I’m into my second week of answering the question, ’How do I make my content better?’. You can read the first part of this series on the blog.
You’d think that, given that this is what I do day in and day out, I could answer it more succinctly.
But as you know if you were here last week, making things ‘better’ means striving toward some version of ‘good’ - and that’s subjective. And nuance needs space to breathe.
I advocate for striving toward good content principles.
Pay attention to the principles, and the 'better' part should just happen.
Big caveat: each of these principles could be the subject of books all on their own. This is a quick-fire version of things to consider when creating content.
To make content useful, we need to think about the audience, and what they need.
- Who are they, really? Think less about marketing personas here, and more about what people are trying to achieve.
- What will make the audience seek out this piece of content, what is their context for absorbing the content, and what do they need from it?
- How can I find out more about my audience, the job they’re trying to do, and the words they use to describe it?
Content becomes more useful when we understand what the user wants to know and (on the other side of the coin) what we need to tell them.
As the Rolling Stone’s sang, you can’t always get what you want. But it’s important that - as the people providing the content - we provide what they need as close to that want as possible.
For example, as someone choosing a mortgage lender, I might want a really good home loan rate. As a bank, credit union or other lender, I need to provide information on the rate I can offer in an easy to find, easy to understand way. I can’t just bury it away in the depths of my website because it’s not ‘really good’ and doesn’t match their want (yes, this is a real life example, no, I will not elaborate further).
- Does the format and structure of this content match how someone will use it? For example, following our financial bent, is an online calculator or pre-filled spreadsheet more useful than a step-by-step blog post explaining mortgage repayments and budgeting?
- Can someone take the action they need to take, based on the information provided? And are the next steps clear?
- Where does this piece of content sit in the user journey, in relation to those next steps? This is particularly important in terms of website content. Online journeys are never linear. It’s important to think about how people get there, where they go next and how they’re prompted (through links, or buttons, or other features) to do that.
When I think about accuracy, I consider both the accuracy of information, and the precision of the writing.
- Are there any lies? Or, is the content missing anything important that would make things unclear for the audience?
- Can any claims be backed up? Saying things like ‘the best’, ‘unbeatable’, ‘the greatest’ - can any of those claims actually be sustained?
- Does the writing match the style guide?
- Is the writing clear and generally grammatically correct. Grammatical rules are kinda bogus, but they are designed to make it easier for everyone to take the same meaning from the same words, and are therefore important.
Accessible, inclusive and readable
- Are the words written in a way that makes them more readable? Simple language, simple punctuation, clear number formats. Content Design London’s collaboratively developed Readability Guidelines are my go-to for these checks.
- Is the content gender inclusive or gender neutral (as appropriate for the brand, goals and context)?
- Are there words that assume how someone is accessing the content? For example, ‘see’ and ‘view’ assume all users are sighted, ‘click’ assumes all users are navigating with a mouse.
- Have accessibility features been considered in the creation of the content? Alt tags, captions, image descriptions, colour contrast, limiting and describing your emoji use - does the content open itself to its audience?
- Has the content been checked for other inclusion standards? There is a lot we could go into here, but for now I’ll just say, seek out information on inclusive language and content practices, and always bear in mind potential impacts on people who have been historically excluded as you create content.
Aligned with brand voice and tone
This is intentionally toward the bottom of the list.
Not because it’s not important, but because often we’re taught that the brand is the horse that leads the cart.
And it can be. But when we are aiming for ‘better’, if we focus on ‘more on brand’ before we focus usefulness, usability, accessibility and the like, we’re doing our audiences a disservice.
Respecting your audience, their time, and their needs, is providing a good brand experience. Promise. So we ask,
- Does this content sound and feel like the brand?
- Does it reinforce key brand messages and follow the styleguide?
- Is the tone appropriate for the context of the user? Remember: tone adjusts for context, but voice stays the same.
This one isn't for your audience. This one is for you.
Good content is manageable.
It can be maintained by the people that need to maintain it. It’s clear who ‘owns’ and governs it. It’s cost effective, has a business case, and answers a clear need.
If you look at any part of your publishing workflow and think ‘I don’t know why I/we do this', it’s time to start asking some questions.