The Elements of Content Strategy – Book Review

In recent years, there has been a groundswell of support for the important of content strategy in web design. But just what is content strategy? That’s not a terribly easy question to answer, as there is a tremendous amount of overlap with a lot of other disciplines. The content strategist needs to be equal parts editor, user psychologist/evangelist, marketer, strategist, curator, and storyteller.

The Elements of Content Strategy

Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy sets out to define this discipline and outline it’s core processes.

Who is The Elements of Content Strategy For?

This is where it gets tricky. One assumes the answer is “anyone who deals with content”, but that’s not how this book works. Content strategy is a relatively new field with a lot of nuances and specializations, and this book is geared toward identifying what that field is, how it practices, and what sort of impact it has. So yes, people who work with content should be interested with how content strategy affects them, but this is likely overkill for owners of smaller businesses and websites.

On the other hand, this is also a book geared toward content strategists. It gives them a history, and a place of experience to draw from. For the aspiring content strategist, this book is likely a home run.

What The Elements of Content Strategy Covers

The book is divided into three sections: Basic Principles, The Craft of Content Strategy, and Tools and Techniques. The first two sections dive into the questions of what and why. They’re very thorough, but I have to admit I struggled getting through both of them. It all came together in chapter three, when the book delved into more practical matters and the author’s breadth of knowledge really came through.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Specificity is important: you need to have a clear goal for your content in order for it to be effective
  • User-centric content is good content; if you’re not helping the user, you’re working against them. Cut through the BS corporate speak and give the user what they’re looking for with as little fuss as possible.
  • Concision is of the utmost importance, and all those mission and values statements are a good place to start cutting.

One thing that I really enjoyed about The Elements of Content Strategy is the way the writer uses stories to illustrate her point. For instance, she talks about what it would be like to view an art gallery if that are gallery was on the internet. The user would try to view the art, but is constantly hassled by being forced to register, look at ads, and contend with poor design and lack of contrast. It’s extremely illustrative and really brings home the book’s point on the importance of storytelling to connect with the user.

What Works

  • Kissane is obviously very passionate about the subject, and that comes through very well in the book.
  • I really like the emphasis on catering to what the user needs as opposed to corporate message. Instead of making these two goals seem at odds, Kissane makes a strong case that one supports and enhances the other. I love this concept.

What Doesn’t

  • I struggled a lot with the first two parts of the book. There was good information here, but I really felt like I had to work for it.
  • One point that I really liked in the book is that it talked about getting rid of jargon and marketing speak, but the book contains quite a bit of both. I have a pretty low tolerance for marketing speak, so this really turned me off.

The Verdict

I think The Elements of Content Strategy has a lot of good information, and Kissane has a beautiful way of illustrating points. However, the book spends a good amount of time defining content strategy, which can be dry and frustrating for a lot of readers. While I feel like I learned a lot from this book, it was a little harder to get through than the other A Book Apart tomes I’ve read (e.g. Mobile First and HTML5 for Web Designers).

Buy a copy of The Elements of Content Strategy today!

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