How user interviews helped spotlight the needs of a previously forgotten group. We may not like to admit it, but, most web services or sites have users that (for whatever reason) just aren’t well understood—and in turn, not well served. Conducting user interviews and making sure you get good participation from those groups can help you accomplish several things: you get a better understanding of a once mysterious user group, you show members of that group that you are trying to understand them, and you raise awareness among management that this user group is worthy of your attention.
Deep down we’ve always known that people only read a small portion of any content shared online. In many ways that can’t be fixed but there are ways to help people read more or at least scan better. There was a book I loved as a child that featured the Sesame Street character Grover, titled The Monster at the End of this Book, where Grover keeps warning the reader to stop turning pages because there is going to be a scary monster at the end.
It seems of late that the focus on coding and technology within the federal space has become out of balance with that of good, solid content. As I believe I have said before with regard to user experience, great technology with poor content is still worthless. Amazing code that delivers poorly written or designed content still can’t help the user. And there is no code that I know of that can make bad content better for the user, aside from the algorithmically-derived content previously discussed.
I’ve recently been required to focus more attention on social media from a federal agency standpoint and this has directly led to a greater consideration of content. One of my first steps was to begin sharing various forms of content and gauge the success of each type. In today’s post, I’ll share what I have learned and hope it opens your eyes to how we measure success and whether our metrics are right or completely meaningless.
I feel as though I have ignored the beast in the room lately, and since I began my tenure on The Content Corner introducing that concept, I felt I needed to wrestle with it one last time before I depart. Previously, I discussed the concept of pair writing. Today I want to investigate how another software development concept can be leveraged to improve the quality and quantity of the content we create: Agile content development.
Every week my main goal is to usually provide new ways to help you feed the content beast. However, today I am going to remind you of why feeding the beast is important, especially when it comes to your search engine rankings and helping users find your content. I’ve discussed key search engine optimization (SEO) tips previously and there is no shortage of SEO content available, but today I am going to focus again on how quality and quantity of your content can have an impact on your search engine rankings and how that content appears on search engine results pages (SERPs).
As I begin to wind down my time at The Content Corner, I have realized that one of my biggest content concerns uncovered during my tenure is digital sharecropping. The recent announcement from Facebook that they will soon open their Instant Articles publishing capability to everyone was reason enough for me to revisit the topic of owning and controlling our content one more time. While I dislike the term digital sharecropping (coined by Nicholas Carr), I haven’t found a better or more succinct explanation for this ongoing drive for private companies and platforms to own our content (while we do all the work).
Here at DigitalGov, we generally focus on federal governmental digital efforts within the U.S. It is where we live and operate, so it makes sense, but many governments across the world struggle with the same issues and leverage technology as a common solution. When I came across an article where Australia announced its “government as an API” platform was available, it seemed like a great opportunity to see how another country is tackling structured and open content.
In this age of content marketing that has led publications to call certain ads “paid content,” those of us in government need to broaden our ideas about what “content” is. Many of us get it, but some agencies may also be missing opportunities because they don’t even grasp that content is a broad and fluid thing. Everything is content, not just words on a website. The federal agencies we commonly highlight fully get that and understand that a variety of content can achieve a goal.
While January was about looking ahead, February is focused on content and many of the new possibilities and challenges that will face us as content creators over the next year and beyond. At the intersection of these two themes lies the genesis of my topic today: location-aware content. More than a Map One of the most common places where we have become dependent on location-aware content is navigation. This can range from a variety of Location-Based Services, or LBS, such as simply finding out exactly where you are, how to get somewhere else and where can you find a pizza nearby.
When discussing trends for 2016, I made some mention of the content overload that started in 2015 but will certainly increase in 2016. Contently recently found that organizations created 73% more content in 2015 than in 2014. I see no reason why that number will decline in 2016, especially as content becomes the beast of burden of choice for a majority of organizations both public and private. Today, I wanted to share some content types that you can leverage to possibly help stand out among the deluge.
The beginning of a new year is generally a time where people on a personal and professional level look ahead and prognosticate. When it comes to almost any digital media, the one thing we can be certain of is that the pace will quicken, the offerings will expand, and something totally unexpected will jump out and surprise us. However there are several specific areas related to content that everyone should keep an eye out for in 2016.
If you have a website, then you most likely have cornerstone content—though you may not think of it in that way or even considered it. Just as in architecture, a cornerstone is a basic and essential part of any online presence. Cornerstone content is also important to any new visitors to your agency site, even if you are operating a fairly small or minimally viable website. Properly developed (and frequently maintained) cornerstone content pages can help users answer a lot of initial questions and quickly establish a trusted relationship with your brand/agency/site.
