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Content Strategy and Its Cousins

by Melissa Rach
5 min read
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As with many elements of user experience design, “content” is subject to many different applications and definitions.

It seems like everywhere you look there’s an article about content: content strategy, content marketing, content management, content curation, etc., etc., etc. … By now, we can probably all agree that content is an important part of every user experience project.

But with dozens of similar-sounding content services and tactics, it can be hard to know where to start.

As a content professional, the irony is not lost on me. The content community extolls the virtues of clear and concise language—but our own lexicon is slightly overwhelming. So, here’s a consolidated guide to common content-related terms to help make things more clear.

But Before We Start, a Disclaimer

People have been creating on content for eons, but this new iteration of the content industry is young and developing at a rapid pace. As a result, our vocabulary is still fluid. Content practitioners may use the same term to mean different things based on their experience and talents. So, there’s no one “right” or “agreed upon” definition of any of the terms I’ll cover below (and this is by no means a comprehensive list of content terms). My goal is simply to give you some baseline knowledge.

The Buzziest of the Buzzwords

Let’s start with the catchphrases that have been in the news most often. Each of these terms has dozens of well-documented, detailed definitions, but here’s the quick gist.

  • Content strategy is the practice of defining the big idea (or ideas) that drive a content initiative—any kind of content initiative. These big ideas (a.k.a. “THE content strategy”) might be summarized in a detailed document or a simple philosophy. Alternately, content strategy is sometimes used as an umbrella term for all content work or to describe intelligent content insights.
  • Content strategists are people who think strategically about content (how’s that for a no-brainer). They might create a content strategy or implement strategies. They might lead content projects or work on the details. They might have “content strategist” as a job title, or be called something else. (You might even be one without even knowing it.)
  • Content marketing uses content to help organizations that sell products like pineapples or mutual funds engage with specific customers. Some content marketers create overt sales pitches, like email solicitations, but most are a bit more subtle. They build brand equity by producing product-related content that customers find inherently useful. (Think of Michelin Travel Guides: Customers use the guides to plan trips. Michelin hopes those travelers will enjoy their trips and eventually buy Michelin tires.)
  • Editorial strategy … ooooh, doggies. This one has so many diverse definitions, it’s impossible to pick one. Editorial strategy has been used as a synonym for concepts as broad as content strategy and tactics as specific as an editorial calendar. When someone uses this phrase, just ask them what they mean.

Planning, People, and Processes

There’s no way around it, creating and maintaining content is a lot of work. Advance planning is critical. The following are just a few of the dozens of content phrases that refer to planning, people, and processes.

  • Content planning is a catchall phrase for any planning that is required, and is usually the first step in implementing a strategy. Planning efforts outline what content will be created, when it will be created, who will create it, who will maintain it, and what categories it belongs to. Sometimes content planning work is done as part of content strategy, content marketing, or content product development initiatives.
  • Content governance outlines how decisions about content are made. Much like the government of a country or city, content governance programs are responsible for keeping law and order. They identify the people in power (who makes what decisions), define the rules (content creation guidelines), and determine when new rules are required by measuring content effectiveness and deciding what needs to change.
  • Content workflow focuses on how content work gets done by defining the processes, tools, and human resources required to launch and maintain content efficiently and effectively. (Workflow is often documented in governance guidelines.)
  • Content supply chain is very similar to “content workflow.” Supply chain projects define all of the steps an organization takes to get a piece of content to the user, from planning to publishing.
  • Content management is also in the “content workflow” family, but is generally focused on the processes surrounding technical tools,like content management systems. Alternately, content management can be the label for the entire suite of content processes or technologies used in an organization.
  • Content architecture was, at one time, used to describe content-heavy information architecture work. These days, however, it’s more often the label for the set of specifications used to build a content management system or solution. The content architect’s work includes tasks such as data modeling and defining metadata classification schemas.

Generating Content

Most people are familiar with terms like writing and editing. But as demand for content grows, so does the list of terms that describe content generation processes.

  • Content creation is an easy one: it’s the blanket term for coming up with original content of any kind (such as articles, videos, or info graphics). Creating content can be expensive and time-consuming, but original content often has the most value to users.
  • Content product development is content creation in situations where content is the product and is packaged, marketed, and sold for a price. Examples include whitepapers, online educational courses, pay-per-view news articles, or insightful data sets. Content product developers might create strategies for product lines or be responsible for creating/managing the content itself.
  • Content aggregation uses automated methods (such as feeds or algorithms) to collect content from websites or other sources and distribute that content to your users. Although aggregation may sound like an easy way to get content, careful set-up and maintenance of the algorithms is required to ensure users get information that interests them.
  • Content curation is also about collecting content from other sources. However, unlike aggregation, a human being (such as an editor) handpicks the most important and relevant content to share with a community.

In the End, Labels Don’t Really Matter

When it comes to content terminology, this list is just the tip of the iceberg, but you don’t have to know every new-fangled term to be successful with content. All that’s really important is that the work gets done (and done well).

If you come across an unfamiliar word, don’t hesitate to ask a content specialist about it. We’re word nerds. We love vocabulary, labels, and definitions—which is probably the reason we have so many terms in the first place.

What are your favorite content terms or definitions of the phrases above? Leave a comment and let us know.

post authorMelissa Rach

Melissa Rach, Melissa Rach is co-founder of the content consultancy Dialog Studios and co-author of Content Strategy for the Web (Second Edition). She has been helping clients solve messy content problems for nearly 20 years. Her methodologies have been taught at several universities and her work has been recognized in books regularly throughout her career. Although she’s worked on all types of enterprise content projects, online content is secretly her favorite.


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