Content strategy: blending art, science, personalization, and
What is content strategy?
Content strategy is the vision, creation, and management of content with a purpose. It’s thinking about — and often questioning — the necessity, format, and discoverability of content for the intended audience.
The videos embedded throughout this page are clips from interviews with 12 content experts conducted by the Writer team. We asked them to share their views on how the role is changing, their priorities, their challenges, and what they love about the work.
Words are the design tool of a content strategist.
They’re used to define and reshape peoples’ experiences with an organization, product, or resource. When we talk about content strategy, we only talk about “content with a purpose” because writing should serve a specific goal. That can be helping people understand how to use a product, or providing resources to support a community, or marketing a new service, or just entertaining an audience.
Words are the design tool of a content strategist.
Content intelligence & strategy specializations
“Vision, creation, and management of ALL content?!” Yes, content strategy is an expansive field. Content plays a vital role in an organization’s success, so a single guiding strategy ensures that all the pieces fit together cohesively. It creates a unified brand identity and works to provide users/customers/audiences/people with the right information at the right time.
Because of how much work there is to be done, specialities have emerged. Do you like to write? Dissect and organize? Think big-picture or in-the-weeds? Collaborate with designers or writers? Work in a specific field? As a content strategist, these preferences can change the team you sit within, your title, and your specific set of responsibilities.
Our State of Content Strategy Report showed that 30% of content strategy roles sit within marketing teams, 23% within a content strategy “hub”, and 19% within design teams.
For job titles, we see regular community discussions dissecting the differences between content strategist, product content strategist, UX content strategist, content designer, UX writer, and a few other variations. Generally, people are comfortable viewing content strategy as a mega-discipline that encompasses the content design and UX writing.
Ultimately, all of these roles are for people who like to think strategically about the role and value of content, but they each imply unique specialties and team structures. As content strategy roles continue to evolve, Kristina Halvorson advises, “What’s important is helping people understand that content decisions never happen in a vacuum.”
The history of the term “content strategy”
2009 was the breakout year for the term ‘content strategy,’ but the term’s history goes back more than a decade before that to a 1997 Twitter conversation between content professionals Karen McGrane and Margot Bloomstein.
The team at Firehead, a France-based digital communications recruiting firm, put together a brief history of content strategy, which details how this new/old term gathered momentum from 1997 to 2013:
- 1998: Big players like Sapient and Razorfish start to hire content strategists.
- 1999: Mark McCormick writes A Unified Field Theory of Content Strategy, and Molly Steenson speaks on the topic at Web ’99.
- 2001: Usability guru Jakob Nelson retroactively adds a ‘content strategy’ tag to his post archive.
- 2009: The term entered the mainstream in the same year that Kristina Halvorson and Karen McGrane organized the first dedicated content strategy meet-up — the Content Strategy Consortium — at the IA Summit in Memphis.
Since then, use of the term has skyrocketed along with the real-world application of the practice. To illustrate, in 2000, there were only 880 Google search results for the term. Eight years later, that jumped to 4.2 million, and in 2022 a search on “content strategy” returns in excess of three billion pages.
This meteoric growth reflects just how central content strategy has become. It’s no longer a nice-to-have part of a company’s go-to-market; it’s a foundational success element that’s discussed at the C-level. Today, content strategists are in high demand. In 2013, a LinkedIn search on the job title returned only 7,491 results. In 2022, that same search delivers 126,000 results. Content strategy is here to stay.
“It’s the same as content marketing strategy.”
Marketing is just one area that falls under the large umbrella. Content strategists consider how every piece of content across an organization works together — that includes support content for user training, help centers, UX copy, internal wikis, chatbots, websites, marketing content, and then some.
“It’s the same as copywriting.”
If you want to make a content strategist grumble, this is the perfect line. (Take that as a warning, not a challenge.) If copywriting is an art, content strategy is the museum. The museum is full of beautiful paintings, but its success is also defined by the building, the planning and layout, the lighting, the maintenance, the hard decisions to let pieces go.
“Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.”
“It’s not for my industry.”
Content strategists are flourishing in every industry where content is created (and, to be clear, that’s all of them). In a recent survey of content strategists, the most common industries were technology (27%), education (19%), agencies (16%), and government (7%).
