The 4 secrets to winning the content "RACE"

 Photo by  Daniel Monteiro  on  Unsplash

This morning, my Facebook feed greeted me with the question: 

"How do you create awesome content when you're on a tight schedule?" 

It's a trendy problem to have. According to research quoted by KOMarketing, the number one marketing challenge is "time":

This was followed by “content quality,” “creating content” and “scaling content.” Other challenges noted by marketers had to do with creativity. “Getting creative” with their content, “coming up with original ideas,” and “producing quality and quantity” were deemed creative obstacles for marketers.
— Krystle Vermes: "Survey: Content Marketing Tops List of Marketing Priorities in 2018", komarketing.com

There's a whole debate going on about Quality versus Quantity in Content Marketing, and it's reflected in the responses to that post in my Facebook feed. Recommended tactics range from making lists and swipe files, to using dedicated tools, to hiring cheap bloggers on a freelancing platform. 

They all have one thing in common: the notion that "Content is King", no questions asked. 

 Is content a hype? Photo by  Scott Webb  on  Unsplash

Is content a hype? Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

In this article, I'd like to suggest a more mindful approach. From Scratch has its roots in customer service — and an attitude of serving the customer is a useful guide to the rapids of content creation. 

If you take away one thing from this article, it's this: Content should help users effortlessly complete their task. Whether that task is to find their new favourite pair of shoes, relax after work, sign their child up for ballet classes, or pay a parking fine. Pre-sales or after-sales, content should help users effortlessly complete their task.

"RACE" stands for 4 criteria that determine if your content does its job:

  1. Range
  2. Accessibility
  3. Correctness
  4. Effortlessness

We use those 4 in our work all the time, and they make up a third of what we look for in our website benchmarking review (more about that below).

Read on to find out what they entail.

 

1. Range

The web is the primary way people research and buy from brands. According to Eptica, "45% of consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly." So your web content needs to fit perfectly with the conversation taking place in people's heads. This will also help you preempt many unnecessary emails, calls and chats.

Research what people really want to know

Don't make things up — it's better not to have any content than to have loads of irrelevant stuff and give your content a bad rap. If people don't learn something interesting, they won't want to return to your website.

  • Check your website analytics for the search terms people use — both in order to find your website and once they’re already on your page. 
  • Which of your pages get the most traffic?
  • Look at Google’s “Related Searches” to dive deeper into the kinds of questions your audience has about your products and services. 
  • Research your ideas with a free keyword tool. Answerthepublic.com, for example, visualises commonly asked questions about anything you search for. (We're not affiliated with Answer the Public, and alternative services exist. 😉)

Add real questions from your customers and prospects

Make time to review emails, calls and chats from your customers at least once a month to update your content.

Answer your site visitors’ questions throughout your web content, not only in sections called frequently asked questions.
— Gini Redish, Letting Go of the Words

Make FAQs part of your strategy

Your blog and social media posts build trust by linking into your audience's interests. They also show that you share their values.
The same can be said for the most useful FAQs. Check our blog post about FAQs for tips on how to integrate them into your content strategy.

More than just text

Depending on the topic, decide whether text, videos, graphics or audio will be most useful:

  • For example, a short video can really make your About page come to life.
  • An infographic can help you elegantly communicate the complexities of your supply chain (Rapanui  do this beautifully).
  • Offering sound recordings of your blog posts can help you reach busy people (they might listen while driving, for instance). If you ask members of your team to read out their own content, you can even boost your brand image. GLS Bank, a social-ecological bank based in Germany, have started offering such audio versions of their blog posts on Soundcloud. To see an example, check out this post about crypto currencies such as Bitcoin and Blockchain (in German).

 

Multimedia approaches can also help you reach a more diverse audience:

 

2. Accessibility

While 'accessibility' is a term often used in the context of users with disabilities, we all benefit from the principles it stands for. Accessible content is easier to find and use, often easier to auto-translate, and can even be more attractive.

