By Ann Rockley published February 22, 2016

Why You Need Two Types of Content Strategist


Recently I was asked: “How do you define an exceptional content experience?” My response was “I don’t deal with front-end experience. I make the content sing and dance by managing it behind the scenes. A front-end strategist tells me what’s needed, and I develop the back-end strategy to support those needs.”

Content strategists come in two main types: front-end and back-end. If you’re a marketer who treats your organization’s content as a business asset, you need to understand both types of strategist so you can bring in the right kind of help at the right time or develop the appropriate skills in-house.

Two mindsets, each important

You must coordinate strategies for both the front end and the back end if your enterprise aspires to a scalable approach to content – an approach that leads to content that performs well with customers and takes advantage of automation.

Front-end and back-end roles require different mindsets, each important. In some cases, an individual may play both roles, but most content strategists develop one skill set or the other.

Front-end content strategists typically have a love for the content and the customer experience. They make recommendations about the content itself. When marketers say “content strategist,” they typically mean front-end strategist. That makes sense because the front end – the customer experience – is where all business planning starts. The front-end strategist answers questions like these:

  • Who’s our target audience?
  • Why (for real) are we creating content for those people?
  • What content do they need most?
  • How well do we meet those needs today?
  • How can we meet those needs better tomorrow – while also serving the goals of the business?
  • How can we better coordinate the efforts of all our content creators?

Back-end strategists like me (typically known as intelligent content strategists) have a love for structure, scalability, and technology. They make recommendations about how to use technology – hardware and software – to handle all that content in efficient and powerful ways. This type of strategist answers questions like these:

  • How can we organize content so that our authors can easily store and retrieve it, and prepare it for automated selection and delivery in the relevant channels?
  • How do we structure the content so that modules are consistent and can be easily assembled (mixed and matched) on-demand to meet customer needs?
  • How do we make sure that we aren’t creating, recreating, and recreating content over and over for each channel?
  • How do we scale our processes so we can do more with the same resources?
  • How do we take advantage of the wealth of content we have and surface it for our customers in a way that is fresh and valuable?
  • How do we future-proof our content to take advantage of the next big thing?

An example

Let’s take the example of personalized content. Personalized (adaptive) content delivers the right content to the right customer on the device of their choosing. Well-written content designed to meet the customer’s needs is important (front-end strategy).

You have to start there, but you can’t stop there.

Personalized content also relies on back-end strategy: Modularized, structured, format-free content supported by rich metadata. In other words, back-end strategy assures that content can be used and reused in various contexts and tagged with metadata so that computers, and people, can find it.

A deeper look at the two roles

Both roles are important, and they must coordinate. If they don’t, front-end strategy without back-end strategy can lead to solutions that are effective for the customer but don’t scale or cost a lot to create and maintain. Similarly, back-end strategy alone may lead to technologically elegant solutions that fail to resonate with customers.

I talk in terms of “roles” because content strategy today is often handled by people in the role of dedicated content strategist, but content strategy can also be a function within other job titles. You don’t have to be a content strategist to take on strategy-related tasks.

Front-end tasks:

  • Define customer personas.
  • Define customer journeys.
  • Analyze and map customer needs to the business strategy.
  • Determine what topics to address when, including content marketing offerings, to support the customer at multiple points in the customer journey.
  • Choose the best content types (text, visuals, video).
  • Develop SEO guidelines to ensure that people searching online can find the content.
  • Develop style guidelines (on how to write for the audience).

Back-end tasks:

  • Identify how content varies based on customer needs and where each need arises in the customer journey.
  • Identify how content can be modularized so that it can be automatically reused (mixed and matched) to meet customer needs.
  • Develop format-free structured content models so that content can be written in a consistent way and automatically published to any channel (mobile, web, print).
  • Define the structure of the CMS repository so that it supports authoring and content retrieval.
  • Develop metadata to tag all content modules for dynamic content retrieval.
  • Develop business rules to identify how content should be assembled automatically upon customer request.
  • Define structured-writing guidelines (on how to write for each content model).


As you see in the overlapping part of the Venn diagram, front-end and back-end strategists share responsibility for workflow governance – determining who creates what content, who reviews content, who has permission to change content, and who decides what gets delivered when and where.

Get the help you need with back-end content strategy

Lots of people talk about front-end strategy. I will focus on getting help with back-end strategy. That’s what I do: I help to grow back-end content strategists within organizations or help organizations hire resources to fill that role.

