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  • Under: Content Strategy | Development | Marketing & Communications Strategy

We’ve all heard it—and here, at CHIEF we believe it. “Content is king.” The enduring statement by Bill Gates rings just as true today as it did over two decades ago when he uttered those famous words.

But in practice, what does that mean? Is content the domain of technology, marketing or UX? And who should care about content? And really, was Gates right?

To get to the bottom of the mysteries of content, we sat down with two of CHIEF’s resident content experts from the Technology and Marketing Strategy teams—Sam Elliott, Associate Director, Technology and Emily Gallt, Marketing Strategist—to get their (surprisingly similar) answers to the many questions we hear day-in-and-day-out about content.

Why do YOU care about content? Please answer from your area of expertise.

Sam: From a technical perspective, content matters because it determines the type of system you can build. More robust and diverse content allows for more interesting functionality (like maps, sorting/filtering, apps, features, etc.). Without content, a technical team has no guidance for what makes the most sense to build.

Emily: I eat, live and breathe content, and have for as long as I can remember. My first dream in life was to be an author of super-serious mystery novels, and I’ve been devouring content ever since. As an adult (allegedly), I care about the story content can tell. The marriage of best practices and beauty to create a brand experience is something I drive towards every day.

What’s the highest value for end-users?

Sam: Clear, user-driven (not business-driven) information architecture. The way in which each piece of content relates to another is extremely impactful on user experience. Clear navigation structures, content groupings and taxonomy structures (think “tags” on a blog) allow a user to take a journey through a website, achieving business goals in a way that is natural and sensible to them.

Emily: Easy to understand content is invaluable for users, especially today’s users who have power to find information everywhere and are used to self-educating. We have to grab their attention quickly and hold it for longer—and the key to that is clear content.

What are you go-to tools for evaluating language and content on sites?

Sam: I’ve used a variety of tools for different purposes during my time working in web. For all-purpose site review, tools like PowerMapper and SortSite have served me well, including review of accessibility, usability, etc. But even tools like Word provide great benefits when it comes to crafting content. You can use Word to check your readability statistics and ensure that you’re writing content your key audiences can understand.

Emily: The user. Yes, we talk a lot about tools (and they do work, trust us!), but at the end of the day, the most invaluable tool in your box is your end-user. Do surveys, interviews, focus groups. Review analytics with a fervor. Track user flows and exit points. We can dig into best practices all we want, but unless we’re answering the questions from our users, we’re failing.

What is the most asked question you get from your teammates about content?

Sam: I’m most frequently asked about how to group content (particularly defining content types in a content management system) because content of different types often has a lot in common. The answer is always tricky, though, because so much is context dependent when grouping content. You should always look first at how users expect to find content and build from there.

Emily: “How can I be a better writer?” And my best answer is to read everything you can get your hands on. Find a writer you like (a teammate, an author, a reporter) and read all their things: Facebook, Twitter, Books. And practice every single day. Journal, write better emails, practice with your interpersonal chit-chat. It all helps.

How does your personal past expertise play into content on your projects?

Sam: I started my career in web as a content strategist, drafting copy for the redesign of a non-profit’s website. Between that and my experience with developing and explaining information architecture, I approach the technical aspects of my job with one primary objective: ensuring that the content is there to support whatever we’re building. Content first is how I was trained, and it’s how I train others.

Emily: Because of my background in political campaigns, I’m used to being a jack-of-all-trades. And since content touches every piece of website projects, I’m needed to have skills in more than one place. I have to be both a strong writer and have technical acumen in order to make the best content recommendations possible.

What matters more? The beauty of the words or the “science” behind them?

Sam: As a Libra, I don’t believe in choosing between two opposing forces, but rather in balancing them. A great website uses the “science” (or technical structure of a site) to empower the beauty and utility of the content it’s sharing with the world.

Emily: Ack! Impossible to answer, don’t make me! Truthfully, they are both so important that choosing one is to betray the very essence of what makes strategy just that, strategy. When I’m developing on-page content, I can’t write in a vacuum. I have to know the technical restrictions, the keywords we need and have the skills to weave it all together into something readable. It’s both. And that’s awesome.

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So, there you have it. Content really is king: and that’s because everyone needs to care about it. If you too are obsessed with creating and organizing compelling content, check out our Careers page! We’re always looking for more passionate team members. #BeBrave