How to Build a Topic Strategy

Posted on October 5th, 2009


Get a hold on your content by implementing a topic strategy. What the heck is a topic strategy? To answer that, we’ll have to take a step back. Traditionally, the first line of attack for determining topical ownership areas is the construction of a taxonomy. In truth, taxonomy construction sounds horribly scientific and scary – but there’s a way to bring it down to size (and a way for you to communicate to clients the return on investment!).  

On a data level, taxonomies most often relate to URL structure and site hierarchy. However, there is also another angle to taxonomy construction which is more aligned with editorial scope and vision – this is what we can call a topic strategy. In this sense, topic strategies are based on larger strategy that defines the content ownership areas your brand covers, distinguishes your content from competitors and gives your editorial team a sense the scope, depth and prioritizes highly on-brand topics to pursue production around.

Why this approach? When you build a taxonomy including the perspective of topical ownership, the way you attack existing and future content becomes more sensible and grounded. Once this high-level direction is secure and tested with your existing or future content, you can then commence creating hierarchy and relationships on a detailed level. All said and done, you’ll have a more structured set of content.

Additionally, getting a much-needed handle on the what you are producing will give you foundation to start designing pages – so ultimately, you’ll end up with a much more focused how (what content types) and when (how often to produce).

Here are some practical steps for this approach:

Consider your current content holdings – Conducting an effective content audit can help you zero in on the best and worst aspects of your current inventory. It also gives you invaluable insight to determining your content gaps and opportunities in terms of topical ownership.

Figure out what your topical ownership should be

  1. First, determine what topics your best content covers. This is your on-brand content. After you do this, figure out if you want to/should  focus on and how much of your editorial efforts should be used to increase content around these topics. This is a much more mathematical look at how many resources (and how often)  should be spent on priority topics.
  2. Then conduct a competitive analysis by looking for exactly what topics your competitors cover and how hard it would be for you to beat them and claim authority.
  3. Finally, use analytic tools such as Hitwise or Google AdWords to figure out what people are looking for around your subject matter so that you can meet their needs.

Identify what third-party content you have/will have - What is the topical scope of your partner content? To what depth does it cover? In terms of mapping into your structure, consider how it fits into the topical structure you’ve devised. Does it easily map? Then it sounds like it’s a sure fit for being on-topic. If it doesn’t easily fit into your topic structure, ask yourself whether or not it makes sense (requiring expansion of your taxonomic buckets).

Determine what areas you want to grow into – In line with how you’ll evaluate third-party content, devise a long-term strategy for topical scope and growth. Relevant future topical areas need to be built into your taxonomy in order to save headaches later and ensure your content stays on-topic and on-brand far after launch, which means that you address and consider upfront categories or subject matter that your users or writers will be talking about.