July 12, 2010

The Breakdown: Is ‘content strategist’ really just a new name for ‘web editor’? This tired question needs to be put to rest.

While it’s exciting to see interest in content strategy grow by leaps and bounds, the rapid addition of new people taking part in the conversation means that many well-hashed out questions are getting asked again. And again. And again. Sometimes we Content Strategists smile and answer patiently, but sometimes the gloves have to come off.

The one that never ceases to make me shudder is “Isn’t this just a new name for ‘web editor’?” This is kind of like asking “What’s the difference between a car maker and a race car driver?” The car maker has to understand mechanics, physics, and aerodynamics in order to design a vehicle for speed and efficiency. The driver puts the car on the track and makes it perform. They each have their own set of skills, knowledge, focus, goals, and problems to solve, even though they both play with the same machines.

It’s not an exact analogy. A content strategist may perform some tasks normally completed by a web editor, or, conversely, some CS work may fall in the web editor’s lap in absence of having someone officially in a CS role. This is natural because both roles are heavily invested in the creation of content, and in web development many people find themselves wearing multiple hats.

But Content Strategy is, at its core, a discipline that sits at the intersection of Editorial, Business, UX, Design, and Technology.  There tends to be a lot of emphasis on the editorial segment because – believe it or not – content has long been a neglected aspect of web design. But the real goal of the content strategist is not just to write good content. It’s to make sure that the content:

  • Is aligned with the brand and business objectives
  • Meets the user’s information and experience needs
  • Supports designs that in turn present the content in optimal ways
  • Can be implemented and managed using technology that enables a sustainable workflow

Do web editors generally do stakeholder interviews & user testing? Annotate wireframes with content specifications? Create content models, DCTs and workflows? Design metadata schemas and build taxonomies? Probably not, because they’re busy planning, assigning, researching, creating, editing and/or producing the actual content of the site.