Audiences will forget most of the content you present and the little they remember is random. Using neuroscience-based guidelines (brain science) helps you to master with precision what audiences take away from your content and what they are willing to do with it.
During this full-day workshop, Dr. Carmen Simon of Rexi Media will dive deep into brain science techniques and teach you how to direct an audience’s attention to what counts, ensure your most important content is memorable, and make it easy for audiences to reach a decision in your favor.
You will work on your own content, and leave with practical skills you can apply immediately to any type of communication material.
Specifically, will learn how to:
- Identify three essential criteria for a memorable message
- Master brain science techniques to capture and sustain attention, and avoid the most common errors that lead to forgettable content
- Implement a key technique that is missing in most business presentations to change an audience’s behavior
- Apply a 5-step, sure-fire persuasive script to spark action
Register: Use Brain Science to Control What People Remember
Where: Mark Hopkins Hotel- San Francisco
When: May 20th 8:00-5:00 pm
About the instructor, Dr. Carmen Simon
Dr. Carmen Simon is an experienced cognitive scientist, published author, and a frequent keynote speaker at conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. She holds doctorates in instructional technology and cognitive psychology, and uses her knowledge to offer presenters a flashlight and a magnet: one to call attention to what’s important in a message, the other to make it stick to the audience’s brain so they can act on it. Carmen’s presentation brain science coaching helps business professionals motivate listeners and stand out from too much sameness in the industry.
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Why is DITA so important?
Information is expanding across the enterprise. Businesses are creating and filling corporate digital landfills, clogging operational processes without knowing their complete content holdings or the value contained within. Imagine a world where you assemble a document rather than write it out word for word each time. Imagine that content relevant to what you are creating has already been created and is now made available for you to reuse. With the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA), it’s possible.
Check out this video from the folks at Precision Content. We need more content like this; content that makes DITA less obtuse and the value easier for upper management to understand.
Incredible amounts of data are produced every day, so much that we can’t use it all. Big data is a term used to describe the tools and processes that seek to make this data useful and productive.
This video uses the example of traffic data to teach:
- Where big data comes from and how it’s collected
- Why special tools are required to use it
- The three big challenges: Volume, Variability and Velocity
- The potential of big data across multiple industries
Main conference: November 29 – 30 Workshops: December 1 Fairmont Copley Plaza, Boston, MA Share your expertise and network with peers and digital content leaders… Submit your proposal today Tracks include: Content, Marketing, and Customer Experience Designed for marketers, marketing technologists, social marketers, content strategists, web content managers, content marketers, content creators and designers, business and technology strategists focused […]
This post originally published on https://gilbane.com
Editor’s Note: The Content Wrangler is presenting a weekly series of twelve articles that provide useful insights and practical guidance for those who produce customer support websites. Columnist Robert Norris shares how to overcome operational challenges related to harvesting, publishing and maintaining online help knowledge bases. His eighth installment shares insights into how we can gain the support of key stakeholders in middle and upper management.
Fostering Support from Stakeholders
Ever been in a long-anticipated meeting to green-light an initiative only to hear your project’s spokesperson sell a bold concept you support by making promises that make you cringe? That sinking feeling is the gnawing sense of caveats being ignored, erroneous assumptions creeping in and legitimate concerns evaporating. As expectations diverge from reality, the chances of catastrophe increase.
Though professional troubleshooters rarely discuss it, we’ve learned the hard way that identifying problems and devising cost-effective solutions may not be our biggest hurdles. Often, the steepest obstacle we face is aligning expectations throughout the chain of command as we navigate the minefield of managerial personalities that lie between us and presenting the business case to the decision-maker(s).
In article six of this series, we explored how to convince executive leadership that a new comprehensive content strategy is warranted, while in the seventh article we considered how best to collaborate with our keyboarding colleagues to devise a feasible approach. In this follow-up we will examine how to help key stakeholders in middle and upper management become effective advocates.
Communicating with Stakeholders
Let’s begin by acknowledging that many professional managers are prone to tune out when being briefed on a concept that involves complexities outside their domains. Typically, the more technical the details, the faster the glazed-over look emerges. When that occurs, we have ceased communicating and are at risk of losing a potential advocate. To succeed, we must recognize that abstract discussions can be especially challenging for busy middle managers who are distracted by the stockpile of demands they face between meetings. It’s no different for upper management since listening to others discuss hypothetical aspects of a white-board concept leaves many MBAs yearning for their spreadsheets and metrics. Bottom line…we cannot afford to bore an audience already prone to distraction.
To that end, let’s make sure we:
- Research the audience. When a stakeholder’s interests, preferences and pet peeves are not well understood, we need to engage someone with those insights to help us. This person is also a good candidate for our operations committee should we get the green light.
- Prime the pump with a pre-brief. We will submit a one-page executive summary of the initiative for context along with a proposed outline of topics to confirm that areas of particular interest are covered and define our objective. Framing this as an approval step will at least ensure that the stakeholder acknowledges that s/he had the opportunity to shape the brief. This tactic is very effective when dealing with individuals who tend to be confrontational.
- Establish the audience’s self-interest. The simplest way to capture a stakeholder’s rapt attention is to underscore that these briefs have been sanctioned by the C-level to elicit management’s expertise.
- Follow-up. For any question of substance—even those we confidently answer in full during the brief—we will provide a written response. This will create a record, help us maintain consistency and tends to inhibit people from inaccurately embellishing when discussing the project with peers.
Anticipating and avoiding the pitfalls
With our approach defined and preparations completed, we must also anticipate and avoid the pitfalls of briefing managers, especially those who do not share our technical acumen.
Let’s ensure that as we brief our concept, we do not:
- Overestimate our audience. We court disaster when we fail to recognize that the listener is not grasping important nuance. Many managers expend tremendous energy to project a facade of technical acumen, but scratch the veneer and you may be in for a shock.
Tactic: Assume that the decision-maker lacks in-depth knowledge about the topic until proven otherwise. Be alert to signs that s/he is projecting pseudo-expertise, e.g. over-simplification, improper use of terms. Do not feel compelled to fill the silence.
- Oversell the concept. It’s quite natural to want to convince others that a concept has vast potential that warrants investment. But it’s at this genesis point that expectations begin to gel. Unless the concept’s potential is tempered from the outset with real-world constraints, it will be extremely difficult to rein in unrealistic expectations.
Tactic: Establish and routinely brief an ongoing list of potential challenges, e.g. assumptions, obstacles, constraints.
- Oversimplify. Our stakeholder schedules a one-hour meeting to discuss the concept, and we prepare assiduously. Upon arrival, our time is cut to 15 minutes because of pressing priorities. He asks pointed questions about outcomes but waves off in-depth answers and urges us to get to the point.
Tactic: We must recognize that he is seeking precision where none exists. We are being manipulated and need to be steadfast. Would a physician be bullied by a patient into making unrealistic promises? We have the expertise he needs; ask to reschedule. If unable, turn the tables by modeling good listening skills and probing with follow-up questions. Be diligent and help him frame questions you can answer in writing.
- Rubber-stamp understanding. There will doubtless be stakeholders who respond to a well-articulated explanation with, “So, what you are saying is yada yada …” Because it seems we are connecting, it is damnably tempting to ratify that person’s analogies and metaphors, but it’s very risky.
Tactic: She is doing us a favor by trying to rephrase key points in her own words. Recognize it as a key learning opportunity and expend the effort to ensure comprehension, even if it requires several iterations. Listen enthusiastically – but critically – to the summary to confirm that she is truly groking our message.
- Fail to document. Often, the last thing an excited person or team with a brilliant idea wants to do is pause to document. But failing to do so is a virtual guarantee that the intended meaning will be misconstrued.
Tactic: The effective idea-person is the one who tempers enthusiasm with critical thinking and rigor that begins with putting everything in writing, especially the caveats for answers provided to management.
Summing it Up!
We should not have to experience a painful project where our expertise was ignored or our timely and astute warnings were forgotten once the blame-game began. The key to managing expectations up the chain of command is to be alert to the risks of not doing so. The next step is to realistically assess the audience. We must candidly appraise the listening skills and knowledge of our listeners when shaping the message. We will not assume that smart, highly paid decision-makers understand important nuance even as they nod their heads. We’ll engage them to make sure they get the gist. And despite our best efforts to set the stage, we won’t assume that everyone in the audience was adequately (or accurately) prepared for the brief.
Last Week: Robert’s seventh of twelve articles, Your Content Strategy: Is It Feasible, shares insights into how we can gain the support of stakeholders in middle and upper management.
Next Week: Robert’s ninth of twelve articles, “Swing and a Miss…Faulty Support Metrics,” will share insights on how to ensure that we leverage the unique insights of those who help the users of our knowledge base by empowering them to flag deficiencies.
The post Best Practices for Fostering Support from Stakeholders appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
By Karl Montevirgen, special to The Content Wrangler
When a crisis unfolds, the accuracy and speed of communications take on a heightened role. Language, in the most general sense, becomes something of an accelerant. Its rate of movement overtakes that of the organized deployment of resources and services, multiplying both the containment and distribution of risk with a velocity that is at once exponential and multi-directional.