If your organization is looking to hire a back-end content strategist or to assign those tasks to in-house content teams, first explore your current resources for creating and managing content. Remember your web-management team or even IT resources when trying to determine the options.

Also look into what may seem like unusual places in your organization for individuals who can help with the intelligent content strategy. Some of these people might be too technical for your needs, but companies often have gems in hiding.

Examples of places to look internally:

  • App-development teams – They are familiar with interactivity and dynamic delivery.
  • Learning-development teams – They are familiar with modularizing content to create reusable learning objects and reassembling that content to build self-directed interactive learning.
  • Document-management teams – They typically have experience with developing rich metadata for content storage and retrieval.
  • Technical-communication teams – They have been creating format-free structured reusable content for decades.

Questions to ask when hiring for back-end content strategy

Here are some questions you might want to ask of candidates you consider hiring for back-end content strategy tasks:

  • Have you designed personalized content, content-as-a-service, or multichannel/omnichannel materials? Describe those projects. What made these projects different from a typical content marketing project?
  • What is the best way to scale a project for long-term success?
  • What kinds of technology (not specific product offerings) lend themselves to scalability, personalization, or omnichannel?
  • What are the greatest challenges you have faced on one of these types of projects? How did you overcome them?
  • How do you educate team members on these types of projects? How have you overcome resistance?
  • What are the best practices for these types of projects?


Today’s companies need both front-end content strategy and back-end strategy. To deliver content that wins over customers while achieving business goals, combine the skills and outlooks required at both ends. If you have found your own ways of making these ends meet, please tell us about it in a comment.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Rockley

Ann Rockley (@arockley), CEO of The Rockley Group, Inc., was ranked among the top five most influential content strategists in 2010. Ann is the creator of the concept of intelligent content and founded the Intelligent Content Conference. Ann has an international reputation for developing intelligent content strategies for multichannel delivery. She has been instrumental in establishing the field in content strategy, content reuse, intelligent content strategies for multichannel delivery, and structured content management best practices. Rockley is a frequent contributor to trade and industry publications and a keynote speaker at numerous conferences around the world. Ann led Content Management Professionals, an international organization that fosters the sharing of content management information, best practices, and strategies to a prestigious eContent 100 award in 2005. Known as the mother of content strategy, she introduced the concept of content strategy with her best-selling book, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, now in its second edition.

Other posts by Ann Rockley

  • Mike Myers

    Thanks for this fascinating read! It’s always interesting to see how different people/groups/brands will do similar things and call them by different names.

    From our view, your Venn diagram above could be labeled content marketing (on the left), content management (on the right) and we would add a third circle below those two for content distribution — because neither the front end or back end matters if your audience never sees your message. The center point would then be the content program itself (and we would have to find a place for workflow and governance, perhaps around the outside?). That’s just our viewpoint. I wonder what others are doing?

    Thanks for sharing this insightful and reassuring view!

  • Vinish Garg

    An exciting take on two roles of a content strategist. For the front-end content strategists, I think a few organizations may struggle to differentiate them from content marketers. Because this is precisely what their content marketers are doing, while working with (back-end) content strategists.

    Also, does it mean that a content strategist can afford to take one’s “weak areas” little lightly assuming that there is space for the other role which is his or her strength?

  • Kamal

    Thanks a ton for sharing this information and you have given some really good points to check out ! keep going..Content always play an major role and u have explained the things clearly..

  • Gina Balarin

    What a super post, Anne. Chock full of great advice. Thank you!

  • Michael Restiano

    Great post! I’ve heard a similar distinction arise with the titles being “content strategist” (front-end) and “content engineer” (back-end) both of which are still distinct from content marketer.

    Totally agree that there are different responsibilities between the two, and that most content strategists tend specialize in on or the other. However, I’m not sure if that warrants the two actually being separate (yet collaborative) and distinct roles in an org.

    A versatile content strategist should, I think, be able to play on both sides of the field, even if their preferences and expertise leans one way. Doing a content style guide seems difficult, for example, if the person can’t also model the content properly and envision the backend authoring experience for actually creating that content. They may not be an expert at content modeling, as they are with a style guide, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the model needs to be done by an entirely new CS.

    Just some thoughts!
    Michael Restiano

    • ContentQuo

      Totally agree. “Content Engineer” as an alternative term for “Back-end Content Strategist” makes a lot of sense to us, too – both as a role and as a job title.

