Creating Online Content


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This is a presentation given by the Mass Audubon webmaster to introduce staff to the challenges of creating web content and enewsletters that work.

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  • What do our website visitors and email recipients want from us? And who are these people?
  • Shortly after I moved into my house 20 years ago, I heard a noise on my porch and opened the door to find a large bag of zucchini. I had no idea what to do with it.
  • So, it being pre-web days, I went to my cookbooks, opened a likely one to the index and looked up zucchini.
  • It had info on identifying zucchini – I’d already done that – and growing zucchini, which I obviously didn’t need to worry about. Then I found a recipe for Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cake – perfect – I flipped to the page and made 14 loaves of it.Let’s go back and look at what I did… or didn’t do. I didn’t open the cookbook at the beginning, read the preface and the intro about where the author learned to cook. I didn’t even look at the front of a cookbook. I had a TASK – find a zucchini recipe, and to complete that task, I went right to the index and scanned until I found what I wanted. The only page of the cookbook I actually READ was the page with the recipe.This is EXACTLY how people use the web. They scan and click until they find the information they’re seeking, THEN they read.Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cake3 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled 4 eggs3 c all-purpose flour 3 c granulated sugar1 ½ t baking powder 1 ½ c vegetable oil1 t baking soda 3 c grated zucchini, skin on1 t salt 1 c finely chopped walnuts or pecans, optionalPreheat oven to 350° Grease a 10” tube or Bundt pan and sprinkle with cocoa.Stir together dry ingredients. Beat the eggs until thick and light, gradually adding the sugar. Then mix in oil and chocolate. Stir in zucchini and nuts. Pour batter in pan and bake for about 1 ¼ hours.
  • What to do with the kids?
  • Go to and SCAN to find the magic words Spring Vacation and kids - click
  • Click through until I find the actual page about the camp I want, THEN read the page. I didn’t even LOOK at the intro information on the What’s New Page, and I couldn’t tell you what else was on the homepage.
  • Says right at the top what it is: Outdoor Activities for Kids and Family. Lots of graphics, but very straightforward, 2 column layout with big headings.
  • The design of webpages and emails depends a great deal on who you’re talking to. Pages that appeal to kids, for example, may be much to busy and loud for the average 70 YO retired school teacher. And you need to know what interests them, what will “hook” them, to write effectively.
  • We have all sorts of great news and information that we want to share with the public. But is it what the public WANTS from us? Do they care if we got a grant, or hired a new head of something? Maybe not. You have to find out what is of interest to THEM. Why did they come to our website? Why did they sign up for an enewsletter?
  • And what are our goals? Why do we want people to read this page? What BEHAVIOR do we want to inspire? Web pages and emails need to have Calls to Action – donate, tell us about a bird sighting, come to a naturalist program, write to your state representative, start recycling…
  • There are scads of environmental nonprofits in Mass. What’s unique about us? What can we give people that’s unique? What content do we have the is COMPELLING, both in subject matter AND writing style?
  • Jared Spool, User Interface Engineering,, is a great speaker and one of the deities of online user interface design.
  • Google Analytics has a great Overlay tool that shows the percentage of page visitors who click to specific other pages. Some types of links can’t be monitored, and you have to remember that new content may not have had time to accumulate clicks. Also, if there are 2 links to the same page, you can’t tell which link they used.
  • Google lets you put up multiple versions of a page, and then shows you the stats on each. We put up 2 versions of our home page – one with the donate and join buttons on the top, and one without. We made the actual links from those buttons different. The buttons worked, and we’ve now incorporated them into our home page.
  • Jacob Nielsen,, another great speaker and expert on web usability.
  • So – how much of YOUR enewsletter do you think a person can read in less than a minute? For many people, it’s like reading National Geographic – flip through, look at the pictures, read the captions, and maybe, if it looks really interesting, stop and read an article – or at least PART of an article.
  • The CAN-SPAM act sets very strict rules on what an email can and can’t contain – for instance, you can’t put a misleading subject – YOU’VE WON A CRUISE! – unless, of course, they actually have won a cruise.There are also programs that automatically decide that an email is spam and throw it away, so it’s important that our email not give that appearance – for instance, lots of exclamation points and big, bold, capitalized text. Also, if you send an email to someone who doesn’t want it, they can hit the “Spam” button on their email reader – if enough people do that, ALL of our email will be blocked from that whole domain. For example, if a lot of people with AOL email said our mail was spam, AOL would block ALL our email to anyone with an AOL address… very bad.Also, email looks very different in different email readers. You can make an email that’s beautiful when viewed in Outlook, but it may be awful to look at in AOL mail. That’s because the different email readers support different kinds of formatting – so we try to make an email that looks OK in lots of different readers.And then there’s the basic problem of email overflow. I get 50 emails/day, so I need a compelling reason to open an enewsletter or email from an organization. It better have a subject line that grabs my attention, and once I open it, it better hold my attention, or next time I might not bother to open it.
  • Web page text that is aimed at the public should have an informal style. Email, even more so. You want to make a personal connection to people. And again – it’s all about what THEY want to know, what THEY are interested in – not what you are interested in telling them.And it’s all about BEHAVIOR – what do you want them to DO? With email, it should almost always be a click – to a page on our website that draws them in further, or to a form, to get them to ask us something, or to give us information and/or money.
  • Remember I said on a previous slide that I would tell you what that text at the top of a web page was called? The technical term is “blah-blah text”  It doesn’t matter what it says, as no one reads it – but it should be short, so the important stuff below is visible on the screen.
  • People have learned how web pages are set up, and where the info is that they want – and that’s where they go. And they scan until they find something that catches their attention – they assume that a lot of the information isn’t worth their time.
  • We have LOTS of statistics we can use to see what people do with our email, and how they interact with our website. I can tell if people open our email, whether they click on any links and what links they click on, whether they forward the email to anyone, and whether they click on the unsubscribe button. If the open rate on an enewsletter starts to fall, or the unsubscribe rate for a particular email is bad, we can look at what may be wrong.Much the same with the website – we can see what words people search on in Google to find our pages, how many people visit our website and how many pages they look at. We can also see how many people “bounce” – come to one page and immediately leave. And we can tell what the last page is that they look at, and think about whether that page is a turn-off, or they leave because they got what they came for.
  • Think about how YOU use the web. What do you go to a nonprofit site for? Is it easy to find what you want? Do they waste your time with stuff you’re not interested in? And the same with enewsletters. Which ones do you always open? Which ones do you get a couple of, then unsubscribe? Why?Mass Audubon is ahead of the game in that people trust us and feel a connection to “their” sanctuary, or camp, or program. We need to reinforce that connection and trust on our website and in our emails. Time is valuable – make sure you’re using their time in a way that they will perceive is valuable.
  • If you have a question, pop me an email – Kathy
  • Creating Online Content

