Content development is the process of identifying what information meets your users needs to complete their tasks, as well as meets your organizational goals. The process involves defining your users and identifying their tasks.
Understand your context
To publish information on the web you need to to understand how online content is different from print. Consider what information is already online, and who your information is for (audience). Determine your users' needs; determine your business objectives.
What is the difference between print and web?
- Authors who write content specifically for the web create a positive user experience, which helps with readability and understanding
- Users approach online content and print content with different expectations and behaviours
Content that ends up online often starts with an author opening up a print-based program, like MS Word. As a result, the author may unknowingly create a product that is best suited for print, not the web. This is a key problem as the two environments are very different.
In a book there is an obvious start and stop point. The information is presented as text on paper, with the possibility of supporting images. In a movie that is based on that same book, the paper becomes a luminous environment without text. It relies instead on moving imagery, colour, and dialogue. Although the core story is the same, the mediums are very different, as a screenplay adapts the content from paper to film.
Similarly, a product that is created for print must be adapted to work well on the web. If the goal is to have the primary version of your content exist as a web page, ensure you write your content for the web, not for print. Rework headings, change the layout, and rewrite text. This ensures information is easy for the user to discover.
As we continue to rely heavily on responsive web design, which automatically adapts content to different browsers and devices for an optimal viewing experience, authors have to create intelligent content. Intelligent content is structured and categorized for automated reuse and adaptation across different platforms. This concept is also known as "content like water". Content is designed in a way that is flexible, so it can flow anywhere.
It is also essential to understand users’ constraints in a changing web environment, such as:
- Reading text on a mobile device is like reading through a peephole
- Viewing with less screen space means less visible context and less understanding
- Prioritizing and presenting most important information up front is required − especially when lots of information resources exist
Government requires that all web content is accessible. An accessible web allows all users to access it, regardless of their browser, device, resolution, settings or ability. Improve the accessibility of the web to improve the usability for all users; this is the main principle of universal design.
To create responsive and accessible web-ready content, there is a need to develop a new approach to content architecture, content style and flow, as well as content structure and presentation for the web.
Since the visitor of the page is the only person who clicks the mouse and therefore decides everything, user-centric design has become a standard.
Basically, users' habits on the Web aren't that different from customers' habits in a store. Visitors glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they're looking for. In fact, there are large parts of the page they don't even look at.
Much like how shoppers quickly scan a store's shelves and racks for a specific item, users scan webpages for specific information. The item a shopper wants may in fact be in the store, but if they can't easily find it, they leave. The same applies to users and webpages. Users leave the webpage or website altogether if it is an effort to find the information they seek.
In linear media — such as print and TV — people expect you to construct their experience for them. Readers are willing to follow the author's lead.
In non-linear hypertext, the rules reverse. Users want to construct their own experience by piecing together content from multiple sources, emphasizing their desires in the current moment. People arrive at a website with a goal in mind, and they are ruthless in pursuing their own interest and in rejecting whatever the site is trying to push.
The device landscape is constantly changing. Capabilities are constantly changing. Properly structured content is portable to future platforms.
Universal Design takes into account the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as different body sizes and shapes. By designing for this diversity, we can create things that are more functional and more user-friendly for everyone. For instance, curb cuts at sidewalks were initially designed for people who use wheelchairs, but they are now also used by pedestrians with strollers or rolling luggage. Curb cuts have added functionality to sidewalks that we can all benefit from.
What content already exists and who owns it?
- Review what content already exists
- Determine if you are the person of authority
Before content is developed within your area:
- Review what content already exists and belongs to you in the broader web context (whether the intranet or an external website)
- Determine if you are the the person of authority to speak about this topic
- Do not duplicate someone else's content
- Only the functional authority responsible for a topic should create or commission content on that topic
- A ROT (redundant, outdated, and trivial information) review would result in the removal of this content
Creation and publication of non-authoritative content leads to:
- multiple versions of similar content
- inaccurate and out of date information
- confusion about which version is the authoritative and current one
The correct way to reuse authoritative content is to link to it. If the information you want to reference is unavailable, incomplete, or incorrect, contact the functional authority to discuss the addition or reframing of the necessary content.
Who are your users?
- Find out who your users are
- Define your users
- Focus on your primary users
Many different users use your website; they may be individuals, business representatives, intermediaries and other professionals, media or youth. Each type of user is different and needs different content. Find out who your users are. Define each type of user so that you can provide unique information that meets each need.
If you need to develop content to serve many different users, focus on your primary users, or break your users into smaller groups with similar requirements.
What are their tasks?
- Define the users' tasks
- Order and sequence the tasks if there are more than one
- Consider all possible tasks
Users visit a website to complete tasks. Define your users' tasks and either prioritize them based on how frequently users perform them, or sequence them if they involve a series of smaller tasks. Users may also want to complete many tasks in one visit. Consider how you can make it easy for them to do so. Define users' tasks to understand their reasons for coming to your website. This ensures you provide the information they need.
What information do they need?
- Determine the content required to complete tasks
- Ensure the content is presented logically or sequentially
- Ensure the content is timely and relevant
- Ensure the content is not redundant or trivial
- Provide content feedback mechanisms and update content accordingly
Once you define users' tasks, determine the information they need to complete those tasks. Keep information specific to the tasks. Present it logically or sequentially in a location where users expect to find it. Ensure information is timely and relevant, not redundant or trivial.
Since you can’t identify all user needs, and because these needs change, content creators should provide users with a feedback mechanism. Content owners should be open to users' suggestions for changes and modifications.
I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
What are your goals?
