsense requirements.

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    Most people seriously misjudge how long it takes to plan, create, and maintain content. It’s not uncommon to see a website development schedule that allocates a week or two — at the very end of the project — for magically producing hundreds of pages of content. It’s time to face the music. Doing content well takes an extraordinary amount of time and resources. Don’t forget, the content is why the user is interacting with you — don’t underestimate anything about it.

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