    1. 1. Online Content:What do they want?<br />And who are they, anyway?<br />Kathy Santos<br />Mass Audubon Webmaster<br />
    2. 2. Zucchini<br />
    3. 3. Recipes<br />
    4. 4. Zucchini<br />Chocolate Fudge<br />Zucchini Cake<br />
    5. 5. The Dreaded April Vacation<br />
    6. 6. I hear Mass Audubon has programs…<br />
    7. 7. What happened here?<br />In a later slide, you’ll see what this information is called.<br />THIS entire page was read<br />THESE pages were<br />only scanned<br />
    8. 8. Online is Different<br />It’s harder to read text online<br />Use short paragraphs<br />Use short sentences – the comma rule<br />Short attention span theater & the 5 second rule<br />Findability<br />Lots of headings<br />Good organization<br />More then just text <br />Rich content<br />Diagrams, maps, quotes<br />
    9. 9. So who ARE these people?<br />Who visits our website?<br />Demographics<br />Motivations<br />Politics<br />
    10. 10. …and What Do They Want?<br />Website visitors have GOALS<br />It’s not about what YOU want to TELL them<br />It’s giving them what interests THEM<br />And making it easy for them to fulfill their goals<br />
    11. 11. WE should have web goals too<br />Why do we want a given page?<br />What problem will it solve for us? <br />What goal will it meet? <br />If it doesn’t support mission or money goals, why do we need it?<br />What do we want people to DO as a result of seeing this web page?<br />It’s All About Behavioral Change<br />
    12. 12. What Makes Us Special?<br />“We need to ask questions such as: <br />What&apos;s our most important content? What content do we have that people really want to read and can&apos;t find anywhere else?”<br />“The content itself must be <br /> compelling. It must drive action.”<br />Gerry McGovern<br />author of The Web Content Style Guide<br />
    13. 13. Designing a Home Page<br />Jared Spool, User Experience expert, says there are two important functions for a home page:<br />Deliver the content that the user is seeking<br />2. Provide a strong scent to pages that contain the content the user seeks<br />
    14. 14. Analyzing Our Home Page<br />Google Analytics Overlay Mode<br />Percentage of clicks to a given page<br />(not from a given link)<br />
    15. 15. Home Page A/B Testing<br />Google Website Optimizer<br /><ul><li> Shows 1 of 2 versions</li></ul> of a page<br /><ul><li> Keeps track of conversions</li></ul>50% more click-thrus to the donation page<br />
    16. 16. Online Donations<br />Jakob Nielson<br />Online Usability Researcher<br />“Non-profits would collect much more from their websites if only they&apos;d clearly state what they are about and how they use donations…<br />“That is: What are you trying to achieve, and how will you spend my money?”<br />
    17. 17. eNewsletters<br />More from Jakob Nielsen<br />“Email newsletters are the best way to maintain customer relationships on the Internet.”<br />Tracking eye movements <br />“…the average time allocated to a newsletter after opening it was only 51 seconds. “<br />
    18. 18. Email takes a lot of thought<br />CAN-SPAM act<br />Spam-blocking<br />Many different email reader programs<br />Hard to get peoples’ attention<br />Email Overload<br />
    19. 19. Online is Informal<br />Email is all about relationships/loyalty/trust/respect/friendship<br />Email style should be:<br />Personal<br />“Breezy”<br />Connect with readers<br />Have a From Name and/or signature<br />Write in active voice<br />First person<br />
    20. 20. More from Jakon Neilson<br />&quot;Reading&quot; is not even the right word, since participants fully read only 19% of newsletters. “<br />“The predominant user behavior was scanning.”<br /> “Often, users didn&apos;t even scan the entire newsletter: 35% of the time, participants only skimmed a small part of the newsletter or glanced at the content. “<br />“People were highly inclined to skip the introductory blah-blah textin newsletters.””Although this text was only three lines long on average, … 67% of users had zero [eye] fixations within newsletter introductions. “<br />
    21. 21. Just because <br />we write it,<br />doesn’t mean <br />they’ll read it.<br />
    22. 22. Measuring Success and Iterating<br />Email statistics<br />Opens, clicks, forwards, unsubscribes<br />Web statistics<br />Pageviews, Visits, Visitors<br />Interactions: online donations, membership signups, emails & contact form submissions<br />Bounces, exit pages<br />Analyze Change Test Review<br />
    23. 23. It’s all about empathy<br />Who are we talking to?<br />What do they care about?<br />Why should they listen to us?<br />How do they know who we are?<br />Is what we have to say worth their time?<br />Are we fulfilling their needs?<br />
    24. 24. AnyQuestions?<br />