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Headwaters of a river

First things first. I’ve been a content strategist for as long as the term existed (and a little before to be honest). So, I know whereof I speak.

I started my post-college life in academia and teaching. When that didn’t take, I got a job as a technical writer/editor. This was for an environmental engineering firm in Atlanta, GA. Then the web happened. I was the one that was always in the office. So, I ended up doing a lot of marketing and leading Internet strategy. Doing nascent content strategy, as it were, but before there was a term for it.

But the web had changed my career trajectory.

In 1998, I joined USWeb/CKS as a content developer and technical writer. My first gig was technical writing at BellSouth onsite. I finished that by the end of the year, and upon rejoining the rest of the gang in the studio. It didn’t take long to realize that the term content developer didn’t begin to encompass all we were doing.

My supervisor at the time, Robert Manning, and I had long discussions about this. I think he was the one that landed on the term content strategy to formalize it for USWeb/CKS. He even wrote an article about it on the ClickZ network (link rot, sadly).

When I left USWeb/CKS and worked with other content folks, I realized than many agencies had made that leap on their own (IBM, Sapient, Razorfish,, and the like).

At the time, we focused on the front-end experience for users:


      What it says on the tin. Writing long-form and short-from copy for web pages. This includes what is now become UX writing. At the time, we were mostly coming from a writing and editing background. Library science would come later.

      Content inventories

      The workhorse deliverable for any content project. To enhance any experience, you must first understand what the entire scope of what exists in the content ecosystem.

      Content audits and analysis

      This is where the strategy enters the picture. Assessing what can be improved in the content based on the results of the content assessment. Even then, we were scoring content based on set criteria. At the time, it was mostly looking at existing content and assessing if for its suitability for the digital medium (i.e., is it scannable, does it use the inverted pyramid, and the like).

      Content briefs

      These are still foundational. A content brief provides directional, high-level recommendations for content on the site to meet not only the stated business goals, but also user needs. These recommendations focus not only on site copy, but inform other types of content as well (i.e. video, audio, imagery, and social content).

      Content matrices

      The content matrix is and was a detailed map for the future state of the content experience. It documented annotations for the content on each module or page in the wireframe/design. It’s a page-by-page map of the future-state content. It maps each page to a template and identifies which content will be required to build the page. This deliverable has evolved along with the systems required to manage content, getting more detailed and representing content at the component level.

      Editorial style guide

      This activity/deliverable defines the content style and usage needs for future content across all audiences and channels. It also defines key quality attributes for all content to be produced, supporting the rollout of the appropriate branding and execution for all digital content.

      Post Author: ttruxell

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