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How to Develop a User-centered Content Strategy
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How to Develop a User-centered Content Strategy


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  • Today, we’re going to talk about content. More specifically, we’re going to talk about a process to help you have compelling, timely, on-message content that works for you and for your users.
  • Content is messyContent is scatteredContent is unfocusedContent isn’t workingYour content may have been orderly and manageable when you started your website, but as you’ve grown, it’s grown.You need to find a way to make your content work, and make it work for you, or the best you can hope for is that it won’t be *too* bad.
  • See… compelling content doesn’t just happen.You need a strategy. A content strategy.
  • Content strategy can include all content, whether online, in print, burned to disk, etc. For the purposes of our discussion today, we’ll limit ourselves to web content. No matter where the content is, however, a content strategy will help you have better content, with consistent messaging, that helps you and your users move forward.
  • Like a recipe, the quality of your ingredients matters. To create a user-centered, organization-supporting content strategy, you’re going to need quality information about your users’ goals, your organization’s goals, and your content. The better your information, the better your end results.
  • Learning who you users are or will be helps you to make informed decisions that will best meet their needs. When we talk to stakeholders, we always ask this question. Many stakeholders are in tune with who uses their website, BUT sometimes the users who they think use the site, are not the users who actually visit their site!So how do you find out for sure?
  • To validate your understanding of who your website users are:Review member databases and registration infoLook at Google analytics dataReview market researchLook at any other data that can help you answer the question of WHO.It is also important to think about what audiences you might want to attract in the future to further expand your business goals.THEN…once you are sure WHO uses or should use your website, then you want to find out what they want to do there and how your website can best meet their needs.To help deepen our understanding of users and their mental models, we:Conduct User Interviews Distribute Online SurveysDevelop User, Task, & Environment ProfilesCreate User Persona PortraitsConduct Card Sorting ExercisesSuze Ward, my colleague at TerpSys, gave a webinar last month about User-Centered Design that describes each of these in depth.
  • So what DO your users want on your website? Do you know for sure? Take a look at this example of things on the homepage of a university website, vs. things that the actual users of the website go to the website to find.There is a pretty big disparity here. Unfortunately, this scenario is typical of many websites. So it is critical that you determine what users want to DO on your website so you can best serve their needs.If you’ve done your user research, you have a good idea of what is important to your users, and what they want the most. If you’re not sure how to start that user research, my colleague Suze Ward gave a webinar last month about User-centered Analysis & Design; the link is in the references for this presentation.Defining and prioritizing user objectives is the first step in the process for creating a user-centered, organization-supporting content strategy.The second step, naturally, is focusing on supporting the organization.
  • We’ll assume you already know who your organization is, that you have a good understanding of its history, its resources, its pain points.Often, though, organizations don’t have a solid understanding of what they want their website to do for them, and for their users. The objectives haven’t been defined.If you don’t have clearly defined objectives, you don’t know where you’re going. And…
  • You’re laying out a course of action, like plotting a course on a map. Where do you want to go? Where do you need to stop en route? What can you put off until your next trip?
  • With your users’ goals defined and prioritized, and your organization’s goals defined and prioritized, you can find the sweet spot…that is, the places where those goals overlap.The sweet spot is where you should focus your initial content strategy efforts.The sweet spot is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.The sweet spot is where you want to be.How do you get there?
  • Inventory & Audit, Catalog & Evalutate
  • Spreadsheet of dooooooom.A content inventory is not a content strategy… it’s a snapshot of what you have.
  • Go back to the user goals and organization goals you defined earlier. Map each piece of content to each goal it supports. Put that information in your audit.THIS IS NOT A CONTENT STRATEGY….yet.The inventory and audit are vital steps in the process, but you don’t have a strategy until it is actionable. How do we get there?
  • Since you’ve put the time and energy into mapping all your content to your user and organization objectives, you’re in a position to really use that spreadsheet of doom to help you discover what you don’t have.Looking back at the cartoon from earlier,
  • ….Looking back at the cartoon from earlier, if user research revealed that the #1 goal of university website users was to find ways to contact individual faculty members, but a content audit showed that there was no list of faculty phone numbers, no list of faculty email, no department directories, the User Objective is unmet. If there’s a department directory, but no phone or email information, the objective is underserved.So, you know your objectives. You know what content you have that supports those objectives. You know how much content you have supporting the objectives. You know what objectives aren’t supported.…you know, really, what you need to do: Fix it.