Fresh from last week’s article about workflows and their importance in the content creation process, I stumbled upon a new twist in content production known as pair writing. Many of you familiar with agile methodologies or software programming in general should know the term pair programming. Pair writing hopes to take some of the same efficiencies found in pair programming and apply them to content creation. Two Heads Are Better Than One Pair programming gained prominence in the early 2000s as a method to improve the quality of software by having two programmers work together while coding.
I noticed recently that I have spent a decent amount of time discussing or referencing content workflow, but I haven’t spent much time on how to actually create or use workflows. Developing content workflows can be a fairly painless process that can make your regular content creation a much smoother and efficient process. Content workflows will vary depending on your agency and can cover specific topics such as blog workflows, social media workflows or even general site maintenance.
I always think of SEO like the dentist—no one really likes it, but you need to do it. Yet, despite my lack of excitement for the topic, this will be at a minimum my second post (here’s the first about the relationship between creating good content and SEO practices. Today I want to dive a little more into often overlooked aspects of the content creation process and overall content maintenance.
As DigitalGov focuses on user experience this month it is good to remember one harsh truth: You cannot have a good user experience with bad content. It is important to keep a “content first” strategy in place during any website redesign or new site development. It is so easy for the various disciplines involved in designing a site to lose sight of the content and of each other. I’ve been there, and I am sure most of us have.
My office is preparing to embark on a complete redesign of a 10-year-old system that averages 20,000 users a month. The success and adoption of the new system design and the product as a whole will be heavily determined by how well our team translates users’ needs. Providing a good user experience will also play a critical role in reducing struggles long-time users may encounter with a new system. Note: Due to the early stages of this project and various procurement concerns, I am leaving out some of the specifics but still felt that this practical discussion of user research could be beneficial.
A recent DigitalGov webinar on syndicated content and the recent achievements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helped open my eyes even wider to the possibilities of open and structured content. By offering critical health information via syndication, CDC and other Department of Health and Human Services agencies are helping resource-strapped local agencies share critical Web content with very little effort. APIs and Syndication Structured content and APIs form the core of any open content platform, whether it be syndication or other types of data sharing.
Many of us depend a great deal on subject matter experts (SMEs) to generate content that will eventually end up on our site. These are men and women that have critical knowledge to share with our audiences, and it is our job to make it match our various editorial and content guidelines. Using a simple tool called content templates can be very helpful in making our jobs as communicators and the SMEs’ job as straightforward as possible.
First, McDonald’s started serving breakfast all day. Now, Twitter announced it is dropping its 140 character limit for tweets. Black is white, up is down. Or is it really that big a deal? Is Twitter just keeping itself relevant in the battle for your content? LinkedIn and Facebook were first with their strong push for organizations to stop linking to content on their platforms and actually generate original content there.
Recently, I shared some suggestions and personal lessons learned for agencies either shopping for a new CMS or preparing to revamp their content strategy and workflow. Let’s take things one step further and focus on arguably the most important parts of your CMS: the content creator or user. Arguments can be made that content is the most important, but the user creates that content, so either way we have a tight first and second most important ranking.
These days you couldn’t be faulted for thinking your content management system (CMS) choices are limited to two open source systems and maybe an enterprise-level offering that no one uses anymore. And while it’s true that for the public sector the popular open source options are extremely attractive from a cost standpoint, if nothing else, the CMS marketplace is as full of options as it ever has been. So whether you are shopping around for a new system or looking to revamp your current one, there are a variety of items that need to be considered as you examine your CMS options.
Through the course of this blog, I have frequently mentioned the need to feed the content beast and have discussed tactics such as the content pillar and various other aspects of developing a solid content strategy. Recent research from the Content Marketing Institute found the average business-to-business (B2B) company uses 13 content marketing tactics or channels, such as blogs, videos, events, etc. I’m sure that most federal agencies also have as wide an array of channels as well.
As of 2015, Millennials spent 30% of their time consuming user-generated content (UGC), and 54% of that group find UGC more trustworthy than content generated by a specific brand. This covers everything from user-generated reviews on Yelp! to short-form videos. Another benefit of UGC is that it helps crowdsource the burden of feeding the content beast and can allow you to more fully engage not only with your customers, but with other staff within your agency that may not be a part of a typical content creation regime.
Several months or so ago, I raised the question of whether you and your agency should be podcasting. Incidentally, my post coincided with the launch of DigitalGov’s new podcast series. As I discussed in my previous post, the long-niche broadcasting format has continued to grow in popularity and success with popular podcasts such as NPR’s Serial and Marc Maron’s WTF podcast series that recently featured President Obama as a guest.
