An actionable list of of principles to guide just about any content strategy for a website:
1. Do less
The Norwegian Cancer Society removed around 90% of its website content — to great effect on user experience and online conversions. Liverpool City Council trimmed down to 700 pages, from 4,000. The result? Support requests went down, and online reporting went up. And the US Department of Health deleted 150,000 of their 200,000 website pages. Nobody noticed.*
What would happen if everyone were bold enough to prioritise the production of a smaller volume of quality, instructive, value-adding content where every page counts for something to the user, over the production of masses of content that only really pleases internal whim? A much better website, probably.
The cost of producing (in time and money) one single, well-made informational piece can be worth far more than a few hundred churned out throwaway pieces.
Content should feel like an investment in a precious asset, not a throwaway commodity. When it comes to quality and impact, less is often going to be more.
2. Know our users (otherwise known as people)
Our website exists to communicate, connect and add value to the people visiting it — helping them to complete a practical task, deepen their understanding of something, or assist them to make a decision.
But it’s not possible to achieve any of those things if we don’t know who these people (to whom we ironically apply the dehumanising label of “users”) actually are. User (or people) research needs to stop becoming a “special project” case that lets staff of the hook from understanding who they’re serving. It should become the normal — everyone’s job.
User research tactics exist on a pretty huge spectrum. Yes, it can sometimes mean drafting in external experts to carry out a comprehensive UX research project. But it can also mean staff doing lots of relatively “small things”, which if done regularly, amount to big things.
Behavioural-related analytics reports, basic online feedback mechanisms (forms, surveys, blogs), and personas help us to stay connected to and understanding of the point of view of the people we’re trying to serve.
This “skill” as understood in business terms, can be summarised as something that seems to come naturally to us in our everyday lives: empathy. Our ability to see, hear, understand, and connect with the person on the other side of the table (or online, on the other side of the screen) is key to our ability to create great digital experiences.
3. Think customer journeys, not (department silo-owned) sections
Speaking of things our users care about… our site’s visitors are pretty unlikely to care much about how our organisation happens to have internally structured itself.
Unfortunately, many of our websites are indeed a mirrored projection of the business’s internal silos. Makes sense to us, yes. Our users, not so much. Our internal departments are often going to seem trivial, and merely act as a barrier to people achieving what they need to.
The impetus is on us to understand the key touch points of our customer’s experience, and build web content experiences around that journey. This requires breaking out of any existing silos and working much more holistically, across departmental divides on building content experiences tailored to our customers’ needs (rather than built around our convenience).
By definition, that requires a lot more effortful, complex thinking, and a lot more hard work. But if the end result is a website that actually speaks to our users, it’ll be worth the effort.
4. Govern our content
Quality, customer-centric, collaboratively produced and owned content doesn’t “just happen”. It requires systems and processes for managing the stuff consistently and professionally.
Nine times our of ten an unorganised, out of control, inconsistent website is simply the symptom of a lack of collective organisation and defined accountability among the people who own it. Agreed upon standards, guidelines and policies for how the organisation “does” content — that kind of thing.
Making the case for better web content governance doesn’t have to be complicated (though implementing governance is where the hard work occurs). Better web content governance amounts to the definition of precisely four things:
- Web content roles and responsibilities (including someone who’s in charge and empowered to say “no”)
- Processes for how content should be planned, produced, published and maintained (I.e. workflows)
- Guidelines, standards, policies and tools that create and support the consistent creation of user-led content
- Internal training initiatives and resourcing plans, based on identified content skills and resources gaps.
5. Use data to guide decision-making
If we’re not using data to guide our content decisions, we’re essentially flying blind. On the other hand, consistently reporting on and translating analytics data into content insights helps us to understand the “truth” behind our website — what the hard facts are telling us is working vs. not working.
Plus, creating meaningful insights out of our data (a deceptively difficult skill in itself) through the lens of a content strategy can help to “depoliticise” internal discussions over the direction of our digital presence.
In the absence of data-backed evidence, answers to questions as small as What should the key call to action for this page be?, through to big questions such as What are our website’s key goals?, amount to little more than unsubstantiated opinions and claims.
Put simply, data helps us to make better digital decisions for our organisations and, ultimately, for our users.
* Stats and insights courtesy of this blog post by Gerry McGovern.