Content Strategy Goes Far Beyond Words: Teacher Response to Homework #3

Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard.

Content strategy is misunderstood… and very profitable

Think about it: the Web is still primarily textual information. It needs to be organized, edited, channelled, delivered. This is very hard work that few people are suited for. How much bad, poorly organized content do you experience online on a daily basis? How much of it is useful to you? How much of it is what you were looking for when you searched for it or clicked on its headline?

This is a golden age for writers, in other words: people who understand written content and its importance for users of all kinds. This is also good news for us, the humanities majors! We were all born and raised on the written word. Designers are a dime a dozen nowadays, largely because of the prevalence of open source Content Management Systems like WordPress (which currently accounts for a whopping 34% of all registered web domains). These technologies are making it increasingly hard to sell your ability simply to make one website. Why pay someone to do that, when you can buy an entire CMS that allows you to make unlimited websites… for nothing?

But no one has yet created a content engine capable of replacing human writers. They’ve tried, but failed. Which is probably why fields like technical communication, UX, and content strategy are set to grow by leaps and bounds over the next decade or so. The needs for humanities-style thinking isn’t going away, despite what every pundit who has access to a microphone is saying. We just don’t understand where to send our graduates for jobs or what to call our majors (though TPC is a pretty good name ;-).

At the same time: CMSs are creating content silos

The main problem with CMS technology, however, is that it’s very easy to publish content, but not so easy to assess content once it is published. We need some new technology that will help ensure that content is getting used to its maximum potential within organizations and not be recreated over and over again in a zillion different forms:

The content silo trap is when “content is created by authors working in isolation from others within the organization” (pg. 5). Essentially this means that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and this can lead to unwanted (and unintentional) mistakes or concerns. A unified content strategy is defined as “a repeatable method of identifying all content requirements up front, creating consistently structured content for reuse, managing content in a definitive source, and assembling content on demand to meet customer needs” (pg.10). Because a unified content strategy gets each individual organizational area on the same page by determining needs and effectiveness of content, developing one helps avoid the content silo trap. – Emily

Enter the CCMS or Component-based Content Management System. These newer technologies break down content at the granular level and allow individual writers to access a vast repository of content in order to publish it on-demand in whatever form required. Many of these systems use DITA or a similar open-source architecture to run.

They are followed closely by their cousins, the all-in-one, super-duper, do-everything proprietary systems like Adobe Experience Manager:

An infographic comparison between CMSs, CCMSs, and Adobe Experience Manager

Via: https://www.scriptorium.com/2017/05/the-age-of-accountability-unifying-marketing-and-technical-content-with-adobe-experience-manager/

Sounds great, right? And for the low-low price of around $200,000, you can get started with your own CCMS or proprietary tool! These technologies are clearly geared toward “enterprise-level” content: content used by larger companies, for which $200,000 is a drop in the bucket.

The rest of us are stuck with consumer-grade CMSs like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla!, which aren’t designed with effective content strategy in mind.

SEO Is About Robots, Mostly: Teacher Response to Module #2

Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Blackboard. Check for them there. You also receive individualized feedback on modules, so be sure to log in to check your feedback to avoid future grade penalty.

A Successful SEO Audit =

Identifying marketable broad term and long tail keywords the client should include in their website content +

Identifying the extent to which these keywords are utilized in the client’s site in appropriate places (i.e. page titles, page content, meta-descriptions) +

Explaining how the client’s website is performing in organic search results for the keywords you’ve identified.

SEO Is About Robots, Which Serve People

At the end of the day, SEO is about playing to search engines, which serve people useful content. Basically, you’re constantly trying to keep ahead of the curve with changes to major search engines, which Google clearly dominates with somewhere around 80% of the search traffic in the whole world.

SEO is a very high threshold skill. The top SEO experts in the world who work for the largest companies do SEO in a way that most of us mere mortals can only dream of. There are so many factors to balance that keeping track of keywords and ranking factors is something akin to paying attention to the stock market.

At the same time, anyone who’s working with a website needs to pay attention to SEO. There’s a basic level of SEO that anyone can become proficient in and is really mandatory if you’re going to marketing something online. Without it, you are simply wasting your time.

