We’ve had the pleasure to work with the American Cancer Society to modernize their health content intelligence and strategy. As a result, we’ve witnessed firsthand the power of digital transformation when a legacy brand that started out print-focused back in 1913 (!) embraces the power of web and mobile content. Soon, all the hard work behind this web content best practices training and ContentWRX data analysis will come to fruition when the Society releases their new website in 2017. We chatted with Kelley Graham, Web Content Strategy Lead for the American Cancer Society, about what content intelligence has unlocked for their organization and how breaking down content silos has caused a positive cultural shift throughout the organization.

Can you tell us about your role at the American Cancer Society?

I’m part of the Integrated Marketing team that helps manage and set content marketing strategy for cancer.org, our flagship website, in addition to some smaller websites.

Two years ago, the Society’s Web Marketing Director shared that a major win at that time was hiring your first dedicated research health content writer. How large is your web content team now, and what other roles have you added since 2014?

Well, Melinda and I were on a different team in 2014; our Digital Marketing Web Team didn’t even exist yet! There are five of us now—one is a relatively new addition brought on because of his expertise with our new CMS. The other four of us include a managing director and associate role all focused on the larger websites of the Society. There’s been a lot of transition and transformation at our organization, and it’s good to see that web content continues to be a priority. On the medical content side, they brought in a web content expert from WebMD in addition to the person focused on research content that Melinda mentioned. It’s gratifying to see them expand their team. Historically, their team had a print-first mindset, but their most recent hires have all had web-first expertise.

The Society and Content Science have worked together for several years to inform the health and organizational content strategy. Can you share one accomplishment related to content strategy you’re particularly proud of?

I am particularly proud that disparate content authors now meet on a quarterly basis to talk about what we’re learning through our data, including ContentWRX evaluation reports. We’ve made a lot of progress in establishing content intelligence and bridging silos (different content teams) along the way.

What was one key change that helped your team move from health content measurement to content intelligence?

I would say that acting on the content intelligence is key. We rely on a number of data points, tools, analytics, and numbers, and it’s easy to be rendered impotent with all the data and do nothing. But just act on it. Sit down with as many—or as few—people as you need to pull the trigger. What ContentWRX has helped us do is focus. You’ve got all these opportunities in front of you, including what your team thinks needs to be fixed, what users think is broken, and what stakeholders want to communicate/update, but ContentWRX really helps us focus and prioritize. I can’t emphasize enough: do something! Don’t just collect all the data.

We’ve used analytics and other tools to understand how people respond to our content, but ContentWRX has added a deeper layer of understanding that I think has really changed the way we make decisions about content. I’m really looking forward to how measuring for effectiveness will continue to take our content to the next level.

What is one example of how content intelligence unlocked the potential for the Society’s health content?

We had a page that talked about our Road to Recovery program, which is a program that provides free rides to and from treatments for cancer patients. It’s a lifesaving program for the patient, but it’s also life-changing for the volunteers as they help someone overcome their battle with cancer. We had one single page for both riders and drivers, but it wasn’t doing service to either audience very well. It had a high bounce rate, and we would get calls from patients who were having trouble finding the service and calls from volunteers not knowing how to sign up. We created two pages managed by two different teams, with the patient page managed by the cancer content team, and the digital marketing team manages the volunteers page. Now those pages are much more effective. We’re going to be talking more about this at CMWorld, too. [Editor’s note: Graham and Content Science CEO Colleen Jones will be co-presenting “Leveraging Content Intelligence: Lessons Learned at the American Cancer Society.”]

What is your content vision for 2017?

We are scheduled to relaunch the new and improved cancer.org in  2017. Part of what we we’re trying to do with ContentWRX is to set a baseline so that when we relaunch—and we learn how people are responding to our content—we have a real sense of before and after. We can ask ourselves, “Have we fixed something that wasn’t broken or broken something that was working?” I’m excited to see how our ContentWRX scores do in the months after relaunch. Right now, it continues to help us prioritize our content decisions and will be a valuable tool in helping us identify what we should address first. We want to make sure that we are providing the best experience—it’s what our visitors deserve—as 80% of users that come to our site are patients or caregivers. We want to make sure that they find what they are looking for quickly.

What prompted your website relaunch?

The original reason for the relaunch is a functional one, a technical one. The CMS we were using before is outdated  and has been customized past the point of being able to update it. So, we literally have to replatform. But it’s like when you’re remodeling your home; when you’re re-doing the plumbing, why not update the bathroom fixtures too?

