Monday, November 30, 2009

Web 2.0 Expo: Kristina Halvorson: Content First

Kristina Halvorson [Picture taken from Flickr - not from Web 2.0 Expo]

The first talk I attended at the Web 2.0 Expo was “Content First: Why Content Strategy Will Save the Web” by Kristina Halvorson, of She is author of Content Strategy For The Web. Her presentation strongly underscored her belief that content is the major part of the web and that people involved with the web need to have conversation on content strategy (i.e. to recognize its primacy).

Her slide presentation (which can be read alongside my summary) is here:

[It should be remembered that the words that follow should not be taken literally as Halvorson's words, but my transcription of her talk, which may not accurately reflect its content.]

She began with a quote from Walter Landor (the “grandfather” of branding) who defined a brand:

“A brand is a promise. By identifying and authenticating a product or service it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality.”
A brand tells its audience they will be satisfied. Examples: the Gerber baby: it gives you a sense of safety and security. Another quote (from The Brand Bubble By John Gerzema and Ed Lebar):

“Brands are now used more than they are preferred...Functional benefits and relevance now outweigh the intangible and emotional allure of a brand.”

In other words, customers own the brand. For example, equals “safety and security.” We’re not going to see it in a product, but rather on websites. We consume content offline. When we're relaxed and focused it is easier for us to take in information.

When consumers are online, they’re engaged but also distracted by numerous activities. Online, we don't just see or read about brands, we USE them.

So why is our online content generally bad? Why can't we create content that is meaningful and enjoyable?

Ultimately, content matters. According to Jesse James Garrett in his book The Elements of User Experience:

“The single most important thing most web sites can offer to their users is content that those users will find valuable.”

But we marginalize content. Content is often last thing to be considered or delivered when creating websites. This is affirmed by blog entry “The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome” by Pepi Ronalds, appearing on website “A List Apart” <>. is a website designed to help understand careers and opportunities. They provide an ideal of web office structure. Ten years ago there was no content manager as part of the web design team. Neither was there a SEO (search engine optimization) specialist or a usability specialist.

Back then, web teams spoke about general things but not about web content. It used to be that the copywriter was brought in towards the mid or later stages of web site design. But copywriting is based too much on the old model of writer, editor, proof reader, reviser, etc. How did we get there?

Richard Saul Wurman (the founder of the idiom Information Architecture) wrote:

“I thought the explosion of data needed architecture, needed a series of systems, needed systemic design, a series of performance criteria to measure it.”

Influential books: Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information; and Jesse James Garrett, Elements of User Experience. He lays out the problem of content within the user experience.

Content is not a feature. It's messy and complex -- an ever-evolving thing that can turn into a monster. In their book Web Redesign 2.0, Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler say the way to deal with web content is to “accept it, plan for it, charge for it.” Halvorson disagrees.

Halvorson’s idea: you need to have a content strategy - something which plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful usable content.

Content can be: text, data, video, audio. But the major hurdle of all of these is text (including text that you see and that which you don’t see [i.e. metadata]). Strategy is a plan for obtaining a specific goal or result.

Content strategy helps us understand context of content – what, why, how, for whom, by whom, with what, when, where, how often, what next, etc.

A negative example: website of Quicken: designed not for or about the user, but is about selling Quicken. Compare that to: -- a personal finance site. Note the emblazoned banner: “the best (free) way to manage your money.” This website is not about, but about the user. It is a website whose design is based on user's fears and desires. We didn't come to this website to learn about Mint. We came to fix our financial life. Secondary to that is using Mint.

If you fail to consider user goals in seeking your business objectives, you won’t deliver useful content. If you can align user goals with your business objectives you’ll strike the right balance.

Three examples of companies that deliver useful content and do it well:

1. REI (cold weather clothing and gear): They provide a library of articles (texts and videos) that help all levels of visitors. There are 100-200 original articles by staff members (not aggregated from other sources) targeted to specific activities. They've invested in an in-house editorial team.

2. Room & Board : On their website they don’t just tell you about the furniture, but have interview with their artisans. They let you behind the scenes to show you how these artisans have created the furniture. (This helps the user to establish a connection with the products.)

3. Ford Models . Their YouTube channel brings users “backstage” where they have interviews with models and designers. Studio artists and models deliver real-world tips and tricks about makeup, hair, and taking care of oneself. So it brings people not just backstage but delivers useful information to users (and potential models and Ford candidates). They simply asked: “What do girls want?” to determine how they should model their website.


How does content strategy work? There are four parts:

Plan. Create. Deliver. Govern.



  • What do we have?
  • What are we trying to do?
  • What do our content ecosystems look like? (all factors that have impact on living thing of content)
  • What are our opportunities, risks, and success metrics? (SEO) - How are you going to measure success? (fixing content is not a measure of success – you must measure how success is made)

Your content is organized by a content inventory. This inventory only identifies content and a few notes. It is a quantitative audit by which you obtain:

  • measurable project outcomes.
  • content recommendations for your project:
  • What do our content ecosystems look like?
  • What are our opportunities, risks, and success metrics? Consider external and internal factors.
  • The Plan:

Your plan should form a continuous circle of learning / creation / examination, or Create, Deliver, Govern.

This is the mantra of social media: you must be ready to stay engaged. No longer can you create content and then leave it to dry out, age, and spoil.

What do you get? Multiple benefits: better user experience, great brand consistency, new operational efficiencies, better risk management, improved SEO, and more effective personalization and targeting.

How can you start?

Currently we think of content as the responsibility of a writer. But it requires more functions. We need to recognize content as a complex thing and the responsibility of many. Marketing tasks in all their variety are activities which can be considered content. We must have processes in place that recognize the web as an eco system.

In closing Halvorson admonished us:

You are a publisher - treat your content as a critical business asset.

No matter how you get your content onto the web – by email, Twitter, IM, etc. – you are publishing content to the web. Recognize yourself as a publisher.

1 comment:

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