Think about your differently abled visitors

There are lots of easy things you can do to help people of all abilities use your site. Here are just a few tips:

  • The visually impaired will appreciate high-contrast colour choices, text labels on forms, and alternative text for all images. They often rely on automatic screen readers when browsing the web. Those programs allow the user to hear a list of all links, which helps them decide where to go next. That's why it's so important to avoid using "click here" wording for your links and make them more descriptive instead. If you're into a bit of coding, you might also want to swap your <b> (bold) tags for <strong> and your <i> (italics) tags for <em>. You'll achieve the same visual effect, and the screen reader will be able to make the <strong> and <em> emphasis audible by reading those words differently.
  • Avoid juxtaposing red and green design elements because colour-blind users won't be able to distinguish them.
  • Add closed captioning to your videos, and offer transcripts to audio content. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people will have a better experience — as will those of us who are in a public space without headphones. You'll also get better engagement on social media that way.
  • Switch off video auto-play to protect users with photosensitive epilepsy.
  • Clear fonts in larger sizes, simple language, lots of white space and sufficient leading (the distance between lines of text) all make it easier for dyslexic users to read your written content. It's also a great way to include non-native speakers, folks who didn't do fantastically at school, and anyone who's distracted or tired. (Let us know if you have not spotted yourself in that list!)

Mobile friendly design is a form of accessibility, too

According to Google, 94% of American smartphone users "search for local information on their phones. Interestingly, 77% of mobile searches occur at home or at work, places where desktop computers are likely to be present." Some websites are nearly unusable on mobile, and thus exclude a huge amount of potential business.

3 tools to help you tackle accessibility on your site

  • WAVE Web Accessibility Tool — type in a URL and see detailed feedback on that page's accessibility. For 'power users', browser extensions and APIs are available too. The only downside is that it doesn't seem to play that well with all different hosting platforms and content management systems, and its own user interface is rather clunky.
  • Funkify Disability Simulator — a Chrome extension that helps you experience the web and interfaces through the eyes of users with different abilities and disabilities. I love the fact that people working in glaring sunshine, dyslexic readers and users with shaky hands are included, too. This is a real game changer for user empathy. The project is financed by The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (Post och telestyrelsen, PTS).
  • From Scratch Website Benchmarking Report — We can only touch the surface in this blog post. If you're unsure whether your own website should be more accessible and how, check out our website benchmarking report. It includes details of how to improve your content and how to prioritise those tasks to make your overall website more successful.

 

Correctness

Accuracy sets the baseline for ethical content creation — beware of 'fake news'.

Get into the maintenance habit

Anything that looks like it’s not been updated in a long time quickly destroys trust. So make regular maintenance a habit:

  • Once a week, review product updates to see if anything needs changing.
  • Once every quarter, plan a more thorough review. Read each piece of info you’ve got on your site and retire, change or completely revamp every article to make it fit for purpose.
  • Bonus: you'll get to pull older content from the archives and present a fresh version to your audience. That can make for a speedy piece of content as you're not reinventing the wheel.

No date is better than a date from last year

If possible, switch off the date function on your content management system. Otherwise, you’ll need to make small tweaks to all your content all the time — because anything that’s not been updated in half a year doesn’t inspire much confidence with your users.

Good proofreading is essential

Have someone else check your website for spelling, grammar and punctuation. It’s easy to miss typos that your spell check program doesn’t pick up, and punctuation is a tricky subject. A fresh pair of eyes can usually find those errors more easily.

Unsure about punctuation? We've got a cheat sheet for you:

 

Effortlessness

We've mentioned customer effort before, especially in terms of user experience design. There are also a few things you can do with your content to make sure things feel a doddle, not a chore.

Tag your content to give it structure and intelligence

Finding the right info can be a needle-in-the-haystack experience. Tags change that.
With tags and clever algorithms, you can show the right articles to the right people, at the right time in their buying journey. You can group and reshuffle articles by topic to give them new purpose and spark. You’ll be seen as someone who knows their onions and their audience — in other words, as much more trustworthy.

Use positive language, sentence case, and numbered lists

People read differently on screens: they scan for information. So make sure the way you present text on screen helps them do that:

  • Use short paragraphs, headings and subheadings
  • Use bullet points and numbered lists
  • Don’t use justified or centered text — it’s harder to read
  • Don’t write long pieces of text in ALL CAPS 
  • Neuroscientific research shows that negative language creates stress — even if it's just a single word like "no". So stick to positive language to infuse your copy with a feeling of ease.

 

Over to you

Does this approach resonate with you? Leave us a comment to share your views.