This is good advice for anyone embarking on any adventure, undertaking any quest, or planning any project.
To plan out where you need to go and how best to get there, you need to know where you are. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are the gaps between who you are and who you want to be?
This is true for organizations as well. You want to improve where you are weak. You want to take advantage of the areas where you are strong. And along the way, you want to measure the correct things.
Understanding content strategy maturity
When it comes to content strategy, you should know how your organization is currently practicing content strategy. Ask yourself:
- Do you know what makes a good strategy?
- How do you measure its effectiveness?
- Do you have the ability to formulate a strategy but an inability to execute it?
- Who’s in charge of overseeing content strategy?
Knowing where you are currently located brings clarity to where you need to go next.
To help you learn where you need to go next, we created a maturity model, with an accompanying quiz to gauge where you fall within the model.
The levels of content strategy maturity
There are four levels of content maturity we’ve identified:
- Nascent (beginner, nonexistent) - You just started thinking about content strategy, or you dabble a little with some practices. You lack key markers of content strategy maturity. This might be because you’re still largely creating content and adjusting user experience on an as-needed or stakeholder-directed basis. Everything is on an ad-hoc basis.
- Emerging (intermediate, practicing) - While you’re not fully immersed in content strategy maturity yet, you’re practicing important activities and holding discussions that are putting the strategy ball in your team’s court. You have taken some steps in the right direction, like having a style guide in place.
- Connected (advanced, confident) - You’re not just talking the talk; you’re walking the walk by practicing valuable activities and owning the content strategy and user experience at your organization in significant ways. You have a style guide, and it’s applied and enforced by your core team. You know your audience, and you have processes and tools in place to measure your success. You still have some room to improve, but that improvement looks more like weeding a garden instead of looking at barren soil.
- Strategic (complete, embedded) - You’re checking off almost every box in the content strategy model. Your team is full of experts focused on guiding your content strategy and user experience in the direction of your consumers and visitors, not your stakeholders. The whole company embraces your style guide, your content teams are not working in silos, and you have ongoing governance or content and goals.
Depending on where you are in this strategy model, you will have different questions to ask, different problems to solve, and different next steps to take. Even at the Strategic level, you might be able to identify gaps in discipline and knowledge. Those gaps will just be better defined. You might be better positioned to know you need the help of an external partner, for example.
The factors for determining maturity level
A lot goes into content strategy. It is an amalgamation of the experience of various team members, the internal processes, the tools used, how and where documentation is written, the structure of the website, and much more. Measuring a maturity level can’t depend upon a simple scale.
Here are the different areas we measure and include in our maturity assessment and how we define them.
Team roles & responsibilities
Ideally, your organization has specific roles with specific tasks, working collaboratively across teams. Responsibilities are or should be well-defined.
On the other end of the spectrum, you might not have any roles defined. Or, you may have some roles defined, but some people are juggling multiple responsibilities, and those responsibilities aren’t their highest priority.
Some roles to look for (or start planning for):
- Content writers and editors, to craft and correct user-first copy for your website
- Content strategists, to organize and structure content in the content management system (CMS)
- Designers, to provide design approaches to pages and content
- Developers, to ensure accessibility and stability in the CMS
Their responsibilities might (and likely will) include one or more of the following items, too.
Research & planning
Research and planning are essential to any content strategy, but it also comes in many shapes in sizes. How much research does your organization engage in, and how is that research used for content planning? Are you limited to light keyword research, or have you researched audiences, personas, and competitors? How often do you test this research in your strategy?
Your research should also affect your content planning. As you uncover competitor gaps, keyword opportunities, and audience needs, your strategy should align a plan forward to incorporate all of those things into your content plans and CMS.
If your team is mature, you’ll have a complete understanding of CMS capabilities, not just where it lives in the system but how it connects. Your team can craft and re-use content in a way your audience will appreciate. Every feature is at your command.
Website structure is a crucial component of content strategy. When you publish content, is it assigned to the appropriate location? Does your taxonomy structure make sense based on how your audience looks for content?
One thing that’s often overlooked: how easy is it for content creators to find the content they are looking for? In order to implement a good internal linking strategy, your team has to be able to find content.
Elsewhere, consider your internal linking strategy. How do visitors explore your content deeper, and how do they find related content from one page to another? While your site’s navigation is a part of this, it will most likely be a layer on top of your existing structure. How do these align?
Development & creation
You don’t want content created on an ad-hoc basis, dictated by the various whims of various stakeholders. And ideally, you don’t want unskilled stakeholders writing content that’s published without a second look.
The most mature organizations will have content identified, researched, and written by a core team. They will not need outside approval because their work depends on audiences and goals that have already been identified. While working with stakeholders may be a part of their content approval and publishing process, it’s the content experts at the helm.
Content quality is more than misspellings and punctuation. It also incorporates style, voice, and tone. Do you have a style guide, but it is not adhered to across the brand? It might be time to dust it off and review, share, and practice from it.
However, more mature organizations find that their style guide is referenced by everyone from marketing to the C-suite to keep a consistent experience across all consumer channels, from social media to emails to products.
It’s often repeated in the web development world, “Your website is never done.” This has a lot to do with the age and freshness of your content. So ask yourself and your team, when was your organization’s content last updated? Is it only fixed when problems arise, or a complaint is lodged or is it continually reviewed on a cyclical basis to stay current and competitive?
Mature organizations will have guidelines in place on what to edit and what to archive, and they are intentional about seeking those opportunities out. Does the meetup announcement from 2013 really need to remain published? If not, what is the process?
Goals change. Targeted audiences shift. Content must shift with it.
Analytics & measurement
Content strategy has little value if the results aren’t being monitored, measured, and iterated. Think about your team’s goals: Do you have them documented? If so, how are they shared among the organization? How do you measure the success of your content strategy?
Immature organizations may not have many answers to these questions, but maturer organizations likely will have an idea of goals, approach, and measurement. Likewise, the results of your measurement should inspire iterative change that keeps your web presence competitive and valuable to your audience.
If you are serious about improving your organization’s content strategy, you first need to know where you are. This Strategy Maturity Assessment can help you determine that. The assessment is based on our Strategy Maturity Matrix.
Armed with this knowledge, you have a better idea of what to start focusing on to advance your content strategy.
And if you need a guide or a partner through the process, Lullabot is happy to help!