When the flow of communication breaks down, language itself becomes the site of a flashpoint. It spawns yet another crisis atop the initial one. It’s easy to imagine how a communications crisis can occur within the closed context of a single language. But when it occurs across multiple languages, the risk and scale of potential harm reaches exceedingly dangerous levels.
The Ebola Epidemic in West Africa
“In the first nine months, if people had been given proper messages, all this could have been prevented.” — Claudia Evers, MSF’s Ebola emergency coordinator in Guinea
Between November 2014 and February 2015, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa claimed the lives of over 10,000 people from a total number of 25,000 affected. The outbreak originated in Guinea and subsequently spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali.
In three of the countries most affected by the epidemic—Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—approximately 90 languages were spoken. The sheer variousness of languages spoken, most of which were local dialects, presented a number of serious challenges:
- the timely dissemination of organized information (in the limited formats and languages available) was severely hampered;
- the accuracy of the information circulated by the population could not be verified;
- the transmission of information (particularly translated information) could neither be monitored nor modified to ensure end-to-end accuracy.
These factors quickly developed into a full-blown communications crisis.
‘In the Ebola epidemic, rumors and misinformation were rampant and fueled the spread of Ebola.’ —Aid worker
The organized humanitarian response was immediate, but the language and illiteracy factors impeded aid efforts. For instance, most of the Ebola-related materials were disseminated in print form and written in English. The literacy rate among adults in these countries (according to UNESCO) was at 48%. But the majority of the affected population did not understand English (even in countries, like Sierra Leone, where English is the “official” language).
According to a UNICEF survey conducted in Sierra Leone, 30% of those interviewed mistakenly believed that Ebola was mosquito-borne, while 30% incorrectly believed it was airborne, and 42% believed that hot salt-water baths were an effective cure for the disease. The Ebola virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood or body fluids; the virus is not transmitted through the air, nor by mosquitos. There are no proven treatments for Ebola nor are there commercially-available vaccines (approved for clinical use in human beings) to prevent individuals becoming infected.
In considering such a situation, it is important to realize that the flow of communications during a crisis is never a static matter. Unlike physical resources and services for aid, in which people must await their arrival and implementation, informational activity does not just cease pending the delivery of official information. Information continues moving across the community, and with that comes the risk of spreading inaccurate information or transforming accurate messages into misinformation.
As in the “telephone game,” we know that the act of transmission alone has the capacity to divergently fragment and recombine meanings contained within a single message. When information is transmitted in the wrong language and translated into multiple languages in a manner that could not be monitored for accuracy, then informational aid efforts have the reverse effect of accelerating the initial crisis rather than containing it.
Translators without Borders and the Words of Relief project
Understanding the critical importance of translation in the Ebola relief efforts, Translators without Borders (TWB) brought one of their recent and innovative projects—Words of Relief—to West Africa. Words of Relief (WoR) is a translation crisis relief network that provides translation services across the globe via “spider networks” to humanitarian aid organizations who generate content for aid workers to deliver in the affected areas. In the case of the Ebola crisis, WoR would provide translation support for medical advice and prevention messages to be disseminated in various formats across West Africa.
Tapping into a vast network of supporters, advisors, and social media, TWB was able to recruit translators from the United States, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali, France, Switzerland, Germany and Kenya for its spider network. As there were very few “professional” translators available to translate content into West African languages, TWB put together an online training program via Skype to further vet language skills and align translation efforts with TWB methods and guidelines. Upon completing the program, translators were put to work translating documents for various humanitarian aid organizations (including International SOS, Ebola Communications Network, Humanitarian Response Info, ReliefWeb, BOND Ebola working group, and the CDAC Message Library) who were actively involved in the relief efforts.
Within a 3-4 month span starting on November 2014, TWB’s network translated 106 items including posters, social mobilization and SMS messages, videos, maps, and Ebola cartoons in 30 languages; a total of around 81,000 words.
TWB’s support in the Ebola crisis proved invaluable, as many of the humanitarian aid organizations would not have had the means of resources to provide medical and health-related information in multiple languages. Organizations working in affected regions were now able to access and distribute content in the right language and various formats to affected populations. Ultimately, such efforts were significant in helping to slow down and prevent further spread of the disease.
Translators Without Borders delivers value to the world
Content and translation gaps among governments and NGO’s
In addition to TWB’s collective experience, technological capabilities, and vast network of global translators, their value as an organization stems in part from the fact that many governments and NGO aid agencies do not (or lack the capacity to) position translation as a priority. In a number of cases, TWB found that aid organizations lacked content to circulate to those in need. Many NGOs don’t produce their own content. For the agencies with content, end-to-end access to — and delivery of —content to those who need it, proved extremely difficult.
Although the dissemination of information in the right language would be considered an absolute necessity in times of crisis, most aid agencies are often stretched too thin to perform this function well. And although most of these agencies utilize content as an important part of their operations, content creation, management, and delivery are typically not areas in which most aid agencies have dedicated expertise.
TWB’s greatest value in the humanitarian services field is that they are able to fill this large gap in a way that most aid agencies and governments cannot. But to fulfill the potential of establishing such a wide-reaching service, TWB must establish a larger volume of awareness and advocacy across the humanitarian community in order to gather the necessary funding and support so that it can effectively partner with aid agencies across the globe.
Operating in the “space of flows”
Providing aid-related information to communities entails a dual function: it’s about directly providing the right information to communities in need as it is indirectly about countering the possible circulation of misinformation. To perform this function well (and often in response to urgent needs), the content generation, translation, transmission, and delivery process has to be executed in a manner that is as close to synchronous as possible, both temporally and spatially.
Information travels at different speeds, depending on the available means of transmission–human, technological, and linguistic. In cases where the means of communications are severely hampered, information will typically travel at the speed of “spaces” or proximity, meaning that the bulk of the messages are transmitted locally or via local networks and means.
TWB’s valuable contribution to this space is its capacity to operate on a global scale both inside and outside target communities to organize and generate translated content at a virtually synchronous rate–operating in the “space of flows” (a term I am borrowing from theoretician Manuel Castells).
But as a translation services organization, TWB nevertheless relies heavily on the cooperation of humanitarian agencies to originate and deliver content in its various formats to the communities that need it. Hence the need for a wider awareness and advocacy for TWB’s cause.
Multiple content formats and illiteracy
As TWB learned from the Ebola epidemic, illiteracy is a factor that should not be overlooked. Aid-related content in written form yields few benefits if the majority of a given population cannot read them. In Sierra Leone, where posters had been translated to local dialects, reports came in that many people in the local population preferred seeing posters in English as they were not used to seeing their own local dialects in written form.
The capacity to assess the need for and produce content in multiple formats are tasks that many NGO’s do not have the means to take on. In anticipation of such needs, TWB is looking into enhancing its audio and video formats and text-to-speech technologies. Content relevance varies not only in terms of format but also “genres” (i.e. various forms of narrative that are relevant to a specific culture or locale). Having the means and understanding to produce translated content in locally relevant formats will be helpful in effectively delivering meaningful information, particularly when reaching out to populations with literacy gaps.
Looking toward the future
In February of this year, TWB welcomed its new Executive Director, Aimee Ansari. WIth 20 years of global work experience in various organization including the United Nations Development Programme, Oxfam, and CARE, Ansari brings to TWB a unique set of humanitarian organizational perspective and skills honed during various deployments to crisis-laden areas, including the South Sudanese Civil War in 2013. (Note: we will be publishing an interview with Aimee Ansari in an upcoming article so that you can get a more comprehensive view into her unique background and experience).
TWB is currently working with aid agencies to provide services for the European refugee crisis. Amid this massive response effort, Ansari is looking ahead toward ways in which TWB can “massively expand its impact” on the world through providing access to information across language barriers.
When asked what content professionals of all types can do to support TWB, Ansari sees many possibilities, both current and in development:
“Donating time and money is always welcome, of course. Running a fundraising or awareness event is very much appreciated and we need that help. We are currently thinking through some new strategies around content creation and [other content-related] strategies. So watch this space – there will be more coming soon!”
By Karl Montevirgen, special to The Content Wrangler
The concept behind the content audit and inventory is fairly simple: it’s about locating and taking account of all your existing content (inventory) and evaluating it to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what changes should be made to improve its overall coherence and presentation (audit). Conducting a web content inventory and audit can also help you determine how well your content supports business and user goals, how well it supports your brand, whether it’s written in the right tone and voice, whether it’s targeted at the right audience.
Given the fundamental nature of this process, it’s easy to see how it plays a critical role in the planning, implementation, and maintenance of any content strategy: content serves as both the material and materialization of a given content strategy. And the content audit and inventory process helps establish a big-picture perspective from which all content can be viewed and placed within an actionable framework.
Why conduct a content audit?
A content audit serves many purposes. It can help identify pages that need further editing or copywriting, outdated material, redundancies that need to be consolidated, inconsistencies that need to be eliminated, and content that is vulnerable to search-engine penalty risk.
Audits can also be used proactively (particularly when used in combination with analytics) to identify content gap opportunities, analyze viewer response and behavioral patterns, and track how well pages are ranking in search ,all of which can help you prioritize remedial or opportunity-driven modifications.
Conducting a web content inventory can be difficult
Conducting a content audit and inventory can be arduous and fragmented. A single process comprised of two parts (inventory + audit), each composite entails a potentially gargantuan workload that often separates one from the other; the transition from web content inventory to web content audit is hardly ever seamless—or easy.