  • You prioritized your goals earlier, and that prioritization can help you prioritize your gap fixes. First off, wherever there’s a content gap for something in your sweet spot of overlapping objectives, FIX THAT. Other objectives come after.Even if those other objectives are important to one of your internal stakeholders. If time and resources are limited, focus on the things that will bring you the biggest return. Support multiple objectives with each effort.Prioritizing Gap Fixes will help you determine what content you NEED so that you create only NEEDED content. Needed is the key word.
  • When a key objective isn’t supported by content, we need to create content.(go through points)If someone says “we have to be on Facebook” ask “why”If someone says “we need a podcast” ask “why”If someone says “we need the meeting agenda for the subcommittee on …” ask “why”It’s not a confrontation, it’s a chance for discovery. You may have missed important objectives & priorities. You certainly have a new opportunity to talk about your organization’s content strategy with someone who is passionate about their content.
  • After you’ve sifted through your content audit, you’ll discover you have some content – perhaps quite a bit of content – that doesn’t support any user objective or organization objective.Your website is not a dumping ground for every piece of information you’ve ever created. It’s not a used book store where passionate people will happily while away three hours on a rainy Saturday afternoon, hoping to discover something interesting. Your website is a strategic communication tool. Disseminate only needed content. Key word again: NEEDED.Archive anything that doesn’t support your goals. If someone really needs the Meeting agenda for the subcommittee on intraorganizational widget removal’s September 1994 biweekly status call, they can email you. It doesn’t have to be on your website, clogging search results and confounding users.
  • Revisit:It’s important to schedule strategy reviews. What’s working? What’s not working? What goals have changed? What new needs have developed?
  • There are a host of content management systems (CMSes) out there that can help you keep track of your content, to help you make sure that it keeps serving your content strategy.If you’re starting small, or if you’re not sure of the value of a CMS yet (or haven’t convinced the people with budgetary authority), you CAN track this information in your content audit spreadsheet. Add in columns for review-by dates, archive dates, etc. To make this work, though, you’ll need to note every piece of content as it is added to your website. Every single one. If you have multiple people contributing content to the site, your low-tech content management won’t work for long.
  • Plan: creation, delivery, governanceUseful usable user-centered business supporting content
  • Let’s stop here and see if anyone has any questions.
  • I hope you’ve enjoyed our overview of how to create a user-centered content strategy. There’s a lot more to talk about….for example…(slides)I encourage you to check out the references for this presentation, and email me with any questions. THANK YOU.
  • Transcript

    • 1. How to Develop a User-Centered Content Strategy
      November 11, 2010
    • 2. Meet the Presenter
      Wendy A F G Stengel
      Senior Information Architect, TerpSys
      User-Centered Content Strategy
      November 2010
    • 3. Content: Defined
      Content includes all text, images, video, data, etc. used to construct meaning.
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 4. The Problem with Content
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 5. Compelling Content Doesn’t Just Happen
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 6. Content Strategy: Defined
      Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
      --Kristina Halvorson
    • 7. Content Strategy Ingredients
      Your users’ goals
      Your organization’s goals
      Your content
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 8. User-Centered
      Who are your users?
      What do they need?
      What do they want?
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 9. Know Your Users
      Sometimes the people who you thinkvisit your web site, are not the users who actually visit your web site!
      User-Centered Analysis & Design
      October, 2010
    • 10. Know Your Users
      Validate your understanding of who users are by reviewing:
      • Member databases
      • 11. Registrations
      • 12. Google analytics data
      • 13. Market research
      • 14. Other relevant data
      User-Centered Analysis & Design
      October, 2010
    • 15. User Objectives
      User-Centered Analysis & Design
      October, 2010
    • 16. Organization-Supporting
      What are your objectives?
      What do you want users to do?
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 17. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.
      - Lewis Carroll
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 18. Know Where You’re Going
      Determine goals
      Broad organizational goals
      Communication goals
      Website goals
      Prioritize goals
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 19. Sweet Spot: Defined
      The intersection of users’ goals & organization’s goals.
