The Hierarchy of Content Needs: A New Model for Creating and Assessing Content

The Layers of the Content Hierarchy, from bottom to top: Accurate, Necessary, Authentic, Effective, Strategic

This post proposes a hierarchy of needs that can serve as a model for creating new content or assessing existing content. Content that successfully meets the higher-level, strategic needs of the audience and the business also needs to succeed on the lower levels. Each level in this hierarchy will probably have different degrees of priority depending on whether the content is a blog post, a video, news release, etc.

The description of this hierarchy pyramid starts at the ground level and works up from there. It’s worth noting that the levels are building blocks, and NOT intended to represent a linear process. You need to consider each of these levels before, during, and after you create content (or as you assess existing content). The hierarchy of content needs consists of the following levels:

1. Accurate

This is the foundational baseline, the food/water/shelter level for content.

  • Is it factually accurate?
  • Is it grammatically correct and free of typos?
  • Has it been entered into the CMS correctly?
  • Do the links work?
  • Does it have metadata?

The good news is that there are tools that can help with this. Many content management systems include spell-check tools, and there are also external tools (such as Siteimprove) that do this. In fact, the benefit of using tools for these foundational elements is that the people involved in creating and managing the content can focus on the remaining aspects of the content hierarchy.

2. Necessary

This addresses whether the content needs to exist at all.

  • Is this content unique on the site? Unique on the Web?
  • Is it topical and timely?
  • Is it relevant to the audience?
  • Is it appropriate for the business to share?
  • Is it required for the audience to know?

3. Authentic

This addresses whether the content is (and should be) from our organization. For some organizations, this will consist only of original information; for others, their content will include analysis of others’ information (known as “curation”).

  • If it is original content, is it created in our brand voice?
  • If it is curated content, is the original source attributed and our analysis clearly identified?
  • If it contains an executive byline, was it actually written by that person?
  • Are we providing the context/analysis/perspective that only we can offer and that will help our audience use the information?

4. Effective

This is about promotion and measurement.

  • Does the audience know that this content exists?
  • Do other internal content creators know about it?
  • What is the size of the target audience?
  • Do we have a goal and a call-to-action for this content?
  • Do we have a plan for achieving that goal? (Editorial calendar for promotions on our site, on social media, in our e-newsletters, etc.)
  • Will we measure how many people have seen/heard/used this content? Will we know who they are?

5. Strategic

This is the pinnacle of the consideration pyramid. It addresses why the organization is creating and publishing this content now.

  • What business goals does this content help achieve?
  • What user needs does this content meet?
  • Does it have a lifecycle for reviewing/renewing/expiring it?
  • What do we expect this content to help us accomplish?

To sum up, make a decision to publish content or keep it online only when it works on all five of these levels. Content that works at the highest level is truly ready to succeed.

About the author:

Hilary Marsh is chief strategist and principal at Content Company, a Chicago-based content strategy consultancy. Thanks to @ContentScotland, @Content1st, @robram, @MxDEJ, and @GetSprkd for their input.


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by Hilary Marsh
February 6th
2014

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