The primary reason for this difficulty is that both tasks differ in kind. Gathering and accounting for content—the inventory process—is a quantitative operation; whereas evaluating the content—the audit process—is a qualitative operation. This difference may seem simple, but acknowledging this difference is also key to unlocking efficiency in the process, particularly when technology has the effect of bridging this divide.
What’s at stake?
The laborious nature of content audits brings with it a few major disadvantages: for companies performing audits for clients, large data loads increase client costs and project delays; for companies conducting internal content audits, project completion is directly tied to the number of assigned staff and/or amount of time spent on the project, both of which can entail significant opportunity costs.
In either case, increased costs and project cycle delays are inefficiencies that can significantly compromise the competitiveness of any business.
Leveraging technology to do what it does best
For Paula Land, CEO of Content Insight, the inefficient “gap” between web content inventory and audit presented an entrepreneurial opportunity. The “aha moment,” according to Land, came “when I added up the time I had spent manually creating a complex web content inventory for a client, multiplied that by my bill rate, and realized just how expensive that one deliverable was. I thought then that there had to be a better way.”
In need of a more efficient way to get through the inventory phase to the audit phase, she decided to build her own tool—the Content Analysis Tool (CAT). CAT leverages technology’s capacity to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to quantitative tasks. It creates a workflow in which “computers can do what computers do best,” saving time and (human) effort for the auditing process.
Separating the quantitative from the qualitative
As Land saw it, the great divide between inventory and audit is attributable not only to the sheer volume of data that has to be evaluated, but the differences in process—quantitative and qualitative—that both tasks entail.
Although computers cannot evaluate quality as effectively as a human can, computers can certainly crawl through content and perform dazzling quantitative feats that are far beyond human capability. Creating a tool to handle the inventory tasks expedites the entire process, reserving more time and effort for the actual audit while tremendously reducing costs.
CAT: Designed by content strategists for use by content strategists
CAT is designed to help you move quickly and seamlessly from data analysis to content analysis. It consists of a crawling engine that you can customize for fine-grained control of results. For instance, you can expand your crawl to include various sub-domains, or you can restrict your crawl to focus only on certain sections of the site.
Once your crawl has been completed, all of the results are presented in a Dashboard view, providing summary data and a complete list of all files found. You can sort, view, and filter the results by URL, type, level, date, or title and get a detailed view of each page’s data including metadata (title, description, and keywords), media files, and all documents associated with that page. You can also add your own notes, columns, tags, and persona data or other information relevant to your audit process to your analysis.
To help identify each ‘job,’ CAT provides of a screenshot of the inventoried page.
Web content inventories should not be one-time events. Just as they provide a comprehensive view of the starting point for a content project, they also allow you to maintain that level of fine-grained knowledge about your content assets over time. CAT includes a function that allows you to compare (on a file level) two crawls of the same website to determine what content has been added, changed, or removed between crawls. It’s a way to track website content over time and it’s particularly useful after a website redesign or content migration.
When you need to work on your web content inventory offline, CAT can help by allowing you to export inventory data to Excel. If you are collaborating with co-workers or clients on a web content inventory (a great way to share both the work and the insights), good news. New features are coming soon in CAT that will allow you to share inventories with your team so that team members can add their own data and notes, but all information is maintained centrally in the dashboard for all to review.
CAT can help you generate a number of insights about your content. For instance, URLs and metadata can be used to help you determine whether your site is search-engine friendly or not; page titles can help identify duplicate content; and links (in and out) can help illuminate any discoverability issues.
When and how often should you conduct a content audit?
Perhaps due to the laborious nature of conducting a content audit (and inventory), many businesses treat it as a one-off project. Typically, it makes sense to conduct an audit if you’ve never done one before or if you are developing a new website or migrating your content to a new content management system. But there are other instances when evaluating your content can be critical, and these instances happen often enough to warrant regular content audits:
- Web redesign and re-platforming.
- Rolling out new products, features, and services in which you need to evaluate how “new” content interacts with “old” content.
- Entering new product-based or geographical markets.
- Assessing potential need for localization efforts in global markets.
- Emphasizing different aspects of your brand or updating the way your content reflects your brand.
To comprehensively monitor your site’s content performance in relation to changes in products, brand, or messaging, you may need to perform what Land calls rolling audits.
“The value of doing content inventories and audits regularly, versus a one-off activity, is that you are catching and addressing issues as they arise, not down the road when they’ve caused problems with your customers or will be a lot more work to clean up. You should manage your content as closely as you do any other business asset that you’ve invested in and that affects your customer experience.”
Content audits provide myriad benefits
The benefit of a rolling audit is to maintain an ongoing understanding of what content you have, minimize the work required to keep it in shape, allowing you can focus only on the stuff that’s changed since the last audit. Rolling audits help you spot problems early, keep an eye on content performance (analytics) and respond appropriately when changes to your content are needed.
Content audits also allow you to compare your website content against the website content provided by your competitors. You can use the data collected to benchmark the performance of your content against other businesses on a regular basis. Think of this as an additional external lens through which you can evaluate the effectiveness of your content from a competitive perspective.
From an internal perspective, having access to comprehensive content performance and analytics information helps establish a position of topic expertise; being the “smartest person in the room” with regard to web content helps elevate not only the status of the strategist in charge but also of content operations in general. Content recommendations or plans that are supported by data are more conducive to getting organizational buy-in as well.
Return on Investment (ROI)
The potential ROI for conducting a content audit varies depending on how often a business conducts an audit and how the insights that only an audit can provide are used to take advantage of or generate opportunities.
Whether you conduct content audits for clients or for your own business, cost will always be a factor, whether that cost comes in the form of money, opportunity, or time. An automated content tool such as CAT directly tackles the challenges determining these cost factors.
Whether alleviating the cost factor translates into better ROI or more competitive positioning is something that each business has to decide for itself.
As Paula Land states:
“Regarding the ROI of using an automated web content inventory tool: ask yourself how much your time is worth. If you have the option of spending days or weeks gathering information manually (or collating data from various sources) versus running a tool that gives you that same data in an hour or so and costs less than $75, isn’t that worth it? Especially if that means you can move on to the actual strategic work that much sooner.”
Take CAT for a test drive
Readers of The Content Wrangler are encouraged to try out the Content Analysis Tool. We’ve arranged for you to enjoy a free trial. Give it a whirl! Then share your experience in the comments section below.
The post The Quick, Easy, Affordable Way to Create a Web Content Inventory appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
Editor’s Note: The Content Wrangler is presenting a weekly series of twelve articles that provide useful insights and practical guidance for those who produce customer support websites. Columnist Robert Norris shares how to overcome operational challenges related to harvesting, publishing and maintaining online knowledge bases. His seventh installment focuses on evaluating the feasibility of a new content strategy by engaging those who will do the work to participate in an exercise to surface and tackle real world challenges.
Creating an Enterprise Content Strategy: Is it Feasible?
Leadership has asked us to evaluate the feasibility of an enterprise content strategy that consolidates our department-centric content development, publishing and management efforts. Return on Investment (ROI) will be determined by improvements in quality, timeliness and usefulness of content for target audiences and measured by changes in demand. Resourcing requires an implementation plan. Before the IT or Communications VP grabs the reins, a savvy board member convinces the C-level that every department must contribute to this enterprise initiative. The first step is a feasibility study. To get started, we identify key operational stakeholders needed to form a temporary feasibility study group and we prepare for the kick-off meeting.
So far…so good.
Obstacles to Content Strategy Success
What are the chances that knowledge workers from across the organization can be drafted to participate in a feasibility study and collaboratively achieve its goals? Even the least cynical among us can provide a lengthy list of landmine issues, e.g. lack of capacity, expertise, technology, enthusiasm, or trust. Moreover, there are built-in barriers to cross-departmental collaboration. Consider the following:
- The marketing team’s mission is to spur enthusiasm, often by setting high expectations and glossing over limitations
- The engineering team is most concerned about accuracy and usability, often resulting in dense techno-jargon laden with caveats
- Meanwhile, legal is focused on reducing liability while customer support must prepare to solve problems as they arise
Unbeknownst to many departmentally-siloed contributors, their work may have a profound— and unanticipated—impact on the challenges confronting their colleagues. For example, rare is the support agent who has not borne the brunt of a customer’s frustration spurred by technically accurate, but nearly indecipherable instructions. Nevertheless, we have our marching orders and must put forth a good-faith effort to collaboratively solve the myriad challenges we face.
With the kick-off meeting looming, the most debilitating weakness we must collectively overcome is our individual ignorance of the priorities and practices of our colleagues from other disciplines and departments. From subject matter expertise to copy-editing to structuring to technology, branding and customer support, we each have to quickly develop awareness and empathy for the complexities challenging others. An effective way to achieve shared awareness is to grapple with a real-world problem.
We are tasked to determine if our strategy is operationally feasible. Our approach involves asking the organization’s content wranglers to brainstorm how the organization should tackle a content-development project while adhering to the tenets of the proposed strategy. The ensuing examination will enhance our collective understanding of the challenges, e.g. bottlenecks, gaps, scarce resources, and needed skills.
Consider what must occur when Human Resources (HR) opts to change a key benefits provider and each employee needs to make well-informed decisions before a looming deadline.
