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How to Produce Valuable Content

Guest Post by Carrie Hane, Founder & Principal Strategist, Tanzen

In a recent study, the content product company Ahrefs found that over 90% of content does not get traffic from Google. That is an astounding number of web pages that are not getting organic traffic from the top traffic source.

There are two main reasons why this is happening:

  1. Content does not match search intent
  2. Content is not indexed

Both of these things are within your control to fix. The second problem is easily fixed by a technology review with your web team to make sure coding issues are fixed so Google’s crawlers can get to your content.

It is the first that is a bit more difficult. What it means is that most content published online is content that no one wants. Even if you assume a large margin of error in the study and figure some content gets direct traffic, that is still a lot of content. How can you make sure that you produce content that falls into the 10% that is useful to your audience and valuable to your business?

Start with what your audience wants

Keyword research makes sense when optimizing for organic search traffic. It is one piece of data that tells you what people are typing into Google—what people are looking for specifically.

But are those the right people? Make sure you identify your audience first. (Hint: It’s never “everyone” or “the public.”) Write down, in priority order, all your audiences. When you are thinking about creating new content, write down specifically who that content is for. Then define a single audience need. What is the top thing someone wants to do if this is the content for them?

For example, say you are a winery and want to write a blog post about the yoga and wine events you have. Maybe your target audience is “women over 40 who practice yoga and live within 25 miles of the winery.”

Ask yourself, “What would those people want to know?” A good guess would be, “How can I participate in this fun event?”

Now you can write your post thinking about these women and write about the event as if you were talking to them in person. You will want to link to any sign-up form or a calendar that shows all upcoming events—things you might not have thought of before thinking this way.

Defining a primary audience doesn’t mean others won’t find it useful. In this example, even younger people—whether they identify as a woman or not—will find the blog post useful. But it will be more useful to everyone than talking generally about yoga or wine, which you might have done. Even better, because it is focused, it will probably come up in a search for “what to do this weekend in [local area].” Now it’s part of the 10%! You have now solved the problem of matching content to intent.

Map content to business goals

Now that you have identified who the content is for and what that type of person wants, you need to identify what business goals it helps to achieve.

In the yoga and wine event example, the business goal is probably “increase event revenue.” By explicitly mapping the content item to a business goal, you can measure whether it was successful. Instead of measuring only page views for the blog post, you can measure outcomes:

  1. Revenue from the yoga and wine events
  2. Number of online registrations for the yoga and wine events

All the page views in the world don’t matter if no one comes to the event or you don’t make money from the event. If the blog post helped boost registration, it was a success. If not, you can review it to see what could be changed to make it better in the future. Either way, you will have learned something.

Measure content ROI

All of these things are linked to the return on investment (ROI) for content. The ROI for content can be intangible. But in general, you can ask if it was worth the cost to create it. Because content is not free. Whether someone is paid specifically to write content or it is part of an employee’s job, it took time and time is money.

Here’s a basic formula you can use to determine the cost of content:

X/Y=Z

In this formula:
X = cost of creation
Y = number of views
Z = cost per view

You can determine the cost of creation with this formula:

X = r * h

In which,
r = hourly rate of people who create content
h = number of hours to create a piece of content

For some organizations, it can take upwards of 10 hours or more to write, edit, review, and publish a single blog post. For other content, it could take 30 hours and include legal review—and lawyers have a high hourly rate! That gets expensive fast.

Doing this math will help you determine if the content you create is worthwhile. Blog posts that are low dollars per view are probably worth it. Those that are high (because either the cost to create is high or views are low) are probably not. And for a blog, you want to look over time and maybe figure the average since not every post is going to get the same traffic.

On the other hand, if you are selling expensive products or services and the cost per view is $500, maybe it is worth it. You won’t be making those pages often, and they are driving revenue. Or maybe you look at your content production process to see how you can improve efficiency. Or maybe you go back to what the audience for the products or services wants and make sure you meet their intent, driving the views up (and probably sales!).

Now do this for all your content! Yes, it is work, but it will result in better quality content, which will be more valuable to your business. And just maybe, you’ll produce less content but more in the 10% that gets found!

About the Author

Carrie Hane helps organizations create more effective content more consistently by coordinating the people, processes, and technology. For 20 years, she’s been putting together teams and creating processes that stick while untangling information to make it findable, usable, and ready for whatever’s next. She is the co-author of Designing Connected Content. Find her at https://www.tanzenconsulting.com/.

More Than a Site Map: The Information Architecture of Your Website

Guest Post by Carrie Hane, Founder & Principal Strategist, Tanzen

If you have a website, you probably started with a site map: a hierarchical list of the pages on your site that becomes the main navigation menu.

