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What Does a Content Strategist Do?

12 min read

Over a career that spans 35 years — from print to digital, I’ve been an editor-in-chief of a print magazine, a digital publisher of several websites, a content strategist, and a content executive for high-tech companies. They’re all very similar — but the content strategist role has been the most difficult to explain. 

The web content strategist was a role conceived of by Author and CEO Kristina Halverston when she wrote about it in her first book, Content Strategy for the Web (2006). As CEO of Braintrust, Halverston boasts the longest running content strategy consultancy. So it is fitting to use her definition of content strategist: a person who guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.

By the time Halverston wrote her second edition in 2012, she was quick to point out that a content strategy isn’t just for the web. Although it could be. (And colleagues and peers often consider such it.) And it isn’t necessarily about content marketing campaigns. Although it could be. What about emails and newsletters? And documentation? And what about product datasheets and descriptions? 

And that is part of the challenge of being a content strategist. It tends to be a role that, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, senior management. And part of your job is to communicate to senior management the role you see yourself taking – to help ease communication and expectation gaps across the enterprise. 

In this article, I’m parsing Halverston’s definition – and pointing out how you can tailor the role so it meshes with your skills while bringing success to your organization. 

The Role of the Content Strategist 

The content strategist role has tended to be a marketing role, and tended to be conflated with content marketer and content creator. The role is so much more than that, as it should look to codify content as an enterprise asset that answers business goals. And that means having buy in at the C-level. I spoke to content marketing expert Erika Heald, about why this is so important.

I feel strongly that content strategy needs to reside in the C-suite

How on earth can you expect a content marketing manager to create and enforce a content strategy unless they have regular meetings with—and support from—the CEO? Ideally, your head of content is part of that leadership team, with its full backing.
Erika Heald
Founder & Chief Consulting Officer, Erika Heald Consulting

Indeed, and to “guide the creation, delivery, and governance of useful content,” content strategists must develop frameworks that facilitate all that. But as I mentioned, that requires definitions. 

Useful Content

First, what’s useful content? Focusing on the word useful, I don’t think many would argue that it ought to be centered on the needs of a specific audience, be purposeful, and be valuable to both the audience and the organization. Let’s switch gears and answer what is content? 

Content is anything to do with awareness and education and might take the form of technical white papers, in-depth blog posts, TikTok videos, infographics, even newsletters. It can even relate to documentation, which moves “content” out of the realm of marketing, and into a corporate role. 

What about the writing on a landing page: is that content – or copywriting? Some say, since its aim is to convert, landing pages aren’t content. The great news is, when you create your strategy, you can decide if conversion pages, emails, documentation, or community notes are content – or something else. 

You can think about content along several different lines – which is relevant across all media:

  • Information – What are the actual contents of your message? It can be factual, practical, entertaining, informative, or some combination. 
  • Context – What is the content supposed to help you and the reader accomplish? Who is the target audience for this content? Why is it being published?
  • Medium – What channel are you publishing the content on, and how does that influence the overall message?
  • Form – Is the content text, graphic, audio, video, interactive, virtual/augmented reality, etc.? 

Now let’s flip all of that around. What is it that makes content useful for the audience? It should help them:

  1. Get excited about new possibilities
  2. Move past the status quo – that their frustrations or problems can actually be solved
  3. Create awareness that you have a solution that can solve those problems 
  4. Assure them that your product or service can do what you say it can
  5. Make a business case to others that their decision to select your product is sound
  6. Offer assurances to adjacent stakeholders that the solution is safe and risk free
  7. Provide specific education so they can be successful
  8. Keep on top of new developments
  9. Entertain them 

Notice how every item on this list is from the perspective of a prospect or customer. But there are of course, many other audiences that this list can apply to:  analysts, investors, partners, media, job seekers, internal colleagues.

And what makes this content useful for your organization? Look to tie your content strategy to business goals. This will help inform measurable goals and objectives.

  1. Increase brand awareness
  2. Increase organic traffic
  3. Support campaign activations
  4. Improve sales velocity (moving customers through the funnel)
  5. Improve sales enablement (providing sales the tools they need)
  6. Decrease customer complaints
  7. Increase partner pipeline
  8. Speed up deployments
  9. Improve content operations

Really, the list could go on and on – because‌ content makes the organization function. 

Creation of Content — Why, What, and How Assets Are Created

For content to be useful, valuable to both the audience and organization, you need to be involved in content initiatives – and the why, what, and how assets are created. As the content strategist, you need to think about what content types would be most relevant to your audience and the workflows associated with it. The size, maturity, and types of your product or services offerings will help determine the content forms – so you can best think through the content workflows and distribution channels.  

If you are both the strategist, content creator, and content marketer, you should be thinking of developing for one channel and doing it well. If you have a highly visual product, videos might be best. If it’s more of a conceptual product like high tech or a service organization, the written form might be better. 

What is the brand’s voice and tone? Do you create your own original research? What does your brand imagery look like? You will likely be involved with a content audit to determine your content gaps. How will you do that content audit? Are you using software like MarketMuse to make this a sustainable effort? 

If your organization is larger with multiple content teams you may be able to help create style guides, improve user experience (UX), be involved with content planning, and creation of a content calendar. You might be heavily involved in search engine optimization and keyword research, technical writing, ux writing, and defining “engaging content.” You may be involved in internal and external content roles and responsibilities. You may have a role in the types of content creator tools your organization uses. If one of your goals is to improve content operations – you might be focused on improving workflows.