A facilitator helps the group outline the basic parameters:
- Topic = employee benefits
- Topic owner = HR
- Audience = staff
- Channel = intranet
- Success = zero employees suffer an avoidable benefits problem due to the change of providers
Thereafter the group delves into the nuts and bolts. It’s important to realize that the details of who, what, when, where and how, are unique to our organization and that we must adapt department-specific approaches into standardized processes and procedures. For example, our HR department has not yet had access to the professional-quality editing, graphic enhancement and formatting that our marketing department has developed. Nor do they have the technical publishing skills of our IT colleagues. In the past, HR made due with internal resources. In this scenario, their skills and expertise are being augmented with the very best content production and publishing resources our organization has to offer. Even so, the discussion will identify many problem areas, chief among them that there are daunting capacity issues and that the necessary workflow does not yet exist. These specific findings will help us shape priorities for the implementation plan.
Establishing a Baseline
Though each organization’s workflow is necessarily unique, the publishing tasks that must be accomplished are generally consistent. To organizations with effective enterprise information management programs, the following list of tasks and activities represents business as usual.
Note: Doubtless, it will be challenging to maintain the group’s focus and foster collaboration. Though it is important to let the group derive the key steps, the facilitator may need to judiciously guide the discussion toward the baseline approach. To that end, the facilitator has a cheat sheet.
Each task below includes a dozen necessary activities the group should eventually identify and describe:
- Assess: evaluate current knowledge-base content? manuals, FAQs, policies, training materials, etc.? —and flag those items that will need to be retired, updated, or certified as still valid
- Acquire: Gather and adapt resources from new provider
- Target & Track: Define the information needs of each group of benefit recipients (target audiences) and establish compliance tracking
- Engage Experts: Coordinate the efforts of subject matter experts (SMEs) to edit resources and author original resources, including explicit user instructions
- Produce: Production includes authoring, editing, enhancing, structuring and approving
- Support: Orient the support team to the upcoming changes and arrange for their feedback on new and edited resources
- Publish: Configure and describe new knowledgebase resources. Associate related resources for ease of use, e.g. forms, instructions, and exemplars. Adjust prominence of key resources to ensure content is readily discoverable
- Communicate: Coordinate with the communications team on announcements regarding deadlines, options, and implications
- Train: Coordinate with the training team to update curricula resources, e.g. onboarding
- Solve: Establish escalation protocol and resources for problem solving on behalf of individual staff colleagues
- Refine: Coordinate tweaks to knowledge-base resources in response to user feedback and support center insights
- Commend: Recognize and acknowledge those who contributed to the success
Assessing the Impact of Failure
Just as it is important for the group to collaboratively problem-solve to determine feasibility, it’s also important to assess the implications of failure. Once the framework is defined, the facilitator can re-energize the discussion by shifting focus to the potential results of failing to accomplish the necessary tasks. When working with a group, helping them to consider shared risks typically fosters a sense of urgency and commitment. The list below is offered as a baseline:
Each potential problem below includes examples the group may cite:
- Tasks overlooked: resources were not flagged and retired
- Needs unmet: important information needed by one or more types of beneficiaries is unavailable
- Quality disparity: gaps, inconsistent depth of coverage, inaccuracies, glaring need for editing
- Service-level failures: escalated problems left unsolved
- Confusing guidance: clarifications needed for announcements and instructions
- Discovery problems: intranet search surfaces conflicting information
Developing a Conceptual Workflow
Now that we have collectively established the requirements and surfaced potential problems, we can turn our attention to imagining the necessary workflow. Optimally, one of our colleagues is a business analyst equipped with the skill and tools to capture and depict our concepts. Absent that, we can adapt the organization’s existing workflow documentation to help us identify and label key elements of the process. And if exemplars are not available, we can move to the whiteboard and diagram the flow in a manner that makes sense to us.
As we configure the workflow, it is likely that our group will have firm ideas about processes, capacity and capabilities within their domain, but will struggle with the details surrounding interdepartmental collaboration. After all, we are trying to document a process that does not yet exist. To prevent the group becoming hopelessly bogged down, it is important for the facilitator to frame each challenge being tackled with questions that focus the group upon identifying what needs to be done rather than how.
Once we have the workflow for publishing the resources needed for our HR scenario, we can then dive into specifics. In this process, it’s often best to establish momentum by tackling the low-hanging fruit of tasks that can be handled in a routine matter — albeit with some tweaks. As we evaluate each step, we identify and label those steps that will be complex and/or require major changes and move on until we have assessed the current feasibility of the process. Via this approach, we are likely to have much of the workflow fairly well detailed while the tougher challenges are labeled as such. This depiction of that which is doable today in conjunction with that which needs resourcing to accomplish will be the deliverable from our feasibility study that we will brief to our decision-makers. In practice, the feasibility study as described above has been accomplished in two days.
Tips for Success:
- It may be difficult at first to convince stakeholders that it is necessary to engage those who will do the work to conduct the feasibility study. However, it should resonate with leadership that an enterprise strategy that consolidates departmental efforts requires buy-in from every corner and that the first step should be to determine feasibility by engaging the experts.
- An enthusiastic study group will tend to generate creative solutions to the tough challenges. One should absolutely capture those ideas, but it is premature – and possibly self-defeating – for those in operations to jump to solutions before alerting leadership to the problems. Those of us in the trenches tend to make assumptions about resourcing and will try to make do with what is on hand. It would be a serious negotiating mistake to offer solutions – at this point – that require us to do more with less. Given the compelling business case of a consolidated content strategy, leadership is likely to be prepared to make investments. Our task is to present them with the facts they requested so that they may consider the options and act in the capacity of their authority and responsibility.
- It should be emphasized from the outset that a successful feasibility study may find that our concept is infeasible. Empowering the group with that mindset goes a long way toward building trust and credibility.
It’s important to recognize that what leadership decides is beyond our control and dependent upon variables of which we may be ignorant, e.g. a pending merger, liquidity problem. At this point, we should mentally prepare for a spectrum of possible outcomes, including:
- Embrace the change: “Let’s set up the sponsors’ and operations committees.”
- Stiff-arm: “Our plates are full, but we will take this under advisement.”
- More tasking: “Tell us how to solve these tough challenges.”
- Question the validity: “We briefed the Board and they want us to bring in a consultant.”
- Power grab: “Since this about communications, our department should run it.”
Regardless of the outcome, our work is not yet done since we have one card left to play. With gracious acceptance, we simply shift their focus back to the inadequacies of the current strategy and underscore the wisdom of establishing guiding principles. This action requires no funding and assures that our hard work has resulted in a strategy that can foster meaningful change.
In short order, we have progressed from alerting leadership to the limitations of our existing content strategy to crafting a proposed strategy that consolidates our publishing efforts which resulted in a sanctioned feasibility study conducted by we content wranglers resulting in findings that put the ball squarely in the court of our decision-makers, followed by the adoption of guiding principles we will use to justify much-needed improvements. This is a remarkable accomplishment!
Last Week: In case you missed it, here’s a link to Devising a Content Strategy to Serve Every Audience, part six of the twelve-part series.
Next Week: Robert’s eighth of twelve articles, “Fostering Support from Stakeholders,” shares insights into how we can gain the support of stakeholders in middle and upper management.
Diversity. It’s good for business. We know this instinctively. It just makes sense. But can it make dollars? According to the folks at McKinsey & Company, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.” A new report estimates that if Silicon Valley were to close the gender gap, the region would gain $25 billion (9%) in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.
Equality is a hot topic in boardrooms around the U.S. It seems like everyone is talking about it. But, it’s not a new topic. In fact, some forward-thinking technology executives have been working to break down barriers and advance gender equality for the past several decades.
Meet Michael Rosinski, President and Chief Executive Officer of Astoria Software. I met up with Michael at a recent event to chat about the gender gap and his thoughts on how to achieve gender parity in the software industry.
TCW: Thanks for making time to chat with us today, Michael. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
MR: Thanks for the opportunity, Scott. Today, as you noted, I serve as president and CEO of Astoria Software. I have been a captain of the application software industry for over 30 years, completed two IPOs in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain market segments. Previously, I served as president of a European professional services automation software firm and I sold a Goldman Sachs funded software company. Technological change occurs quickly and requires an executive to constantly reinvent themselves.
TCW: What is Astoria Software?
MR: Astoria is a component content management solution that is a must-have for any company that has complex products that require technical product documentation — internally for maintenance and operations and externally to provide instruction for customer use.
TCW: What is a component content management system (CCMS), exactly? How does it differ from other types of content management systems?
MR: There are three types of content management systems: 1) those designed to keep websites up to date; 2) those designed to track documents; and 3) those that keep track of the elements within a document. It’s this last definition that we’re interested in because that defines the Astoria component content management system, or CCMS.
The word “component” in CCMS refers to an XML element, so a CCMS is system for keeping track of XML elements and the linkages between them. Every phrase, sentence, and paragraph is a unique XML element with its own audience, translation history, product affiliation, and what have you.
What are the benefits of managing individual XML elements?