For the past several weeks, I have been writing about fairly cerebral and more technical aspects of content generation and language in general. This week, I felt it was time to get back to a more basic content concept: content optimization. Frequently when content optimization is discussed it is heavily focused on search engine optimization (SEO) and the development of keywords. Doing everything you can to help people find the information you have created is important, but it goes far beyond chasing a search engine’s ever-changing algorithm.
Several months ago I discussed the concept of a world without Web pages and the importance of structured content and thinking about content, not pages. This week, I’m taking that discussion further by discussing the importance of modularity in Web design and how that complements our efforts to create more structured and reusable data. Break It Down One of the critical aspects of our current efforts in structured data and adaptive content is the reductionary process.
For the past several weeks, I have been inflicting you with my recent dive down the rabbit hole of natural language generation and the larger discipline of natural language algorithms. Most of the focus has been on the power of natural language generation and how it can help you rapidly produce content on a wide array of topics in an easy to read format with little effort on the part of a human.
Nearly half of companies recently surveyed said that automating content creation would save their content marketing teams the most time. We’ve already covered Natural Language Generation (NLG) algorithms and how they have made some forms of automated content generation a reality already, such as for sports recaps or financial data reporting. Let’s take a deeper look at how NLG can help your agency rapidly deploy new content and provide a more personalized content experience for users.
In the span of two days, I received as many emails from respectable content marketing blogs worrying about the dangers of machines taking the jobs of bloggers and other content creators. The man vs. machine dynamic has existed since the dawn of the industrial age, but is it finally reaching the point where a technology called Natural Language Generation (NLG) can replace humans in one of their last refuges?
This column revolves mostly around content creation and strategy, but an overlooked part of the content lifecycle is helping people find your content. Your content is made to be seen and without planning for promotion, it may never be found. The methods available to you may vary (wildly) at your agency, so remember your mileage may vary. So Many Options Within the U.S. Courts, a plan is indispenable just to navigate the myriad communication options available, both “print” and digital (I use print in quotes because generally these days a print layout will only be presented in PDF form.
I recently wrapped up a series of user interviews as part of a review of our judiciary-wide intranet in order to provide better digital services to our customers (and yes, our internal users are our customers, not just the general public). As I prepare to delve back into determining user and content needs for a more varied audience and wider platform, I thought it might be helpful to share lessons learned during my recent effort and any new strategies that might be helpful for anyone getting ready to jump into their users’ brains.
All content needs to be developed with a mobile-first strategy, from headline choice to paragraph length. Although we are all now living in a post-mobilegeddon world, many of us are still implementing a mobile strategy. This strategy should consider several factors, including viewport size, cellular versus WiFi considerations, and load times. It should also include a review of existing content and a rethinking of new content, down to what I will call the “cellular” level (no pun intended).
Throughout my five-plus months so far on this blog, I have focused a great deal on creating content, the various methods to improve your content, and what exactly content is. One thing that I may not have emphasized enough is the quality of the actual writing itself and how no content strategy on the planet will help you if the content is not well-written and with a clear knowledge of the subject matter.
Storytelling plays an important role in helping to establish the human connection that is often lost in today’s digital deluge of information, shares and tweets. A large amount of the content we consume today is derivative, second-hand, and generally passes through us like a breeze. But by using a method of sharing content that is as old as time, we can actually make a connection with our audience and evoke an emotional response.
The clarity of a headline or title plays a critical role in whether your content is ever seen and read by your customers. As the battle for eyeballs continues to escalate, digital media providers seem to be resorting more and more to “clickbait” titles and headlines. However, as with all forms of overused marketing, consumers soon learn to tune it out and develop negative reactions to any headlines that feature these worn-out tactics.
Over the last several years, continuing advances in computer processing power and storage have brought about the growth of what some call big data. Mobile and wearable devices now also generate large amounts of data via our interaction with various apps and our geographic location. This endless stream of information is being harnessed to create extremely informative dashboards like analytics.usa.gov and helping make advances in medicine and even farming possible.
One of the more commonly overlooked pieces of any effective content strategy is a content style guide. Many times, content contribution takes place without even being aware of the need for a style guide, while other times a content style guide is considered something only used by print editors and publishers. Stalwarts like the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style have been essential tools for editors and journalists since the 1950s, but they also have a critical role to play in the development of any content style guide.
Over the past several years, DigitalGov has been extremely focused on structured content, content models, and their role in future-ready content (and rightly so). A shift of focus back to the content itself as opposed to where it will be published is critical for agencies as we aim to reach as many customers as possible, regardless of what device or screen they are using. Making the end user an extremely high priority in our content publishing is also important, but there are several other user groups that we need to make sure aren’t lost in the shuffle:
Here at DigitalGov, customer service is a focal theme during the month of May, and by some type of cosmic chance, I was invited to share my insights on content strategy and content creation at a Customer Service Community of Practice event at the Department of Labor. The event focused on topics I commonly discuss here in The Content Corner, such as efficient and interesting content and how better content translates into better customer service.
