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by James Perrin on 8th September 2011
If day one of the CS Forum provided me with a deeper understanding of content strategy and useful takeaways [See: The Content Strategy Forum - Day One] then day two gave me so much more. I was able to discover content strategy tips from the very best people practising this discipline.
From easy to use success metrics to analysing your content using analytics and from strategies for the social web to effective video content, I listened to compelling talks, something that should be shared to the wider community. One of the key takeaways from the Forum, as advocated by Melissa Rach is that our competitive advantage comes when we share…so share I will…
After making my choices of who to see on day 2, I waited with anticipation. First up was Marko Hurst, an expert in search measurement and website analytics.
Is your content worth it? Prove it.
A keen enthusiast of boxing and martial arts, Brooklyn based Hurst introduced us with his mantra, “If you never leave the basics, you never have to go back to the basics.” Coming from a sporting background myself I can appreciate this fundamental rule for optimum performance – and there’s no reason why this can’t be applied to content strategy.
So what are the basics of proving if content is worth it? Measure, Monitor and Act. The web has provided us with the tools to measure and monitor everything, this helps us makes decisions on what’s working and what’s effective, or not as the case maybe. Once we discover this, then we can act. Change text, formats, positioning, all those kinds of things.
So what’s the problem? The problem is a lack of consistent insights. If you think about it, web analytics is still an immature practice, there’s no standardised method to give us consistent insights to a specific problem.
So what’s the solution? The Functional Method Process is the solution. Using this inventory, we can track consistently what we are trying to achieve when analysing a client’s site. The benefits of this is that we have method that is simple, repeatable, templated, it enhances cross team understanding, it’s flexible and you can assign specific metrics.
Using the following four categories the inventory is based around:
The Outcome – There are always three outcomes: increase revenue, decrease costs and increase customer satisfaction.
The Objective – A business objective is non quantifiable e.g. increase reader loyalty, increase credibility, decrease call volume.
The Communication Goal – What message are you looking to achieve? Enhance trust, raise awareness,
The Function – All of the choices you make lead to a specific function. This will establish which analytics metric to use.
Hurst uses examples of different site content where we can see the Functional Process Method in action. Let’s say we want to analyse a video, an article, or search results. Well before we do, we need to establish the outcome, objective, communication goal and function for that specific client.
The point of this method is to ascertain the function of the page, and this will inform what you should measure and look at. This is an evolving list as Hurst explains but can be anything, but not inclusive of the following: to close, complete, convert, convince, engage, explain, inform, reassure, route, sponsor and tool. This will help us understand that specific page’s functional purpose and if you have too many functions on each page, then you have too many things going on.
Takeaway: There are always three outcomes: increase revenue, decrease costs and increase customer satisfaction.
Cut the crap. Why deleting is improving
Ove Dalen is what’s known as a content dietician. When he started out, it was all about content and filling voids with content. If there’s a problem, write content to provide the solution. However now he removes content and cuts unnecessary content.
Ove uses an example from Telnor, a Norwegian Telco giant. This was introduced to us on day one by Gerry McGovern as a great example of how just putting content up that eventually gets lost doesn’t help, writing supportive content that is findable and usable will create a better user experience. Ove and his team reduced Telnor’s site from 4000 pages to 500 hundred. A reduction of 80% of the site saw a conversion rate increase of 100%.
His advice is to have content at the right place and at the right time. Fast and effective communication. In the pursuit of this achievement, Ove came up with some helpful tips when working towards a content strategy:
1. Stop the cacophony from 1000 internal voices. Sit down with all departments and establish user goals and strategic goals. This will allow all departments to work towards a common goal, and focus their attentions strategically at a micro level.
2. Don’t work in silos. Interact with designers, and information architects. Sometimes the goal is the same, but everyone is using different tools. Everyone is optimising for their own discipline and not for the totality.
3. Launch a website in small chunks and not a big bang – a step by step launch. You get maximum visibility for each page that you release. This will reduce waste because many sites that are launched big bang style have many pages that are never seen before.