The answer is simple. If you need to deliver the right content, at the right time, in the right language, on the right device and in a format appropriate for that device, you need a CMS that gives you precise control over every piece of content you are responsible for managing. You need a system that helps you assemble modular, granular components of content into any form-factor or format you need. And, you need a system that will help you do all of this automatically and in real time. In short, if your organization values your content as a business asset and aims to produce highly personalized content, you need a CCMS to make it happen.
TCW: There’s been a lot of discussion about workplace gender diversity in news lately. Groups like Women in Technology (http://www.womenintechnology.org) and Leading Women in Technology (https://www.leadingwomenintechnology.org) have done a good job leading the charge for fairness and equality. But, despite the well-intentioned efforts of many, the technology industry in the United States is still lagging behind other industrialized nations. I know you were an early proponent of bringing women into technology sales. Can you talk to us about this?
MR: In the 80s and 90s, enterprise application software sales was dominated by men. Recognizing the achievements made by female sales professionals in the real estate and luxury automobile sales arenas, I decided that it was time to take a chance on women; to insert them into the mix and see if they could close multi-million dollar enterprise software deals as some of their male counterparts had done. I hired three women to join our previously all-male sales force at American Software. The results were impressive. Of the three women sales reps added to the roster, one quickly rose to become my second highest grossing sales team member.
The bottom line? Hiring women was no different than hiring men in terms of performance—out of every three hires, you have a super hero, a stable performer, and an under-performer. That 66% success hire rate is a great performance for enterprise sales, regardless of gender. The insider joke at the company, however, was that these were Michael’s Angels (named after the popular TV program at the time, Charlie’s Angel’s).
These and other hires opened the door for women in the software industry: from sales to consulting, from development to customer service, and from finance to upper management. Carly Fiorina, Safra Katz, Co-CEO at Oracle, and Ruth Porat, CFO at Google are the results of these early efforts by forward-thinking technology leaders.
TCW: Did you encounter any resistance when you started bringing women to fill what were traditionally thought of as men’s jobs?
MR: Since I was leading the company, direct resistance was minimal since I was successful with other hires I had made previously. That said, there were a few sneers—and raised eyebrows—when I hired three women sales executives in succession. As women’s performance matched men’s performance, any objections eventually disappeared. One of the initial keys to acceptance was to treat every employee with the utmost respect — fairly and equally.
When you broaden the talent pipeline, you open the possibilities of success for your company. In fact, research from McKinsey indicates that “companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.” (http://bit.ly/1QhB4ur)
TCW: Have any of the women you hired remained in the technology sector? Have any went on to be successful or in leadership positions?
MR: Several women have become stars in their respective fields. One became vice president of a large software/services company, another woman that I mentored became vice president of sales with a startup and then had a huge payday with an IPO. Another previous employee found entrepreneurial success by founding her own software company.
TCW: Why do you think there continues to be a gender gap in the tech sector? What advice would you provide other company leaders who have yet to incorporate women into their technology sales and management teams?
MR: To be honest, I really do not see the gender gap of 20 or even 10 years ago. Our parent company, TransPerfect, was founded by a man and a woman, both currently Co-CEOs. The tech sector offers the greatest opportunity for wealth creation besides Wall Street and does not care what you look like. There are probably more women CEOs in technology than in any other industrial sector. The sales function is easily measured by the numbers produced which takes the guesswork out of performance reviews, similar to a professional athlete. Have women and men jointly recruit women; diversity is also important in the hiring process.
TCW: Thanks for your time today, Michael. I really appreciate your sharing your stories and your experience.
MR: Thanks, Scott. I enjoyed our time together.
The post Michael Rosinski on the $25 Billion Silicon Valley Gender Gap appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
Prism is re-imagining the world of video by turning cameras into sensors that gather data and deliver rich insights about how people interact with businesses. The company is a venture-backed startup with a hip, dog-friendly office in the heart of San Francisco.
Join the Prism team along with alumni from NASA, Apple, Google and Microsoft—folks exploring creative ways to understand one of the most interesting and untapped sources of information on the planet.
Prism is seeking a Technical Writer and Content Marketing Associate for full-time employment in the Marketing department. The role reports directly to the Director of Marketing, working closely with PR and Design. The primary responsibility of this candidate is to create new and revise existing technical documentation as well as develop internal and customer-facing marketing content.
- Create compelling content that makes complex technologies easy for different audiences to understand
- Maintain technical documentation, including user guides and product training materials
- Develop broad knowledge of sophisticated technical concepts
- Write blog posts, case studies, newsletters, instruction manuals and other marketing materials that communicate the power of Prism and the value of new features and product updates
- Apply for industry and technical awards
- Help manage our social media channels by identifying and creating sharable content
- Brainstorm and contribute creative ideas that can be used to generate sales leads and raise awareness of Prism to new audiences
Desired Skills and Qualifications:
- Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, Journalism, English or related field
3+ years in Marketing, Journalism, Public Relations or Technical Writing
- A passion for and understanding of complex technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Computer Vision and the Cloud
- An excellent communicator with a clear and concise writing style
- Superior attention to detail
- Strong proficiency with Microsoft Office
- Strong understanding of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process
- Comfortable in a fast-paced environment, managing multiple projects and meeting deadlines.
- Experience with Email Marketing Software (Marketo, Hubspot) a plus!
- A creative thinker with a strong sense of humor – you work hard but also know how to have fun!
- Highly self-motivated, results driven and come to work every morning with a can-do attitude
- Medical / Dental / Vision
- pre-tax commuter benefit
- Stipend for monthly gym membership of your choice
- Unlimited PTO
- Conveniently located near the Powell BART Station
I’m re-reading Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr. I’m at a certain transition point in my career journey which is taking me to a new role, a new team, and a new company. Reading Playing Big gives me a new framework, separate from Lean In, to think about how women shape careers and journey through life. And my journey has been and continues to be a great one: after a lot of consideration, I’m taking a compelling new opportunity at Cisco.
Rackspace has been a wonderful home for over five years, and I want to dive even deeper into developer experience: developer tools, outreach, and support (including docs, naturally). I want to study developer workloads for OpenStack infrastructure. I’m super excited for the amount of learning I can do at Cisco by joining their cloud group. I’ll still be working on OpenStack upstream and looking for ways to apply what I learn.
By Erik J. Martin, special to The Content Wrangler
Here’s a news flash hot off the presses: old school bookmaking and antique printing techniques are making a comeback, despite the digital age. And folks with an artistic flair and a yen for creating something with their own hands stand to benefit—thanks to the San Francisco Center for the Book and other similar facilities across the country that are taking a page out of the past by teaching and preserving the fine art of making tangible tomes.
San Francisco Center for the Book
Part school, part museum, part studio, and all heart, the San Francisco Center for the Book (SFCB) is dedicated to nurturing the artistry, history, and love of books. Although it’s not a publishing house, it occupies a 7,000-square-foot space in the city by the bay’s renowned Do.Re.Mi Design and Arts District (Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, and Mission)—an area surrounded by art studios, galleries and tech firms. Run by six part- to full-time employees, 35 instructors and over 100 volunteers, the non-profit SFCB was founded 20 years ago by area Kathleen Burch and Mary Austin, who created the first center of its kind on the West Coast. From the start, the founders envisioned it as a haven for Bay Area book artists and novices alike who share a passion for the printed page and how it can be produced into a work of art—often exquisitely detailed and painstakingly crafted art.
On any given day inside the facility, you’re bound to see workshop students happily setting wood and metal type, art students from local colleges busy letterpress printing in the print studio, graphic designers from technology companies changing pace to print and bind books together, or book artists using the fully equipped bookbindery to prepare or finish projects. There are also visitors who stop by out of sheer curiosity or simply drop in to see an exhibition in the gallery. They’re often transfixed in their meticulous pursuit of mastering the fine detail. They realize that what they ultimately produce is likely to be a one-of-a-kind work that may have its pages turned by only a handful of admirers. No adoration from the masses drives their ardor. Because, after all, this is not a commercial printing establishment that pumps out the pulp. This is a place where product volume is small but the enrichment opportunities are big.
“Why use letterpress, for example, when you can easily print books using Blurb or Lulu or any other app with a smartphone, tablet or laptop? The reason is simple. In this fast-paced world, I could have 3,000 friends on Facebook, but it’s the one, two or 10 friends who take quality time to sit down over tea with my hand-made book that matter most in the end,” says Cheryl Itamura, SFCB’s director of marketing and events.
High Praise From Pupils
Ask Tamera Walters why she likes taking classes at SFCB and she’ll likely give you a similar analogy.
“Where else can you make beautiful, hand-pressed bookmarks? Or learn the lovely art of letterpress printing? Or design your own custom Christmas cards?” asks Walters, who discovered the facility quite by accident when driving past it last year. “If I want to, I can rent space at the studio and do my own work outside of class. There are so many opportunities for artists and non-professionals. Plus, the quality of the old presses they have is amazing.”
Indeed, SFCB boasts two Chandler and Price Platen jobbing presses, five tabletop presses, and a hand press—all from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century—as well as seven Vandercook cylinder presses from the mid-20th Century. Instead of collecting dust as museum artifacts, they’re enjoying new life in the eager hands of new generations of book believers and do-it-yourselfers.
