How to craft an effective content development strategy

The old adage, “content is king,” really is true. Users engage with your content, search engines index your content, and the more great content you have, the better off you are, as a general rule.

Driven heavily by competition in search and the expectation that more content will boost conversion rates, people who manage big web sites are really getting hot and bothered about creating more content. And to create more content, they need a content development strategy.

The trick here is that every time an executive says, “content development strategy,” a kitten is adopted by Hitler.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t present content to users and deepen the content you have available on your site. I think you absolutely should. But it won’t be effective if it’s a part of a content development strategy, in my opinion, because I believe that phrase comes with a lot of baggage and motivation that doesn’t lead to a better site experience. Let me explain where I’m coming from.

Let’s get away from the web for a second. Think about an interaction with a great salesperson who loves what he does. This salesperson is a content repository, able to call on examples, testimonials, stories, or general information that helps him explain the value of what he is selling. And he isn’t doing all of this to pull the wool over his prospect’s eyes. His offering has genuine value.

This salesperson weaves this content into the conversation. The timing is right. The examples are not out of the blue interruptions, but they aren’t out there in the great beyond, either. It all works because the salesman knows he really can help you out, he knows the types of things that are going through your mind, the questions and concerns you need answered, and he is prepared to take the conversation where it needs to go to help you through the process of learning, committing, and buying.

People want to convert. Really!

This brings me to a key point: we act as if our visitors don’t want to do what we want them to do. We, as businesses operating on the web, talk about boosting conversion rates as if we are tricking consumers. Like they don’t want to fly to Dallas in 2 months to visit their sister. Or like they don’t want new shoes. Or they don’t want to subscribe to your magazine. Who in their right mind would ever convert on anything if we didn’t work so hard to trick them?

When we put the questions like this, they sound pretty silly. So why do we approach boosting conversion as if it’s some sort of mechanism we use to create leverage on our visitors? Why in the world do we think people are coming to our web sites against their will?

Instead, I think by simply focusing on a more positive view of our businesses, we automatically set ourselves up to ask the right question: “What would make this experience easier or better for someone who wants what we offer?”

Move over, content. Workflows are king.

I said earlier that I think “content development strategies” come with a lot of baggage and poor motivation, and I want to revisit that. I think motivation really does shine through in how our offering presents itself. I can tell when a site created a blog because they were trying to boost their search engine rankings or just because they felt like they had to create fresh content. I can tell when a site adds reviews, thinking it’ll boost conversion rate (rather than thinking it’ll genuinely help people, like when I see the same pimped out reviews on 3 different sites). And I can really tell when someone embarks on their “content development strategy,” because almost 100% of the time, this content ends up living in some barn in the web site’s back yard, not in the midst of my experience as I learn, commit, and buy the offering.

When we approach the betterment of our site or business in terms of how the company will receive, the end result is always crappier than if we approach the betterment of our site in terms of how it will help our consumers. By simply asking the right question, “How can we create a more positive or easier experience?” we automatically set up the creation of raving fans, brand advocacy, word of mouth, along with things like greater conversation volume, better sentiment in social media, and increased search engine rankings.

We are starting with the KPIs and working backwards: How can we improve sentiment? How can we boost rankings? How can we cause more buzz in social media?

Instead, start with the experience you offer. Start with the workflows your visitors need to complete to meet their need of booking a flight to Dallas, buying shoes, subscribing to your magazine, or whatever else you offer. What parts of that workflow could use a story, a testimonial, a mention of a complementary product, or just a little more information? That is your content development strategy. Turn your workflow into that conversation with the great salesperson.

Workflows are the combination of effective information architecture and good usability. Those two things have to work well together, and they represent the experience from the first pageview through their entire experience. They are not “paths,” because they will almost certainly be different for different types of people. They aren’t “funnels,” either. They are loose, flexible, positive experiences.

If you look at your site from the perspective that your customers love you, love what you offer, and are eager to buy, you can approach this issue from the standpoint of helping them do something they already want to do, rather than manipulating them, the way many brands see it today. Build experiences worth praising, content worth reading in the context of the workflow, and follow up with great customer service that wows.

Then, watch your KPIs fly, knowing no more kittens had to learn German.


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2 Comments

  1. When I was thinking of content development, there were so many ideas that I could go with. Blogs, faqs, etc. This makes sense. Start with the goal and work back rather than the method and working forward.

    I like this alot, thanks for the share.

    Evan, would you have any books you would recommend on this topic?

    Posted May 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink
  2. There aren’t any books on this topic, per se. The topic is just building experiences and products that are genuinely good and helpful. I’d look at Apple, Zappos, Starbucks as examples.

    Posted May 31, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink