Best of Intentions

I’ve written before about keeping the content experience clean and lean, and after every redesign project I work on, my feelings about it get stronger. (If you’re one of my kids who’s around when I start sighing and throwing my hands up, you might even say I get a little bit heated.)

The truth is, we’re all continuing to create massive amounts of content. That’s not going to change.

But with so much content available, the intent of each piece of content needs to be clear.

What is that content intended to do?

If I can answer that question – and then make the content accomplish it, I feel like I’m part of the solution, as opposed to the problem.

When I’m writing content now – whether it be an educational article, an email, a customer support piece of content, a marketing piece, or even just a button that’s designed to move users to the next page – I’ve started adding a piece of data at the top of my working document.

It’s about intent. Before I start putting anything down, I type a simple:

 “Intent =         .”

And then I make myself answer that equation before I start writing.

Let’s say I’m writing a page about ice storms. (I’m writing this post in February from my house in Connecticut.)

Intent shouldn’t equal “Write about ice storms.”

Depending on the site, audience and targets, the intent could be:

  • Clearly describe how and why ice storms happen (Informational)
  • Give homeowners actionable information that will help them deal with the impact of ice storms on their homes (Educational)
  • Convince consumers to buy this product that can help prevent slips and falls in the event of an ice storm (Marketing)

There’s a hundred other ways to slice intent, but the point is, if I had used “Write about ice storms” as my driving intent, I’d end up with a generic piece of content that people could get anywhere.

Forcing myself to define intent helps me create content that’s targeted not just to the audience (or to the client), but to the desired action. And it helps me avoid creating content “just because.”

Now, I usually take that intent phrase off the document before I hand it in. But when I’m developing my content, I want that intent front and center. I want that intent to drive me. Otherwise, what’s the point? Focused content is content that’s actually meaningful.

If I work from a more targeted intent, I’ll stay on topic, and create a piece of content that’s relevant and on point.

We’re always going to be asked to create more content. Starting with intent can help make that content useful.

Consistency Across Content Creators

When you’re dealing with a large-scale web redesign, you’re talking about a lot of content. And when you’re talking about a lot of content, you’re going to need more than one writer to create it all.

Unfortunately, it’s never just as simple as throwing a caravan of writers at a project. In fact, the more writers you have, the more confusion you usually end up with, especially at the beginning of a content development project.

Unique personalities are great in the real world – but having unique writing personalities on the same web site is problematic. Even when working from a style guide, the best writers will still bring their own distinct flavor to their writing.

Here are some ideas to help make the writing clear, consistent and even across multiple content creators:

  • Start with a style guide. Even if you have to create one from scratch, don’t let writers start writing anything until you have one. It doesn’t have to be a book—even a simple outline that’s a few pages long will help—anything to start creating consistent terminology.
  • Share sample pages before writers start writing. Create a few pages that you love–choose one for each template, or topic area, for example. These sample pages should emulate the tone and quality you want. Make these sample pages the holy grail of your content examples, and make it clear that these are what you’re looking for.
  • Give your writers time to absorb and talk through background materials. It’s not enough to hand over the guide, examples and process documentation. Make sure writers have time allocated in their workload to integrate these background materials into their work—it’s a valuable exercise and will save you time down the road. After the writers have had time to review on their own, set up time to review it together as a group.
  • In the early weeks, have a calibration session. Review the initial work of all writers, and come to a consensus on the final approach. In this calibration workshop, share your edits with them. This can help everyone see where the sticking points are, and what they need to do more (and less) of.
  • Have completed, final edited work available to the writing team. Give team members a chance to review both their edited work, as well as other’s edited work. This can help them continue to integrate the right tone and approach in their work. (If there’s a way for internal editing to happen among writers, that can be a great way to level set too.)
  • Review content in sections, as much as you can. Instead of editing content as piecemeal pages, try to review sections holistically. Not only will this help with creating a consistent approach and tone, but it also helps you take advantage of potential cross-linking opportunities.

Stay focused on your approach—and both your content and your writers stay on track.

Keeping it Clean and Lean

We work with many of our clients on a long-term basis – and something that comes up often is the request to add new pages to a site. This isn’t inherently bad – there are a lot of solid reasons for creating new pages.

However, far too often a request for a new page could easily be handled with a few sentences carefully integrated into an existing page instead.

  • This is good for SEO: A page that’s been live longer will rank higher than a page that’s just been launched. The page also gets bonus SEO points for having content that’s had a recent update.
  • This is good for your audience: Instead of having to look in two different places for your content, your audience can get it in one spot. That’s a big win: A happy audience is one that’s more likely to take action with your content.
  • This is good for your sanity: Keeping your content ecosystem as clean and lean as possible saves you upkeep down the line.

