Let's talk content

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

A great deal has already been written about creating content. That said, some thoughts on my take and what I offer are probably in order. I'll try to keep it light.

 

It's all about what users want

It's easy to think we already know who our users are, based on years of familiarity and habit. But things change.

Not so long ago, designing content meant making assumptions about who these people were and what they 'needed' – and just putting it out there.

 

Now, wisely, before writing a word or cranking up the CMS, the first step is research. To find out who they really are and what they, in fact, want.

That way,  effective content can be designed around their actual needs for a much better user experience. 

 

We can find out what they want now – as opposed to a few years ago. Which problems do they want solved? Which questions answered? What information or help would they like? 

 

And in what form do they want it?

 

PDFs to download? Or a few simple web pages with useful links? Video or blogs? Social media posts, e-newsletters, emails or texts for news and updates?

 

White Papers, PowerPoint presentations or SlideShare?

How will they access it? Desktop, tablet or mobile? (Don't forget to optimise.)

It pays to find out.

 

 

Get it right, keep it tight

I doubt anyone would disagree now that content, as well as being accurate, should be useful, clear and concise. 

 

It also helps to be personal. To address people directly, using plain English (and plain translations), contractions (can’t, won’t, etc), short sentences and short paragraphs. 

 

Using small words not big ones, where possible, and as few as possible, also helps. 

 

To be clear: 'plain' here doesn’t mean 'dull'. It means simple, elegant, easy to read and easy to understand. If something’s easy to understand, it’s easier for people to act.

 

Clear headings and subheads, appealing page layouts, eye-catching images and a site structure that’s easy to navigate all make for a much better user experience. 

 

Best never to forget that people have too much to look at already these days. They won’t stick around for no good reason.

So, let’s give them a good one. 

 

 

Jargon vs terminology

Thankfully, the trend is now against unnecessary jargon. It's worth pointing out, though, that jargon and terminology aren't the same thing.

 

As most specialist subject areas have their terminology, you can’t avoid using it. Just  give clear definitions or explanations, where needed. 

 

For example:

 

Terminology: For most people, hearing loss is the result of damage to the cochlea (a delicate structure in the inner ear that detects sound vibrations). 

 

Cochlea is a proper medical term, so it’s fine to use it with a definition in brackets.

 

On the other hand:

 

Jargon: ‘We then decided to leverage the team’s learnings…’

 

There’s really no good reason to write like this. Does it speak directly or clearly to most people? No, it doesn't.

 

It’s friendlier and more effective just to say: 

 

‘We used what we learned to make changes…’ 

 

 

Keywords and metadata

Happily, stuffing text with keywords is yesterday's thing. Besides, Google doesn’t like it, will notice and will take action (probably). 

 

The trick is, then, a bit of research to find the most relevant keywords and use them naturally and sparingly. 

 

I never forget to write for human beings, not for search engines.

 

It helps, of course, to tighten up the nuts and bolts of metadata and buff it up nicely. Always good to make it easy for people to see you and quickly grasp what you do.

 

 

Value and trust

Expert opinion, hard stats, user stories and testimonials add value to content and inspire trust. As do links to other pages and to external sources proven to have high-value content.

 

Then, it's a case of updating content to reflect changes, adding new content and, from time to time, testing and reviewing.

 

 

Long-form content

In the early days, websites tended to look like print’s poor cousin. Reams of dense text were poured – often unedited and untended – into cyberspace. And just left there, to shiver alone in the digital darkness.

 

Now, as we've noted, websites have become engaging, dynamic experiences designed around users’ needs. At best, they’re warm, inviting, visual, airy, rich in valuable content, and easy to use, understand and navigate.   

 

Meanwhile, despite repeated predictions about the death of print, leaflets, booklets, brochures, factsheets and full-length reports are still with us – often also available, of course, as PDFs. 

 

Proving that imitation is indeed the greatest form of flattery, we've all taken in recent years to plundering Digital’s wardrobe to give these traditional formats a lift. 

 

Whisper it, but – with less text overall, more white space, shorter paragraphs and sentences, simpler language, sidebars, case studies, more images and infographics, and hardworking captions – they look and read all the better for it.

Here's to lots more happy plundering and dressing up.

 

 

Pull it apart, put it back together

I enjoy taking raw long-form content, pulling it apart bit by bit, putting it back together again and polishing until it glows in the dark. If necessary, I’ll rewrite every sentence. 

It may initially look alarming – like an act of demolition. But, in my experience, people always like the end results.

 

This is particularly satisfying when taking a complex technical subject and making it light and easier to understand, for both professional and general audiences.

 

 

Burden of proof 

I'll carry that for you. Yes, I’ll proofread materials, not just to dot i’s and cross t’s, but with reference to house style, best practice, tone of voice, grammar, internal consistency, structure, clarity, fluency and readability. 

 

Ideally, text should always be thoroughly edited before being uploaded or going to design. But, honestly, that doesn't always happen.

 

If so, I will flag up everything that’s wrong on PDF layouts, suggesting re-edits or even rewriting where needed. You then get to decide what to do, because heavy late-stage corrections can be costly.

 

But if you'd rather not hear about a lot of mistakes, or general poor quality, after publication, my in-depth proofreading will give you that choice.

 

Of course, if I do the editing or writing in the first place, I'll probably save you money in the long run. 

Until the next time

Of course, there are many other aspects of creating content I could touch on. But that seems enough for now. In the meantime, if you have any questions... 

 

Please get in touch to discuss a project and get a quote.

Contact

+44(0)7903 523614 |      bbcomms1@virginmedia.com | London

 

© Brian G Burns 2020

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