SFCB hosts nearly 400 workshops a year, from beginner courses to master classes, in a variety of disciplines, including calligraphy, bookbinding, printing, foil stamping, digital design, European marbling, box making, book repair, and much more. Additionally, the Center provides free public exhibitions (such as a 20th anniversary special exhibit opening in July) in its impressive gallery, book release parties, lectures, open houses, tours and different community events. It’s an area favorite for school field trips, studio and equipment rentals, and corporate team building workshops, too.
“Like any other form of art, be it painting or sculpture or drawing, creating art in the form of a book offers another type of container to hold and relay thoughts and messages and to hold the soul of the artists,” says Walters.
SPREADING THE WORD WORLDWIDE
SFCB isn’t alone in its mission and artistic appeal. Like-minded and equipped educational organizations include New York’s Center for Book Arts, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book, and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University Libraries.
John Cutrone, director of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, says in recent years there’s been an explosion of curiosity over hand-making paper, letterpress printing, binding and bookmaking.
“As the world becomes more digital, there’s concurrently been an uptick in interest in book-related crafts, especially among younger students,” says Cutrone. “A general interest in many things made by hand is growing, from craft brewing to local foods. Making something with your own hands is an empowering act that connects you to history and creativity. It’s a very human thing.”
As for the long-rumored demise of the printed page in the bold new era of e-content, don’t believe the hype, says Cutrone.
“Paraphrasing a famous quote by the English actor Stephen Fry, the book is actually no more threatened by the rise of digital books than stairs have been threatened by the rise of escalators,” Cutrone says. “They are just different means to the same end.”
The post San Francisco Center for the Book: Old School Print Mint appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
From the album, Mandatory Fun, comes this brilliant parody video by “Weird Al” Yankovic. Set to the music of the hit single, Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I., this video will delight wordsmiths with a penchant for grammatical and linguistic perfection.
Marcia Riefer Johnston, special to The Content Wrangler
Do you long for your web pages to jump to the top of your dream audience’s search results? And do you think, “Yeah right—why bother?”
Even if your web pages don’t have a prayer today, you’re probably already doing some optimizing for search, and I bet that you’d like to do more … but what, exactly? The SEO advice I come across all the time often strikes me as either too basic or too advanced. Like Goldilocks, we’re all looking for advice that’s just right.
I could quibble with the book’s subtitle: Learn the Essentials of Search Engine Optimization in Under an Hour. Maybe you’ll process it all in an hour; it took me at least twice that. No quibble here, though. This book merits careful reading.
Here are some takeaways that you may find helpful (with details to follow for each one):
- Like it or not, search ranking is a popularity contest.
- Some SEO remains within your control.
- On-page SEO is easy but not trivial.
- You probably need to optimize for long keyword phrases.
- SEO keywords matter—within limits.
- Off-page SEO is hard and important.
- You can earn backlinks if you’re persistent.
Like it or not, search ranking is a popularity contest
In the popularity contest that is the battle for the highest search rankings, Google decides who’s in. These days, you can forget about rigging that decision.
I’ve known black-hat SEO guys. Back in the day, they rocked. They gamed Google at every turn, adjusted keyword density to a precise percentage, generated staggering amounts of copy on thousands of interlinked web pages—rocketing their clients’ landing pages to the top of SERP 1 (the first search-engine-results page). The black-hatters figured out how to write for machines, and the machines rewarded them.
By the way, to rank is to have your page appear on SERP 1, period. SERP 2 might as well be SERP 200. Barry puts it bluntly: “The first page is the only page that matters because it earns an overwhelming majority of the clicks.” In an interview with Barry, web strategist Andy Crestodina puts numbers behind the claim that “there really is no other page”:
“The [clickthrough] rate of pages that rank on the second page of Google is something like 5 percent. Page three is even lower than that. So 90-plus percent of clicks in Google are happening on the first page. Something like 18-plus percent of those rank in the first position.”
Barry makes sure that we’ve heard this popular joke:
?Q: Where’s the best place to hide a dead body?
A: The second page of Google.
To score SERP 1 today, you have to post content so good that it gets talked about and shared by lots of people Google trusts.
Remind you of high school? Here’s Barry quoting Andy quoting Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone:
“Google is like the mean girl in high school. You can get her to like you, but not directly. You’ve got to get all the other people to like you first and then she’ll like you … So if your site has credibility among other websites—as in backlinks [aka] incoming links from other sites—then you have more authority and a better chance of ranking.”
You can’t fake your way to the top. Above all, search engines look for evidence that people get value from your pages.
This probably isn’t news to you. Still, any doubt remaining in the reader’s mind had to be squelched, and squelch it Barry does. “Google is the blackest black box in the universe,” he quotes Andy as saying—and you can forget about outsmarting that black box. These days, all you can do is help it find the evidence it’s looking for.
Most of that evidence is beyond your direct control.
Some SEO remains within your control
What control you do have over your search rankings falls into two areas: your own site (on-page SEO) and other sites (off-page SEO). And there’s no getting around the reality that “to succeed with SEO, you must focus on both.”
- On-page SEO: Barry calls on-page (on-site) optimization the easy part, “ground zero—what you have to do.” On-page efforts don’t pay off the way they used to, but you can’t neglect them.
- Off-page SEO: Off-page (off-site) SEO is the “more meaningful”—and harder—part of SEO. You need to make your content so good that “other stuff happens ‘off-site.’”
SEO Simplified walks you through both parts: the on-page and off-page efforts, the easy and the hard. You won’t get far doing just the easy part, but ya gotta start somewhere.
On-page SEO is easy but not trivial
You optimize each web page individually. Search engines do factor in the authority of your whole site (domain authority), but they rank each page on its own merits.
On-page SEO is “mostly attributed to the use and placement of keywords.” This kind of SEO alone won’t zoom any page to the top of the SERPs, but it has to be done. On-page SEO involves surprisingly few elements:
- title and title tag
- keywords in the copy
- meta description
- page URL
- links to other pages on your site
I won’t attempt to replicate Barry’s how-to’s for each of these elements; a blog post can’t do justice to the details. The main point is that on-page SEO is manageable. The effort is not trivial. It involves tools, time, data, and thoughtful decision making. Still, Barry assures us, “There’s no need to overthink or overdo it.” Whew.
You probably need to optimize for long keyword phrases
In discussing on-page SEO, Barry talks in blessedly plain English about keyword phrases, aka keywords, aka the word strings that people type into search fields. I especially appreciate this clarity since “choosing keywords for your content is a critical first step in SEO.”
Think of it this way: anything people Google could be a keyword.
I know, it’s confusing that something called a keyword can be either a word or a phrase. We just have to get over it; that’s how SEOs (people who “do SEO”) talk.
Barry coaches us through the steps for selecting keywords that not only generate traffic but also deliver “the right kind of traffic—prospective buyers.”
One of my favorite things about this book is that it defines “long-tail keywords” in the clearest, most straightforward way I’ve ever come across. Long-tail keywords are simply “phrases of three or more words.” They may be, as Andy says, “five, six, eight-word phrases … ten-word phrases sometimes.”
Long-tail keyword = string of 3 to 10 words
Why bother with long-tail keywords? Because optimizing for long-tail keywords boosts your chances of ranking. For example, Barry has optimized one of his pages on the long-tail keyword “what makes a person influential,” a five-word string.
While Barry was writing his book, his web page What Makes a Person Influential? was coming in first out of almost 75 million pages when people Googled that exact keyword. This page generates a lot of traffic for his site.
By the way, the long in long-tail refers not to the length of the keyword but to the length of the “search demand” curve’s tail—the part of the curve representing the keywords least searched for in a given month.
Reprinted with permission (long-tail callout added)
If this shape were a snake, its fat head would be full of the most-searched-for keywords—terms that people type into Google and other search engines millions of times every month. These are generally single words. Barry gives SEO, baseball, and convertible as examples. Most web pages don’t rank if they’re optimized on single words or even two- or three-word phrases.
If you want a page to rank, you have to optimize on a longer phrase. As Barry says several times, you have to make your page a bigger fish in a smaller pond.
Long-tail keywords also lead to more conversions—more people acting on your call to action.
“The longer, far more specific term suggests [that] the searcher has a better idea of the product he seeks and is therefore closer to reaching for his wallet.”
Want to learn how to pick long-tail keywords that will work for you? Read the book! (I can’t squish all Barry’s advice in here. I can tell you that he knows his stuff and explains it well.)
SEO keywords matter—within limits
One more thing about SEO keywords: their role is limited. Don’t get hung up on them. And don’t go overboard. “Keyword stuffing can result in damaging penalties by search engines.”
Brian Dean of Backlinko, who contributed a chapter to this book, has this tip for how to “make Google happy”:
“Today’s super-smart Google doesn’t care how many times you cram a keyword into your article. Instead, it pays close attention to Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords. (LSI keywords are a fancy way of saying, ‘synonyms and closely related words.’)”
So write naturally. Yes, “seize an advantage with the right keywords.” Yes, use your keywords in all the places Barry tells you to use them on your page. But don’t get carried away. Use synonyms and closely related words, too, as appropriate—Google will keep up with you. When you do use the exact words in your keyword, feel free to use them one at a time or vary their order.
For example, look back at the page Barry optimized for the keyword what makes a person influential. While he uses that phrase verbatim in his title—“What Makes a Person Influential?”—he kicks off the excerpt with a variation on one of the words: “Influence fascinates me.” Then he uses another variation: “characteristics that make a person influential.” He weaves in words from the keyword without beating people over the head with the exact phrase.