The brand-new platform will offer a smoother back-end experience for content authors, in addition to increased responsiveness, accessibility, and a new look and feel for content users. That will be exciting to see. We hope it will be an engaging experience for new and old site users, and give us better opportunities to tell them how the American Cancer Society is working to end cancer and how they can help. We’ve only been partially able to do that so far because of the limitations of our current CMS, which is older than the first iPhone—it’s old! And we’re taking advantage of the new platform and launching new things.

What are your goals for the new website?

The main goal is to move the site without breaking it! Because it won’t matter that it’s a new platform with beautiful new imagery with easier to read fonts and new functionality if you can’t find the cancer information you need, when you need it, or can’t figure out how to donate to the organization that helped your mom when she had cancer. That cannot happen. We just want the transition to be as smooth and relatively painless as possible.

Personally, I have been really excited about the way it functions from a content author’s standpoint. The old tool took longer than it should to get content up on the site. From the content and campaign standpoint, we will be at the forefront of CMS capabilities. I’m excited about using a new, award-winning CMS.

From a user standpoint, the mobile experience is going to be far and away the most dramatic improvement. Our mobile traffic is growing exponentially for our site, but the current mobile experience is sometimes slow, is not state of the art, and it definitely caused a problem as it was developed as  an afterthought. The new experience is mobile first, and it will be the most dynamic part of the migration.

And, now that we have content intelligence, I’m really looking forward to how post-launch we will be able to compare the before and after and take our content to the next level. Organizations planning for a relaunch should definitely use content evaluation tools even six months before a migration or relaunch just to set that baseline.

How do you deal with requests for keeping content that shouldn’t make it to the new site?

Previously, when someone said, “We want a page up about this program,” it just existed wherever. Now, our team oversees that content, and our mantra has been #NoOrphans, aka no page is left on its own. Too many pages have just been left to rot in the sun. Maybe the page had a short URL, no promotional tactics, outdated content, or wasn’t search optimized and just languished there. When we go to stakeholders now with content analytics from that page, we can promise to make sure any future content they provide will be search optimized and maintained and loved so that it’s as efficient as possible, and they are grateful and supportive. There’s been a lot less of the “that’s my content, don’t touch it” attitude than we predicted.

There wasn’t a team exactly like ours before that was focused on cancer.org. There was a digital experience team within the marketing department, but we were also working on email, banner ads, and a number of other projects that were taking us away from cancer.org. In a situation where someone is insisting on content on the site, now we work with them to make that content as effective as possible. It’s been a great project.

How has this project and your overall content strategy approach helped break down silos?

Within the cancer.org migration team, the silos have really come down, especially between our Cancer Control, IT, Creative/UX, Search, and representatives from the groups that are working very closely together on this very large and complicated project.

I’ve certainly seen some other projects come up where people are much quicker to “reach across the aisle,” if you will, based on the collaborative success of this project. We’ve seen breaking down silos work and continue to work on this project. We’re already seeing the benefits of this operation, no question.

What is the biggest content challenge facing the Society currently?

Certainly, a large problem is the reusability of content. It’s caused by several reasons, such as continued silos that happen in the organization. When we create a piece of content, it’s often an individual piece of content that was created just for cancer.org or some other channel and cannot easily be reused on social or in an email. We might shoot a commercial or longform video, that lives on YouTube, but not in a format that’s conducive to social or email.

I think that’s a problem we need to continue to do a better job at solving.

Can you share one tip for organizations that are struggling to assemble a mix of analytics and data?

What was helpful for us was to sit down with other content teams and walk through the data in as much of an objective framework as possible. It’s not one team telling another team, “Your content isn’t effective.” It’s sitting down as a group and going through the external and objective reporting that comes from ContentWRX and the other tools and really working together to see how we might solve 1 or 100 content issues.

Certainly no one team has all the answers, but it’s been helpful for us to start small. Initially, these meetings included only the content authors, but we’ve expanded it to include UX and creative teams and broader stakeholders. As we have built some trust in both the reporting and in each other, it has made it easier for us to make some decisions. And, we’re not hurting anyone’s feelings because our goal is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time. Start small but just start! It takes a village no matter how small or large your website is.

The Authors

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company based and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.


After spending the first 15 years of her career writing award-winning TV, radio and print advertising, Kelley fell in love with all things digital back in 2012. As the Lead, Web Content Strategy for the American Cancer Society, she evaluates and manages content opportunities and recommends content strategies that meet business goals while delivering excellent user experience. Prior to joining ACS, Kelley worked as a creative strategist/writer for agencies on brands such as Coca-Cola, Pantene, BMW, Gap, Kodak and McDonald’s. Kelley’s work priority for the last year has been the successful platform migration of the American Cancer Society’s 17,000 URL flagship website, cancer.org.

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