How to Learn UX Content Strategy
Your ultimate guide to becoming a practicing content strategist
But first, what is content strategy?
Great question! This answer could get long and complicated, because the term is often used to mean many different things. I’ll do my best to keep this short.
For the purposes of this guide, I’m referring to the practice of planning, creating and managing content using human-centered design principles.
Content strategy is the growing discipline at the intersection between content and user experience, working to bring useful, usable content to interfaces.
Content strategy . . .
Aligns content with user needs and business goals
Delivers the right content to the right people at the right time
Considers and works within technical constraints, time constraints, organizational politics and more
Is a user-centered practice that allows organizations to make strategic decisions about content
Unfortunately, content strategy is often confused with content marketing, which it most certainly is not. It’s also often confused with UX writing—which is a related but different thing.
Since there’s so much confusion about what “content strategy” means, I’ve been referring to myself as a UX content strategist these days. This helps differentiate my work from content marketing, since I practice a user-centered process and only work on content exclusively for interfaces (not content for advertisements such as billboards, Facebook ads, flyers, etc).
Okay. Let’s dive in to a few ways you can start learning content strategy yourself!
Self study option: books, podcasts, blogs and more
One of the best and easiest things you can do to start learning content strategy is dive into self-study. Between books and the internet, you can get so much value and knowledge for free or at the low(ish) cost of buying books.
Below are some of my favorites and brief explanations of what you can expect and who each book is best for. There are tons of others, but you can start here.
Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach
This was one of the first published content strategy books and was co-authored by Kristina Halvorson, who is arguably the most important and notable person in the field. That said, it’s pretty specific to website projects within an enterprise environment.
Best for: website content strategists
The Content Strategy Toolkit by Meghan Casey
Another tried-and-true favorite, this book is super practical and tactical. It even includes examples and templates you can use a guide for your very own content strategy project. Again, this one is specific to websites at large organizations.
Best for: website content strategists
UX Strategy by Jaime Levy
This book was a game-changer for my research skills. Jaime Levy offers a comprehensive UX guide that borrows from business strategy and product strategy, and delivers in a way that’s fun to read. Learn about agile user research, competitive analysis, and tons more.
Best for: product content strategists
Simple and Usable by Giles Colbrone
I know what you’re thinking: “Veronica, this isn’t a content strategy book!” You’re technically right, friend, but also wrong. This book is such a wonderful, bite-sized introduction to user-centered design that I recommend it anyways. You’ll learn about creating simple, useful experiences — and with a bit of creative thinking, you can apply that to content.
Best for: everyone
Content Strategy Blogs
Most of these are large publications that cover a wide variety of topics under the UX-umbrella, including research, conversational design, information architecture, product design, interface design, and of course—content strategy.
UX Planet (Medium)
UX Collective (Medium)
Content Strategy Podcasts
This year, I’ve gotten into some really fantastic podcasts in the content strategy and UX space. In particular, the Content Strategy Podcast has been a gem, and I think I’ve listened to almost every episode twice.
The Content Strategy Podcast brought to you by BrainTraffic, hosted by Kristina Halvorson
Content Strategy Interviews hosted by Larry Swanson
Making UX Work with Joe Natoli
Also, Sarah Richards of Content Design London has been a guest speaker on a few other podcasts. Just Google it, all of her interviews are gold.
Twitter: content strategists to follow
One of the best changes I’ve made to my social media feed this year was following other content strategists. Now, my social feeds have become one of my favorite places to learn, get inspired and compare notes with other people in the industry. It can be so valuable to see what other folks in UX/Content are talking about. Here are a few of my favorite social connections.
My favorite of these is the Content UX Slack group. It’s so fantastically run and moderated (thank you Jess) and the discussions are so insightful. I really learn a lot every time I binge-read conversations in there. 10/10.
The Facebook groups listed are also great, if you’re not a Slack person. The Microcopy group has become one of my favorites. Even though it’s not specifically content strategy, it’s related and the people are great.
Content Strategy Conferences
Another great way to learn would be to attend content strategy related conferences. If you love networking and tend to get a lot of out things like this, it would be a great option.
If you want a content strategy conference, this is it. This is the OG, the mothership, the place to be. It’s in Minneapolis, MN. Check it out.
Design &Content Conference ($TBD — 600+)
This just passed and their website hasn’t released the 2019 info yet, but I know they’re doing it again. It’s in Vancouver, so you’d get to travel to beautiful Canada. The lineup in 2018 looks amazing, and I really appreciated how diverse it was too.
An Event Apart ($600+)
This isn’t a content strategy conference, it’s a series of small UX conferences around the US throughout the year. But it always look fantastic. Single day passes start at $600, but a full weekend will run you about $1,500. See if it’s coming to a city near you.
Formal education: universities, bootcamps, and online courses
If academia is more your thing, there are some more formal ways to learn content strategy these days.
I’ve heard great things about this online masters program, and worked with one of their graduates for a while (she was brilliant). This isn’t content strategy specific, but it would be so valuable to content strategists. Plus, you’ll have a super legit degree at the end of it.
There’s no link here because there are so many options for HCI masters programs. Again, not content strategy, but applicable and you get an advanced degree. I’d say it’s worth looking into if you’re interested in higher education and want something in-person.
UX Design Immersive | General Assembly ($13,950+)
This is an in-person, 10 week bootcamp offered by General Assembly in various cities. Although you will not learn any content strategy, you will learn a ton about user-centered design. You could definitely get a lot from this course, it looks nice on a resume, and you could supplement it with some content strategy self-study.
Note, you need a graduate degree to even apply for this one. It also seems like it might be more content marketing focused, with some UX-focused web writing. However, a certification from Northwestern sounds pretty fancy. You can read about the course schedule here.
NNG are serious leaders in the field of UX overall. This is a one day training, offered in select cities around the world a few times throughout the year. This comes with a certificate, if you’re into that, and I would only expect the best from NNG. I’d personally like to do this one someday. For a single day with early bird pricing, you’ll be paying $923 plus travel accommodations.
DISCLAIMER: This is a marketing course. Not a UX content strategy course. But I thought it was worth including for any readers who are considering doing the content marketing thing instead. I’ve heard good things about this one — just don’t get it confused for UX. :)
In terms of a course that is specific to UX content strategy, it’s surprisingly not a thing. I think the industry is still so new and I’m sure to see plenty other courses and options pop up soon.
Copywriter to Content Strategist: Group Program ($1,450)
In my research, I couldn’t find the perfect content strategy education program to recommend, so I decided to make one. I’ll be leading a small group of students through a 6-week training starting in January 2019. We’ll meet virtually, but each class will be taught live — plus you’ll get individual sessions with me and a few guest lecturers. The focus will be on UX content strategy (not on marketing), and is ideal for copywriters who want to break into the field of user experience. With the skills learned in this program, you can go on to lead content strategy for websites projects, mobile apps, or apply it to UX writing work.