Tags: kristinahalvorson

1

sparkline

Content First

Because it takes two people to replace Eric Meyer, Kristina Halvorson has stepped into the breach at An Event Apart in Boston. At last week’s UX London, Dan described her as the patron saint of content strategy. Her talk is called Content First. She begins by listing a bunch of Twitter hashtags and pointing out the excellent A Feed Apart.

Kristina started out as a Copy Writer and morphed into being a Web Writer. For a long time, there was no such role as Content Strategist. That meant that the Web Writer was divorced from the rest of the team. Everyone was talking about user experience but nobody was talking about the content. We’ve got user flows, mental models, eventually the site map. At this point, everyone’s happy. Then someone looks at the schedule. Copy writing (usually lumped in with SEO) is allocated a couple of weeks at most. They call in the Copy Writer, show the diagrams and functional specs and say, off you go! Now you’ve got two weeks (tops) to figure out the content requirements and deliver the content. How did we allow this to happen?

Content isn’t a three-step create, revise and approve process. It’s much more complex than that. And it’s never done.

Kristina quotes the origin of the phrase information architecture. Then Tufte came along. Designers took it upon themselves to craft information that was understandable and digestable. Then the web came along. To begin with, it was treated as a visual medium. Jesse James Garrett changed the emphasis to user experience. But where is content in Jesse’s diagram? It’s on the second level. Then it disappears. We were approaching content on the same level as functional specs; a feature than can be ticked off a list. But content is a living, breathing thing that evolves over time. Once you put it online, you are required to feed it and take care of it.

Content is almost always the last thing to be considered and the last thing to be deliverd. This is the Content Delay Syndrome. In Kelly’s book, she says Accept it. Plan for it. Charge for it. Kristina thinks that sucks. Content Strategy is a better way.

Content can be text, graphics, video and audio. Kristina mostly works with text.

Strategy is often seen as what we’re going to do. But most people conflate tactics with strategy. Strategy is actually about answering all those good journalistic questions, why are we doing this?, who is this for?, what do we have to work with?

Here’s the homepage for Quicken. First thing you see is the happy guy. Then you see four red boxes for four different products. Then you see price points; a consideration to be sure, but this is your financial well-being we’re talking about. This probably all looked great in a wireframe. The content got poured in to the layout at the end.

Mint has an awesome content strategy even though they don’t have much content. The content is focused on you.

Plan. Create. Publish. Govern.

Governance is important. The Swiffer “live” YouTube channel has been left to rot. People still leave comments but the last curator login was nine months ago.

Right now, the mind set is launch and leave it. But content is cyclical. It needs a process.

Audit. Analysis. Strategy.

  • Auditing content is usually thought of as cataloguing pages. That’s a quantitative audit. It tells you where? and how much? Qualitative audits are more useful by telling you how useful content is. There’s also specialised auditing such as dealing with metadata.
  • Analysis is one of the most important things that a content strategist can do but it’s also often overlooked. Don’t just jump into action. You might think you don’t have the time or budget for this part; invest in it. You need to consider brand and messaging, the channels you will be using to deliver content, user research… Kristina is aware that most people don’t have the budget for all of this but you can still start introducing it a little at a time. There’s a whole bucket of other stuff to consider; technical infrastructure, internal politics, stakeholder swoop’n’poop.
  • Finally you can put a strategy together. This is where the content strategist really takes ownership of the content. That’s often the problem with content, right? Nobody takes ownership of it. Maybe it’ll be the information architect, maybe it’ll be the user experience designer. The important thing is that someone is in charge of it. Always consider what will happen when the content is out there. Don’t launch a blog, for example, unless you’re willing to invest time in it.

The page stack symbol in IA diagrams will kick your ass. As far as the information architect is concerned, this is where the magic happens.

The page template, usually filled with lorem ipsum, is a useful tool but it only shows you structure. It doesn’t answer any questions about what your users need.

Page tables are a new tool. They identify structure, but also the details and, importantly, the implications. It also poses questions, who is in charge of this?, how will this be accomplished? This is dirty work but someone has to do it. Of course, if you have 1200 pages, you won’t build page tables for each one but you should build a page table for pages with specific objectives and specific user needs.

Content inventory involves mapping out what you’ve got and what you’re going to need. This is usually a spreadsheet.

This is all something we can do. Imagine having this instead of lorem ipsum …lorem ipsum must die!

Why do this? Think about why people go online. They want content. Support your users in their quest.

How can you start? The reality is probably that you can’t just hire a content strategist tomorrow. But you can change your mindset. When we talk about user experience, content is missing from the discussion. Let’s change that.