Balance Blog

October 22, 2012
Posted by Carrie Hane Dennison | in User Experience, in Web Content | Comments (0)

Last week I presented Content Strategy That Fits at the User Focus 2012 conference. I teamed up with Lorelei Brown to come up with ideas that would appeal to user experience professionals who know what content strategy is and know that it needs to be part of their projects. But they don't always know where to get started, whether they have a small, medium, or large project. Or maybe the don't necessarily know how to get buy in from others in their organizations or clients. So we set out to help them get started and build momentum within their organizations.

It starts with boiling content strategy down to 3 distinct parts:

  • Audit – figure out how where you are
  • Strategy – create a roadmap of where you are going
  • Governance – plan what to do once you get to your destination

Audits

You can’t know how to get where you’re going until you know where you are. People often ask where they can start. I nearly always recommend starting with an audit. You can do this at any time and with any level of effort. You can start small by picking a section to inventory and assess. Or you can start big by doing the whole site. Just do something. Once you have this base, you can do more later. Ultimately it’s about the process and this gets you started.

Strategy

Strategy lays out where you want to go. It gets everyone on the same path. You should have some definition, even if they are educated guesses about

  • Who you are trying to reach (not everybody)
  • What they want from you
  • What you can give them
  • Providing it to them in a usable format

You can still argue about how you’re going to get there, but you have agreed on where you’re going, and the basic route to get there. Designers don’t have to guess how big to make an element (is it a button with 1 word or a box with 100 characters?). Developers don’t need to guess what kind of field to create (is that an email field or a multi-line, rich-text field?).

Governance

You've gotten to the end of the road. Now what? Start small by documenting what is already being done. Write an editorial style guide to enforce consistency. Or do a little more. Expand the style guide to include full visual and brand guidelines and define voice and tone. Maybe you can go big – form a governance board to make big decisions, coordinate with your digital marketers to create layered content, or coordinate editorial calendars across the organization. Ultimately, you want a place at the table to ask the hard questions early before it’s too late.

Some amazing things happen when you have a plan. Content is relevant, current, easy to find. Content doesn’t contradict itself. Everything on your website looks and sounds like it came from one organization. And increased relevancy keeps customers coming back.

The slide deck has further details to help get you started. So now you have some ideas. Get started today by finding some easy things that you can fix and show success to build momentum or get buy-in. Find partners within your organization. Then keep it going. Once you start showing success, you'll get more buy-in and have a better chance at having a well-maintained site. Keep vital numbers and build goodwill, and before long, you’ll be where you want to be.

What are some ways you've been able to do content strategy?


October 15, 2012
Posted by Beth Bacon | in User Experience, in Web Content, in Web Strategy | Comments (0)

Most sites we do now at Balance use responsive design. That means the width of the site resizes and page elements adjust according to the visitor's screen width. For example, a four-column website would rearrange content and images to become two columns for a tablet display and one column for a smartphone display.

For clients who don't have the need or budget for a separate mobile site, responsive design is a good solution to make a website accessible on many devices, including tablets and smartphones.

As we – content strategists, designers, and developers at Balance Interactive – plan for responsive design on a client's website, we consider:

  • Structure of content – how content is broken into fields so it can be used in several places on a site and on several screen sizes
  • Organization of content – how the main text on a page and the sidebar elements are organized, structured, and placed
  • Navigation choices – how navigation elements translate for touch and smaller screens
  • Images – size and placement
  • Content people aren't likely to read on mobile devices – including PDFs

The essential challenge for responsive design is to structure and design websites so that they are most useful for visitors, on whatever device they are using.

We approach this challenge the same way we approach organizing and structuring content on a desktop website: what are the top tasks site audiences will want to do and what essential information will audiences need?

This summer, when I was making plans to stay at a YMCA in Colorado, it was easy for me to get the information I needed and make reservations on my phone. The YMCA mobile site didn't have the lovely pictures of the mountains nor the slideshow nor the make-me-feel-welcome text that the desktop site did, but that didn't matter. I had limited screen space to scan choices, find the right links to see room rates and reservation options, and use the web form by touch to make reservations.

