Daniel Eizans

Strategy | Information Architecture | Geekery


A Call For Contextual Content Strategy

I have a confession to make. I’m starting to care less, and less about creating content strategies for marketing campaigns and Web sites and starting to care more and more about how the content we produce is computed by the brain.

Today, I’d rather eschew my marketing hat entirely and focus on something I’d ultimately like to take on through research – the creation of an entirely different form of content strategy that shapes content planning, creation plans and governance models based on data that comes from how the brain processes, learns, stores and utilizes information that publishers present to it.

I’d loosely definine this practice as “Contextual Content Strategy.” This goes so far beyond the idea of creating useable content that I wonder if its something that can be taken on with sincerity. To be honest, without extensive neuropsychological study or neuroscientific discovery, I doubt that the level of detail I’d want to achieve could be obtained, but I have always contended that true “contnet strategy” must look beyond the web and focus on how people learn and put information into context. I contend that that context should be brought down to the most specific of levels and appeal to individual brain functions.

I was first inspired to start looking at content in this different fashion after listening to a Tom Wujec talk about “three different ways the brain creates meaning.” Wujec gave this talk in February 2009 at the annual Ted Conference. He highlights a variety of brain functions throughout his discussion but nets out on the point that while we can comprehend and take in data through seeing or through discussion, we make meaning by seeing. Meaning, for most people as he puts it, is derived from an action of “visual interrogation.”

Three key takeaways:

1. Images (I’ll interpret these as being either static or motion assets) should be used to clarify meaning
2. Create Interaction with images to create relevance
3. Augment memory with persistance

This certainly isn’t a new concept, but it does call to attention a different reason for carefully selecting a graphic, illustration or animatic in that the visuals, coupled with copy can create deeper meaning and create a higher level of contextual relevance. More often than not, I’m finding that most content strategists become bored down with a metric rather than trying to determine if something is actually effective in its purpose. This is perhaps the most troubling thing for me to overcome when it comes to content strategy.

To me, it doesn’t seem ridiculous to believe that we’ll soon begin focusing on creating content based on how we know that it will be processed by individual clusters of firing neurons and the brain based on where it is consumed, the time of day, the type of device it’s delivered upon, the consumer’s physical location, cognitive state, etc. For the most part, all of these things are readily available to be indexed in databases. We can store that information, parse and compute it and create a custom set of delivery options that will resonnate directly with the way a particular individual learns, stores and connects with content. At this level, we’ll be able to be relevant to a consumer by understanding individual needs.

At the very least, we need to start thinking more proactively about versioning our web content based on devices beyond laptop/desktop/mobile/tablet technology and taking the various states of the user into mind when we’re creating contextual support for the content we’re producing.

  • Is the information visual as well as written in a way that most people can understand?
  • Do we need to provide additional background into a subject?
  • Are our assets supporting the key takeaways? How can they be modified, put into motion or augmented to create a more meaningful contextual connection?
  • These are the questions that good contextual content strategists will need to be answering in the future. The marketing persona and SEO can only do so much. Eventually we need to start thinking much deeper, into the way people consume information on the micro level in order to be truly useful, and in my opinion, the time for planning and worrying about those things starts now.

    Brain Image used under GNU Public License. Source : http://www.loria.fr/~rougier


    Things We Owe Clients: CONTEXT!

    Aside from providing a point of view and plan for creation, governance, and delivery of content, the most important thing a content strategist should be able to provide its client is context for what it produces. Our job as a content strategist is not to sell a huge content creation approach. We owe our clients the effort of providing better context for the content they provide consumers.


    This post (or maybe rant is a better word) comes on the heels of reviewing some very good presentations and explanations of what content strategy is and others that physically make my stomach turn over (Read As: If I see one more giant content marketing presentation disguised as content strategy I’m gonna go crazy!).

    There are too many content marketers out there disguising themselves as content strategists. There, I said it. I think a lot of these small shops are out there selling content marketing as the end all, be all to a brand’s problems and saying that they back it up with content strategy, and it’s just not true.

    Good content strategists must help to define the context for content that is created and published before suggesting a huge increase in volume and promising brands that relentless publishing will help them to become a “thought leader.” To be perfectly frank, without context, content marketing and content period, is lost on readers.

    I like how Tristan Harris frames up context:

    Context is information that informs your understanding of the world, literally allowing you to derive more meaning from an experience.

    I liken context to being what a detailed recipe is to someone who has never baked a cake before. Without the context provided by the recipe, all we have is whatever is in our refrigerator and (possibly) our personal experiences with tasting a piece of cake. As strategists, we must define ingredients that relate to content production before it begins and provide the relational elements and materials to make sense of the different pieces of content. This provides contextual relevance to the people consuming the content, thus providing them greater understanding and deriving more meaning from their experience with what we’ve provided.

