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Josh Deutchman Photo Content Strategy 101 - Crafting Information for Humans

by Josh Deutchman

May 2010

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More Articles by Josh Deutchman

Your mother can’t program her DVD player. You send your father a text and he has no idea how to respond. Why? It’s advanced age, right? And you know how stubborn and impatient they are! But….wait a minute. Have you tried to make your way through a DVD player manual lately? Could it be that the problem lies not with those over sixty, but with interfaces and user guides that are completely inhospitable to human understanding?

The problem isn’t limited to electronic devices. The garden variety company website isn’t much better. It touts products and services using dry, technical language. Or, it presents a series of links to nowhere. You click and click and end up in Antarctica.

Those at the helm of the prototypical company website are sure you’ll understand what they have to offer, because they understand exactly what they have to offer. And that’s exactly the problem. They’re too close to the process, and assume that if they get it, you’ll get it.

The first step toward ensuring customers will “get” your website is to pretend you’re the customer. Starting with the homepage, imagine you know nothing about your product/services. Take a look at everything—from copy to navigational features—and ask yourself if what you see is clear and concise. That is, can you make sense of the experience? Can you find what you need? Would you have any interest in becoming a customer? Admittedly, this won’t be easy, but it’s absolutely essential. Engage friends and family in the process as well. Ask them what works and what doesn’t work. I can almost guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Your client base may be comprised of Nobel Prize winners, but if your content strategy is subpar, they’ll be completely confused and alienated. In the age of information overload, there is little room for error.

In considering content strategy, here are some essential tips:

Jargon is the death of reason.

Even if you aren’t marketing directly to consumers, be very careful that you keep the acronyms and high-falutin’ terms to a minimum. Otherwise, you can easily alienate your reader.

Don’t Overstay Your Welcome.

Yes, I know, someone navigating to your site is the guest. But think of it another way—you are in the viewer’s space. You want to be sure that, while explaining your message adequately, you don’t go on and on. If people feel overwhelmed by the amount of scrolling involved to get your message, they’ll quickly click away.

It is No Longer 1977.

Many companies and organizations underestimate the importance of a good design. I’m always surprised by the number of sites that still employ disco-era stylings. Visual appeal is of paramount importance, especially in an era when even young children are media-savvy. This isn’t an invitation to skip on substance, just a way of saying that presentation counts. Find a good designer. Lose the bell bottoms.

Become a Flower Arranger.

I don’t care if you’re selling hunting supplies or raw meat—try to think like a flower arranger, as one who carefully considers placement. Instead of roses and daisies and foxgloves you have to think about text, advertisements, radio buttons and links. Your judicious use of space is key to a successful end-user experience.

Make Your Copy Sing.

Anyone can offer a laundry list of services and advantages. You want to create an immediate connection with your visitor, one best exploited by copy that engages as well as informs. If you aren’t excited about what you have to offer, you can’t expect much enthusiasm from your potential customer.

Depending on the amount of information on your site, this may seem like a daunting project. But don’t be discouraged. With the right investment of time and resources, you’ll create an environment of interested and involved visitors. You will, with just a little patience, lose the noise and keep the traffic.



Josh Deutchman is a freelance writer living in Westchester County, New York. His areas of expertise include corporate communications, instructional writing and creative copywriting.

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