Menus are very important to websites. They are visible and help the site’s visitors get to the where they want to go. But the information architecture—the IA—of your website is so much more than a menu. Like physical structures, websites and digital products need to have good plans, designs, and construction if they are to last and be useful.

Information architecture (IA) is the system of organization, classification, labeling, and structure used in an information space.

IA is a discipline. A branch of knowledge concerned with the design, construction, and organization of information. It seeks to make sense of large amounts of information. And we have nothing if not vast amounts of information that need to be made sense of.

People can be IAs (information architects). These people specialize in planning and designing information to make sense to other people.

When we talk about the IA, we need to consider the four systems make information findable, usable, and understandable:

  • Navigation
  • Organization
  • Labeling
  • Searching

Yes, the IA is so much more than a site map or even a menu!

How We Architect Information

As soon as we went beyond oral storytelling and started creating written information, we had to find ways to classify and organize it. Long before we had websites and computers, humans developed ways to make sense of it. Things like:

  • Alphabetical lists
  • Dewey Decimal System
  • Maps
  • Indexes
  • Diagrams

It helps to think of doing IA as a verb and turning it around and think about how to architect information. How do we plan, structure, and organize it?
Start with intent. What do you want to convey? Then move on to context. Why do people want what you have to offer?

There is your foundation for your plan. Now you need a structure. It needs to make sense to the people who will use your website. It needs to reflect your intent and help your audience achieve their goals so you can achieve yours. All information can be broken into smaller pieces and put back together with distinct meaning. Be deliberate about how you structure your information to create something that is sustainable and doesn’t have to be torn down and rebuilt in a few years.

The classification and organization of things is taxonomy. Get used to this term. It isn’t just keyword tags on web pages. It’s any number of vocabulary sets applied to pieces of information. How you choose to classify and organize things reflects your intent. Your taxonomy is a set of instructions for people interacting with you. (How to Make Sense of Any Mess, Abby Covert)

Now you’ve got to organize it all. A site map is a hierarchy—successive categories. You could also organize things in a sequence—the order in which something happens. You probably have all kinds of hypertext on your website (commonly known as links). They provide connection without putting the items together. It does not change where things are located. Rather it is used to jump between taxonomies. All of those provide ways for people to navigate through your website.

Yes, it helps to make navigation a verb too. Here are all the ways people can navigate through a website:

  • Menus (main, secondary/local, utility)
  • Search
  • Breadcrumbs
  • URLs
  • Contextual links/calls to action
  • Guides
  • Wizards/configurators
  • Social (algorithms based on how users interact with content)

So much more than a site map!

The way you architect your information can either make people feel capable or rather dumb. Think about how you have felt when using a poorly organized and labeled website or product. Don’t make your audience feel that way! Follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have done to you. Use your IA to educate people. Create a new level of understanding by categorizing and labeling things in a way that matches users’ mental models. Then show how you think about it, which may be different than they do, but now they are thinking, “ Wow, look at all of these things that are this category!”

What Good IA Does For Your Organization

There’s even more to tempt you to think beyond the site map.

When you look at all these things and optimize your IA, you get:

  • Better business outcomes—people aren’t frustrated and so engage and buy more
  • Enhanced understanding of your space—when you understand your audience’s mental model and expectations you can fulfill their needs
  • Connection—with your audience, across your divisions, and between systems
  • Flexibility to change things around—no more tearing everything down and rebuilding every 3-5 years; smart planning means you can make incremental changes constantly
  • Ability to scale your business—because you have a solid foundation, you have a path to grow in whatever way makes sense

Now you know that IA is more than a site map and search. You don’t have to be an IA to do IA and have a good IA. If you need to architect information but don’t have the luxury of having an IA handy, you can go just a bit deeper to learn some basic and make big changes. Here are some resources that are easy to digest:

Living in Information by Jorge Arango
How to Make Sense of Any Mess, by Abby Covert
Everyday Information Architecture by Lisa Maria Martin

And if you read this in time, you can sign up for Information Architecture Fundamentals: Make Information Findable and Usable on December 10, 2019, in Arlington, VA (just outside Washington, DC). You’ll learn techniques for doing all of the things described in this post and more.

If nothing else, do me one tiny favor: don’t confuse the IA with the site map any more.

About the Author

Carrie Hane helps organizations create more effective content more consistently by coordinating the people, processes, and technology. For 20 years, she’s been putting together teams and creating processes that stick while untangling information to make it findable, usable, and ready for whatever’s next. She is the co-author of Designing Connected Content. Find her at https://www.tanzenconsulting.com/.