      And adding the Global dimension – with multiple languages and geographies coming into play – might warrant yet another separate role for content strategists.

    • Carlos Abler

      I think a blended skill-set is a great thing to have. However I think whether they are multiple people or not can depend on the size of the organization and commensurate volume of work. For an enterprise there is absolutely enough labor to have dedicated back-end strategists/engineers or whatever you want to call them. A shared resources across multiple divisions could keep a content modeler busy as a full time job if they were consulting with the business on optimal models, managing model libraries, supporting post-hoc optimization etc. For a small company, a start-up, a role scoped within a division, then maybe they can more likely be one person. However you also have to consider the other work a ‘front-end strategist’ may need to do. For example if they are also focused on content performance integrated to driving business relevant metrics, they may be needed more for marketing/CRM agility activities. There are a lot of ways to slice and dice these activities. I think Ann’s model forms a good starting point for analysis for organizations that may have a rudimentary understanding of the back-end vs. front-end centers of gravity, and consequently who they fit together across the mix of HR with other inputs to final business process.

  • Paul Alves

    Great read Ann! Plenty of realistic advice, points to consider at C level
    before engaging someone. I have to add tiny bit of seasoning into your
    recipe, if you allow me.

    From content experience and many readings, I’d say that the perfect content strategist doesn’t really walk the streets every day. But staying on topic – I would hire someone who isn’t afraid to run the project, can read inbetween the
    lines, take up on challanges and above all being proactive.

    conflict scenario at early stage where Back-end dev or IA fails to
    communicate user experience/CX and designs the navigational structure.
    The CS has to run the show from A-Z, if he wants to avoid errors or
    delays. But all comes from initial digital strategy plan.

    You see many people with litlte or no experience, but that isn’t the problem. You can learn it.
    say must have skills: knowledge of copywriting, planner, back-end but
    above all he/she has to be a tremendous project manager.
    Also, communnicate with others, stay on track, respect scope and cost at all TIMES.

    Here is my thoughts and seasoning..

    P.S: Ann, thanks for sharing this post as I had it in mind for a long time.

  • Carlos Abler

    This is such an excellent article. Thanks Ann I’ll share it all around with my colleagues.

    By way of digression, while we could propose additional circles all day long given all of the adjacent activities related to the universe of applied content, and I get that the scope of the article here is likely to help organizations better understand the centers of gravity skills and activities of front vs. back-end; there is another circle worth considering with regard to a strategist role, Organization Strategy, Enterprise Strategy, or something like that. This may be more appropriate for large organizations, but when I think of my role, I (and others) foster the creation, support and infrastructure for the front and back-end strategies in this article. We help to make content a priority for the organization, identify that (for example) these front and backs strategists and respective activities should exist as career paths, facilitate the change management required to midwife them into being, help to RACI who actually does the work in the activity streams across roles, players and departments, drive investment in HR and technologies, evangelize practice, set deployment priorities and goals, and so on. Again, I’m not saying that his is ‘missing’ per se from this article as I do respect the scope of the article. But as a digression I think it’s worth putting out there.

  • Angi Cividino

    Yes! Spoken like a true UX specialist!

  • Angi Cividino

    Great read! So… What if you are working for a new, small B2C company and you are expected to perform both roles on two small websites? (Sending the owner this article won’t change anything in the short run. I may file it for future reference.)

    My background (journalism, 11 years of blogging, basic web development and design, SEO/SEM, copywriting, agency experience, analytics, social media) fulfills all front-end duties/requirements. But I have a few weaknesses as a back-end content marketing strategist.

    First and foremost, the template/theme has been customized on both sites BUT they are both void of some very obvious and very important best practices. (Fixes that I would have to research in order to apply.) Web security issues, plug-in install updates, widgets to add — these time consuming tasks can be mentally challenging .

    I am reminded (by the owner) that we are still in the early stages and that no one is breathing down my neck.

    Still, I sometimes find myself losing momentum, having to shift gears from publishing page updates, blog posts and social media content… to connecting with new followers on Twitter and taking photos and videos at in-store events…to going from text to code to Google Analytics to having to explain how improving upon the existing information architecture and nomenclature matters…so that at the end of the month our conversion metrics seem to indicate we’ve got an audience that downloads our stuff and ‘Likes’ us.