Takeaway: 90% of all content can be cut.
Developing an Analytics strategy for your content
Next we had Rick Allen. He openly admits that an analytics strategy for your content isn’t something that you would normally associate with Content Strategy, but it should be.
Our stand alone metrics are meaningless without a plan, we need a web analytics strategy bring context and meaning to our data, as advocated by Marko Hurst in his earlier talk.
So we have our standard dashboard metrics, and this helps us identify how users are interacting with our content and informs content audits, content analysis, and content governance. But we need that context as this gives us real insight into the meaning behind the analytics.
Rick presents us with the Analytics Analysis Framework a method of assessing content quality. This is based around business objectives, goals, KPIs, targets and segments; it all supports your content strategy and governance plan. Content can meet both business and user goals, working in SEO I know this, so we should enable website owners to adapt to ever evolving business and user goals.
Takeaway: Without context, our data is meaningless
Seven micro content strategy projects with high return on investment
Katherine Tool is the CEO of Sticky Content, a digital copywriting agency and one of the main sponsors for the CS Forum 2011. She had the audience hooked from the very start, recounting the story of the Princess and the Pea. If you haven’t heard or read the story, it’s a wonderful fable where Tool likens the moral of the story to content strategy – “look for the specific details” – these are the peas in the mattress.
In her esteemed experience, Katherine explains that many businesses put nails in the coffin when it comes to Content Strategy. The same nails are constantly used; they already have one, they’re scared, they have no budget, they can’t get anything signed off without a business case, or they want to see a ROI.
How does this relate to looking for specific details? Well if we want success we need to look for the peas. Look for the micro copy projects; implement quick and fast projects with high ROI, this will help businesses make or save money and will help build a business case. After all, we’re still looking to sell ‘content strategy’ as a business plan.
Katherine explains that changes in words cause changes in behaviour. How do we get people to convert? Well we have to consider what the barriers to conversions are, the more customer insight we have, the more powerful our copy can be. The first three projects revolve around these barriers and that’s the customer’s ego, their inertia and their fear/cynicism. Thereafter are tips on specific areas of a site using these principles.
Modelling outcomes. We write copy to model the task, but we need to think about the outcome. Instead of writing ‘Get Started’ or ‘Fill in the Form’, we need to consider an action or outcome for example, ‘Win a Free Holiday’, something with a purpose and outcome.
Persuade someone to do it right now. We all put things off, but we need to persuade customers to convert and make their purchase now. For example, when selling T-Shirts at a reduced rate, advertise ‘Only for twenty four hours’ (Of course this needs to be genuine sale that only lasts 24 hours, but it helps drive immediate traffic)
3. Fear and cynicism
Use content to overcome fears. For example ‘Go To Secure Checkout’ instead of just ‘Go To Checkout’. Add testimonials to a site to make it real and believable, this will make the customer feel reassured.
4. Perfect Form
Model the outcome and reassure. Write different copy around transaction forms depending on your target market. This relates to the message we read when filling in specific fields, it could be a simple tick or in the case of Twitter, if you want to change your username you can once you’ve completed the form. This is to motivate them to complete the necessary fields quickly and effectively. She used an example of form filling from Spotify, Nationwide, Give blood, Money Supermarket and Auto glass.
5. Magic moments
Whether you’re unsubscribing from your email or received a transaction message, it’s nice to have consistent and compelling content or what’s known as benefit driven copywriting. Most unsubscription e-mails look ugly, but there’s a great example from Macey’s where they take you through steps where they will reduce the amount a mail they send you, or send you more specific mail, tailored to your needs. Not only that, but it’s great to be consistent across all copy; all pages and even Meta – this helps build a brand.
As mentioned earlier, these are the transaction buttons, and to breakdown the ego, inertia and fear of customers at this stage is very powerful.
7. Look to lower effort.
Content is great, delightful content has its moments, but when it comes to effective copy, it’s all about solving the customers’ problems. Katherine uses great advice from the Harvard Business Review. Customers who have experienced lower levels of effort on a site are the most loyal, and what’s worse is that people who have experience effort often spread bad words about your brand.
Takeaway: If we want success we need to search for the peas
Data informed content strategy
Anne Caborn explained that when it comes to content strategy we all have the equipment to measure; rankings, traffic, bounce rates, dwell times. But we really need to think about governance and risk. These are important factors for businesses. So we need to think more about these things. Why? Because at the moment we don’t talk to the decision makers in a language they understand.
Governance is so relevant to Content Strategy. Digital governance is the bridge between what were saying to clients and the language they understand.
Risk management is what large organisations understand as it’s hard wired into their corporate structure. When pitching, talk to the clients and let them know there will always be risk attached. Instead of talking about solving problems, be up front with the risks and how you can manage their risks.
Takeaway: We can measure things in real time, so anything is achievable.
Content strategy for the social web
Charlie Prevett is from an agency based in Brighton called iCrossing, initially they started out working on SEO, but as he explained, they moved away from this discipline. After employing several journalists and copywriters, they focused on an editorial approach to web copy.
However editorial people are the problem when putting things in the right places. If you build it, they won’t always come. This is because of the power law distribution or the eighty twenty rule. Eighty percent of their attention is in the first twenty percent of your site. With advent of the social web, it’s a lot harder now to keep readers engaged.
What does this mean for content strategy? Well we need to understand where the attention is, focus and recruit the necessary skills.
1. Locate relevant attention.
Use content analysis of competitors using binary forms. Understand what content they have and their resources. Do they aggregate content, take content. If these pages and content work, we can propose them for our clients. Once you know this you can start to make decisions on where you put your effort.
2. How to plan a content strategy?
When it comes to focus, take your content to where the eyes are. iCrossing created themselves a content strategy and spoke to Mashable, because this is where a lot of industry attention is. If they just wrote their own blog, it wouldn’t have been as effective, so they passed it onto the people who are bigger and hungrier for content.
3.Recruit people who are comfortable with writing and sharing
This doesn’t have to be as one dimensional as employing journalists or copywriters. Broaden your horizons and look to even employing PR people.
Charlie ended by making sure that when we look measure content, it has to be the right stuff to inform our further decisions
Takeaway: If you build it, they won’t always come
How content strategy supports communications strategy
Diana Railton explains how the communications profession is redesigning itself. We’ve heard a lot at the conference that these are uncertain digital times and so communications strategy needs a content strategy.
Communications is a broad profession. For PR and marketing there is a strong need for integrated communications. Making her point effectively she says, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
She went through what’s known as the European Communication Monitor 2011 and showed fascinating results of what communications strategy means. When it comes to communication management there are several content teams, communications teams and other departments, so it’s important to share a communications strategy that is fluid and ready to be integrated.
Using an example from Strategies of the Serengeti by Stephen Berry, she recounted a story of the hippo and the butterfly. The hippo falls in love with the butterfly, but can’t do anything about it because of its size it may hurt or crush the butterfly, so he goes to the wise lion and asks what to do. To which the lion says, ‘you must become a butterfly’. ‘How do I do that’ asks the hippo, the lion cuts in, ‘that is an implementation question. I am a strategist’. The point here is that strategies must be doable; no matter what, they must also be credible.
Using the acronym PASTA, Railton explains that strategies must have a purpose, they must have aims, they must have a strategy, some tactics and activities. To implement this, she takes the form of a classic pyramid shape whereby the base starts with the vision, then we have the goals, then is the strategy, the tactics and finally the activity.
When it comes to communications strategy we need to consider what’s known as content shifting. In the communications channels matrix we have face to face, phone, paper, broadcast, electronic and web. The key is multi channel communication and it’s all digital now. But which strategy do we go for? We integrate them and have an integrated communications strategy.
