How to Learn Content Strategy (UX)
Your ultimate guide to becoming a practicing content strategist
Last updated August 2019
But first, what is content strategy?
Great question! The term is often used to mean many different things, and there’s still some confusion amongst content strategists. That said, I’ll do my best to keep this short.
For the purposes of this article, I’m defining content strategy as: the practice of planning, creating and managing content using human-centered design principles.
Content strategy is the planning, creation, and management of content using human-centered design principles.
A great way to think about content strategy is that it’s a blend of: editorial work, experience design, and systems design. The Content Quad from Brain Traffic is the most widely used and respected visualization of content strategy.
So what is content strategy all about?
Aligning content with user needs and business goals
Delivering the right content to the right people at the right time
Optimizing the people and processes that influence content, from how it’s created to how it’s managed
Is a user-centered practice that allows organizations to make strategic decisions rooted in empathy for the user
The content marketing vs content strategy dilemma
Content strategy is not content marketing strategy.
Content marketing, as the name suggests, is about marketing. The goal of content marketing is to promote a brand/product/service to grow an audience and get more sales. Content strategy impacts the content marketing strategy, but is not the same thing.
Although there are many different nuances in the ways that content strategists define their role, the one thing we can all agree on is that it’s not content marketing. So, if nothing else, you can feel sure about that!
Due to all this definition confusion, I’ve been referring to myself as a UX content strategist these days. This helps instantly differentiate my work from content marketing for people who aren’t familiar with the field.
Content strategy specializations
Let me first say that these aren’t hard and fast definitions and they often overlap. However, within content strategy, there are a sometimes areas in which people specialize. Some people do all of these, or just one, or their own special blend. Here are a few.
Website content strategy
Web content strategists focus on — yep, websites. They work on planning and creating the content for new websites, work on website redesigns, or help with CMS migrations (transitioning website content from one content management system to another). This one is our primary focus.
Product content strategy
The big question here is, what counts as a product? From what I’ve seen, a product means something digital that is not necessarily a website. Things like mobile apps, software applications, and even touchscreen kiosks. So a product content strategist focuses exclusively on content for those types of user experiences. This often overlaps with UX writing.
Brand content strategy
Brand content strategists focus on things like high-level messaging and positioning for an entire brand. Although all content strategists care about messaging, it seems like “brand content strategists” really hone in on this piece.
Content Strategy Education Resources
Here are some of my favorites, with brief explanations of each and who should read them. There are tons of other great ones, but any of these will give you a great foundation.
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
Content Strategy at Work by Margot Bloomstein
Another classic that’s great for everyone from copywriters to designers. If you love case studies and real world examples, this is the one for you.
Best for: everyone
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: “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 bigger 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 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.
Content strategists to follow on Twitter
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.
Veronica Camara (hi, that’s me)
My favorite of these is the Content UX Slack group. It’s very well run and moderated (thank you Jess), and the discussions are so insightful. I 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 to content strategy and the people are wonderful.
Content strategy conferences
Another great way to learn is 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.
Confab: The Content Strategy Conference ($695 USD+)
If you want a content strategy conference, this is it. This is the OG, the mothership, the place to be. The event draws in people from all over the world, and is hosted by Brain Traffic in Minneapolis, MN.
Design & Content Conference ($ 600 USD+)
Expect a diverse lineup of speakers and topics. 2019 update: early bird tickets are on sale and the lineup looks great. It’s in Vancouver, so you’d get to travel to beautiful Canada.
LavaCon Content Strategy Conference ($1,950 USD+)
LavaCon is a content-focused conference covering a wide variety of topics. According to their website, it was created for senior level content professionals. The location changes every year, but in 2019 it will be in Portland, Oregon.
An Event Apart ($600 USD+)
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: university programs, seminars, 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 are so many options for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) masters programs. Again, not content strategy — but applicable to content strategy with the benefit of an advanced degree. I’d say it’s worth looking into if you’re interested in higher education and want to learn 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.
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 content strategy course. However — 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. :)
What you’ll notice about this section is that content strategy programs are few and far between. It’s still such a new field. I think we’ll see more options in the future, but for now it’s limited.
Content strategy program for copywriters (online)
AVO agency offers an online content strategy program for copywriters. This will be laser-focused at helping writers transition into strategy work.
The details: a small group of copywriters will gather once a week for live lectures for eight weeks. Students will also work on a real content strategy project during the program to get hands-on experience while receiving personalized support.