Part of my job as a user experience consultant is to impress upon my clients the importance of content in creating an experience. Relevant, useful, and usable content is core to the user experience on any website—and a content strategy is the necessary plan for ensuring that content is produced, assessed, and maintained.
Many organizations give lip service to the importance of content and content strategy but have no governing processes or standards for content. They haven’t trained content providers to write for the web. They haven’t assigned responsibility for producing and updating content. They haven’t established rules for who gets to make decisions about various areas and aspects of the website. They don’t have editorial standards or an editorial calendar. These organizations typically have problems with their content—it’s outdated, or inconsistent, or poorly written, or disorganized, or all of these things.
But even the organizations that have taken some steps to ensuring good content may fail at one very difficult but vital step: Asking, “Who needs this?” That’s the question that can keep you from producing content that doesn’t contribute positively to the user experience and can even degrade it.
Why is it so hard to ask, “Who needs this?”
Organizations and individuals who are passionate about their work may create content because it seems like the right thing to do. “We need new content, right? Let’s tell everyone about this!” We may produce the wrong content, or even too much of the right stuff, and clog a site with useless “noise.” We may get very close to our work and find it hard to step back and look at our own ideas, our own content, objectively. But we need to.
What are we really asking when we ask, “Who needs this?”
- Who is the audience for this content? (If it’s unclear, or the audience is not one of your agreed-upon target segments, stop right there.)
- Does the content serve one or more of the organization’s strategic objectives? (If not, you don’t need that content.)
- Does the content serve a user need or interest? (If not, scrap the content. If you’re not sure, you may need to do some user research to find out.)
Who should ask, “Who needs this?”
- business owners, before soliciting or approving new content
- authors, before writing the content
- editors, before approving or publishing new content
- anyone responsible for the user experience
Relevant, useful, and usable content is an essential component in a positive user experience. To achieve the right content, you need to commit to a content strategy and governance policies, and you need to make it a habit to ask the tough questions about your content and let go of it if it doesn’t clearly serve your organization or your users.
Image credit: Question Mark Graffiti by zeevveez, Flickr Creative Commons