The lesson: Write for humans.
Remember that keywords are part of the easy part of SEO—the on-page SEO. That’s the part Google pays the least attention to.
Off-page SEO is hard and important
Off-page SEO is where the real work comes in. Mostly, off-page SEO has to do with the need for other sites—authoritative sites—to link to your page. When you hear people talk about backlinks, external links, acquired links, inbound links, or link building, this is what they’re talking about.
Backlinks win the popularity contest. As Barry puts it, “A healthy inbound-link profile is extremely important for getting your pages to rank high in search engines.”
I find it fascinating that Google also takes note of “nonlinked brand mentions.” If enough people simply talk about your brand in the context of things you talk about on your website—without linking to your pages—Google still gives you popularity points.
Did I mention high school?
You can earn backlinks if you’re persistent
Earning Google-conquering backlinks might seem like an impossible task, but it can be done. Barry points out two tactics:
- Publish content that your audience loves enough to talk about.
- Point back to that content in guests posts on respected blogs.
Sound daunting? It should. If you’re aiming for SERP 1, you have to step up. Barry puts it this way:
“It’s important to understand, off-page SEO is an ongoing process and will seldom produce results quickly. Your efforts in content marketing and social media marketing must be ongoing to be productive for earning backlinks.”
“The number one factor in Google for ranking … is, was, and will always be the authority of the page. In other words, we’re talking about the link popularity of the page and the domain in general. Are other sites linking to it? Is it credible among other sites?”
In fact, link popularity accounts for about 40% of each page’s search ranking. That percentage makes link popularity the largest of over 200 factors that Barry says are commonly understood to determine search ranking.
Used with permission. Original source: “Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing” by Andy Crestodina.
If you haven’t adopted Barry’s two tactics—publishing content that your audience loves and pointing back to that content from guest posts on respected blogs—you’re not doing everything you could to gain link popularity. SERP 1 goes to those who do everything they can.
Ready to do the work (and reap the rewards) of transforming your web pages into big fish in just the right small ponds? Want to learn more on SEO tools and tactics? If so, you’ll find what you’re looking for in SEO Simplified. Grab a copy, and pull up the closest chair—one that’s not too hard and not too soft but juuust right. You won’t discover any SEO shortcuts or tricks, but you will find accessible wisdom and advice based on the way search engines work today. You’ll come away armed with a plan of action and ready to focus on publishing valuable content. According to Barry, “There is no more powerful SEO strategy for success.”
The post Longing to Conquer Google? Get “SEO Simplified” by Barry Feldman appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
By Erik J. Martin, special to The Content Wrangler
Moving into a new house is a big deal. You’ve got to clear out the clutter, check that your belongings fit into the new space, pack your possessions with care, enlist some movers with muscle, and ensure that nothing is damaged or lost on moving day.
When you need to move your digital goods to a new website, content management system (CMS), or both, the job requires even more careful planning and preparation. And though no literal heavy lifting is involved, this task can be even more labor intensive and taxing on your resources than a physical relocation.
Indeed, content migration—the process of moving content and digital assets from one system to another—can be more challenging than anticipated, especially when the move from your old CMS to a new one doesn’t allow for easy extraction, importation, compatibility and resolution.
Bone of Content-tion
A content migration is typically needed when a current system, platform, or website has become outdated or is no longer able to keep up with business needs. Deciding to migrate content is, of course, the easy part. The multiple hurdles you have to clear to accomplish it are where it gets tricky.
“Challenges include the differences between legacy and modern solutions, resource design differences, incorporating graphic and media elements, and quality assurance of the before-and-after,” says David Squibb, chief sales and marketing officer and document management expert at Xpertdoc.
“The idea that you can just drop a bunch of existing content onto a new website is simply fiction. Often, an enormous amount of surgery has to be done to fit square content into round holes,” says Barker. “Also, content migrations can get political because they’re usually the time when people throw out a bunch of content—the easiest content to migrate, after all, is content you simply delete. Other people in your organization might fight to keep that stuff, leading to awkward and politically-charged disagreements.”
Another major difficulty involved is “setting the scope,” says Charles Cooper, vice president of The Rockley Group. “You may have a multitude of content stored across many different systems over the years. How are you going to decide what is and isn’t worthy of migrating? What approach are you going to use to evaluate all this different type of content? This takes a lot of time to figure out.”
Learning the Lingo of Content Migration
To better understand what’s involved with content migration, it’s important first to differentiate platform migration from content migration: the former means switching the CMS out from under a website, which includes building the website on the new CMS. The latter assumes the new website is built and you’re focused on moving content.
“Platform migration means you have to build the new house, while content migration means the new house is there—you just need to move the furniture,” says Barker.
“The process of formatting content from plain text to the medium in which it will be used is content conversion. But when you already have posted content that you are moving from one CMS to another, this is content migration,” Maciejewski says. “For example, if you were changing your website from running on Joomla to WordPress, you would still want all your posts to list the original posting dates, you would want the comments to transfer over along with the posts, and so on. This type of content migration will likely involve some content conversion, too, as most CMS platforms utilize proprietary formatting options.”
Preparing for the Move
Migrating content can involve manual migration (whereby one or more persons copy-and-paste content and manually fix errors), automated migration (trusting in software to do the job), or, as is often the case, a combination of both.
If you have a massive arsenal of content to migrate, automating this effort by selecting a powerful new CMS (open source platforms like WordPress and Drupal offer user-friendly “import content”-like buttons) and/or supplemental apps can be more efficient, although expensive. If you have less content to move, you can entrust an employee or intern with this tedious task, which provides the benefit of a real person making real-time editorial choices about how best to adapt content.
Common prep steps recommended before you can successfully undertake a content migration include:
- Create a content migration team. Involve key decision makers from editorial, marketing, business/account management, and IT, and assign ownership so each person knows what they’re responsible for.
- Inventory and organize your content. Determine where all your content is located, what is still relevant, what can be retired, and what format each content component is in. Organize your content pieces to ensure a smoother migration. Identify outliers or hard-coded workarounds required outside the core solution.
- Evaluate content compatibility and integrity. Is the content backwards- and forwards-compatible? Can you migrate existing content as is or does it need to be converted? “You need to test the content you intend to migrate to see if it meets your upfront requirements,” says Cooper. “That means checking that the metadata will remain intact, the links will still work, the file will open as intended, etcetera.”
- Create an overall content migration strategy. This includes selecting the right CMS/apps/tools for the job, prioritizing and flowcharting the steps and timetable required, and determining your budget.
Hitting the “Migrate” Button
When it’s time to actually do the migrating, be prepared for six crucial steps to ensure success, suggests Barker:
- Extraction—completed either via your program’s export function, from the repository (using the system’s API or going directly to the database via SQL), or from the actual website (writing code to request pages followed by extracting pieces of the HTML produced).
- Transformation—changing or cleaning up the extracted content (e.g., removing extra HTML tags and inappropriate structure) for it to function properly in its new environment.
- Reassembly—aggregating and organizing content objects to properly mesh together within the new environment and establishing correct relationships between content.
- Import—using custom programming or another process to import the reassembled content into your new CMS.
- Resolution—identifying and fixing internal links between content objects (by storing old identifiers within the new content objects, parsing the HTML, and other means) to conform to the new URL structure.
- Quality assurance—testing and confirming the accuracy of the imported content.
If completed correctly, all this hard work will pay off, say the experts.
“A successful content migration can help you gain efficiency and improve communication and customer engagement,” says Squibb.
The post Digital Moving Day: Understanding Content Migration appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
Free machine translation (MT) is great if you’re trying to get the gist of some foreign language content you stumbled upon on the web. But is free machine translation appropriate for use at work? C’mon, you’re kidding, right?
Val Swisher briefly explores the boundaries of free machine translation and warns content professionals to avoid trusting the results. The lesson: Professional content requires professional translation.
The post Why You Should Never Trust A Free Machine Translation Engine appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
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RSuite was built specifically for publishers for their centralized publishing solution. It is optimized for the creation, management, reuse and delivery of multi-format, multi-channel content. RSuite utilizes an enterprise?strength workflow engine and manages any and all forms of digital assets (MS Word, PDF, images, audio, video, etc.) and its associated metadata.
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Editor’s Note: The Content Wrangler is presenting a weekly series of twelve articles that provide useful insights and practical guidance for those who produce customer support websites. Columnist Robert Norris shares how to overcome operational challenges related to harvesting, publishing and maintaining online knowledge bases. His sixth installment examines the characteristics of an enterprise content strategy that recognizes that–in addition to marketing to potential customers–we must address the needs of actual customers, staff and partners.
A strategy is a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, guides how people should make decisions and allocate resources. A solid strategy provides a clear roadmap for priorities and actions.
Despite the fact that C-level and board leaders find the concept of harvesting and sharing knowledge enticing and invest heavily in knowledge-sharing technology, expectations of phenomenal boosts to productivity are rarely met. This article asserts that many organizations are being ill-served by content strategies that myopically focus upon marketing to the detriment of actual customers, staff and partners.