Final Steps for Module #2: No One Gets SEO Who Doesn’t Get SEO

Again, You Nailed the Important Stuff

SEO is hard, as you are learning. It is part art and part science and most of the modern web is not optimized for search engines.

You made good use of the knowledge you have been introduced to in the book. Your findings aren’t perfect, but they’re well on the way to where I’d like us to be by the end of the semester.

But Remember: No One Has Any Idea What a Meta Tag Is

The downside of writing an SEO report for pretty much anyone who isn’t an SEO expert, is that they will have no idea what you’re talking about. Most non-profit managers and small business owners don’t understand what SEO is or why they need it. They don’t understand that search engine rankings are competitive. Most of them don’t even know what a keyword is in the context of SEO, though they use them on a daily basis and could easily grasp the concept with a little help.

This is why you need to define each piece of SEO jargon you use in your report. The first time you use a piece of jargon (i.e. “search volume”) include a quick definition right afterward as a dependent clause or parenthetical (“, the amount of people in the U.S. who search for a particular keyword each month”). This will allow your readers to grasp the meaning of what you’re recommending without getting lost in the jargon.

Here is a list of some of the terms you all need to define in your reports if you’re using them:

  • Keyword
  • Key phrase
  • Short tail keyword
  • Long tail keyword
  • Search volume
  • Competitiveness
  • Meta Tag
  • Meta Description
  • Algorithm
  • Search Engine (just give examples, i.e. Google, Yahoo, and Bing)
  • Keyword Density

If you need help coming up with definitions of these terms, try this source by Moz (https://moz.com/blog/smwc-and-other-essential-seo-jargonc), our textbook, or Google.

Make Use of the Feedback of Your Peers

Again, I see a lot of good feedback in the peer comments which I won’t replicate here. Be sure you keep it in mind as you revise.

Final Step for Finishing the Module

6) 10/14/19 by midnight ET >>

Revise all documents you’ve created. The point of peer review is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to Blackboard is the same as the draft you posted to the course website. Revise, revise, revise.

Be sure you review what your peers (and I) said about your rough draft as you work on your final draft. Listen to your reviewers and make critical choices to improve your documents based on what they say.

Post your individual Cover Letter (including how you contributed to your team’s documents) and a copy of your team’s SEO Recommendations Report and Audit Spreadsheet (which should include both your content and SEO notes) to Blackboard.

SEOOOOOOO Yeah: Teacher Response to Homework #2

Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Blackboard. Check for them there.

SEO: Misunderstood by Most

As you delve into the world of SEO, you will quickly realize that there are many people out there who profess to have in-depth knowledge of SEO, but who actually don’t. Offers abound online from people promising you the #1 spot on Google for as little as $100. The reality of SEO is that search engines like Google update their algorithm approximately 400 times per year. This leaves even the people who are most expert at SEO scrambling to keep up.

The SEO Toolkit

Is largely the same across industries, though debates rage about which ranking factors matter the most:

  • Off-site SEO: this is the research you do into keywords so that you can develop website content that will attract the most users. It is also the development of backlinks to other trusted content providers.
  • On-site SEO: this is the information you place in your content that focuses it around marketable keywords
  • Technical proficiencies: everything from the speed a website loads to whether or not it is served via an SSL certificate to the placement of metadata within your website affect how optimized it is for search
  • SEO-and-user-friendly content development: SEO is both an art and a science. You want to develop content that makes good use of marketable keywords, but at the same time you have to remember that your content is intended for humans and their behavior will determine if your content is ranked well.
  • User behavior and analytics: search patterns, browsing patterns, and even “dwell” time (or how long a user stays on a given page) affect your ranking in popular search engines. SEO is a numbers game in which you are constantly mining data to help you make the best choice.

Content Strategy Is Made of People: Teacher Response to Module #1

Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Blackboard. Check for them there. You also receive individualized feedback on modules, so be sure to log in to check your feedback to avoid future grade penalty.

As of Now You Are All Cleared to Send Your Reports

FYI.

A Successful Content Audit =

Explaining what patterns you noticed in your content audit +

Explaining how optimized the content is for a particular audience +

Exemplifying all your findings through screenshots, links, or quotes from the website you audited +

Providing concrete ways your client can improve their content +

Being attentive to the needs of the creator of the website you audited, who probably put a lot of time and effort into building it

Content Strategy Is About People

At the end of the day, content strategists are people who have an uncanny knack for developing content for people. They understand the psychology behind what users look for online, not only from a technological standpoint but from a human standpoint. You can do much worse in learning about content strategy to practice your people skills, to practice developing content that is written for other people and that takes into account their needs and wants.