    Oh! And somewhere in there I’ve got to do all of this remotely, by myself, while sticking to my lofty (2 blog posts/day, 4 social posts per day) content calendar publishing goals.

    I try to eat a meal now and then; sleep a couple of hours here and there; and watch the odd episode of Girls, Togetherness, The Walking Dead, and Criminal Minds. (Showering, flossing and brushing my teeth are considered ‘rewards’ for completing tasks on deadline.)

    I’ve been a contract worker for years — prior to taking on this gig. Time management has never been an issue before. I think my problem here is a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ thing. You know what I mean? I’m trying to play two very different roles or people… but poor hideous Hyde is not quite as skilled as Jekyll, relatively speaking. 🙁

    I’m just so grateful to be writing from home again. I enjoy back-end work and problem solving — it just takes me DAYS longer than the average WordPress web developer. 🙂

    I realize, however, that if I do a half-baked job on the front-end and back-end I will end up jobless. ANY advice would be sincerely appreciated. Please and thank you.


    • Nicole Conser

      Hey Angi – have you thought about sub-contracting out the back-end stuff? I’m in a similar boat (well, I’m about to be – working on the contract for a client now, which is how I ended up here). I’m trying to figure out how exactly to structure it considering I’m recommending an entire back-end overhaul before I can get started with the “content strategy” gig. The back-end stuff is something I could consult on and project-manage, but not do myself. I’d love to connect with you to see if we can help each other out!

      • Angi Cividino

        Hi Nicole! Yes, let’s connect. Are you on Twitter? @acividino12

        • Nicole Conser

          Just DM’d you! @nicoleconser

  • Cruce Saunders


    Thank you for this terrific article highlighting the continuum between strategy, technology, and implementation.

    The practices, disciplines, roles, and relationships of intelligent content and digital experience management in general, are very much still being defined. So it’s an important discussion for us to be having.

    The Venn diagram in your article does a nice job of demonstrating that strategists of all stripes must work together from the front end to the back end of the stack. Isolated efforts at the front end fall short, as do technical implementation efforts without good structure and model from which to work.

    It is encouraging to see solid discussion about the back-end and front-end cooperation needed to deliver excellent customer experience. You have concisely articulated the challenges we face with workflow and the different types of mindsets it takes to address the strategy side and the engineering side at the same time.

    I like the concept of “engineering content,” originally coined by Joe Gollner, because it indicates the systematic application of scientific discipline in order to influence an outcome. It bridges from pure strategy to implementations. Building engineers move the ball from the renderings to the electrical and plumbing schemas.

    I believe content strategy and ‘content engineering’ practices work together to create, structure, and deliver intelligent content across channels.

    As an advocate for the practice of content engineering and its related disciplines, i

    I define the primary disciplines of content engineering as: model, metadata, schema, and taxonomy. Each of these is key to content reuse and getting the most from our content assets.

    The content model and the prototype are certainly the place where content strategists and content marketers can meet. I’m a fan of a cross-functional project management infrastructure that houses the content strategy and content engineering practices, which I like to call a Digital Management Office (DMO).

    I see the DMO functioning at the level of governance where the content strategist and the content engineer can operate independent of silos like IT and marketing, working for the benefits of fluid content across an enterprise.

    It’s good to see you leading the discussion on valuing content as an asset and for highlighting the tremendous teamwork and collaboration needed to create scaleable, personal and intelligent customer experiences.

    In my book “Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World,” ( I examine how content strategy, content engineering and content management fit together, the differences between them, and why ultimately you need all three.

    I look forward to seeing you soon at ICC. Aligned to themes you cover here, my session, “Making the Case for Content Engineering and How to Integrate Content Engineering into the Enterprise” in part, will examine the roles of content engineer or back-end content strategist.

    I see the content strategist as the CEO of content, and the content engineer as the CTO of content. Both are needed to deliver value. The content strategist addresses the who, what, when, where, and why of content, and the content engineer addresses the how of multi-channel content publication.

    For a brief overview of content engineering, see “What is Content Engineering” on the Simple [A] site:

    Thank you for all you do from writing articles like this to founding ICC. You are advancing the discussion of improving cooperation across our shared practices, and in doing so highlighting the disciplines, roles, and relationships that make intelligent content work.

  • Selena

    I’m so lucky to have found your article Ann. Keep sharing your tips and professional experience with us!

  • Loren Srijan

    Great post..this tips are really handy