News & Insights

From a Foreign Concept to a Formal Discipline: Tracing the Roots of Content Strategy

From a Foreign Concept to a Formal Discipline: Tracing the Roots of Content Strategy

Before smartphones, personal computers, and the internet, the term content strategy was practically unheard of. It wasn’t on anybody’s radar. It wasn’t even a formal discipline.

Content strategy only became part of people’s vocabulary in the late 1990s, when websites emerged and blogging became a thing. 

The Tech Boom—and The Need for Websites

Businesses were just beginning to understand the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. Much like early humans discovering fire, they didn’t know what to do with it at first (other than gape).

The very idea of content strategy was foreign, superfluous even. It wasn’t until personal computers and the internet became accessible to the average consumer that people discovered its value and started to explore its every nook and cranny.

Companies first saw the internet as a way to communicate corporate information on the web, which marked the birth of websites. 

Websites were initially treated as digital corporate brochures, after realizing they were actually good for business. They were meant to be a read-only experience. As long as all the necessary information fit the screen, all was good. 

Then came the tech boom, or what some like to call the dot-com bubble, a period from 1995 to 2001 when the valuation of internet-based companies skyrocketed.

The internet was growing at a fast pace. The adoption rate was accelerating tenfold. Venture capitalists and traditional investors became eager to put their money into this promising sector. 

The internet was the place to be. Everyone felt the need to have a web presence of some sort. Businesses wanted their own websites but they needed to deliver a holistic web experience, not just pure information.

The Evolution of Design—and The Call for Structure

Usability was the name of the game from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.

As Flash, JavaScript, CSS, and other versions of HTML burst onto the scene, much was expected from websites by that point—from their visual design to their on-site navigation to their information architecture.

But at that time, it wasn’t that easy because there were no how-tos for developing a site or crafting engaging web content. Companies were still in the process of learning (just check Wayback Machine). Basically, they were all taking shots in the dark.

One of the earliest online articles to provide a sense of direction came in 2000. In his blog post Checklist: Create a Content Strategy for Inc., Russel Shaw talked about the importance of showcasing different content categories and creating content with the audience in mind. 

This came at a time when businesses were adding content to their sites on a whim. And the idea of an underlying strategy for content creation was new (and still not widely embraced). Shaw’s piece was pioneering but didn’t gain that much traction. 

It wasn’t until Ann Rockley rolled out her 2002 book Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy that content strategy began to pick up steam. Her book explained how companies must develop a “repeatable, systematic” content strategy to reach their target consumers effectively.

This book earned her the title “Mother of Content Strategy” as Rockley was the first to publish a guide to content creation and management, tools selection, and information architecture principles. 

Suffice to say, Rockley’s book propelled content strategy into the mainstream. But it was Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web that made content strategy a formal discipline.

This 2009 book highlighted the role of content strategy in driving long-term growth for businesses while offering practical ways to audit, analyze, and optimize content. It was comprehensive and taught content strategy more than mere theory. 

To further bring it into awareness, Halvorson also put together the first content strategy consortium at the AI Summit in March of the same year. The practical use of content strategy was discussed in length and with gusto. 

In 2011, she founded the Confab, the biggest content strategy conference in the United States, where experts help businesses make their content more usable in the digital sphere. This led to other publications that dissect and explore content strategy as a formal discipline. 

And by the 2010s, content strategy was solidified as an indispensable component of web development and digital marketing. Today it’s become a legitimate and highly sought-after profession.