With Adobe Flash, it’s possible to quickly get a pretty web site up and running; something that many firms do. But if there is no content behind the flashy web page, it’s unlikely anyone will return. And that is precisely the mistake far too many firms make with their corporate web sites.
In The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web, author Ahava Leibtag does a fantastic job on showing in great detail how to ensure that your web site has what it takes to get visitors to return to the web site, namely great content.
Make no mistake, creating good content for a large organization is a massive job. But for those organizations that are serious about doing it right, the book provides the extensive details all of the steps required to create content that will bring customers back to your web site.
Leibtag writes in the introduction that the reason so many websites and other digital strategy projects fail is because the people managing them don’t focus on what really matters. They begin changing things for the sake of change and to simply update, without first asking why. They also forget to ask what the updates will accomplish. What this does is create a focus on the wrong priorities. Leibtag notes that the obvious priority is content.
So what is this thing called content? The book defines it as all of the information assets of your company that you want to share with the world.
The book is based around 7 rules, which form the foundation of an effective and comprehensive content strategy, namely:
- Start with Your Audience
- Involve Stakeholders Early and Often
- Keep it Iterative
- Create Multidisciplinary Content Teams
- Make Governance Central
- Workflow that Works
- Invest in Professionals and Trust Them
Chapter 1 (freely available here) takes a high-level look at where branding and content meet, and details the need for a strategic content initiative.
An interesting point the book makes in chapter 2 which is pervasive throughout the book is to avoid using the term users. Rather refer to them as customers. Leibtag feels that the term users as part of a content strategy, makes them far too removed and abstract. Dealing with them as customers makes them real people and changes the dynamics of the content project. Of course, this transition has to be authentic. Simply performing a find/replace of user/customer in your documentation is not what the author intended; nor will such an approach work.
The book is heavy on understanding requirements and has hundreds of questions that need to be asked before creating content. The book is well worth it for that content alone.
It also stresses the importance of getting all stakeholders involved in the content creation process. As part of the requirements gathering process, the book details 3 roadmap steps which much be done in order to facilitate an effective strategy.
The book notes that content is much more than web pages. Content includes various formats, platforms and channels. An effective strategy must take all of these into account. The book notes that there are hundreds of possible formats for content. While it is impossible to deal with every possible option; an organization must know what they are in order to ensure they are creating content that is appropriate for their customers.
By the time you hit page 100, it becomes quite clear that content is something that Leibtag is both passionate about and has extensive experience with. An important point she makes is that it is crucial not for focus on design right away in the project, as it eats up way too much time. The key is to focus the majority of your efforts on the content. And that is where all of the questions that the book suggests, must be answered. If you are clueless about your content, your customers will be equally confused and frustrated.
The dilemma that the book notes is that during the requirements gathering process, far too many organizations are imagining a gorgeous web site with all kinds of bells and whistles, beautiful colors and pictures. That in turn moves them to spend (i.e., waste) a tremendous amount of time on design; which leads them to neglect contact creation and migration.
The book details multichannel publishing, which is the ability to publish your content on any device and any channel. This is a significant detail, as customers will be accessing your site from desktops with huge screens and bandwidth to mobile devices with smaller screens and often limited bandwidth. This requires you to adapt and change your content publishing process. This is clearly not a trivial endeavor. But doing it right, which the book shows how to do, will payoff in the long run.
Another mistake firms make is that they often think content can be done by just a few people. The book notes that it is an imperative to create multidisciplinary content teams, since web content will touch every part of the organization, and needs their respective input.
One of the multidisciplinary content teams that must be involved is governance. The book notes that governance standards help you set a consistent customer experience across all channels. By following them, you can avoid replicating content, muddying your main messages and confusing your customers. Governance is also critical in setting internal organizational controls.
Leibtag lays out what needs to be done in extreme detail. She makes it quite clear that there are no quick fixes that can be done to create good content. Creating an effective content marketing strategy and architecture is complex, expensive and challenging. But for most organizations, it is also absolutely necessary for them in order to compete.
The author is the head of a content strategy and content marketing consultancy firm. Like all good consultants, they focus on getting answers to the questions clients often don’t even know to ask. With that, the book has myriad questions and requirements that you must answer before you embark on getting your content online.
The book also provides numerous case studies of sites that understand the importance of content and designed their site accordingly. After reading the book, the way you look at web sites will be entirely different. You will likely find the sites you intuitively return to coincidently happened to be those very sites that have done it right and have the content you want.
My only critique of the book is that the author quotes herself and references other articles she wrote far too often. While these articles have valid content, this can come across as somewhat overly promotional. Aside from that, the book is about as good as anything could get on the topic. There are countless books available about making your web site flashy and pretty; but that Miley Cyrus approach of flash and no content is only a short-term solution, and not an effective long-term business solution.
Good content is like running a marathon; a long but achievable journey, with tremendous rewards and benefits. For firms that are serious about content and looking for an authoritative reference on how to build out their content and do it right, The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web is certain to be an invaluable and necessary resource