Delivery of Content — Where and How Assets Are Found

For useful content to be impactful –  it needs to be where your audiences are — and it needs to be engaging. So you should want to be involved in where and how content is found. If that is through social media — which platforms or forums attract your audience? 

You may have only a cursory role with your web content management system — or be the owner. Either way, you will want to have a role in the user experience. If content discovery means getting traffic to your site is through organic search traffic, you may want to have some role in search engine optimization and Google Analytics — or some type of measurement tool. 

If you are offering a podcast – where and how are you syndicating it? If your company is heavily focused on digital marketing, you may find yourself building more of a digital content strategy around that. 

Content distribution isn’t just outbound – it may be inbound. How are you circulating content internally? How do are people made aware of new content assets? Where are these assets stored? For external assets, are they gated or ungated? 

Governance of Content – Who Oversees Content Policies

Think of governance as the quality assurance part of the content strategist’s role. As you think through all of the above, it needs to be documented — and adhered to. You can set up checks and sign-offs within the workflow to make sure that the content you are creating is timely, accurate, and meets the standards and objectives of your organization. 

If you have many different content creators across your enterprise making decisions on vocabulary, spelling, acronyms, and word usage, consider building out a content center of excellence to meet and agree on standards. In my last job, senior technical writers, product content strategists, education content specialists, content managers, and UX writers met once a month to discuss ways to improve processes and share best practices. This helps ensure that the quality you want your brand to stand for is consistent across the organization. 

Importance of a Content Strategist

Above, I laid out the many ways content can be useful for the organization. In essence, great content can be the elixir for many enterprise issues you are experiencing. The content strategist can orchestrate the creation, delivery, and governance of assets that will reduce friction in targeted areas to help solve business objectives. 

Is your organic traffic dismal? You might want to focus on an SEO Content Strategy. Is your sales pipeline velocity years instead of months? Analyze which persona in the buying group is pushing back – and develop a content strategy that targets that persona. Looking to expand once you have landed? Develop a content strategy for existing customers – is it a newsletter? What type of content? What is the frequency? A content marketing strategy may look more closely at the types of content that move prospects through the funnel. Where are your content gaps? Depending on how your organization defines the terms, you may be involved with all types of content creation, including product data sheets and demos. 

I’ve worked at firms where the spend on digital marketing was effective in getting us a lot of unqualified leads. To combat this, I put a strategy in place that better cataloged asset metadata. This way ‌digital marketers knew exactly how assets should be promoted  – to better target leads. We decreased spend by nearly 80% – while increasing conversions. 

Content Strategy Jobs in Practice

If you go into the role thinking that as a content strategist you can address all that I have written above, you’ll be spinning yourself into the ground. It’s better to ask senior management what they are most anxious to fix – and how they’d measure its success. 

Now carefully map out what internal and external resources are necessary to achieve those goals. If you need product engineers to help create assets, get it in writing. If you need a technology to help you optimize content, state it as a requirement. If you are hiring content writers, does procurement have to get involved, or can you bypass them? Every obstacle should be noted so that you have an agreement between yourself and management that this is the strategy to accomplish that in a certain period of time.

The specifics of how that’s done will vary greatly based on all the different factors associated with whatever role one happens to be in. Here’s an example of a carve-out for a company looking to increase organic traffic. 

Job Description of Content Strategist for SEO

If your business is looking to increase organic traffic as well as brand awareness, having a strategist focusing on SEO is a must. This person needs to understand both onsite and offsite optimization, as well as a deep understanding of how to conduct keyword research and topic research. 

Your strategy should contain the following:

  • What persona(s) are you targeting
  • How often will you publishing
  • How will you get backlinks? 
  • How will you determine pillar pages? 
  • How many more pages will you need to form a topic cluster?
  • What’s your plan for recycling urls and updating existing content? 
  • What is the content creation workflow? (include ideation, planning, writing, editing, reviewing, optimization, through publishing) 

But don’t forget, says Nicole Grodesky, veteran SEO expert and founder of the SEO consultancy BohoSEO, you need to set guidelines on how to “structure and develop content not just for search engines, but for your target audience. This means understanding how to restructure content for a good rhythm and flow.”

A key part of any strategy is to know how you’ll measure success. Which might mean keyword rankings, traffic to the site, and conversion events. By understanding how tools like GA4 work, the strategist can indicate that success for a blog post, for example, might mean clicking on a link to a demo – or even clicking through to another story. 

You write the rules. 

Content Strategist Job Description

The role of the strategist really varies by organization. Some companies will lean in on looking for a content writer who understands marketing, strategy, business writing, digital marketing, etc. The clue is in the salary on whether it is a bona fide strategist role, or whether it is a content manager being asked to do more without a good understanding of what the job description should entail. 

Right now in New York City, a content strategist’s salary is running from $50k to over $200,000k. 

The higher the salary, the more you should be engaged with senior executives to truly develop a content strategy that will meet the needs of the business. 

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Diane Burley has three decades experience creating high-impact content at scale. As a published author and seasoned technologist, she translates complex concepts into clear, engaging messaging that connects with audiences. She can help you build a content factory that drives results.