I just read about 45 articles on content strategy. If I were going to pick a word to sum up content strategy in 2013, it would be “empathy”.  It’s a lovely word, but hard to assimilate when you’re talking to clients about deliverables, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and analytics.

Many of the best articles I read this year focused on empathy. But the advice around feelings, empathy and compassion doesn’t necessarily help me prove to clients I can be a better consultant. Yes, I need empathy for my clients. I need empathy for the users customers. But empathy is not a deliverable, and clients are focused on deliverables. They’re also focused on knowledge, and that’s what these best selections below are about. I chose these articles for my best of the best list, because they added to my knowledge—to how I inform my own practice.

Maybe we’re spending so much time talking about empathy because we realize how hard it is to do what we do. So instead of sharing better ways to do it, we’re reinventing the 12, 16 and 7 ways to get started with content strategy. Or we’re talking about #contentstrategyfeelings. Instead, we need to share the deep practice of tying business objectives to content production and management within organizations. We need to just DTDT (do the damn thing) and get on with it.

See if these 10 articles add to your practice of content strategy. As always, I’m burning with a maddening curiosity to know if you agree:

10. No model survives first contact with real content: Cleve Gibbon (@cleveg) explains how testing your content model with real content is imperative. He also talks about gemba, which is a Japanese term used by Lean UX to describe “the real place.” To me, this is the place you find when you content satisfies your users’ goals AND creates revenue or other achievement opportunities.

9. The Trouble with ‘Content,’ Part 1: When historians compile the history of content strategy, they certainly will observe that we had issues with definitions in the early part of our discipline. Rachel Lovinger (@rlovinger) explores our complicated feelings around the word content, which we trade for a more expansive term that means what content does to us when we consume it.

8. The “Statement of Work” Wormhole: As content professionals, much of what we’re really paid for is discovery. Understanding the lay of the land, so we can solve problems, is where we spend most of our time. But we’re paid for a set of deliverables that impact the way people should behave in the future. This gap creates problems for us when we set up contracts at the beginning of a project, without really knowing what this discovery will bring. Matt Grocki’s (@mgrocki) article about how to create an effective SOW, which should in turn guide better project management, stands out in my mind as a must read for people on both sides of digital consulting: vendors and clients.

7. The Future of Google Search: While we may not always want to admit it, search is core to content strategy. If content isn’t findable then it isn’t serving the business objectives of the organization, nor is it helping users complete their tasks. Graham (@MarketerGraham) makes the argument that Google is pushing search to a completely new layout and graphic interface that will change the way we think about search results. Later articles this year expounded on this theory, but he was correctly interpreting the tea leaves way back in June.

6. The Intersection of User Experience, Customer Experience and Corporate Strategy: The Holy Grail for 21st Century Business?: Chris Allen(@salesmystic)talks about a concept close to my heart: who owns strategy? As the web has completely changed the way we do business, how close to the corporate roundtable should digital marketers and communication strategists sit? Who should call the shots when so much of what our customers know about us happen at our 24/7 open virtual storefronts? And what about all the conversations that are happening away from those properties—on social media and the like? How can the expertise we’ve built as UX professionals inform these decisions?

5. “Like”-able Content: Spread Your Message with Third-Party Metadata: This, to me, is the perfect article for content strategists. Clinton Forry (@wd45) explains how using structured data will help make your users easilyable to share your content with their social networks, specifically on Facebook and Twitter.

4. Web Experience: Content is Critical for Web Success: It may seem obvious, but Gerry McGovern’s (@gerrymcgovern) main thesis here is that we need to measure the value of content, not the quantity of content. As he points out, “If the Web were a digestive system it would have no capacity to poop. It just grows and grows and grows. That’s a painful situation to be in, particularly for the customer who finds lots and lots of out-of-date content.” Defining the value of content—how useful it is to the customer—comes from the outcomes of that content. That’s something we can certainly measure.

3. Avoid Category Names that Suck: Hoa Loranger (@hoaloranger) demonstrates the classic intersection of information architecture and content strategy by providing research that shows how much people get confused by bad labelling.

2. Data Sets you Free:Perhaps this was Jonathon Colman’s (@jcolman) response to so many empathetic articles—the tactics of doing content strategy are not as important as the results of content strategy. “Data helps you break the cycle of just talking about content strategy instead of actually doing content strategy,” he so articulately points out. Use data to explain the inputs so the outputs show the results people care about and want. (Hat tip to Tenessa Gemelke (@gemelke) for this recommendation)

1. The Importance of Visualisation – Mapping the Way Forward: Richard Ingram (@richardjingram) explains how to use mapping techniques and drawing in content strategy. Just read it. It’s that good.

See last year’s list: The Top 10 Content Strategy Articles of 2012.

Want to learn to be an awesome content professional? Take our training classes at Content University. The first course is on sale now!

Oh, and we’re going dark from today until after the New Year. On behalf of all of us at Aha Media, thank you so much for an amazing year. 93 blog posts, 26 email newsletters, too many airplanes to count and a ridiculous amount of Starbucks later, we thank you for the amazing conversations we had this year.

Peace on earth and goodwill to all people—Happy New Year. We will see you again in 2014!

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