No matter how good it might be to take the integration and adaption approach though, sometimes pushing back on a new content request is a challenge. Here’s how to just say no.

  • Ask the requestor to clearly define the unique elements of the content. If they can’t define what makes it unique, it shouldn’t get a new page. End of story. Too often we field requests that are just duplicates of what’s already out there.
  • Do a careful audit of your site, and figure out what you already have to work with. Find all the existing content that could be adapted to fit the needs instead.
  • Use analytics as a weapon. How are your existing page analytics? If they’re already pretty good, it’s a solid argument for integrating new content into the existing page. You have an established audience, and what’s better than that? On the flip side, if your page metrics could be better, see if you can use the new information to increase page views, using keywords, formatting and even updated page titles.
  • Think like a marketer. If it’s added “sparkle” the requestor is looking for, think of other options. In addition to integrating the new content to the site itself, consider social media marketing – include a timely Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn post. Not everything new needs a new page – sometimes it just needs a fresh callout.
  • Look at the content management system you’re using. In day-to-day content creation, we’re all guilty of ignoring the capabilities of even the most basic content templates. But one of the key benefits of a CMS is to be able to highlight new and targeted content in a flexible way. Consider the content elements you have to work with in your CMS, and figure out how to tailor them to your needs.

A final takeaway: One of the biggest requests we get when tackling site redesigns, is to figure out ways to consolidate content. If you can figure out how to keep the garden tended along the way, you’ll avoid the overhead of a site consolidation later.

Google Making Mobile First

Google Making Mobile First

On November 4, 2016 Google announced on their Webmaster Central Blog that they have begun experiments to make our index mobile-first and that:

Our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.

This is big news, to put it mildly.

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Lost in Translation: Quality Content Matters and Other Lessons Learned

I was recently browsing cheap Bluetooth speakers and discovered that while sales for these things are huge, quality content is not high on the agenda for these companies.

To wit, here’s the speakerphone and suction cup description for the LESHP Pocket Mini:

With the strong grade sucker, so speaker can play freely occasions adsorption. Built in high sensitive microphone, a key realization of all calls, neglect neither driving nor calling.

There’s so much to work with in that passage. Bad grammar. Lack of detail. General senselessness.

And there’s more, further down the page:

Good sound began moving 360 to your extraordinary experience from here.

Excellent Bluetooth module, powerful function and perfect sound quality, enjoy wireless music.

We’re probably dealing with a translation from Chinese, but that doesn’t excuse the complete lack of comprehension. However, it offers a case study for content. Let’s look more closely at the lessons the page offers.

  1. As a result of the poor content, I immediately doubted the quality of the product and the seller. Lesson: Quality content matters in a very tangible way. Poor content reflects poorly on you.
  2. Several details about the product are sprinkled throughout the text, but you have to hunt for them. That may be why there’s more than 70 reviews and 11 customer questions needed to round out the content. Lesson: Think about your audiences’ tasks and make sure it’s easy for them to accomplish them.
  3. The user-generated content saves the page. The reviews round out the product information. While I suspect that the reviewers may have gotten discounts or free products in exchange for their post, if you read enough you’ll get a general idea of the pros and cons of the speaker. Lesson: Tap into the expertise and enthusiasm of your audience.
  4. The page serves as the main web presence for this item. There’s no company page, and a search turns up three Amazon pages plus a few other sellers and linkbait sites. Lesson: Not everything needs a website. Sometimes a Facebook page or pages is enough. Be where your audience is.
  5. This product costs less than $10. Lesson: If you price something low enough, the rest may not matter. Sad but true.

And no, I didn’t buy this one. The editor in me wouldn’t allow it.



Secured webpages via HTTPS are commonplace for online stores or cases where you’re accessing private information—for instance, when purchasing a book on or logging into to Gmail. You know you’re on a secured page when you see “HTTPS” in the address bar instead of “HTTP.” Interactions with these sites have helped visitors understand that the little lock icon in their browser bar is important for their security.

In 2014 Google revealed that HTTPS is a ranking signal and that they are advocating for “HTTPS everywhere” on the web. Since then Google has announced concrete steps in that direction (more below). Naturally, many SEO experts have recommended everyone move their sites to HTTPS to garner an advantage in ranking. While it’s true it is a ranking signal, real-world results have not yet shown this to be significant, but that doesn’t matter—you should still move your site to HTTPS.

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Asking the Right Questions

A key to a successful content project is being prepared before you begin creating anything. That means you need to ask the right questions well ahead of any content work. While the specific questions will change based on the project, here are some questions that are always relevant:

Who is your audience?

