The Doctor Will See You Now: In conversation with Content Strategist, James Gunter

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Doctor Who fanatic, bourbon swiller and content strategy buff. These are just a few of the things we know about content strategist James Gunter.

Catching up with Gunter in his Salt Lake City dwelling, TARDIS themed mug in hand, we caught up with the strategist for a bit of a tête-à-tête on Google algorithms, the future of content strategy and Peter Capaldi.  

Content strategy then. It can always feel a little tricky to pin down exactly what it is, eh? Hannah’s post earlier this month took the subject head on posing that it’s essentially “a high level vision, tied to a specific objective which is really at the heart of any good content strategy”. So what does Gunter think? “For me, content strategy is about ensuring a consistent content journey for users through their experience. It’s extremely important to understand what your audience wants and needs at specific points and being able to give them the right content at the right time”.

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Cutting his teeth as a technical writer before moving into digital copy, Gunter now heads up the content side of Utah based company Tru Hearing. It’s not surprising then that his technical background has helped him to really understand both sides of the fence: “We’re in this weird transition period right now, where SEO has been the 10,000lb. gorilla for the past ten years or so, but old-school SEO tactics were somewhat divorced from quality content”. Now, of course, this just isn’t feasible for a business website. Search engines are beginning to quantify quality in ways that no one ever thought they would be able to do. So it’s here that we see search trying to catch up and understand just how quality content works as well as how to create it effectively.

This idea of creating a better search experience is something Gunter is well versed in. Speaking at this year’s Confab in Minneapolis - the leading conference of its kind - Gunter’s session focused on recent shifts in the Google algorithm, specifically the Hummingbird update. Increasingly, it would seem that quality content is optimization. The convergence of content and optimization is an area he’s keen to address: “I think these two groups (content creators and search experts) need to work together much earlier in the process”, he tells us. Looking forward perhaps, this is an area where the two teams can cross collaborate, Gunter seems to agree: “Who knows, maybe there is some future hybrid role of a “content creator/optimizer- someone who understands how to create great content and can make sure they’re creating something search friendly from the beginning”. He adds “It takes the willingness of both roles to step outside their comfort zone and learn some skills that they haven’t historically been asked to learn”.

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It’s this harmony between the two respective areas of your site and it’s this idea of dualism - where one thing cannot exist without its opposite - that he revisits time and time again. So much so in fact, he’s even coined a phrase for the balance: “The idea of ‘content zen’ is that all of your content should be connected. Your content strategy isn’t just about what you do, but what you don’t do at the same time. In the end, it’s just another way of approaching content as a holistic practice”.

In October of last year, we launched a report into the merging roles between brands as publishers in the form of this multi-media long read, Brandopolis. Interestingly, this is a topic that Gunter is also passionate about, believing that some of the best content right now is being produced through journalism rather than brands. “Just the other day I was legitimately asking myself, who is making the best content on the internet?”, he throws out. “ If I was not in marketing—just some Joe Schmo on the internet—what content I would gravitate to and read on a regular basis? It’s certainly not brand content. It’s journalism, like the New York Times, Buzzfeed, Vice, and even NPR”.   He adds: “For non-marketing people, I think there’s a supreme lack of trust in brand content”.

Prescribing ‘content zen’ to businesses everywhere, you could say that Gunter is something of a holistic healer when it comes to addressing your site content and aligning this with your business values. But when you’ve grown up on a diet of British sci-fi drama, we’re pretty sure he wouldn’t be averse to the Doctor reference. “Steven Moffat (the Scot behind the most recent series) has hinted that Capaldi might be a little more dangerous and a little more unpredictable. The last couple of doctors have been “nice guys” (...) But with Jon Pertwee and certainly Tom Baker - there was an air of unpredicatability, the feeling that anything could happen”.

With a final swig of his coffee, we hop on our metaphorical TARDIS to look to the future of content strategy: “I think content strategists need to become more familiar with the technical side of publishing content on the internet as well as search optimization. Maybe that means learning some HTML or gaining a better understanding of the way search engines crawl content”. He jokes: “If you’re a content person who can think strategically and practically about search, you’re going to be much more valuable and successful than if you only know how to write nice blog posts and keep a clean publishing calendar”.

Clearly not listening to the wise words of William Hartnell then, James?

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So over to you, dear reader

What do you think the future will throw up for the digital landscape and how can content strategists and search marketers work better together? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Find more of Gunter’s content musings over on his site: http://jamescgunter.com