Develop a content strategy

How to start (or continue) to develop your content strategy to guide you through your beginning-to-end strategic website planning.

Content strategy is your game plan about how to assess what content you have and whether it’s working, organize, set goals, get buy-in, develop content, migrate, and consider future maintenance.   

It’s a bad strategy to to post content without the intention of maintaining it.

The web is a living thing, we should strive to keep our content useful, and alive. 

Think about the lifecycle of your content 

This framing of your content provides a more holistic view of how your website can sustain over time and continue to be an effective resource.

Resources are included at each of the stages to support your strategy. 

Each of these stages can be broken down into some specific tasks.

Assessment | Strategy | Design | Create | Maintain

The lifecycle of content strategy: assessment, strategy, design, create maintain

Content strategy checklist

A downloadable, and easy-to-use checklist of the content on this page, including resources and templates.

Assessment stage

In the assessment stage you are determining what you have and what needs are.

  1. Audit your content.
    • Determine how much content you have, and what content is working.
    • Use the audit to determine if you can reduce or eliminate content that is not working.
    • Use the audit to group similar content types together.
    • Use the content types to help later develop your information architecture.   
    • Training: How to audit your content.
  2. Review your site analytics and keyword analytics.
  3. Review other websites.
    • Conduct a comparative analysis of at least three other peer websites to get ideas on how to develop your content. Borrow ideas as needed. 
  4. Conduct stakeholder interviews.
    • Talk to users of your content, leadership and others who have a stake in your website. 
    • Ask the right kinds of questions to help understand what your website should do. Gather feedback from stakeholders and leadership.
  5. Analyze and validate content ecosystems.
    • Are there other websites in your division/department that you need to coordinate with? If so, how might you work together to eliminate duplicate, and outdated content? 
    • Determine what communications channels you use in addition to your website (email, social media, other.)

Strategy stage

In the strategy stage you’ll make content decisions that answer the questions: who, what, when, where, and why.

  1. Set website goals.
  2. Who will do the work?
    • Sometimes called governance, this is the process of determining who owns the content, updates content, and will be responsible for all the steps in your strategy. 
    • This may also include developing workflows to show the process from creating the content to publishing on the web. 
    • Consider a DACI chart to document your governance.
  3. Determine how much work your website will take.
    • Use a formula like Number of pages X time it takes (to edit, improve and migrate) one page = number of hours required.
    • Use a time estimation worksheet.
  4. Define your voice and tone, and develop editorial guidelines.
    • Use the UCSC voice, tone, and editorial guidelines.
    • Develop an editorial calendar to guide the release of news, events, and content that should be published at specific times of the year.
  5. Plan for where your content will be placed.

Design stage

In the design stage you’ll prepare for how your content strategy will unfold.

  1. Refine your content categories and review your content for optimization
    • Using your content audit, refine your content categories to make sure your analytics informs them, and stakeholder needs.
    • Consider consulting a user experience specialist to help work through content development
  2. Develop your information architecture
    • Based on your content categorization, develop a text or visual representation of all the pages on your entire website.
    • This will help you, and your users understand how the website is structured, and how to flow through the website.
    • Examples of an information architecture
  3. Sketch out your workflows
    • Making them visual will help enable yourself, stakeholders, and those responsible for the content to follow the plan.
  4. Develop your migration plan
    • Use your refined content audit to track the movement from old to new websites.
    • Prepare others who will help in the process with the plan on how to track this process
  5. Develop your editorial calendar
    • Use your calendar to guide the release of news, events, and content that should be published at specific times of the year.
  6. Prepare staffing recommendations
    • Determine if you’ll need more help to get the job done.

Create stage

In the create stage, you visualize your content, create, write, edit, optimize, and migrate content.

This stage often takes the greatest portion of time to complete in the content strategy lifecycle.

  1. Put your workflows and governance into action.
  2. Write, edit, and refine your website copy.
    • If content is changing and multiple stakeholders are involved, use collaborative tools like Google Docs to write and edit before adding content to your website.
  3. Migrate your content.
    • Using your content audit, track the movement of your content from the old website to the new website.
  4. Create images and other visual assets you’ll need.
  5. Quality assurance test your content before going live.
    • Use your content audit as a way to test each of your pages for accessibility, usability, links are working, and pages are nested correctly.

Maintain stage

In the maintain stage, you make plans to keep your website updated in the future

  1. Plan a schedule for when to review your analytics.
    • Recommendation: every six months
  2. Track the goals you have using analytics to determine the success or failure of your content.
  3. Develop a continuity plan.
    • Plan for future changes. Who will be responsible for future maintenance of the website? How will you adapt to new content? How will you manage intake for new content? How will you onboard new employees who might work on the website?

Why develop your own content strategy?

Help users find your content

If we want people to find our content, we have to think more about how they go about finding you, and how they might use your content. It’s less about how we are structured and what makes sense to us, and more about what your users need from you.

Build trust with your audience and include them

If we design web content with an unclear process for creating, managing and distributing content, it can confuse users about how to use and find your content based on how you present it.

If users don’t find your content useful or trustworthy, they might not turn to you next time they have a question. 

If you don’t consider the user in your planning, and they can’t understand your content, it feels like you didn’t design for them.

Proof of performance

You want some evidence that your work on your website was worth it, and that it’s doing the job you expect.  

That means setting goals, measuring your goals, and making improvements based on what you find out.

Definitions of content strategy

All of these are true about content strategy, and in simplified terms — it’s about coming up with a plan to organize and present all of your content.

  • “Content Strategy is your approach to creating and distributing content for your target audience.”
  • “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.”

Get content strategy help

Resources to support the development of your content strategy. The Experience Strategy and Design team can also consult with you on a content strategy plan.

Last modified: Sep 28, 2023