“It’s one-and-done job. Content consistency isn’t that important.”
Content strategists sets up repeatable processes and find tools in order to scale themselves, work consistently, and improve how they work. Content needs to be regularly evaluated and updated to ensure it still serves its purpose, and deleted once it’s no longer useful.
Content strategy vs. content marketing
As Kristina Halvorson, founder and CEO of Brain Traffic, wrote in a piece exploring what content strategist do, “… there are approximately one gagillion new titles for ‘person who somehow deals with content.’” So, it’s no wonder that even professionals often struggle with how to define the difference between content strategy and content marketing or the relationship between the two.
In another post, Halverson offers three different definitions of content strategy, all of which, she explains, are correct, adding, “They’re just different ways of setting the stage for content as a product of integrated, strategic choices (vs. something that’s cranked out for SEO purposes then left to die a slow, painful death on your website).”
- Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.
- Content strategy means getting the right content, to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
- Content strategy is an integrated set of user-centered, goal-driven choices about content throughout its lifecycle.
Content strategy is a comprehensive practice that looks at all of an organization’s content from a very high level, ensuring consistency in terms of message, quality, cohesion, and alignment with organizational goals. It is the foundational underpinning that guides, supports, and governs all content—videos, blogs, ads, website copy, emails, chatbot scripts, sales materials, support documentation, etc.
Content marketing, on the other hand, refers to one subset category of content that lives alongside all the other types of content under the content strategy umbrella. Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute and The Tilt, defines content marketing this way, “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Example of a content strategy
Though there are lots of best practices, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy that will work flawlessly for every and any organization. A successful content strategy is one that’s tailored to an organization’s unique situation, audience, and goals.
Uncovering the content strategy that will work best for your organization typically involves doing your research, understanding your audience, performing a robust content audit, and embracing a practice of consistently testing and optimizing content. It’s also wise to remember that content strategy isn’t a once-and-done task. It’s a living, breathing practice that’s constantly evolving to support your content ecosystem, your audience, and your organization.
If you’re not sure where to begin, HubSpot — a leader in content strategy and content marketing — offers a helpful starter post: How to Develop a Content Strategy in 7 Steps: A Start-to-Finish Guide. We’ve also put together some information on how to build a content strategy in the section below.
How to build a strong content strategy
We’ve published several content strategy reports that share deeper insights into content strategy practice and theory:
Plus, there are 300+ learning opportunities and technologies to explore in this list, all recommended by content strategists.
And if you’re just getting started with content strategy, below are some definitions, explanations, articles, and videos to help you dive in. Fortunately, the language of content strategists isn’t a hard one — after all, jargon is frowned upon in the field.
Building a team
Setting up the right processes, workflows, expectations, technologies, and on-going training program to keep everyone aligned ensures your content strategy will succeed.
Setting up guidelines that determine how content gets created, published, updated, and archived, alongside who should be involved at every stage. provides overview of all the hats a strategist can wear throughout the content lifecycle.
→ Read: Your Basic Content Governance Survival Gear by Ashley Coolman from Writer
→ Read: New Thinking: Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Quad by Kristina Halvorson from Brain Traffic
Auditing, especially the first audit, is a time-intensive process to help you find all — and that means all — the content that exists by an organization, so you can determine how it works together to meet organizational goals.
→ Read: How to Conduct a Content Audit by Donna Spencer from Maadmob (on the UX Mastery blog)
→ Read: How to Embrace (and Gently Encourage) the Content Audit by Kristina Halvorson from BrainTraffic (on their blog)
→ Template: Website Content Audit with Airtable by Holly Munson from Think Company (on Airtable Universe)
After an audit or review, gap analysis is the process of deciding what useful information is missing, and therefore what should be created next.
→ Read: A Comprehensive Guide to Content Gap Analysis by Mike Wagaba from Humanlytics (on Medium)
→ Read: Mind the Gap by Strategic Content (on their blog)
Content consistency & information architecture
The work it takes to determine how content should be organized and displayed. The goal is to structure information in a way that is intuitive for the audience and sustainable for the content owners.
