Who: I’m Alicia. I work at PUNCH, which is a design shop just over the river that creates designs for print, packaging, and the web that cause an impact.What I do: As a Content Strategist at Punch, I help companies and organizations create useful, usable content and manage that content over time.How I do it: The way I do my work involves developing key messages, deciding on content requirements for a website, and bridging the gap between design, development, business requirements, and writing.Why I do what I do: I believe in the power of storytelling. I believe stories show us a world we hadn’t imagined, inspire us to be heroes, and comfort us when we need to be reminded that we are not alone in this world. And I believe that each company or organization represented in this room can create awell-crafted story that has the power to educate, comfort, and inspire action. And, I believe that your customers deserve nothing less.I put the hashtag #c3ed on my slides. If you’re on Twitter, use it. Not b/c I may say something tweet-worthy, but because this room is full of people who have similar daily challenges and successes that you have. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the pizza and learn a thing or two from me, but the truly valuable long-lasting part of today would be to connect with a peer.
What is content?Copy – the actual text on the webpage, and more….Pictures, video, audio, pdfs, forms, metadata used for SEO – that is all content.I know there are a few designers and developers here today, so hopefully they won’t get too disappointed by this, but humans visit websites for the content. They don’t come to your site to read the code nor do they come to the site to study the design of the site. The code and design are vital, if the site doesn’t load within 3 seconds, the user is likely to leave it. If the design is horrid or confusing, then the user will leave.But, they come to your site looking for the content. They have a question that your content can answer. They want to be entertained. They want to learn. They need to get something done and your content can help them. They want to decide between you and a competitor. The want your content.As a content strategist, that makes me feel pretty important.But then I remember – content is ruining websites. Ruining them.I see site after site, rendered useless because of egotistical, lazy, or forgotten content, missing information, and corporate lingo. I’ve been guilty of saying “no one reads the content”, and seriously who could blame users for not wanting to read the stuff we find on most websites. And the one who ultimately suffers is the company.
Poor content is ruining the websites for all types of businesses. Which ultimately turns away prospects or ruins a company’s reputation.I asked my co-workers if they had recently decided not to do business with a company because of missing or horrible content on the company’s website. Quickly they responded with stories like trying to find a house to rent for summer vacation, but getting frustrated bc the rental property descriptions did not include rates or a calendar with availability. Instead, users were instructed to call or email the owner. This is an example. This is a cabin rental company. They seem to have about 8 cabins or lodges in the mountains. They look very relaxing. When I click on Availability I get a message that asks me to call or email for availability.The missing information about availability can only lead to one of two options: 1) The prospect follows the directions to call or email the owner to find out the availability of all the cabins and their prices (because that info is also missing)2) The prospect leaves this site and continues searching for a cabin available for their planned tripFor any business trying to be competitive, I have to question why either of these options are ok. The first requires that a staff person give attention to all prospects, even ones inquiring about weekends that have already been booked. But, even if the prospect does call or email the chances of them getting an answer in that moment is slim, and they are likely to continue their online search for a cabin available during their planned trip. And the second option means that prospects walk away before emailing or calling the owner.My coworker who submitted this content fail chose the 2nd option.
One of my favorite examples came from a coworker looking for a pediatric dentist for her daughter. She said she got frustrated which just trying to find a dentist through a Google search, but then once she did find them, they didn’t list which types of insurance they accept, which was vital information for her.I wanted to see what she was talking about, so I did a search for pediatric dentist in Midlothian, and discovered this site. I love the first few sentences of copy:One of the goals of our Web site is to provide you with an extension of care. As you navigate through the site you will find a wealth of information about dentistry, tooth care, procedures and treatments. Here’s a clue – if you feel the need to explain to users what the goal of your website is, then you are probably doing something wrong.Anyway, they say they believe their patients deserve to have the info necessary to make wise choices about their oral health – and while there is a lot of information about dental health for children, a list of insurances that they accept couldn’t be found. But I was intrigued to find an events page with no current events. Which is a bummer because I was very excited to see what type of event a dentist would be having. A tooth fairy costume contest? A workshop on flossing techniques? These are just quick, simple examples, but in each one the vital piece of content necessary for a prospect to make a purchasing decision was missing. And while missing content is easy to spot and address – other issues like just confusing messaging, trivial copy, or redundant also turn away prospects, increase customer service demands, or damage a brand’s reputation. How does this happen?