Final Steps for Module #1: Remember You are Talking to Real People

You Nailed the Important Stuff

All these websites need help. You got that. And you made good use of my categories and the readings. Content audits should be thorough and should break apart every nook and cranny of a website: visual, content, typography, you name it.

But Remember You Are Talking To Real People

It can be easy when writing these types of reports to forget about the people on the other end, people who are often not content strategists, digital marketers, or technical communicators. You generally did a good job not using jargon, but need to work on softening your tone.

It’s important in these documents not to use language the client will be unfamiliar with, such as “user experience” or “ROI.” More commonplace terms like “font,” “visual design,” and “color scheme” are ok. As you edit your documents, ask yourself: what would someone with no knowledge of the subject matter of this class not understand? Then replace those terms with more commonplace ones.

Your tone needs to be that of a gentle teacher/guide, however, not a drill sergeant.  When I read things like this, I cringe:

In general, there is a lack of consistency in the typography of the Daughters of Work website. An abundance of fonts are used whereas one or two related, or complementary, fonts will be more appealing. In several places the font color is too light against a white background, making it difficult to read.

It’s not that this information is inaccurate, but from years of working with clients, I can’t imagine sending this report to one, which you will be doing. Consider the following revised version, which conveys the same information without coming across as snarky:

In general, we found the typography of the Daughters of Work website could be improved. It’s important that the fonts used complement each other, which is not always happening in the current website. Using one or two related, or complementary, fonts will be more appealing. In several places the font color is also too light against a white background, making it difficult to read.

As you revise your documents, ask yourself: how would you feel if you were on the receiving end of the document? When in doubt, report objective information rather than using adjectives or other descriptive parts of speech that come across as value judgments rather than constructive feedback.

Make Use of the Feedback of Your Peers

I see a lot of good feedback in the peer comments which I won’t replicate here. FOLLOW IT.

Final Step for Finishing the Module

7) 9/18/19 by midnight ET >>

Revise all documents you’ve created. The point of peer review is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to Blackboard is the same as the draft you posted to the course website. Revise, revise, revise.

Be sure you review what your peers (and I) said about your rough draft as you work on your final draft. Listen to your reviewers and make critical choices to improve your documents based on what they say.

Post your individual Cover Letter (including how you contributed to your team’s documents) and a copy of your team’s Content Recommendations Report and Content Audit Spreadsheet to Blackboard.

Don’t Send Your Reports to Your Clients Until I Say It’s Okay

It’s important you give me a chance to read your final drafts before sending these to your clients. I may have additional suggestions. There will be a step in the next module that involves sending your report to them and scheduling a follow-up meeting. Don’t move to that step until we get there, please.

Teams for the Semester

Team Three’s Company

Client: The Blind Center
Project Manager: Charity
Members: Kelsey, Bess

Team The Price Is Right

Client: Riley’s Army
Project Manager: Candice
Members: Nancy, Shana, Emily

Team Totally Not Serial Killers

Client: Community Crossroads Center
Project Manager: Mayee
Members: Christina, Yvonne, Kiara

Team Gather Around the DeCampo Fire

Client: Daughters of Worth
Project Manager: Betsy
Members: Dean, Matt, Danielle

Teacher Response to Homework #1: Content – It Ain’t Just Words No More

Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Blackboard. Check for them there.

The Growing Field of Content Strategy

What do the following fields have in common?

  • Technical Communication
  • Digital Marketing
  • Content Strategy

They also center around content. Technical writers are now as likely to produce reusable content for a content management system (CMS) as they are to create static documents. Marketers find themselves producing content for blogs, social media, webpages, and other online venues. And content strategists find themselves in charge of everything from digitally-published ebooks to user-generating discussions.

Content is becoming the center of our universe. By content, I mean “valuable information.” Valuable to who? The specific users you’re targeting. In this class you’ll be helping some non-profits target their content towards the specific users they are trying to attract. These users may include their clients, funders, and non-profit partners.

As a rule, content strategy is a complex, messy discipline that involves producing, publishing, and distributing technology-friendly, user-focused content.

