Daniel Eizans

Strategy | Information Architecture | Geekery

03/29/2010

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.

content-context

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:

Keywords
• 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.

03/22/2010

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.

    02/23/2010

    Why Your Web Content Strategy Should Be Driving Enterprise Content Strategy

    Pssst … Hey you. Yeah, you with your marketer hat on. Is your Web content becoming more and more important to your client? Is your client upping her spend on content creation for the Web?

    Web Content Strategy Drives Enterprise Content Strategy
    If the answer is yes, and your Web content strategy hasn’t started influencing (if not shaping) your enterprise content strategy, you could be in for a rude awakening.

    For good reason, content strategy and user experience design have a nice long process in place to assist in content and site creation. Through persona development, messaging mix and the creation of a content governance plan, we should be able to create content that can be delivered as scattershot as we’d like or as precisely as the bullet from the Army’s best snipers. We already know a lot of folks don’t follow these processes when they develop new content for the web, but if you do, what’s stopping you from flipping the process on its head and applying it to your enterprise work?

    Here are just four (and there are a lot more) reasons why you should allow a well-established Web content strategy to start influencing the enterprise stuff:

    1.Good Content Strategy starts with personas, which essentially means you know the individual needs, drivers and habits of the various potential content consumers (customers, etc.)

    Who wouldn’t want to start delivering different enterprise materials to their audience based on their habits? It has the potential to prevent creep on project scope, reduce printing costs or highlight deficiencies in your enterprise messaging mix. If we have a better understanding of who the content consumer is, chances are we may even be able to eliminate certain messaging mediums altogether. Does 89-year-old Uncle Morty really need a big glossy photo in the local city magazine for a sale on his bed sore cream? Probably not.

    In bed-stricken Uncle Morty’s case, should we really be messaging to his caregivers? What are the best ways to do that in a non-digital way? Personas and a content plan based on those personas help determine exactly what we should be producing.

    2. Governance Plans keep messaging fresh and on target.

    How many times do you see the exact same asset, or message or mailer from a company on a weekly or monthly basis if you even notice it in the first place? It doesn’t take too long for some messages or assets to get incredibly stale. Governance Plans are in place on the Web to combat this and they can certainly be used for non-digital communication plans. We don’t have to do look any further than our daily stack of mail and the custom publications we receive from brands we’re affiliated with to see whether or not the content we’re being served is still being effective.

    Good Governance Plans put expiration dates on content.

    3. Adoption Of The Web Approach For Enterprise Solutions Leads To Accelerated Release Of Content To The Market

    Marrying your Web content strategy to your enterprise approach allows for content that is rooted from a proven process. Through synthesis of strong consumer, social and product insights that lead to several personas, content creators have shorter creation cycles due to laser focused content goals and reduced maintenance cycles.

    Our creators spend far less time repeatedly authoring new content because they reuse existing content wherever possible, supplementing it with modified content where appropriate. (Uncle Morty only needs you to change some sentence structure to speak from a position of authority about bed sore cream as opposed to trying to educate him about its potential benefits).

    With a unified process in the driver’s seat, Editors also spend less time reviewing content across channels because they only have to review the content that is new or changed; existing content has already been reviewed and signed off. With more work done on defining needs up front, we can drastically affect the publishing and production cycles by reducing the scope for our content creation teams.

    4. Content rooted in strategy is BETTER CONTENT!

    This one sort of seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth pointing out. We’re not guessing or doing creative solutions for the sake of doing creative solutions because our reasons for doing print, web, broadcast, mobile apps or any other medium are clearly defined. Content that is clearly modeled for consistent structure; improves things like readability and usability. Most importantly, content is accurate and consistent wherever it appears. Issues of inaccurate content, inconsistent content, or missing content are reduced or eliminated because it all has a reason to be there.

    This process is incredibly repeatable and can be applied to a variety of organizational situations. Think about marketing materials, advertising, internal Web sites, corporate communications or even your news releases. It’s time to stop thinking of the Web content strategy as a separate monster and start thinking of it as the driver for a more unified publishing vision.

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