Getting content right

Websites, I like to think, are like cakes. They’re about cooking in proportions, they’re as many types as you have moods and I like eating cake (metaphor failing). Like a good sponge, digital products really only have a few key ingredients:

  • Technology
  • “Pretty”
  • Words

Technology is actually the easiest bit of the puzzle (bearing in mind that this is all relative). There are always things that are and are not possible, approaches that take longer or shorter time, and we can work that out. It’s why using discovery phases and alphas is actually useful, so you can get a feel for the best way to fix a technical problem.

Aesthetics

“Pretty”. More of a problem. Everyone’s a critic. The great thing though, is starting with solid user research. This doesn’t stop sites having flair, character or appeal. It stops monstrosities which were either designed by committee or by insisted on by someone without an ounce of design skill. The great thing about user research on design is that, using things like eye tracking and watching users actually interact with your site, you can see where you’re doing well and where you aren’t. It keeps an Lily has spoken before about how to follow design principles and end up with a professional, attractive site.

Self facilitating content nodes

Three things from last week, one from GDS on FAQs, this one from VC on Lorem Ipsum and the publication of the updated Government style guide have put the fact that words are the sticking point back into focus. Writing copy for websites has a knack to it, but for most web teams a full on rewrite is something that they’ll only have to do when they rebuild the site. What needs bringing in from Agile to content is the idea of continual iteration. Even if your website is small (~100 pages) you can, and should, still continually work on the content. Try split testing (Google Analytics has supported this for a while), try the techniques of user research that the service design manual talks about, they’re as relevant to content as anything else.

When you come to a decision to build a new site to replace an old one, it is a natural break point for a content review that takes a red marker pen to every page.

Content is always contentious, it also requires the most input work on a website and as sites, especially across government, become a bit easier to navigate and use in terms of tech and pretty, it leaves content teams to make sure that they’re up to speed with their users and giving them what they want in the way that they want to read it.

Images: sharpsuits.net & tumblr

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