We need to listen to problems and show how we can help across all levels, because content strategy can cross so many fields.
Takeaway: Content strategy needs to be indispensable right up to the board level.
Content Strategy Goes to the Movies
Ending the day was John Ryan who flew all the way from Melbourne, Australia to talk about the video content. First thing’s first, when you put a video on your site, you’re making a promise to your users. When they see the white triangular button, they are going to want to be entertained, informed and engaged; and it’s our duty to make that happen.
Should you do video? John says ‘Yes’ vehemently. This is for three reasons, people watch it, everyone else is doing it and it ranks high. It’s not just YouTube, there has been a proliferation of platforms in recent years such as Dailymotion, Youku and Tudou.
SEO is an incredibly important aspect for videos. These can range from standard practices where you could include a sitemap, but you should also include a transcript. Not only is this good for SEO, but it helps with usability too.
Takeaway: It’s about being relevant, found and consumed.
The content strategy panel extraordinaire
The two day conference finished with Kristina Halvorson hosting a panel extraordinaire. Talking to Gerry McGovern, Karen McGrane, Ove Dalen and Cleve Gibbon they discussed the state of content strategy in 2011, explored what the future has in store for content strategy as well as answered questions from the enthusiastic attendees.
The panel discussed the following key issues that have come out of the CS Forum 2011: The message and medium, the context and culture, the technology and tradeoffs, and finally the people and processes.
First of all the panel agreed that content has value because it drives decisions and behavior. We make more and more decisions today based on content. As content strategists, we have to talk about evidence because this speaks the language of businesses. In addition to showing them evidence, we have to show them the value in content. Other departments will claim the value; marketing, PR, corporate communications will claim the value unless content strategists speak up.
This first point resonates with Marko Hurst’s presentation and the outcomes of content (there are always three outcomes; increase revenue, decrease costs and increase customer satisfaction), as well as Katherine Tool’s talk where we need to seek out the peas which are affecting these outcomes (If we want success we need to search for the peas).
Next, the panel looked at the way tools can affect our content. At present the tools are not providing the right context for the user experience. For example, when we write, we’re not writing just a word document, we’re writing something that is transferable to a variety of platforms. In addition, Gerry makes a very good point when he says that some companies buy the tool before they know what content they want. The panel agreed that this happens all time; the IT department buys the tool and tells the marketing company to write something to fit it. If it doesn’t fit, the marketing department has to make it fit. This relates to one of the key points of the forum; that we need to facilitate conversations between departments, to strategise before you go and get the tools.
Then the panel discussed the huge conflict in stakeholder meetings over what content gets scrapped and how to communicate this across to the board and different departments. Again this relates to people and the process of content strategy; it’s tough to convince those who hold the purse strings that this is a discipline that delivers evidence and value. Gerry raises a great point to remodel the way we approach content. Sales people are not rewarded for talking all day, but by selling. By getting people to produce loads of content is rewarding bad behavior. So we need to reward them for effective content that works.
So the panel’s discussion really centered around two key themes for me. To facilitate communication between different departments; which presents an opportunity to build bridges and relationships between IT, User Experience, Designers and Information Architects. And to establish the value of content so we can show management and the powers that be that specific content is or isn’t working.
Kristina ended the panel on a final thought. Don’t create an ‘us and them’ attitude; in fact this is the total opposite of what we should be doing, we need an all encompassing approach. As innovators we have the opportunity to frame the conversations and introduce new ideas. In order to sell content strategy we need to make sure we are well aware of the way we do it and the language we use.
Final three takeaway bits: Learn. Solve. Sell.
I had a fabulous time at the CS Forum 2011, and totally immersed myself in this relatively new discipline. However content strategy isn’t in its infancy anymore, it has evolved. It’s changing at such a fast pace, but it doesn’t mean those practicing it should forget their responsibility. As innovators we are still responsible for introducing new challenges and solving them effectively. As Katherine Tool says, search for the peas.