- Establish your goals for the content
- Define how the content can meet your goals
- Create a benchmark against which to measure your success
As well as benefiting users, the website needs to serve the organization's goals. To ensure that content balances business needs and users' needs, define the goals for the site. Decide how the content can meet these goals.
To evaluate success of the business objectives, do a benchmark assessment before you publish new content. Use analytics or other available data, such as helpdesk inquiries, to measure success.
Have a content strategy
- Meet users’ needs to achieve your business goals
- Develop a specific content strategy for your area that aligns with the overarching one
- Manage your content through its life cycle
It is impossible to design great user experience for bad content. If users cannot understand what they are reading, or if it is confusing or unnecessarily long, they cannot have a good user experience. Duplicate and competing sources of information across a site confuse and frustrate users. It often makes them give up on a task. If your content does not meet users’ needs, you cannot meet your business objectives.
In order to consistently generate good content that meets users’ needs it is important to have a strategy. A content strategy involves planning, prioritizing, developing, and managing content.
Having a strategy helps you:
- Plan what content to publish, when and where, as well as identify who is accountable for it
- Prioritize content based on user and business needs, while respecting the context of the whole web content system (entire intranet or external website). Prioritizing content means focusing on the content that you are the authoritative owner of. It means limiting the amount of information to key messages which support a limited number of priorities
- Establish a workflow for content development, approval, evaluation, and review
- Set benchmarks and criteria to measure success of your business goals
Effective content strategy ensures your content is:
- free of ROT and up to date
- found easily through search and browsing
- like water, able to adapt to different purposes and contexts, and is easily shared and reused
- well coordinated and comprehensive
To create useful and usable content that enables you to meet your business needs, each area needs to develop a specific content strategy prior to creating content. Ensure that it aligns with the overarching content strategy for the whole organization, and continuously evolves.
Executing your content strategy means you have to commit to managing your content through its life cycle. Content can become less useful over time. Low content use, among other indicators, should trigger a content review.
To ensure that content remains relevant and current, content owners need to regularly review all of their pages and hyperlinks. Additional reviews may be necessary to respond to specific user feedback or legislation changes. Work together with an analytics team to determine how often users access your content and whether it is still valuable.
Identify redundant, outdated, or trivial content, and submit a request to remove it. When you remove content from an online environment, you are still responsible for keeping business records offline for the required retention period.
No amount of research, information architecture, interaction design, or usability testing can create a great user experience if the content isn’t useful and usable—if it doesn't help the user to get things done.
[…]in many organizations, more content is perceived as more selling opportunities, more user engagement, more help, more everything. But that’s rarely the case. [But][…] when content sucks – when it’s overwritten, redundant, hard to find, irrelevant – people come, look, and leave. […] By prioritizing useful and relevant over ‘wouldn’t it be cool’ and ‘just in case,’ you will magically dismiss at least half of your web content projects. That means you’ll free up time and money for things like planning and measurement, two content-related tasks that often get short shrift in the race to do more online.
Reuse, recycle, and reduce content
- Consider the impact of your deliverable on the entire content ecosystem
- Reuse and recycle existing content; this is a sustainable way to innovate
- Reduce your existing content, and create less content
- Limit users’ options
You are ready to develop your content after you do the following:
- Review what content is out there and who owns it
- Identify your users’ needs and business objectives
- Develop a content strategy
Without good content, strategy, design, search, metadata (proper title, description, and keywords) or any other technical improvement cannot help users find the right information. Proper websites require a content strategy and governance. Content requires consolidation and responsible management across the entire content ecosystem. This is the only solution to information overload.
Individual project deliverables greatly impact the content ecosystem. While your business initiative might be great on its own, when you place it in the context of other initiatives and other information, these initiatives can cancel each other out. They can also compete for users’ limited attention. Ensure your initiative is part of the solution, not part of the problem:
- Consider broad impacts of what you plan to publish
- Coordinate new initiatives with other areas that have similar content
Innovation does not mean creating more of something new. You can contribute to healthy innovation by reusing and recycling what is already there:
- Reuse content by linking to content correctly. For other options, speak to your web team, as there may be ways to dynamically add content from another page, ensuring that a single and consistent source of information can be attached to multiple pages
- Remember that dynamic content can change without notice. Make this part of the strategy to ensure correctness or completeness
- Recycle content by working with the area that created the original content to adapt it to meet multiple needs
If you want to reuse and recycle content from outside your organization, be mindful of copyright.
If there is no content that you can reuse or recycle, create less content, reduce your existing content, and limit users’ options:
- Consolidate all the information users need to know about a topic or task in as few places as possible
- Do not create disconnected FAQ's
- Limit related content to as few links as possible, both in-text and in other areas of the page. Only add related links if there is proof this information is actually relevant to the users at that point in time
- Remove old pages when new, more effective content replaces it. This ensures users find only the most current and useful information
Less content is not only more user-friendly, but it is also more strategic. A single instance of information leads to consistent, streamlined process, accountability, ability to measure success, and improves organizational agility.
Too much content results in negative impacts on both users and the organization:
|Impact on users||Impact on the organization|
The more content you have, the harder it is to keep up with: it ages quickly, breaks our navigation systems, and starts piling up in ways we never expected. Suddenly, we find our users are struggling to complete tasks they came to do – gather information, make decisions, get help, share relevant content […]. A user doesn't want endless options. He wants the content he needs, when and where he needs it.
In […] 9 studies on information search-related time wasting, we found an average of 1.1 hours per day per employee being lost in unproductive locating of information, with some of the most authoritative sources even indicating up to 2 hours. This is a tremendous waste of time and productivity – 1.1 hours a day is more than 12% of total work time, summing up to more than 30 work days or 1.5 work months a year per person.
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