A New Way of Approaching Digital Content

Guest post by Carrie Hane, Principal Strategist & Founder of Tanzen, and author of Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow

Maybe you’ve felt it too. Time speeding up. Technology changes overnight.

Personalization isn’t the future, it’s what people demand now. If you’re a marketer, web manager, or communications director, it can seem like a losing battle to keep up with the amount of content you need to publish, let alone all the places it needs to show up.

You aren’t alone. And there is hope! The future isn’t going to wait for you, but you can be ready for whatever it holds.

The key is a deliberate, forward-looking way of planning and creating content, which can address many challenges organizations face in 2018:

  • Too much content
  • Too many channels
  • Siloed content creation
  • Frequent, expensive website redesign projects
  • Content in too many systems
  • Constant technology changes

The time is now to rethink how you approach creating and publishing content to maximize investment, make experiences coherent across devices and platforms, and ensure you meet audience needs effectively and efficiently.

Start thinking about content in a broader context, outside of an interface. Design content that is stored, structured, and connected outside any user interface, in a way that’s readable and understandable by both humans and computers.

Shifting your approach benefits the business and its customers, the people working on the content, design teams, stakeholders, and the web as a whole.

Content Is an Investment

Designing content that is future-friendly and connected across multiple channels provides a long-term return on investment. Think about how to better invest in digital content now to be in a better position in the long run.

Make Content Work Harder

Content is the whole point of what businesses do – and what people want. Each piece of content needs to match a defined user need and business objective to give it meaning and provide a way to measure value.

A piece of content hardly ever gets viewed only on a single web page and nowhere else. Rather than recreating it for each channel, create it once and publish it everywhere. Think of yourself as a curator. Break content into its smallest pieces and mix and match it in many ways. Tell many stories with those pieces by reorganizing the content parts, creating new displays, and curating the what appears in those displays.

Help People Find Your Content

Content is only useful if it can be found. In a world of billions of web pages, people rely on search engines to get them where they want to go. In a competitive world it takes more than keyword research to make it to the top of search engine results.

Search engines want entities, a single content resource per thing, no matter how many ways it is chunked up and displayed. All that almost-the same-but separate content written by different teams within the same company confuses search engines and the people trying to figure out which link to click. Have an organization-wide plan for publishing that includes creating content that your audience cares about and uses technology and content structure in a way that allows Google’s web crawlers to easily find and display it.

Be Ready For New technology

It is impossible to account for every device and screen size and viewport that exists today, let alone the ones that we’ll have in three years. We need to plan for a seemingly infinite combination of delivery methods and use cases. That means making content machine-readable, ready for any artificial intelligence to repurpose and deliver it.

If content requires visual cues that rely on human inference to interpret meaning, there is no way for it to be ready for voice recognition tools, smart homes, or wearables. It may be hard to imagine that your content may show up on someone’s wrist or on a thermostat. But many businesses couldn’t believe that their content would be accessed on such a small screen as a smartphone. Don’t be left behind just because you can’t imagine the next disrupting device or information delivery method. Make it accessible to algorithms and portable to go from one system to another.

Increase Return on Investment

Content is expensive. Digital products need to pay their own way, delivering on business and customer needs. The continuous cycle of spending five, six, or even seven figures regularly on new websites that don’t deliver results is a drag on the bottom line. Be prepared to justify the expense and show how your content contributes to revenue. Plan content with an eye on reuse and longevity to keep costs down while improving revenue streams.

What’s Next

Until the 20th century, human knowledge doubled every 100 years. By 1945, it was doubling every 25 years. Thanks to the world wide web, it is now estimated to double every 13 months. That is going to keep getting faster.

As technology becomes more advanced, it disappears. Trends in interface design continue to evolve. Voice skills and chatbots are just the latest information delivery methods. And they are finding their place alongside websites and apps, not replacing them.

Change is the only constant. People’s expectations change as technology shifts behaviors. Content drives engagement. More and more, people expect the right content to come to them at just the right time. Personalization and ubiquity will shape the future of content. Is your content ready to be everywhere and delivered with a precision to the people it’s meant for?

Overwhelmed? Rest assured that help exists. Like so much in life, the first step is identifying that there is another way, then you can figure out how to follow the new path. Luckily there are resources to help you make all of this happen. One of those resources is Designing Connected Content: Plan and Model Digital Products for Today and Tomorrow. This book offers a process for building a framework to make future-ready content a reality.

It’s not necessarily a straight path from wherever you are now to being completely future-friendly, but even the smallest step can bring big results. If not now, when?