Jonathon Colman will be speaking at the “UX and Audience” session at SearchFest 2013 which will be taking place on February 22, 2013 at the Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon. For more information or to purchase tickets, please click the following link.

1. Please give us your background and let us know what you do for a living.

Yowza! I’m Jonathon Colman (@jcolman) and I’m the Principal Experience Architect with REI. I focus on information architecture and content strategy, which means that I play a role in structuring data and content to create rich experiences that help our customers achieve their goals while also supporting the needs of our business.

But don’t go thinking that I’m some pointy-headed, bespectacled taxonomy nerd — even though I am! — because I’ve also been a practicing in-house SEO and Internet marketer for big organizations like REI and The Nature Conservancy for nearly a decade. I helped lead the Conservancy win two Webby Awards in 2009 for Best Charitable Organization/Nonprofit Web Site, including a People’s Choice award.

But as a graduate student at the University of Washington, I’m learning how to bridge the gaps that often occur between people, information, and technology at organizations. This made me want to explore other ways of learning from our users and find out how I can serve them better with information products and services. That’s why I recently left SEO to pursue information architecture and content strategy.

In other news, I drink a lot of coffee.

2. What is content strategy and why does it matter for marketers?

A lot of folks conflate content marketing with content strategy. But that’s unwise because there’s so much more to content strategy than just marketing. And that’s a good thing, because when content strategy goes wrong, you’ll find that your brand takes a hit, but that the solution almost always lies outside of your marketing team. Content strategy works best when everyone has a stake in making things work better for your users and customers.

Kristina Halvorson defined content strategy as planning for “the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” Now your mileage may vary, but to me it sounds like that’s a lot more than just running a blog or promoting an infographic. I think that content strategy is a requisite component of building a durable brand, a connected audience, and a healthy community that lasts for the next hundred years.

The core components of content strategy are:
Editorial strategy
Web writing
Metadata strategy
Content management strategy
Content channel distribution strategy

As marketers, we’re often accountable for some of these categories of work, but for the others, we’re mostly just dabblers or perhaps wholly unaware of their importance for (and impact on) the customer experience. How many of us can actually speak to metadata design, architecture, and management outside of elements in HTML and Likewise, how many are experts in content management systems? Likely, we’re just business users and stakeholders.

And that’s OK! You don’t need to be an expert in everything under the sun. Content strategy is the discipline that brings together all those stakeholders and individual domain experts in order to achieve a Greater Good: helping your customers meet their goals by planning for and providing a great experience.

3. How can content strategy impact SEO strategy?

I’ve talked in the past about how SEOs can approach content strategy in their work as well as how (and why) content strategists should build SEO into their discipline.

There are so many clear benefits to those savvy businesses who invest sustainably in both disciplines and then empower their teams to work together. Among them: more efficient workflows for content creation, production, and broadcasting/sharing; the ability to truly create content just once and publish it everywhere (a.k.a. “COPE“); greater connection to (and understanding of) your customers; an increased ability to test content effectively with actionable outcomes; and many, many more.

Likewise, the benefits to SEO are amazing: improved brand visibility, awareness, and search rank; increased conversion for core user tasks; reduced duplicate and near-duplicate content; more attention for your data-driven strategy; greater ease of delivering content across all of your brand presences, including social media venues; and more willingness from your customers to engage with you everywhere.

If you want your content to work harder for you, to drive more traffic and sales, to connect in meaningful and valuable ways to your audience, then content strategy should be part of your future.

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