Understanding who you are creating content for is fundamental to successful content. Is it women ages 25-45? High school students? Nerds in Chicago? That’s the basis for your voice and tone, and sets up the rest of the work to be done.

What do they want to do on the site?

Ideally we’d talk to the prospective users to get this information, but if that’s out of scope we can get at the answers in other ways: analyzing current site analytics, keyword research, and interviewing people in your group who interact with your audience offline.

What do you need the site to do for you?

We believe successful content first meets the needs of users, but it also has to serve your purposes—and it can do both. Having clear goals for your content allows you to measure success in concrete terms. Common goals are things like increasing appointments or reducing calls. Once you’ve defined the goals, gather data as a baseline to compare before and after the new content goes live.

Additional questions

Those are the big three questions to start, but these are worth considering, too:

  • Who will update the content and how often?
  • Does the content meet a larger organizational goal?
  • What do you want the visitor to do next?
  • What are opportunities for images and video?

Thinking about questions like these helps focus content creation and prepares you for a successful project.

Want to know more about how we work? Contact us.

The Tools We Use: Slickplan for Site Maps

We make a lot of site maps. It’s a fundamental step in planning any content or web project. We used to use Omnigraffle for this task; and while it creates elegant looking site maps, a single site map took a long time to create and just as long to update—especially when we were dealing with hundreds of pages.

It used to be there weren’t many tools for this task, but several web-based services have come out over the past few years. We considered DynoMapper and WriteMaps, as well as MindMeister (which we still use on occasion). But for now we’ve settled on Slickplan.


Why we chose Slickplan

  • Fast: You can create a site map through its easy visual interface or—even better—upload a text file that it converts to boxes and arrows.
  • Fee to try: We ended up getting a paid plan rather quickly to take advantage of collaborations, but it was nice that we could try it without any significant investment.
  • Easy to make changes: Automatic page numbering saves me hours. That alone is the greatest benefit.
  • Shareable: Just send a link and our clients can get a clickable version on the web.
  • Notes, links, and more: You can add notes about page content, link to existing pages, and add icons to tag a kind of page.

What we don’t like

  • Aesthetics: We’re not a fan of the visual design of the site maps, and wish we had more options.
  • Too little control over page numbering and layout
  • Price: They need a better option between Basic and Pro user monthly costs.

Alternative: MindMeister

Mindmeister seems better suited to mind mapping than regular old site maps, but the aesthetics are better than SlickPlan. However, it doesn’t handle page numbering the way I want, so I’ll stick with SlickPlan for now.

What are you using for making site maps? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out.


Against Content Minimalism

At the recent 2015 Healthcare Internet Conference in Orlando, several groups presented on content strategy. I sensed a clear theme: Slim is in. Everybody wants to cut content.

I’m taking a stand against this. Not because we’re a content-first company, but because cutting content without examining visitor goals makes no sense.

When to go minimal

I’m all for getting rid of ROT (redundant, outdated, or trivial) content. If a page duplicates information, cut it. If your information is wrong and you can’t make it accurate, it shouldn’t be on your site. If nobody is visiting a page, you may want to remove it—after first seeing if you don’t have an SEO issue that’s preventing people from accessing good information.

But you shouldn’t seek to slim down simply because it’s trendy. Most of these content reduction efforts seem to be focused on pure marketing goals that don’t take users into account at all. If you go down that path, you’ll be doing your visitors and your business a disservice.

How to approach deep content

The most popular reason for reducing content seems to be that most people don’t read all that content anyway. That’s true. Most visitors will skim and move on. But many other people—especially in health—want a significant amount of detail. If you remove the details completely, you’re saying that you don’t care about them.

Matt Hummell of Red Privet identified three types of visitors on a health care site during his presentation at the conference. Paraphrasing his work, those groups are:

  1. Fans: Referred to institution and will go without any convincing. All they want is to know how to make an appointment.
  2. Hesitaters: Referred but need to be convinced. They want to know why to choose your institution over another option.
  3. Doubters: These people need to be convinced to come to you. They want every detail possible before making a decision.

If you go minimal, you’ll get group 1 and likely lose 2 and 3.

Instead you need to create content that meets the needs of all three groups, and then present it in a way that doesn’t get in the way of group 1. Allow the doubters to drill down for details.

Understand your visitors

The key is that you need to understand what your users want before you can decide if you have too much content. We can, of course, help with that. Through user research, analytics, keyword research and more, we’ll provide insight into what people need from you, and match that with your business goals. We’ll deliver just the right amount of content—not too much and not too little.