‘Content strategy’ is a buzzphrase you hear a lot, particularly in marketing environments. But very few people can actually tell you what it is.

As someone whose previous job title was ‘content strategist’, I know for a fact how few people properly understand content strategy.

To the majority, I ‘did the words’. And if copy was needed, I was usually brought into the project only after the strategy had been agreed.

Now, working as a content design consultant, I feel as if what I do is actually a lot more like content strategy because of the way agile teams work.

But is a lack of understanding about the roles of both content strategy and content design leading to the misconception that they’re one and the same?

Or maybe they are the same thing and should be merged into a single role?

Content strategy versus content design

Content strategy and content design share a lot of similarities. I say this because it would be hard to do good content design without:

  • Timing when your content is published.
  • Creating a content lifecycle.
  • Deciding what content to publish, and what not to publish.
  • Identifying who is part of the content process and what their jobs are.
  • Suggesting content based on user needs.
  • Doing a content audit.
  • Bridging the gap between user and organisation needs.

All these tasks are important to the success of your content – and none of them are solely content writing, content design, or content strategy.

What is content strategy?

Content strategy manages and plans the creation, delivery, and governance of content to help achieve an overall goal.

It ensures content meets the needs of the target audience, while also aligning to wider organisation goals.

A content strategy helps you to:

  • Understand the target audience's needs, preferences, behaviours, and challenges.
  • Define the goals and purpose of the content.
  • Identify what type of content needs creating (blog posts, videos, social media posts, infographics).
  • Outline a publication schedule.
  • Identify the right platforms and channels for distributing content to reach the target audience effectively (website, social media, email newsletters).
  • Establish a consistent brand voice.
  • Integrate SEO strategies and relevant keywords.
  • Decide how the content will be promoted and shared across different platforms.
  • Measure the success of the content.
  • Maintain your content to ensure it’s always current, relevant, and accurate.
  • Consider any legal or regulatory requirements related to content creation and distribution.

What is content design?

Content design is a user-centric approach to creating content that meets the needs of the audience by structuring and creating clear, accessible, and useful content.

Content design informs, guides, and supports users through their journey, resulting in a positive user experience and a successful product or service.

Content design:

  • Puts user needs at the front of the decision-making process to make content relevant and helpful.
  • Makes content easy to understand, avoiding unnecessary jargon and complicated language.
  • Carefully structures and organises information, making it easy for users to find what they need quickly and effortlessly.
  • Is inclusive ensuring content is accessible.
  • Collaborates with visual designers to create images, graphics, and other visual elements that enhance the user experience.
  • Maintains a consistent tone, style, and branding across all content.
  • Works alongside user testing to gather feedback and identify areas for improvement. Iterative design allows content designers to refine the content based on real user interactions and feedback.
  • Ensures content serves a purpose and aligns with users' needs and organisational goals.
  • Collaborates with subject matter experts, stakeholders, user experience (UX) designers, developers to integrate content within the product or service.

Can good content design exist without content strategy?

Strategy is as important as design.

Time and money are wasted creating and maintaining content that doesn’t serve its users or the organisation, because there isn’t a content strategy.

Aimlessly creating content and publishing it won’t work.

You need a content strategy to ensure your content meets the right person at the right time and that every piece of content has a purpose.

Content is too often an afterthought

So often on projects, content designers are brought in too late.

While a content-first approach to design is preferable, some projects can get as far as prototyping before content design is introduced.

However, getting your content strategy right from the start, makes content the first thing you think about.

A content strategist will usually be included on a project team at the Discovery phase.

This is because people associate the word ‘strategy’ with planning.

So, having both a content strategist and content designer will make sure that content is thought about in every phase of a project.

But that’s not to say that a content designer shouldn’t be included in discovery. Please invite us to the table as soon as you can!

Sustainability, SEO, and budget

A good content strategy can also support your sustainability and search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts and help you to effectively optimise your budget. All things that good content design can do too.

  • Sustainability: identifies and removes outdated, underperforming content, reducing your digital footprint.
  • SEO: recognises content that isn’t optimised for search or user needs, allowing you to remove it or optimise it to improve search rankings. A good content strategy will also identify key search terms for your audience, which you can tailor your content to, and spot opportunities for internal and external linking.
  • Budget management: identifies opportunities to encourage user-generated content and repurpose existing content into other formats, saving time and resources.

The power of specialising

Yes, there are a lot of transferrable skills between content strategy and content design.

But that doesn’t mean the jobs should be rolled into one.

Having both a content strategist and a content designer on a project allows both practices to do more.

It’s a bit like expecting a UI designer to do the job of a content designer, or not having a user researcher on your project.

Sure, people will probably make it work, but it puts a strain on the rest of the team who are doing double the work to complete tasks outside their area of expertise.

You’ll get much better results, more quickly with a specialist in each role.

Read more about content design and strategy

There’s plenty more insight on content design here on the SPARCK journal. I’d recommend:

Written by Naomi Busuttil - Content Design Consultant, Leeds