    These elements might include stuff we already think about:

    • Categories
    • Hashtags
    • Source
    • Taxonomic Data
    • SEO

    Or some stuff we might not, but should be considering:

    Geo Location data
    • Voice of the related content
    • Structure & Design of contextual support

    Context guides the content and frames it, but it also needs a true voice. ENTER THE CONTENT STRATEGIST!

    So much of contextual info is provided as related links, footnotes or through other experiences that fall short of painting a complete picture. As such, it lacks personality and ends up being easily ignored by people just might need it most. This is where the content strategy discipline really needs to work its magic.

    We need to start building context into our messaging strategies, our governance plans and into our analysis of content. It should be examined, amended and revised as often as possible.

    We put so much time into layering in the SEO, the product information and the message into content, that we forget that often times people need context for the topics we’re covering and that’s why content marketing programs can often fall flat on their face.

    Help provide me content that is relevant to where I am right now. Does the delivery, message or voice of your content need to vary based on the time of day I’m reading it? These are all things we need to begin to consider as good content strategists. To eschew context is plain lazy and it’s a disservice to the people we’re trying to help (and in that statement I mean end users and our clients).

    So, if you’re one of the content marketers or so called content strategists I’ve mentioned above, start thinking about context before you start recommending a massive play for content creation. We might better solve our client’s problems, by auditing and inventorying their current content and really analyzing how we can give it more contextual relevance to their users.

    Ok. I’m going to step off my soapbox now.


    On The Importance Of A/B Copy Testing In Content Strategy

    I have a love/hate relationship with A/B Split Testing, especially when it comes to Web copy. Love that A/B testing can deliver significantly improved response, but hate that many brands may base all future copy decisions on a single test that delivered or over delivered on expectations.

    Relying on a singular result, creates missed opportunity to refocus or edit content for other circumstances, site users, time periods or changing business factors. This is why it is crucial to have a sound content strategy to help determine variables, governance and success metrics for copy based on the user personas that were developed for your Web site.

    A/B Testing

    If we can agree that content is your Web site’s greatest asset, the user persona should be the guidepost you’re using to increase its value any time we change messaging, and we can validate this premise through A/B copy testing.

    And only through repeated and frequent testing will we be able to make changes that help us:

  • Understand visitor behaviors and priorities when they visit our sites
  • Solve specific copy problems (e.g. poor performing calls to action) we have with individual pages
  • Dramatically challenge assumptions we have made about a persona or content consumers
  • What factors should be considered in A/B Split Copy Testing?

    1. Start with a metric in mind.
    What are you trying to accomplish with the test? Are you after more subscribers, conversion rate increase, or a greater return on investment? Just like wanting to know what we want our users to do helps us define content strategy, goals for testing will determine parameters, which in turn will determine the potential success of our efforts.

    2. Establish a control copy page/persona
    Think back to your elementary school science class friends. Establishing a control persona will help us to establish the copy that we will test all varitions against, always keeping step one in mind as we develop considerations for variables.

    If you are just getting started with A/B testing, your control page will be your current copy that is underperforming before any variation is served. When new copy outperforms the existing control copy, consider it your new benchmark (control persona) in any subsequent testing.

    3. Determine a reasonable interval for the test
    Determine how you’ll gather the data and for how long you need to gather it. This time period will vary from site to site, but should allow for the gathering sufficient data to gauge real insight about your A/B tests. If your site has a lower number of daily unique visitors, the test may run significantly longer to determine a clear copy winner.

    4. Significantly vary your copy
    Go big or go home. Slight word changes won’t necessarily give us enough of a true variable. Be radical with copy changes. If we’re spending the time and money to test differences, be sure they’re clear enough to users to determine if the change should really be made. If two to three radical variations can be tested against the control, make it happen!

    5. Test, refine and test again
    Test the alternate copy against the control (there are lots of different software suites and services that you can use to do A/B testing or you can do it yourself through something as simple as CGI Scripting). Ideally, each copy/persona will be tested against every other variation, but if you don’t have the funds or it becomes impractical to run multiple tests, test two pages at a time and keep the best as your control for subsequent tests as mentioned above.

    In a perfect world, our brands, bloggers and friends have the time and the resources to follow a process like this and perform true split testing, but even if we have neither we can still create sequential A/B testing through throwing up one version of our site with one version of copy for a given period and then test alternative versions for the same time period after gathering data. Results may not be as reliable as true A/B split testing, but we can still gather incredibly valuable information from the exercise.

    In Conclusion
    Copy testing will help us maximize conversion rates, solve site problems, and challenge our assumptions. If you’ve got a fussy client, who continually wants to beat his chest about a product claim, good A/B testing might just show that all the user really cares about is what color it may be or the fact that it fits into their back pocket. And if we can start showing wins on this level, we can open the door for HUGE opportunities when we get beyond testing small changes.

    Once initial factors and bugs in content are worked out, we can do bigger things, like designing and writing radically different versions of our pages, for brand new personas, where almost everything is different. And when we can test dramatic changes for new audiences, we’re most likely to achieve breakthrough improvements in conversion rates and potentially that all-important ROI.

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