Melinda Baker
Director of Web Marketing, American Cancer Society, Melinda Baker

Are you familiar with the addictive Candy Crush Saga game? The game roadmap from level to level follows a serpentine path that takes you around mountains, dragons, and castles in unexpected ways. It’s an apt illustration of the saga that implementing content strategy involves—especially within large enterprises or organizations.

Melinda Baker, Director of Web Marketing at the American Cancer Society, likes to use this Candy Crush metaphor to illustrate the practical challenges that content strategists face when balancing the needs of stakeholders, budgets, and internal resources at large organizations. Specifically, her team tackled reimagining of the research section of the American Cancer Society’s website as part of a larger effort to refresh the website.

During this project, Melinda’s team uncovered both content challenges and opportunities to better connect the American Cancer Society’s research content with consumers. In this interview, learn how Melinda galvanized stakeholders around her plan, used analytics data to reveal a new audience for research content, and guided the project forward even in the face of surprising obstacles.

Early on in the process, how did you help stakeholders focus on content strategy?

We showed stakeholders some of our work from the recent refresh of the American Cancer Society website and how we wanted to rework the research sections to fit into the broader site. We framed our goals in a positive way, but we didn’t have to worry about hurting feelings. Everyone knew the research content needed work. It helped that most of the people on the project did not create the original content. Plus, as researchers, the stakeholders treated the content matter-of-factly. They had waited many years to update this content, so they showed excitement that we also wanted to change it.

Next, we needed them to look at every piece of content and decide to keep, update, or get rid of it. We looked for content gaps by combining their content inventory with our top-down information architecture analysis. While the stakeholders gave us their full buy-in to change the content, we really had to work with them on how they changed it. They kept telling us our audience was researchers, but our findings showed there weren’t many researchers looking at the content. Our goal was to make this content more findable and accessible for consumers while acknowledging there were certain topics that focused primarily on researchers. We had to meet both of those audience needs, but to us the goal was consumers first and researchers second. To our stakeholders, it was the opposite.

How did you make the case for focusing more on consumers?

In our analysis, we looked at which types of content targeted what type of audience and eliminated the consumer versus researcher argument. Plus, our data showed that many more consumers formed part of our audience. We helped frame the opportunity for the stakeholders by looking at analytics data to show who and how many people searched for their content. The data showed a huge gap between what people searched for versus what content they accessed. That gap clearly represented a huge opportunity that became difficult to dismiss.

What were some of the challenges of sticking to a plan that ideally would guide your team through designing, building, and launching in an orderly fashion? Why did it go from an orderly plan to a Candy Crush map?

Some of the unraveling aspects involved things we couldn’t control. For example, we didn’t have a content owner for the research section. We assumed it would work like a past project where the American Cancer Society had people responsible for creating and publishing content. In that project, my team held responsibility for structure and design but not for content development.

In this project, the plan focused on the structure and design but very little discussion involved content creation. As the project progressed, we asked, “So, who’s going to be creating this content?” It kept coming up, and it was a problem that had to be solved if our content redesign strategy was going to succeed.

So, we developed some sample content that illustrated our new approach and shared the sample with our stakeholders to review. Doing so offered them the chance to see the potential impact of well-written scientific content that is understandable to non-scientist consumers, and it helped them make the business case for hiring a dedicated research content writer. Staffing content writing appropriately is an important factor to address in any website or information architecture redesign. We ended up building a review workflow where a writer creates the content in a Word document template that includes metadata fields that get filled in by our search experts. A content contributor then enters the content into the CMS and a separate content editor gives it a final review.

Pre-content strategy cancer facts and figures.
Cancer Facts & Figures before content strategy.
Post-content strategy cancer facts and figures.
Cancer Facts and Figures after content strategy.

How did you evaluate the success of the new content? How did you know whether these efforts worked?

Analytics data helped because our stakeholders are data-driven. With the success of the new content, we put together some analytics and guidelines about what we wanted to accomplish. So, when we talked about meeting user needs, we showed through analytics how we accomplished our goals. To make our case for a particular content decision, we’d point out that if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t move our analytics in a positive direction. That data helped the stakeholders understand and agree with us about what success looks like.

However, we found that the stakeholders originally were not really driven by how many consumers found their content. And the people who created the content were only accountable for people creating—but not finding—the content. We had to get the writers to care and become excited about the metrics and analytics. We showed them the user lifecycle of consumers first finding out about our research and then giving us a donation. These donations affect the stakeholders’ bottom line by funding more of their research.

I think our recommendations and decisions only became real to the stakeholders when the first week of data came back after the site went live. The numbers were really positive, and the entire research section was getting more traffic. Obviously, we keep tweaking things over time, but just showcasing more content (that’s also optimized for SEO) helped us in Google’s rankings. The stakeholders better understand the importance of fresh, keyword-rich content that connects with what people actually look for. The stakeholders used to say, “This is what we want to tell people.” But if the content fails to match what your audience wants, they won’t find it.

Tips for Your Content Strategy Saga

Melinda’s example shows the Candy Crush-like reality of implementing content strategy. If you and your team face a similar saga, prepare by

  • Backing your content decisions with data.
  • Taking time to do a thorough analysis of your content in context.
  • Clarifying for stakeholders how doing content well benefits them. Repeatedly.
  • Evaluating the impact of your implementation with data.
  • Planning to ask for (and persist in asking for) the right resources to sustain the implementation.

With the right preparation, you will not just survive the journey of implementation but thrive in it.

View Melinda’s UX Thursday presentation and the American Cancer Society’s research section.

Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in May 2014.

The Authors

Kevin Howarth is an associate writer for Content Science Review. You can contact Kevin at Content Science.

Melinda Baker is Director of Web Marketing at the American Cancer Society.

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