Avoiding the content strategy trap: Scott Abel

Avoiding the content strategy trap: Scott Abel

Scott Abel, best known as “the Content Wrangler,” began his kickoff keynote speech at Content Strategy Applied 2012 with this assertion: “content strategists manage the cost of value.” To become indispensable, content strategists must help organizations save on waste and generate new revenue.

Therefore, our jobs are not about content, he says — not really.They’re more about the math behind the content:

  • What does it cost to create the content you’re creating?
  • What would it cost to create the content you’re NOT (but should be) creating?
  • What is the savings you’re realizing by doing things more efficiently and agilely?
  • What additional revenue are you earning from sales due to better content? (This is being the holy grail of the work we do, of course.)

Scott shared the case study of an online startup dedicated to selling repair products for computers (such as components for older Apple computers). Even though they were exploring a new business model, they originally approached documentation the “old-fashioned” way — by sticking up long, confusing, poorly written PDF manuals online and expecting consumers to figure out how to fix problems themselves using the products the company was selling.

Quickly, the startup began to understand that the business wasn’t going to succeed unless they made the content — in this case, clear, user-friendly, and findable how-to content — the centerpiece of their offering. A few of their a-ha’s:

  • They build a community-based software platform that allowed consumers to answer each other’s questions and earn “digital candy” (badges and titles) by become power users and active members of the community. (Scott calls this the “gamification of documentation.”)
  • They mined this community content for the keyphrases that the company’s consumers actually used (as opposed to the keyphrases suggested by Google Keywords or other tools) and then applied these keyphrases to their SEO strategy.
  • They started with a mobile-first strategy — because when people’s laptops are broken, they’ll need to use their mobile devices to access the site.

The new strategy has brought the company more success, Scott said, but the next realization is that as the company thinks about expanding globally, it will need to rethink how to optimize its content in order to localize it. “The creators of the company are young and from California, and all the language on the site is Americanized and hip; the vocabulary is not standardized,” Scott said. “Google translator doesn’t understand most of it.”

Ultimately, content strategists must be prepared to measure the ROI of the work we’re doing, especially when we’re in the business of creating content that supports the sale of products and services. One of the reasons content managers aren’t already doing this, Scott says, has a lot to do with technology: a content management system is unable to tell an editor “No one has read this piece of content in three years” — which means the editor may still waste time maintaining and managing useless and poor-performing content. Figuring out a way to measure content enables companies to defend their best content and apply resources to managing it, while doing away with or changing the content that isn’t adding value — in the end achieving the goals of better efficiency and support for more sales.

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