Avoiding Missteps: Accounting For Testing and Refinement in Content Strategy

Sometimes, first dates can leave us with mixed feelings. We take special care to make sure no hair is out of place, that we smell nice and do our best to make sure everything goes according to plan. First dates can be an expensive, exhausting and – depending on your skills – either be a very rewarding or entirely dissapointing experience.


Practicing content strategy for the first time is very much like a first date. It requires careful planning, a lot of get-to-know-you-type conversations and, ultimately, will probably cost you a little more money than you expected it to. If all goes well, that strategy will pay off and bring many years of happy returns, but like any new relationship, content strategy takes time, examination and refinement.

It’s here that many strategies, and relationships for that matter, fall down. If we don’t account for reflection and refinement, we can’t determine how successful we could really be.

Good content strategists start with an audit and inventory of all the content you currently have. This process can be done specific to your online properties, if you’re looking only at the Web/Mobile/Location mediums or acrosss your entire organization at the enterprise level. From that initial audit and inventory, gaps should have been identified and opportunities to refine existing content to fit existing or new audiences (personas) would have been properly communicated to the you, the client.

Executing the production of new content according to our strategy would be the next step. If they’ve done their job, your content strategist will have synched up with your analytics team and determined some success metrics for our content. And with metrics, content that’s on strategy and a usable site in place, everything should go swimmingly right? In theory, absolutely. Here’s how you go about testing to find out if that’s really the case.

So, here’s how you start setting up for the review of those success metrics to determine how to further test and refine your process and existing content.

1. Test to find out if your content is easily consumed

You spend time testing your Web site’s usability, shouldn’t your content get equal treatment? Some kind of test needs to be put into place to test the viability of your content. It’s not as simple as increasing clickthroughs or user time spent on your site, though that will provide an initial baseline as if it’s even being found.

Start with basic questions. Is the content readable? Is it too long (this applies to video or text) Do your users understand it? Could re-wording things be the key to creating influence? Is your message solving your user needs or potential problems? These are all questions we can start to answer with A/B Testing, or simple focus groups. You can be as scientific (think A/B testing, Eye Tracking or utilizing fMRI) or as basic as you want (Usability Testing, User Interviews) to be when it comes to testing for whether or not your content can be easily consumed. The name of the game here is not to launch and leave it, assuming that our strategy is the right one.

2. Take Personal and Situational Behaviors Into Consideration While Testing

Are your personas working hard enough for your content strategy? Did the content strategist account for personal behaviors when developing a content plan? What situations were generated as potential scenarios that require content? If context were acconted for in the up front planning, we’d have already accounted for factors beyond basic socio-economic and media consumption habits and looked at our content as a task or fuciton that helps address a need to a specific user situation. If we haven’t, that should be accounted for in testing for refinement as context will always make our content more useful, meaningful and relevant to users.

Test, refine and test again
This process is never over. You have to keep at it. As content strategists, we owe users increased levels of context and usability. Our job is to not only get them to our Web sites, but to make their lives easier, answer their questions before they have them and leave them feeling satisfied with the overall experiences on our sites. Content is the vehicle to that satisfaction, so we need to keep testing it. Just like that relationship… we’ve gotta keep on keepin’ at it.

Photo used under creative commons license. Photographer: Stuart Bell

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