More often than not, the problem lies in how we are creating content.The typical process that I see is this:The people who feel the most responsibility for the business goals, hole up in the conference room one afternoon because it’s become apparent that their website is a big pain and “just horrible”. They feel that the best way to close the gap of what the site is and what it should be it to start listing the information that should go on the site.
They start by listing off their job titles or departments as the main topics of the site: Products, Customer Service, Human Resources, PR. Then they throw in and About Us section with a CEO blog and events.
Then once everyone in the room is satisfied b/c their content made it to the site’s top level navigation, they start to plan the meat.Together they remember there are some brochures about the company – let’s put all that info on the website. Someone says the sales team has some collateral, let’s add it to the new site. We have some pictures from last year’s Christmas party and I think we can find some quotes from clients. On the site. Looks like our two main competitors are also including x and y, so we should too.And after two hours, they have the top level navigation, a list of 257 items that need to be added to the site, and a box of source content. But, it gets better…
The head of marketing had the designer mock-up this new look for the site, and everybody loves it. Seriously that was easy. With this fresh design and our list of things that should go on the site, it will be perfect.Feeling like they’ve done a good thing. The team of stakeholders disbands. And the next step is to get the writer to fill in the placeholder text and images with the stuff from the list of 257 items and box of source content.So the writer sits down to do as directed, but starts to have questions….
The information you gave me about these topics is 3x as much as what I have for the other stuff – is that ok? What should I put in that little quote box? And where are we getting the picture?And so on and so on....the questions are coming at 60 miles an hour and suddenly everyone including the writer, her boss, and the stakeholders start to feel like…
This guy.I’ve been there. I know that feeling of having more questions than answers. And, I’ve been forced to push through that feeling because of deadlines or demands from the CEO or my boss. And you know what that resulted in?Work like the bad examples I started with today.The biggest problem is that businesses treat content and their websites like a channel or platform for what they want to say to the world, instead of treating their website like a place for doing business. If that were true, then we’d seen more restaurants with menus on their websites just like they have them displayed and easily available to customers inside their facility.We are going to change that.
We are going to go through 4 steps that can help you put your content to work. These steps will change the way you plan for content and how you create it. They are key elements of content strategy.
Add a slide for what is content strategyNot a person, but people. Content is everybody’s job.
SubstanceYour primary message is not your mission statement.
You get 1 primary message, 3-6 secondary messages, and 1000s of details all supporting a call to actionPrimary message, you get 10 seconds
Most of us here likely have a car, which needs to go to the mechanic every so often. I always have some anxiety about taking my car to the mechanic bc I’ve heard enough horror stories to not blatantly trust any-ole mechanic and once we get past tires, lights, and windshield wipers I don’t truly understand what is going on.This is my lucky month b/c not only do I need an oil change, but I also need a state inspection, and my car has started making a strange screeching noise which I think could be the universal belt.So, I ask my friends which mechanic they use, but I also check out Google bc I either forgot what my friends say or my trust issues are deeper than just not trusting my mechanic, and I need to verify my friends’ recommendations.
So, after my eyes attempt to adjust –going from Google’s website to this page is like leaving the movie theater on a bright sunny day. Just give me a second to adjust bc my poor eyes….Let’s take a minute to read the homepage copy:Welcome to Art's Automotive ServiceServing the Richmond community for over 20 years.Our goal is to provide the highest quality diagnostic and repair service using state of the art equipmentPreviously located at 2221 Staples Mill Rd. Richmond, Va 23230Our new location 1214 Athens Ave, Richmond, Va 23227Schedule a service appointment: 804-353-2640Hours of operation:8 to 6, Monday – FridayWhat do we the user learn:They are old (20 years, look & feel of site, picture)They’ve moved locationsThey have a phone numberThey are open during normal business hoursWhen they sat down to plan their website, what was the primary objective? What is the primary message they are trying to convey?I don’t know, but what I do know is that my gut reaction about Art’s Automotive is that they are old and out of touch. If they can’t even appear to relate to current culture, how can I expect that they will be able to relate to me as an individual? I don’t trust them to be my mechanic so I move on to the next option in my Google search. And folks, that decision, it happened in about 10 seconds. Insert slide from Google Analytics showing # of users on homepage for 10 seconds?
