When I joined AT&T as a content strategist in 2010, one of my first tasks was to show why an enterprise content strategy is worthy of investment. It was a new way of approaching content, and the initial reception was mixed. People naturally want to know why you are asking them to do something different when, to them, the current method seems to be working just fine. But content is not something that should be created on the fly. Finding out your users’ needs and expectations sets a framework for successful content creation. And when you build a framework that focuses on the user experience, you help build trust and credibility for content strategy within your organization.
We didn’t have a framework in place at AT&T, so I had to improvise with an unconventional tactic-driven approach. The goal was to show how a little work upfront could have dramatic effects on the content’s direction, tone, and even placement. It took a while to convince some people—and I’m still trying to convince people every day—but with help from colleagues who believed in what I was doing, I was able to demonstrate the value of planning and researching content needs prior to a project being kicked off.
Here are four ways I helped kick-start our enterprise content strategy at AT&T that can help start or improve your content strategy.
At AT&T, we have a vast array of analytics tools. We know how many unique visits we have to our pages, where customers drop off, and the last page they were on if they call our customer care representatives. All of these metrics help us identify pain points customers may be experiencing on our site, as well as the things that are working well for them.
A few years ago, the company decided to look at the top reasons customers called our call center and figure out how to work those tasks into our global navigation. Since there were 44 top reasons customers called, we had to eliminate some existing links to make room for them. We looked at click data and completion rates for over 200 links in our navigation, and based on our analysis were able to eliminate enough underused links to make room for the new ones.
This is a chart showing the click data we used to eliminate underused links from the AT&T.com global navigation.
But we didn’t stop there. We used follow-up usability testing to make sure we organized the links in a way that made sense to customers, and also continued to monitor their performance over the next few years. Whereas before we used a lot of guesswork to determine what links were in our global navigation, with this new approach we were letting direct customer feedback drive not only what the links were called but where they were located—and if they were deemed to still be relevant months and years down the road.
However, the trick is not to rely solely on this data to create your content approach. Analytics are key when it comes to informing content decisions, but they are not the only key.
Too often it’s easy to just assume users have certain problems, but without really getting to know them, it’s just guesswork. AT&T has a large customer insights team with multiple usability labs where they regularly observe customers interacting with prototypes, as well as areas of the site already in production. We also conduct frequent surveys where we ask people about things like terminology and online behaviors.
We asked users questions such as:
In 2013, we learned through usability interviews that our definitions of things like service, features, and plans didn’t always align with how customers thought of those terms. A review of the website revealed that in many cases we used these terms interchangeably, and probably at the expense of good search engine optimization. Our usability team conducted numerous customer interviews to determine how we should define those terms, then we formulated a plan to scrub the site to update the terminology to reflect the customer feedback.
This was an extremely large effort that included updates to global navigation, page headers, link labels, and support articles, and content strategy played a key role in ensuring we adhered to keeping our updates customer-centric.
Analytics can help identify potential stumbling blocks, but they are just the first step. Getting direct customer feedback is invaluable and helps flesh out your strategic content approach. Even if you don’t have a usability team, you can show mockups to colleagues outside your design organization and ask questions about their expectations for link labels, content hierarchy, and overall comprehension.
Because we have literally thousands of pages on our website—and they are updated all the time—it’s almost impossible for us to do a comprehensive audit that’s also accurate. So we target select pages that pertain to a specific project.
Content audits involve pulling relevant content from your site into a spreadsheet that helps you better analyze it. Add columns to categorize the content by type, links, headlines, and blocks of text. Include other relevant information, like where calls of action send users.
A few years after the effort to add the top call drivers to our global navigation, we decided to redesign and simplify the navigation experience. Customers often commented that there were too many links and it was difficult to find what they were looking for. But we also wanted to make sure that by eliminating certain links we weren’t cutting off access to the corresponding pages. So we audited all the global navigation and major landing pages—for both our desktop and mobile sites—to determine if the links we wanted to eliminate were accessible in other prominent locations.
Once we identified which links were not cared for on our landing pages, we put together a plan to get them added to those pages. The end result was a reduction of links in our global navigation by more than 50 percent, all without cutting off access to the links we removed.
Generally speaking, creating these spreadsheets is tedious and not much fun. But I find they yield better results than by just reviewing html pages or mockups. These spreadsheets are a powerful tool for identifying redundancies, content gaps, and areas of opportunity in your existing content. If you want to enhance your current site, it really helps to know what content you currently have and see if you can leverage it for your new project. When content is already performing well, it makes sense to reuse it.
Every piece of content on your site should have a real purpose. Ask questions like:
By questioning every bit of content in your online experience, you hopefully will get your team thinking about what content they are creating and if it’s really adding value.
Has our strategic approach to content led to more conversions and increased customer satisfaction? Time will tell. In the meantime, the most obvious victory has been getting traction throughout the organization, and the attention of senior leadership, who now recognize the value of approaching content strategically. As proof, we have added three additional content strategy positions to our team, and we hope to start rolling out a site-wide enterprise content strategy this year.
Even if you don’t work for a company that has a thriving enterprise content strategy practice, you can apply strategic thinking to your content. And you should. Content is at the heart of digital experiences. Give content the attention it deserves before it’s even created. Then, see how much it resonates with your users by asking questions and tweak as needed. Creating an enterprise content strategy doesn’t happen overnight—and building credibility takes time—but these are four easy ways to score some small content wins to demonstrate its value. Plus, sharing these wins with stakeholders can help convince them that your content deserves a bigger budget, team, and a mix of tools to help your organization achieve its goals across business functions.
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