Content Strategy is to User Experience as Gravy is to Mashed Potatoes. Sure, I can eat my potatoes without gravy, but the experience for my taste buds is so much better with that delicious sauce and the cool little puddle the spoon leaves on top! The same goes with the content you show on your site. No matter your target demographic, no matter your aesthetic, the content you serve up to your visitors needs to be consumed in a manner that is true to your brand identity as well as useful and insightful.
You’d need two hands to count on your fingers how many years I’ve been designing websites and planning out user experiences and interactions, and I can tell you that good content is pleasing and rewarding to the user because of the expedited time it takes to either: a) find what they are looking for, or b) be educated on something new and useful to them because the content and strategy is on-point. Which helps me create cool stuff that enhances the experience for your users by melding with necessary features like navigation, social media, and brand messaging. Without solid content, you aren’t giving your visitors the best experience and making it more difficult for guys like me to deliver an outstanding and jaw-dropping design with impressive features that help your users.
As useful as an ashtray on a motor bike.
Your visitors should find value in your website and be able to use it with ease. A website without a solid strategy for the content and good quality content to boot isn’t very useful. So as the headline indicates, a website without good content is “as useful as an ashtray on a motor bike”. And on the flip-side of the user, as a UX/Web Designer I see it as inherently impossible to create a great user experience for content that has either a bad/incomplete plan or no plan at all. So how do you fix that? Glad you asked. First let me explain what Content Strategy is all about.
What is Content Strategy?
You may be reading this and think “I already have a content strategy”, and you very well might, if you do, I’m not talking to you. If you think you have one but what you are reading here is news to you, then you may not have a complete strategy and you are who I’m talking to.
It takes more than a board meeting where you take down everyone’s ideas and in turn give an idea cornucopia to your web designer with no real direction other than “please add this”. A wonderful content strategist by the name of Kristina Halvorson defines it as “plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content”. That pretty much puts it in a nut shell but you need to know more right? Here’s the 411:
Your core strategy is the key to your plan and explains how your content will help meet important goals and milestones for your business. The core strategy should describe how your content will benefit your customers, site visitors, and potential new leads.
Details what is necessary to correctly and successfully implement the ideologies of your Core Strategy and include things like messaging architecture, target demographic(s), and personality of the text.
Identifies the hierarchy, organization, and accessibility of your content. Information Architecture is a major part of this as well as the quality of the content itself –the words and accompanying imagery. Other than developing the Core Strategy, this is the main course of your meal. A great deal of time and effort should be spent here.
Focuses on how you and your team will manage the content and how often it’s done. This also addresses researching, choosing, and using the tools to do so.
All the rules, standards, and gotchas for properly working within your Core Strategy.
By using the steps above, you can develop a strategy that is successful and allows me to design a wonderful user experience. That’s a win, but how does the content work with the experience exactly?
How is Content Strategy tied to User Experience?
Take a look at the graphic below (credit to Richard Ingram).
Below, I’ve extracted some questions and provided highlights on how/why these are some of the same questions I need the answer to as a designer.
What are we trying to achieve here?
This is important. This can mean the difference between a form interaction and a simple message-branded slide show to give the user what they need.
What style, tone, and voice am I going after?
This will directly impact the choices I make for images, fonts, color, and the proportion of elements.
What are our competitors doing?
Do I need to create something in-line with your competitors stuff because your users expect it, or do I need to create something new and different that really stands out? I get those answers from the answer to the above question.
How can we help our readers find it?
Duh! This is one of the most important parts of my job! I have to design and plan an experience that makes it just as easy to find information as it is to consume it.
So, what have we learned?
Content strategy makes everyone’s life easier. You, me, and most important, your customers. When they visit your site with your boss-level content and a primo design, their experience will be top-notch and make them happy.
So go create yourself a new content strategy, call up Mercury and let’s create and launch something together that puts your cool new vision on display.