In last week’s column, I went back to a frequent theme of mine and discussed another method for helping to feed the content beast, which was learning when to say no to a new and potentially resource devouring digital channel or platform. However, we also need to take a look at six of the most common content types that you may be creating and examine the ROI for each. Ascend2 recently published the results of their annual Content Marketing Survey providing some useful insights into the effectiveness of specific content types measured against the difficulty it takes to create them.
There is a quote that goes something like, “Just because we can do a thing, it does not follow that we must do a thing.” I attribute it to the President of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, partially because I am a geek, and secondly, the internet provided no better options. It is an important mantra in life in general, but also very important in the world of digital media and your agency’s content strategy: sometimes you need to say no.
One of the most interesting trends forming at the start of 2015 is the rise of new digital publishers. Online entities from Facebook to GE are continuing their strong forays into the world of content production. This shift, especially among social media platforms such as Facebook, Linked In and Snapchat, could significantly alter the digital landscape turning content partners into content competitors. No Longer Just an Aggregator LinkedIn’s decision to grow their original Influencer program from such respected names as Bill Gates and Richard Branson into a full digital publishing suite available to all their members in multiple languages may have been the watershed moment of this new age of content publishing.
No, this is not another post about podcasting but about a different voice entirely. It is the words you use, the conversation that you are having with your users. Is your content using the most effective language possible to communicate and to convey emotions like trust or empathy? As an article from Larsen Design states, “You don’t want to sound like Brahms when your audience is listening to Beck.
In May 2014, Sarah Crane discussed the importance of structured content, APIs and the development of a “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” (COPE) strategy at USA.gov via a three part video series. After my recent post about a world without Web pages, Sarah and I connected and we discussed the challenges she has experienced during the COPE project at USA.gov and some lessons to consider whether you’re at the beginning or early stages of a similar project.
Along a somewhat personal journey (that you have chosen to join) to better define the term content, I’ve stumbled upon the puzzle of podcasts. Full disclosure: I have never been and most likely will never be a consumer of podcasts, ten years ago or today. I tried several times to listen to “Serial” and my lifestyle just doesn’t seem to allow for the level of concentration that a podcast requires.
A (possibly infamous) blog post from last Friday and the discussion/debate that followed reminded me of several important points that we all may lose sight of during our hectic schedules. 1. Audience Determines the Message The first big item was that audience determines message; or more importantly, the best way to reach your audience may force you and your agency out of your comfort zone. Thankfully, it makes you embrace new—and at times—slightly scary technologies and helps you redefine what your concept of content is.
I recently read a disheartening statistic which stated that only 32% of B2B organizations and 27% of B2C organizations had a documented content strategy. When you combine these results with the general assumption that the federal government lags behind in areas such as this (especially since content strategies have a marketing basis), then the number of federal agencies (large or small) that have a documented content strategy must be even smaller.
Imagine a world without Web pages, only intelligent, self-assembling chunks of content waiting to respond to your needs. The page is irrelevant, there may be no context beyond what is included in your content. The content has to survive on its own, perform its goals on its own. Originally when creating content, you would take into account the things that surround it on that page; they give it additional context and relevance.
Audit. It’s a word that generally has no positive connotations whatsoever. We hear the word audit and we think of tax audits or timesheet audits, etc. The word normally strikes fear or dread in the hearts of most mortals. But it is also a task that all websites will need to perform from time to time, and hopefully after reading today’s column you can view content audits as positive opportunities and not as dreadful chores.
As we all continue to wrestle with the “content beast”, one effective method for generating ideas for content and fleshing out an editorial calendar is to look for trending events or even upcoming holidays. In the spirit of full disclosure, the idea behind this particular post was inspired by the back-to-back Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day holidays (I decided to skip “Do a Grouch a Favor Day”). But its not as simple as picking a holiday or event and then just running with it.
There is a tendency in government to discount a range of strategies closely connected to marketing. A good example, and a recent buzzword, is content marketing. Content marketing’s main goal is to drive a user to click or sign-up; to turn them into a lead or a buying customer. We’re the federal government, we aren’t selling anything, we don’t care about conversions or lead-generation. Wrong. Citizens visit government websites more and more often to solve a specific problem:
If you and your organization don’t already have a content strategy, then you are most likely working too hard to create content that is less effective in communicating your desired message and less relevant to your end-user. The lack of a content strategy can leave you at the mercy of the content “beast” where you are constantly scrambling to feed it with little time to think of the quality of the random scraps you keep flinging into the cage.