This is a report pulled from Google Analytics for a popular Richmond event. If you have Google Analytics running on your site, you can easily access this info, and you’d likely find something similar. Notice the portion of users that spend less than 10 seconds on the site.Now some of them may have been able to get the info they needed that quickly – like the event dates. OR some users may have come here from a Google search and realized they were in the wrong place. But how many visitors came but quickly left because what they needed to hear/read/find was not quickly made available? Like my experience with Art’s Automotive.Let’s look at another Richmond mechanic.
After my eyes adjust to that firey logo next to the bright blue, I start to look for content on the homepage.If I watch this scrolling box I learn they do state inspection, have coupons, and do free brake inspectionsI also see that I can fill out an online form to request service, which adds a level of convenience for me if I’m trying to schedule this while at work
Finally, I have found someone that is telling the larger story of what they do. From my few seconds on the homepage I can see some of their services like state inspections and tire repair, and I can see that they have in-store credit and coupons.
But more importantly they are reflecting back to me some of what is important to me. Something that the other website did not do at all. I need to feel safe, save $$, have convenience, and feel like my time is not going to wasted bc while this is important I wouldn’t chose to spend my time taking my car to the mechanic..
My stab at what Leete Tire & Auto’s primary message could be. It seems simple, but each word is chosen with intention. If we dive into the purpose of each word or phrase, then we would discover the secondary messages (remember, you get 3-6 before diving into the 1000s of details).“common sense” – we understand car owners and what is important to them bc they are human, and turns out, we are also human“everyday” – what we do is regular stuff“car repairs & maintenance”
Why does this matter?It matters to Art’s Automotive bc their “all about us” content or lack of information that I needed meant I immediately ruled them out as my possible mechanic. And my car will be going to Leete Tire & Auto so I can get on with life. Developing a core message and sharing it with every content owner, creator, and publisher within an organization is the first step in aligning content from the site to email, social media, email, SEO, and print collateral.Once every has the guidance of the primary message, we start to think about how that might come to life in real, public-facing copy.
A style guide gives the content creators, content editors, approvers, and publishers direction on the style, tone, grammar, and voice of your content.
Put someone in charge of creating and updating the guide, without them it will become useless in less than a couple months after you publish itStart small with your current issues and challenges, then let the guide organically grow as more issues ariseDon’t create something that already exists. There are lots of editorial guides available. Find one that works for you and adapt from it. At least check out plain language guides.Make it accessible to everyone who has any role or responsibility for content. Put it online, print the short style guide as a reminder for people to keep at their desk.
Now that we’ve addressed the substance of our content, let’s determine how we are going to structure it.Page tables are one of the best tools for deciding how to structure the 1000s of details we need to put on our websites.
This is a sample page table. It’s purpose is to give purpose to the page of a website and prioritize all the messages that need to go on that page.This is not public facing copy. These are instructions for creating and maintaining the public facing copy and other pieces of content.Page objective – again, users are coming to your site for a purpose. The page objective considers the user needs, business requirements, and the core message. If you are having a difficult time identifying the objective of a page, then you likely do not need it.Content Owner: not the creator, but the owner. Who’s job is related to that page objective? They are likely the Content Owner.Prioritizing the content.do i have to do this for all my pages? not every page needs a page tablestart with the pages that are crucial to business objectives and what users want for making a decision (completing the actions of why they are on your site): product pages, registration forms, directions, restaurant menus, pricing, instructions
then open Google Analytics and start with the pages that get the most traffic or have the highest time on page - are the pages where your users currently spend a lot time or frequent achieving their individual objectives? i recommend creating an inventory for tracking all the content, and audit the quality of the content as you have time then search for your product/service/company - can users find you? what appears in the SERP? does it match your core messaging? educate the content owners and creators on how to fix it
Typical workflow I see is: requests for content are passed to the writer, the writer writes, the boss approves, and the web guy publishes it.That is only a fraction of what the content’s lifecycle actually is.
Plan for the future
Putting your content to work
Putting Your Content to WorkAlicia LaneContent Strategist at PUNCH#c3ed@leashal