Distilling down a site's content to top tasks and essential information is not only important for planning responsive and mobile versions of a site, but it is also an important step in developing a highly usable desktop site. Even though a desktop site offers much more screen space for content, users are still focused on their key tasks when they use a mouse, keyboard, and large screen.

Imagining someone using your site on a small screen is a good way to distill your site down to its essential elements – and focus on what is most important to your site audiences.


October 2, 2012
Posted by Lillie Obioha | in Web Development | Comments (0)

Back in 2004, The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization that establishes the primary standards used online announced that HTML5 would be standardized by 2022. At the time, most of us said “What!? That is 18 years of development!” W3C has since heard our concerns and has reconsidered the date. The new date of release for HTML 5 is projected to be at end of 2014, with a follow-up release for HTML 5.1 to be expected at the end of 2016.

In the beginning, W3C's plan was to release HTML5 with all the candidate recommendations implemented – which was the reason for their original long developmental phase. But by compartmentalizing the updates in segments, we will be seeing releases of updated HTML 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 and beyond more routinely.

For web developers who have already moved on to HTML5, this announcement may come as irrelevant since a lot of the web browsers have already integrated HTML5 into their system. However, the lack of a set roll-out standardization for updates, has allowed for unnecessary misinterpretations to the HTML5 features.

For a more detailed plan of HTML5, visit the W3C website.


September 28, 2012
Posted by Susan Cato | in Social Media | Comments (0)

I get a lot of questions about the best way to grow and engage online audiences and, unlike what many “experts” say, there are no magic tricks or easy ways to do this. To grow, nurture, and engage a fan base you have to consistently and purposefully do the work and put in the time.

If you want to grow your reach, you have to provide a meaningful experience by sharing valuable insights, content, and knowledge – and by listening to and engaging with others online in the right context. People won’t be interested in what you have to say or offer if you are not providing value.

It’s Not About You

We are  bombarded with a constant flurry of information, tools, and resources being thrown at us from every direction. Companies, consultants, and experts want us to engage with them in some capacity. What types of content stand out to you? Think about the last time a post or article really had you engaged. What was it about the content that made it compelling? Was it the topic? Format? Content that only talks about you or how great your company or product is is probably not at the top of anyone’s list. Most people are thirsty for tools and resources to make them smarter, solve problems, and hepl them be more successful in their daily lives. All we have to do is figure out how to rise to the challenge.

Customer Pain Points = Engagement Topics 

You know your audience best! Start by making a list of their pain points, priorities, and everyday needs. Do this based on the outcome they are looking for. For example, perhaps your customers are small businesses that need to learn how to operate as efficiently as possible. Helping them with best practices around all aspects of running a small business, including tools, resources, and "grab-and-go" templates for business operations would be of great value. If you don’t have these assets you can either create them or find and evaluate available resources online. Even if you are sharing resources from others, you are adding value by filtering and curating it for them!

Inventory Your Assets

Whether your offering is a product, service, program or widget – you have something to offer beyond what you are selling. You are a subject matter expert, and are in business to provide value to your customers.The subject matter expertise that your fellow employees have locked away inside their heads and the valuable content assets you have hanging out on random company laptops are your greatest assets! Take your list of customer pain-points and priorities and inventory the content and expertise you have that supports each item. Look for things like whitepapers, powerpoint presenations, recorded webinars, articles, research reports and more. Get creative with your people – your internal SME’s can write blog posts, participate in interviews, share presentations and much more.

Layer your content

Engaging customers with your knowledge and content is not a linear process. For each content asset you have, you can possibly create smaller, more consumable and engaging content products. For example, if your company publishes a research report, you can create several different content assets from it, including: infographics, a series of individual data stats, a blog post, a webinar, a PowerPoint presentation, charts & graphs, downloadable executive summaries in ebook format, and more. Layering your content assets is a really powerful way to increase the probability that more people will engage with you, because it can be used in many different contexts. Building layers of content adds depth and value to the overall online experience you offer – and ultimately strengthens your online brand.

There are many organizations who are doing this well, and it’s worth it to do a little benchmarking to help get you started and to inspire some ideas. Hopefully this approach resonates with you – and is helpful in getting started with your online engagement strategy.

If you get overwhelmed, just keep it simple and remember to put yourself in your customers shoes and think about what would be valuable to you if you were in those shoes.