→ Watch: IA lenses: Helpful Perspectives for Content Strategists by Dan Brown from EightShapes (talk from Confab 2019)
Collaboration and workflows
Content, design, and development roles work closely together in digital teams. Setting up those strategic workflows and relationships in advance helps projects flow smoothly and get better results. Silos between design, content, and development always creates problems.
→ Read: Giving UX Writing a Seat at the Design Table by Ashley Coolman from Writer (on the Abstract blog)
“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”
Measuring ROI & success:
Content strategy work is often measured by output of new purpose-driven content, updating or removal of existing content, improvements to structure and processes, and impact on selected business goals.
→ Read: Two Things Every Content Strategy Needs by Kristina Halvorson from BrainTraffic (on their blog)
Writing best practices
Looking to improve the writing skills of specific teammates or perhaps host a company-wide writing workshop? Share this page of writing resources and best practices.
New laws and regulations, including the U.S. Plain Writing Act of 2010, instruct organizations to write in a way that can be understood by their audience. This particularly impacts jargon-heavy sectors and work, such as finance, healthcare, government, and the privacy statements or terms and conditions for technology companies. Many content strategists work to apply these guidelines to all the content they touch.
→ Read: Checklist for Plain Language by PlainLanguage.Gov (on their site)
→ Read: Plain Language Is for Everyone, Even Experts by Hoa Loranger from NN/g (on their site)
→ Read: Your guide to communicating clearly and effectively with plain language from Writer
Consistent voice, tone, style
In organizations where there are multiple writers, creating thoughtful, thorough writing guidelines (a content styleguide) helps give content a measure of consistency across the organization.
→ Read: What is a styleguide (with example template)? from Writer
→ Read: How to Define Your Voice by Eugenia Verbina from SEMRush (on their blog)
→ Read: How to Use Voice and Tone in UX Writing by Rhiannon Jones from Deliveroo (on Medium)
UX writing tenets
UX writers — i.e. those creating copy for digital interfaces — believe in a user-centric approach to content. This means providing what the user needs, nothing more and nothing less. It means providing useful, clear, and concise UX copy.
→ Read: UX Writing for Product Success by Ashley Coolman from Writer (on our blog)
→ Read: 16 Rules of Effective UX Writing by Nick Babich from UX Planet (on Medium)
Writing in a conversational tone, in order to connect with readers at a more human level. Chatbot writers have a large stake in this work, as they are literally crafting conversations.
→ Read: Conversational Design by Erika Hall from Mule (talk from Confab 2019)
Content should do no harm. This means putting in the work to improve equity, inclusivity, and accessibility. Fighting biases that exclude minority and underrepresented populations in your organization and content. At Confab 2019, Marchaé Grair shared a powerful quote: “Nothing about us without us.” It’s a reminder to bring diverse voices into your work, instead of attempting to write about or for marginalized groups from an outside point of view.
→ Watch: Centering the Margins in Digital Spaces by Marchaé Grair from UUA (talk from Confab 2019)
→ Watch: Fight Bias with Content Strategy by David Thomas from Think Company (talk from Confab 2019)
When working in digital spaces, design with accessibility in mind. And it shouldn’t be about “meeting regulations”; rather, it should be about doing your best to help differently abled people. There are many online resources to assist your team, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
→ Watch: Accessibility is Usability by Sarah Richards from Content Design London (talk from Confab 2019)
Keep content accountable. Before anything is written ask important guiding questions. Who is it for? Why do they need this? Is there a better way to present the information to them? How should they access this information? When something is drafted or complete, ask if you accomplished all the goals you set out to achieve, and then check it against your writing styleguide and best practices.
Advice for current and aspiring content strategists
Content strategy is a quickly growing discipline and there are tons of smart, excited content strategists out there sharing their wisdom on Twitter, Medium, and other blogs. But there’s always more room for more people who are passionate about the purpose and possibilities of content.
Here’s some advice on how to become a great content strategist. Plus, a quick plea for those already in the field.
→ Read: 11 Pieces of Advice to Guide Your Content Strategy from #ContentStrategy Twitter (posted on our blog)
Podcasts to check out
If you just can’t get enough, and would like to hear more about content strategy, there are some great podcasts out there.