For decades, the bulk of a typical organization’s content-related attention?—and talent—has been focused almost exclusively upon selling potential customers on the value of its goods and services. But as our digital presence scales, stakeholders are discovering that users of our technical support, extranet, intranet and self-help knowledge bases are grappling with inadequate and outdated content which incurs a steep price in time, energy and damaged credibility. Faced with this disparity, a fundamental question that any content-related decision-maker ought to ponder is:
How can we leverage our content production, distribution and management capabilities to serve all of our audiences?
For advocates of a comprehensive content strategy it’s important to be aware that there are likely to be systemic reasons why our organization has not already instituted one. Chief among them is a lack of visibility for knowledge-sharing operations at the executive level. While the latest PR campaign is scrutinized for weeks by very interested C-level executives, it is doubtful that the performance of the intranet or customer help system is discussed in depth. Moreover, executives rarely engage these systems on their own to solve problems since they typically have assistants handling problems on their behalf. Yet another factor is that–while multiple departments produce knowledge-sharing resources–ownership of the knowledge base itself often falls to a technical team less focused upon content efficacy than basic system performance.
Overcoming obstacles when developing a content strategy
To overcome these and other obstacles, advocates for change make a persuasive business case to decision-makers that alerts them to the problems and risks of ad hoc publishing and demonstrates how a comprehensive content strategy will boost the ROI from knowledge-sharing investments. Helpful insights on how we might shape that message will be shared in the forthcoming article, “Making the Business Case for an Enterprise Content Strategy.” For the purposes of this week’s topic, let’s assume that we have successfully garnered leadership’s support for expanding our content strategy and they have turned the tables by tasking us to draft the necessary elements for their consideration.
When our organization’s leadership recognizes that we have multiple, important audiences -each of which are deserving of readily discoverable, timely and useful information – we’ve taken a huge step toward invoking a truly enterprise content strategy by recognizing that:
In addition to our goods and services, we are in the business of publishing
With this empowering mindset, we recognize that it makes no sense to exclusively concentrate our scarce publishing resources?—writers, editors, graphic artists, SMEs—on crafting web copy for elusive potential customers. Our need to disseminate current, accurate and useful knowledge across the enterprise has placed us squarely in the publishing business and those organizations—and content wranglers—savvy enough to embrace the opportunity will reap the rewards.
In addition to our marketing channel, we must support audiences ranging from the new hire, to the customer support rep to our vital distributors and—most importantly—our loyal customer. No longer can we tolerate putting these audiences on the back burner when we roll out a new product or upgrade. Critically, we realize that these audiences have very specific needs for which we have the expertise—if not yet the processes?—to craft and maintain targeted knowledge base resources. Moreover, we recognize that the task of creating and publishing these resources must receive the same diligent attention to detail that we apply to our goods and services because poor publishing reflects upon our credibility just as harmfully as does a poor product or service.
Content operations. This is an opportunity for the organization’s content wranglers to impart their wisdom and shape the initiative. After all, to those of us who do this for a living, publishing operations are conceptually straightforward. After a resource is authored or acquired, the life-cycle includes:
- Production: edit, enhance, engineer the structure
- Approval: review, vet, release
- Publish: configure for discoverability by adding meta-data and setting prominence
- Curate: couple with useful ancillary resources
- Improve: identify and address deficiencies via feedback and telemetry
- Re-certify: periodic review
- Update: accommodate changes from minor updates to revision
- Retire: archive
An organization that strategically addresses these operational requirements and invokes responsibility and capacity for content quality control will produce knowledge bases that inspire enthusiastic and confident reliance which will directly impacts productivity, brand credibility and return on investment. To that end, let’s devise the framework for a content strategy that will equip us with the both the mandate and resources we wranglers need to produce and maintain exemplary content.
A framework for content strategy
The following elements of a strategic plan are proposed as a baseline from which advocates can shape their organization’s strategic approach:
Strategic Goal: Provide immediate access to useful, accurate and timely information to meet the needs of each of our audiences.
Concept: We will achieve our goal by devising an enterprise publishing program that coordinates content development, production and management efforts.
Business case: The aggregate ROI for our investments in content operations will increase as we better leverage our capabilities to optimize productivity. Simultaneously, our enhanced content quality control will mitigate risks and reduce losses due to avoidable mistakes.
Practice: As new roles and processes are refined over time, the organization will develop productive routines comprised of planning, production, publishing and maintenance. The outcomes will include improved effectiveness, economies of scale and risk mitigation.
Guiding Principles: Successful strategies are based upon establishing specific, guiding principles for operational decision-making. The following suggested principles address key aspects of an effective enterprise publishing initiative:
- All content for individual resources is derived from authoritative source material.
This principle establishes the foundation for professional accuracy from which collaborative content production will be fostered.
- Topical content ownership is established at the executive level to instantiate accountability.
Since every resource we publish incurs a burden of maintenance, this principle places that burden on the shoulders of someone with the resources and authority needed to prioritize the effort.
- Resources are crafted with an eye toward developing a standardized production process using labor-saving tactics and technology.
This principle underscores that we will approach publishing with the same business mindset that we employ with our goods and services while asserting that there is no place for ad hoc publishing.
- Copyright is respected, intellectual property is protected and digital record retention is prescribed.
This is a commitment to integrity and record-keeping, e.g. source material is archived.
- Publishing is coordinated across departments to ensure oversight, consistency and usefulness.
This approach ensures that key stakeholders participate in the process and respect the impact of their actions upon others.
- Our technologies are engineered to be adaptable to changing requirements.
Since we will be in the process of evaluating that which works (and that which doesn’t), we expect that changes will be required. This lack of certainty leads to a technical approach that promotes discovery and effectiveness before we focus upon efficiency, e.g. rapid prototyping.
- When resources are scarce, leadership is alerted and will collaboratively set priorities based on a cost-benefit analysis.
This commitment ensures that leadership is engaged and no single stakeholder exerts undue influence to the detriment of others.
- We actively monitor feedback and telemetry to surface symptoms of deficiencies that we will address as the system is constantly refined.
If our initiative is successful, we will face relentless demand for more and better resources which we will gratefully receive both to advance our effectiveness and impart a sense of ownership to our users.
- Our knowledge-sharing operations are focused upon helping our audiences solve important problems.
This principle ensures that we are purposefully producing and publishing resources geared to real-world needs, e.g. producing problem-solving toolkits.
- What should this principle be?
We hope our readers will contribute one or more suggested principles (or refine an existing one) to round out this list.
Implementation: Successfully invoking our content strategy requires that we establish a set of operational mechanisms by which leadership’s vision is enacted at the operational level. The following elements will be useful in this regard:
- Guiding Principles. The C-level will authorize a set of guiding principles (similar to the list above) that set expectations to inform operational decision-making.
- Codify Roles & Responsibilities. Each staff member involved in content operations will have their content-related roles and responsibilities documented in their job description. Absent formal documentation, processes and tasks cannot be reliably established.
- Sponsors’ Committee. Executive stakeholders – typically VPs – must meet periodically to provide oversight, set priorities, resolve disputes and recognize achievements.
- Operations Committee. Key operational managers must meet routinely to track progress, share concerns, brainstorm solutions and balance the workload.
- Phased Implementation Plan. A milestone-based plan crafted with the input of key operational personnel will help inspire participants and provide impetus for the necessary collaborative effort.
- Style Guide. A comprehensive style guide will equip colleagues to produce resources that comply with the organization’s publishing requirements.
- Periodic Reporting to the C-Level. The Operational Committee should be tasked with periodic reporting of progress to the C-level. This requirement establishes professionalism and accountability while boosting a collective sense of urgency.
- Publisher Resources. Contributors to content operations require training and self-help resources. In many organizations, content contributors suffer – like proverbial cobbler’s children – from a lack of resources upon so much time and energy is expended. In contrast, this commitment recognizes that our publishing contributors are a very important audience. In practical terms, crafting resources for our publishing colleagues is an excellent opportunity to test the efficacy of creative concepts.
So, let’s assume a small group of us put a package together and brief the executives on what is needed and how we recommend it be done. As the last PowerPoint slide fades and the lights brighten, you can bet your year-end bonus that one of the executives will forcefully state something akin to:
“Just how are we supposed to enact this publishing approach when our plates are already overflowing. It’s taken us a year to produce our latest HR manual. Is this even feasible?”
And you know what? That person just earned her paycheck, because it is absolutely the essential question and–truth be told–we don’t know if our concept is feasible either…but because we anticipated the challenge we are prepared. We’ve planned a feasibility study, but needed the authority and resources to conduct it and our most vocal critic just laid the groundwork for us.
Last Week: In case you missed it, here’s a link to Hey, Where’s our Content? part five of the twelve part series.
Next Week: Robert’s seventh of twelve articles, “But is it Feasible?,” proposes an approach to evaluate the practicality of enacting our new content strategy by tapping those who will do the work to assess the challenges and draft the plan to overcome them.
The post Devising a Content Strategy to Serve Every Audience appeared first on The Content Wrangler.
The Hierarchy of Engagement Greylock’s Sarah Tavel has a framework for evaluating customer engagement potential in non-transactional consumer companies that is must read for startups, but equally valuable for all marketers. “What matters most is not growth of users. It’s growth of users completing the core action.” Read More Talking about Medium and the Open Web with Evan Williams MIT’s Joi Ito […]
This post originally published on https://gilbane.com