Monday, December 26, 2005

Writing FAQs for the Web

What do you think of FAQs -- do you look at them? do they answer your questions?

On websites I work on, I encourage people to avoid them at all costs. Instead, it makes sense to take people’s questions and make sure those questions are answered within the text, in the place where it makes the most sense.

In my view, FAQs are a convenient vehicle for the creator, but not necessarily the best delivery method for the visitor to the page. Jacob's guide is a thorough how-to, if you do decide to use them.

Thoughts, anyone?

Monday, October 31, 2005

What does it mean for writing to be user-centered?

Web writing often contains far too many instances of "I" and "we" and far too few of "you." Bryan Eisenberg has developed the fabulous, free We We Customer Focus Calculator that indicates how much of your site focuses on the customer vs. on yourself.

People come to a site to get information that they can learn from, identify with, and hopefully put to good use for themselves. "Do I want to work for this company?" "Do I want to buy this product?" "Do I want to participate in this program?" "Do I want to join this association?"

User-centered content addresses the reader's needs, not those of the person or organization generating the content.

To ensure that your content is user-centered:
  • Make sure it answers the question "so what?"
  • Focus not on the features your product offers, but what benefits the customer will enjoy as a result of those features

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Developing a strategy for using multimedia on a website

Should we use multimedia on our site? Sounds like a pretty straightforward question, but in actuality it is anything but.

What do we mean by "multimedia," anyway? (After some thought and discussion, we narrowed it down to audio files, video files and presentations.)

If we decide to use it, where and when is it appropriate, and what should the guidelines be for how large the multimedia files can be and how long they should stay on the site?

Should we set up the files to download or stream? What file types should we accept?

I've asked members of other organizations' Web teams what their policies are, and no one has been willing to share them, since they insist that it depends on the nature of the content and the tech savviness of the audiences. But how can we develop industry standards, and influence what our audiences expect and are willing to watch/download, if we don't share information?

I look forward to learning more over time.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Surf a web page without clicking

I learned about this experimental Italitan website from Tidbit, the new blog from Philadelphia usability firm Wildbit. I'm not sure what I think, but I'm glad someone is exploring opportunities.

Join me to discuss "Writing for search" next Tuesday, August 23rd

Can your customers find you? What content do customers look for on your site? Are you making mistakes on your site that keep search engines from seeing your content? Find out the answers to this and more in a teleseminar, where you'll also get to ask your own questions. Talk to you then!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Talking about online press rooms

One of the folks who attended my teleseminar about online pressrooms had nice things to say. I'll publish more soon on this topic.

Friday, April 29, 2005

"Eight Things You Can Do Now to Improve On-Screen Readability"

Do you agree with this article? I don't -- especially the part about creating and embedding a custom font.

I think it's a good thing readers have control over how information is displayed on their computers. I once had a colleague with low vision, and for him, it was easiest to read content online if he had the background set to a dark color -- usually purple -- with the type in white or yellow.

For a designer, "user-centered" means checking aspects of your ego at the door. (It does for content folks too, just in different ways, but we'll tackle that in another post someday.)

Comments welcome....

Friday, April 22, 2005

good Web content represents the meeting between what you want to tell people and what they want to know

It's one thing to post information on your site, and another thing altogether to make it relevant to the reader.

People come to your site with a goal in mind -- research a specific product, find out whether they should work for you, apply for a grant, conduct a transaction with you. If you think about it, you know what their goals are.

Help them do what they came for. Don't make them visit several sections of the site -- if your information must live in separate places, link to the information they are likely to want.

Read a longer article about this on my website.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

More on the "why" of content management

I recently read a quote in Utne Reader that brought home my point about content management: “America is strong on how and weak on why.”

Most of the content management information out there is devoted to the “how”:
  • how newer, more robust and more usable software will enable more content management functionality
  • how to do more inside your organizations
  • how to get more out of your IT department
But without the why, the how is risky and may be an expensive failure.

Why do we need to manage content?
Do we manage content offline, or is this a case of using technology simply because it exists?

The projects I’ve worked on usually have a mantra: Just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean we should. I completely agree with this.

  • make sure rules exist for content before building templates
  • make sure legal department will log into the CMS to review and approve content before paying extra for a system with complex branching and looping workflow
  • make sure updating content is someone’s responsibility before setting rules where the lack of approval causes a piece of content to be automatically deleted.
CMS software can enable ever more nuanced rules for assigning, storing, approving, publishing, surfacing, archiving and deleting content. But it cannot create order where none exists, can’t write the business rules and can’t substitute for a strategy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

creating an online content strategy -- the "why" before the "how"

I'm giving a talk about online content strategies at the Gilbane Conference on Content Management Technologies in San Francisco next month. In developing the presentation, I keep stopping at the "why" of content strategy before delving into the "how."

Why is this? I keep asking myself.

I think it's because content strategy is not really understood, especially by folks in IT, who are focused on figuring out which Content Management System (CMS) to buy. To IT, it's clear that there is too much content and there are too many people in a flurry to post, change and remove information from the site, and CMSs hold the promise of taking responsibility for doing all of that away from them and put into the hands of the "content owners."

But it's not that simple. In fact, if it were, the chain of command for information would have been figured out a long time ago.

The reality is, most organizations have never had a content strategy. Why? Three reasons, as I see it:

  1. They didn't know they needed one. And maybe they didn't. If each of their business units operated as an independent entity, publishing information (sales sheets, newsletters, marketing materials) to discrete audiences with no overlap with the organization's other business units, they may not have needed to become unified.

  2. They didn't know how to create one. That's understandable, since folks have only been thinking about content strategies for a relatively short time, since the Internet became prevalent in the 1990s.

  3. They didn't have the time or people to do it. That's where I think I get stuck, because if an organization just chooses to overlook this process, they're making a big mistake. (For more, read my article on the risks of not managing content.)
Well, I hope Gilbane conference attendees learn something from my talk.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

content management system vs. page update tool?

I was recently emailing with a former client, who told me that rather than buying a full-fledged CMS, they had purchased a smaller system they call a "page update tool." I'm a little surprised, I guess, but not entirely. And I imagine that the folks who will be using the tool might be pleased about it.

With a completely decentralized publishing model, this organization probably can't do more than enable folks to reuse their own content -- and even that might be in a future phase. If this tool gives the central IT group the time to think through the bigger-picture issues, it's money well spent.

does the world need another blog? maybe....

This is my first real foray into the world of blogging. I've had this blogger account since 2001, but I couldn't really make it work. My first vision for using a blog was as a homepage for my synagogue's website, so that the synagogue administrator could post news as it occurred, then gather it into a newsletter at the end of the month. But the admin was intimidated by the idea of instantly posting information, or never had time to try it out -- not sure what the exact reasons were, but my idea went into a black hole.

I also planned on experimenting with this blog to discuss my thoughts on Web content, but I wasn't sure how to determine what to publish or not. I'm still not sure, but I'm more comfortable with that unsurety now.

Well, I definitely have a lot to say about online content, and people do seem to want to hear my opinions, so this seems a good way to share them.

That's it for now -- more soon!