The Content Strategy Toolkit

Varies widely. It can include many of the following:

  • Publishing platforms such as CMSs, social media, print, and ebooks and knowledge about each
  • SEO software and skill sets that helps the content strategist produce content that impresses search engines
  • Content development for a dizzying array of venues, both print and digital
  • Content auditing to ensure existing content is relevant, credible, current, and usable
  • Analytics software and skill sets that enable the content strategist to ensure the reach and interactivity of content is increasing over time
  • Collaboration with a wide variety of stakeholders, from subject matter experts (SMEs) to content writers to web designers to user experience designers

Introduction to the Course

Greetings!

Welcome to ENGL 7766: Content Strategy! I’m very excited to be teaching this course for the first time.

I have been working in collaboration with folks in the technology sector, mostly as a consultant, for about five years now. I have taught courses in technical communication and related topics at the college level for over ten years. I also have my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University. I have been researching and practicing content strategy and digital marketing for about eight years.

I’m stoked to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned during these professional experiences with all of you.

In the interests of helping you acclimate to my style of online teaching, here are some highlights of this course website, and thus the course itself, that you’ll want to keep an eye on:

Deadlines

I’m a big fan of deadlines, small and large, and so I tend to scaffold assignments pretty tightly.

  • The best place to check for deadlines is always the schedule page, from which you can view the schedule for each course module, or learning unit, as it’s posted. All deadlines for each module can also be found within the module itself.
  • Your first deadline is 8/23/19, when Homework #1 is due by midnight ET.

Technologies

As this is an online course, it is obviously going to be technology-driven. In this regard, there are two main technologies to concern yourself with: WordPress and Blackboard.

  • WordPress is the Content Management System that runs our course website. If you ever have problems with it, I invite you to first be good technological problem-solvers and take a look at WordPress’s excellent documentation, both within the CMS itself and on their website.
  • I’ll assume you’re all familiar with Blackboard and so won’t go into that one, except to say that all you’ll be using it for is turning in assignments and downloading readings.

Interactions

I like to think of teaching as a series of interactions during which knowledge is made. The main interactions of this course are: homework assignments, modules, and discussion on the course website.

    • Homework assignments and their due dates can be found via the schedule page, under the schedule specific to each module. So, for instance, if you go to the schedule for module #1, you will see that homework #1 is due to Blackboard by Friday, 8/23/19 at Midnight ET. Homework assignments will always be the first thing due when we start a new module.
    • Modules are larger assignments that are due every few weeks. You can see modules as they’re posted on the modules page, but like everything else, they’re included in the main schedule.
    • Finally, you are encouraged to post stuff (questions, comments, interesting news articles, whatever) to the course website that you think your peers would like to hear about, and every homework assignment after the first one will require you to do so. That way we have a nice active online community with interesting content constantly being posted.

Reaching me

All my contact info is available on the syllabus page, which of course you should read through thoroughly in case you have any questions or concerns about any course policies (you’ll be prompted to do this for homework #1).

  • I’m pretty much always available via email and phone during normal business hours (M-F 9-5). I am slower to respond on weekends, but still check my email.
  • I have virtual office hours listed in the syllabus when you can talk to me via Skype or Google hangout.
  • I have obviously also worked hard to build a robust course website with a lot of information and interactivity, so please do read through it before asking me simple questions like “when is such-and-such due” or “how do I access X?” If you can’t figure out how to do something or are struggling in any way, the best way to reach me is to post a comment on the course website itself. I will receive an email every time you post something to the website, so it will be the equivalent of emailing me, and often another student will beat me to the punch with an answer to your question. Most importantly: other people who have that same question will see it and the answer that gets posted, saving us all a lot of lead time.

Working hard

If you aren’t intimidated by the massive course website or omnibus introductory post, I should just mention that I teach a tough class. I also provide a lot of support, however, so if you’re willing to work hard, ask questions, and engage with the material, you should be fine. If you are NOT fine, reaching out to myself and your peers early and often is always the best response. If you are feeling lost in the course, which can often happen when working in online learning environments, touching base with another human being can help ground you and get you back on track. I have high expectations for students, particularly graduate students, but I don’t want anyone struggling needlessly. That’s what the assignments are for ;-).