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
      Org. Goals
    • 20. Your Content
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 21. Content Inventory: What Do You Have?
      Catalog your content assets
      What do you have?
      Where is it?
      What do you know about it?
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 22. Content Audit: What Do You Have, Part 2
      Evaluate your content assets
      What audiences does it serve?
      What objectives does it support?
      More information to capture:
      ROT (is it Redundant, Outdated, Trivial?)
      Page visits over time
      Notes & impressions
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 23. Gap Analysis: Defined
      Determine what you don’t have, but need.
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 24. Content Audit Becomes Actionable
      Sort the spreadsheet of doom
      Discover content gaps
      Unmet & underserved user objectives
      Unmet & underserved organization objectives
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 25. Content Audit Becomes Actionable
      Sorting the spreadsheet of doom
      Discovering what you don’t have
      Unmet & underserved user objectives
      Unmet & underserved organization objectives
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 26. Prioritize Gap Fixes
    • 27. Content Creation
      Choose messages
      At least one message per prioritized goal
      Prioritize messages
      Select distribution channels
      Web site, email, print, social sites, etc.
      Different channels support different objectives & messages
      Ask “Why?”
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 28. Archive Ruthlessly
    • 29. Keep it Going: Content Governance
      What objective does it meet?
      What message does it advance?
      Editorial calendar
      Scheduled “freshness” reviews
      Archiving policy
      November 2010
      User-Centered Content Strategy
    • 30. Keep it Going: Tools
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 31. Process: Recap
      • Determine & prioritize user goals
      • 32. Determine & prioritize organization goals
      • 33. Catalog & evaluate exiting content
      • 34. Identify content gaps
      • 35. Archive ruthlessly
      • 36. Created & disseminate needed content
      • 37. Keep it going
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 38. Questions
      User-centered Content Strategy
      November 2010
    • 39. How does user-generated content fit?
      How can we develop a consistent voice & tone?
      What if we’re starting from scratch?
      How can we map audiences, goals, & messages to content?
      How do we build a content inventory for our site?
      What software do we need?
      Isn’t this tactical, not strategic?
      How is content strategy like a rutebega?
      Things We’ve Not Covered
      Planning meta data
      Defining content types
      Reuse/repurposing content
      Who will do this work? Who should?
      How does this fit in with Information Architecture?
      Which channels support what kind of messages?
      Are you saying we shouldn’t be on Facebook?
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 40. Thank YOU.
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy
    • 41. TerpSys Overview
      We Delight Our Customers!
      We Help Organizations Use Technology to Achieve their Mission.
      Over 150 Web Sites Delivered for Associations, Non Profits, Government and Non-Governmental Organizations
      We Offer Networked and Web Based Solutions Including:
      Custom Website Development
      Interactive & Visual Design
      CMS/AMS Integration
      SEO / Web Analytics Consulting
      Founded in 2000
      • SharePoint Services
      • 42. Application Development
      • 43. Visual Design
      • 44. User-Centered Design
      User-centered Content Strategy
      November 2010
    • 45. Card Catalog photo, Megan Amaral,, Creative Commons license: Attribution.
      Cheshire Cat engraving, by John Tenniel. Public domain.
      Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge photo, Alan Stark,, Creative Commons license: Attribution Share-alike.
      Map of Winnipeg detail, Manitoba Historical Maps,, Creative Commons license: Attribution.
      Mis en Place photo, FootoosVanRobin,, Creative Commons license: Attribution Share-alike.
      Shakespeare & Co. photo, AlexandreDuret-Lutz,, Creative Commons license: Attribution Share-alike.
      Quotation Slips photo, Owen Massey McKnight,, Creative Commons license: Attribution Share-alike.
      University Website, from Used with permission.
      References & Resources
      Kristina Halvorson, Content Strategy for the Web, New Riders Press, 2009.
      Rachel Lovinger, “Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data,”, 2007.
      Richard Sheffield, The Web Content Strategist’s Bible, CreateSpace, 2009.
      Suze Ward, “User-centered Analysis & Design” webinar, [link], 2010.
      November 2010
      User-centered Content Strategy