And the reason you’re hearing about ‘content’ every day.
There are a lot of fancy words flying around these days when it comes to working in the digital space. The files that make up your website are no longer files, they’re ‘assets.’ Your website, social accounts, your email lists are now your ‘channels.’ Your on-site navigation is, more or less, your Information Architecture.
And there’s good reason for all this jargon. In the past 20 years an entire industry has grown up that didn’t previously exist; while we have been making websites, we have been learning how to make websites. While we have been communicating directly, digitally, with audiences global and local, we have been learning how to communicate with these audiences digitally. It has been a wild two decades that have profoundly changed how your business presents itself, responds to its customers’ needs, and enables customers to progressively grow and deepen both their interaction with your company and their relationship to your company.
While this industry has been developing, so, too, have the tools been evolving to help us understand the value of our digital activities. In 1999, we were all jumping on WebTrends and stuffing pages with keywords that were just a small hex value off the background colour of the page, which was tricking early search engines into believing your page was highly relevant for whatever keywords you stuffed it with. It didn’t take long for the newcomer on the block with its amazing high quality search results to figure out the need for disallowing these activities in its search quality algorithms. By 2001-2003, the landscape was changing dramatically (while the tech market was crashing) and it was becoming clear that the digital world was having a profound impact on the way business happened everywhere – but that this business also needed a great deal more rigour to prove its worth. In response to that, the business of analysing web data and web interactions blossomed. By 2007 we begin to add in social networks; 2008, mobile activity. 2010, a demand for responsive interactions that scale across devices. 2011 and 2012, search algorithm updates that emphasise user interactions with your content over the number of backlinking websites, and responsive design as a success factor in search rankings… And so we see how much pressure has been put on companies to constantly catch up with a marketing & product environment that continually evolving around them. This is the digital world we are in: everyone is still trying to understand it, to harness it, and to make it work for their business – and all the while the rules keep changing. So be it.
But things in this space are beginning to clarify too, as the tools we use to understand how large sets of humans interact with web tools, web content, and web channels become more refined. There has been a swirl of “let’s just get online”, “let’s just redesign the look and feel”, “let’s just get on social” – all really important activities, and all things every business has had to pursue. Now, with at least 10 years of pretty good data, it’s becoming clear that what is at the heart of your digital experience is Content (We’ve all heard Content is King. This is more than that). Yes, in a way, this ‘Content’ is the old word for Copy. Yes, it used to be about Words. Yes, in huge and profound ways it still is about Words. But Content as a concept implies so much more than words: it is the storytelling and communication points you populate across your web channels that help engage your users and promote them across the service centres of your business.
In the vast majority of projects I see, the very first thing most teams point to is how a website looks, how it should look, and then typically we race into a discussion of how the navigation should be laid out (or the ‘information designed’).
What we’re typically missing is the ‘why?’ in any of these activities.
- Why should it be done differently?
- How do we know what we have is inadequate?
- Who are we benchmarking against?
- How are they performing?
- What kind of web traffic could be expected based on different size investments into our channels?
- What do we plan to do with this traffic when it arrives onsite?
- How will we convert site visitors into customers?
- How will we manage our digital outreach on an annual cycle?
- How will we compete in multiple geographic markets?
- Are multiple languages at play?
- How will we communicate with Google to coordinate content sets across languages and domains?
- Is that an activity worth pursuing?
This size and complexity of your digital landscape can scale up or down depending on where you’re starting from and what your business development needs are. But what is absolutely clear is that you need answers about what you’re planning to do digitally for your business, and how you plan to achieve it, with the tools that are currently available. Fortunately, after a 20-year period of development, we are arriving in an exciting phase where Content is fantastically quantifiable. And what this means for you is that we can make data-driven decisions about your marketing spend long before we start talking about colours, fonts, hero images, and content management systems.
‘Data-driven’ happens to be my favourite term, and it’s a commitment to a foundation of informed decision making that we bring to all our digital work here at Factor 3. So I’ll add some more jargon-y keywords to the list: Digital Strategy, Content Strategy, and the Content Audit. These terms are moving into wide use now, and as the channels through which your business can communicate have proliferated (and consolidated), it is clear that you need a comprehensive strategy to help you understand how you will use them, and how the content that you produce down these channels will work for you. And so, the work of your Digital Strategy really begins with your Content Strategy: Who is Your Audience?, What do you want to Communicate?, What do They want to Hear?, How will you communicate that content?, and How will you keep this communication going on an annual cycle with solid reporting and metrics to show you the value of your investment?
Our content audit process
To this end, we begin every project with a thorough Content Audit that can really take a variety of forms, depending on where your business is starting from. We analyse the ‘search marketplace’ – all the keywords that have the potential to drive qualified leads to your website (think of the difference between ‘construction’ and ‘best commercial construction companies uk’). In particular, we analyse search volume to identify the highest value keyword leads for you. We evaluate your competitors and their performance against your ideal keyword list. If possible, we evaluate your current performance — though if you’re starting from scratch this data won’t be available. We reference data from Google to evaluate how the screens in your website (or portfolio of sites) are performing. We bring in additional tools to evaluate your current audience demographics and compare that to your goals for who you are trying to reach. We engage in user research to help tease out not only how you think your information should be organised, but what your users are expecting to find when they show up onsite. I bring it down to the level of understanding, literally how many words will be required to help you win, so that you can fully understand the Level of Effort (LOE-more jargon) that will be required to make a success of both organic search and paid advertising programs.
Compound this picture with the idea that by 2020, 75% of all mobile content consumed will be video, and you can immediately see that even as we begin to get our hands around a data-driven strategy for your word-based content, the field is shifting rapidly and the emphasis is swinging to favour user engagement metrics over word counts. Does that mean it’s not worth the investment to try to win in Search today? Absolutely not. Your web channels grow in strength over time as you build them, as does the prominence and power of your URL. The longer it has been in use, the more content that it sits on, the more years of user engagement metrics stored up and social reach, the more power these channels will have as the field shifts and evolves in the years to come. Good content takes time to produce and it should be conceived and delivered on your site in such a way that it continues to live, even as you pursue new ways to communicate with your audience in time. Good content shows authority, and authority has long been the foundation of high quality Search rankings. Show your users you are in command of your content; show them you are a thought leader; show them you are responsive to their needs; show them you care about how, where, and on which devices they experience your content; show them you are able to respond (social); show them what they have to say matters to you.
Your marketing program is now a Content program, and every point of outreach – digital or analog – is just another channel for communication. Get the data right, and your investment may both profoundly broaden the size of audience you are exposed to and blow the doors off their willingness to hear – and buy – your message. Every word counts, just like every user counts, and every day is an opportunity to store up new metrics on how your Story connects.
It can’t be denied; it’s a process that is inherently iterative. And that’s just another fancy word for ‘always in beta’. And THAT’S just another fancy term for: this work is never finished. But with a data-driven program that keeps a close eye on your content metrics, we’ll better understand how to pivot as the landscape keeps evolving.
Factor 3 can provide preliminary content auditing and traffic research, as well as design and manage your content program on an annual basis: production and reporting. Have questions? Call Jennifer and she’ll talk to you about data, strategy, and integrating your sales funnel with your digital tools and channels. Fancy words? Absolutely. But we promise – it’s all very straightforward.