Erica Jorgensen is a lifelong wordsmith. From her college beginnings working at the Boston Globe to her work at a little-known startup called Amazon, Jorgensen’s career with content is as diverse as it is impressive.
Jorgensen shifted to coaching others about content design best practices after many years of working with executives and high-level teams to improve their content. With so much experience-gained insight, Jorgensen made writing Strategic Content Design her COVID project.
Available now, Strategic Content Design covers every facet of content, from sharing interdepartmental feedback to promoting a rewarding customer experience. Jorgensen recently sat down with Content Science to discuss her book, her insights, and what she hopes businesses are willing to learn about the true value of content.
What inspired you to write this book?
While giving workshops at Microsoft, I noticed that content strategists and designers needed a way to bring teams together specifically on content. I found that content research was a great way to make that happen, quantifying our work’s value and showing its impact. It was an effective way to excite senior leaders, CEOs, and executives about our work.
After a workshop, a coworker told me how excited and energized he felt and that I should write a book. I’d ghostwritten a couple books early in my career and didn’t really want to do it again, so at first, I kind of just laughed it off.
But then COVID hit. I kicked around the idea of Strategic Content Design, pitched it to my publisher who agreed there was a demand for it. I knew content professionals still needed ways to get upper management excited about content design, so it became my COVID project.
What are some of the common success factors and pitfalls you’ve noticed when starting a content intelligence initiative?
Testing and researching are very exciting and energizing once you start getting data and feedback. When other people get wind of it, marketers, engineers, and product designers, they want to get in on it too. I’ve seen Content Science mention this phenomenon before – how hard data gets the attention, interest, and enthusiasm of coworkers outside of content teams.
It snowballs very quickly. I think that’s good because you get great insights that are valuable and usable by a lot of people. And a lot of these people start saying, “Wow, I can’t believe I ever did my job without this.” But there are some pitfalls, too, when people get really excited about the quantitative data. They want to “quant their qual.”
If you do a study with ten people and nine of them say one thing, then some people will say that 90% of customers also agree with that one thing. They want to take the results as set in stone when it’s directional data that can help you take action, but it’s not something where you can say definitively, “X% of our customers think this.”
Before you share your data with people outside of content departments, it’s important to provide the context. It helps them understand what the data is showing, what it means, and what people should do with it (or not do with it!).
What are some misconceptions you’ve seen about testing content to inform decision-making?
One misconception that comes to mind right away is that looking at content by itself is not valuable. The truth is testing content by itself, without design or prototyping, is very valuable. I have several examples in my book where people assume that customers understand something, whether it’s a feature name or a functionality, and that’s a very dangerous thing to do to assume the words are clear and easy to understand.
In my book, I mention an example from when I worked at Rover.com, the pet-sitting site. Rover is a great example because it’s a common dog name, but from an SEO perspective, it was not the greatest idea to use “Rover” for the company name.. Searching “Rover” would bring up Range Rover or Land Rover, so we had an uphill battle getting the site found in search results. I wish they had asked the content team to evaluate the pros and cons before choosing that name.
You need to look at the whole customer experience holistically, you know? How do things really work in the grand scheme of things?
Another misconception about content testing is the importance of some user metrics. I think a lot of data points are vanity metrics that people get too hung up on. Time-on-site could mean that people are spending a lot of time on your site because they love it, or because they’re confused and can’t find what they’re looking for. It can go either way and people have to find the cause of a metric before sharing it.
I’ve found that deconstructing your most important content and really understanding what and how it’s communicating to customers is very valuable. Content testing can debunk something a whole company was just assuming to be true. It’s very humbling, and makes people think in more customer-centric ways.
When internally analyzing content to share feedback and opinions, how can people toe that line between tact and honesty while still giving effective analysis?
It’s beneficial when testing your core content to let stakeholders know who created the content, and under what circumstances. Particularly because sometimes content teams are understaffed, or an engineer wrote some of it, or who knows? Content debt is a serious thing and a business risk. I’ve had times when I test my content, and vice presidents ask, “Why wasn’t this content more effective?” and I have to admit I was working on 10 or 12 projects at the same time trying to complete the content in question. (In this way, content testing can help you advocate for expanding your content team!)
I think it’s important to phrase testing feedback as, “This is what the customers are saying” because it takes some of the sting out of it. You can tell them that it’s for the customer, to increase revenue, for profit improvement, and it’ll save your customer service team from having to take all these calls, so it contributes to cost savings, too.
This approach can make an uncomfortable conversation into something really interesting. It can make people curious and want to do more testing, which starts the cycle of uncovering where the issues came from and discovering what they do not even know what they don’t know. That’s where the positive energy comes from and helps people chip away at what’s not working to uncover opportunities to make your content and customer experience (and company!) more successful.
How can content operations begin the initial steps of defining guiding principles of content like style guidelines, CCEs, and other heuristic resources?
We have to be clear and define what we mean when we say “quality content,” “effective content,” “on-brand content,” and “clear content.” It’s foundational because we can’t do any effective content research when we don’t know what is meant by, “this content is good.”
I saw Colleen speak in Seattle back in 2019 and I kept her deck on defining content principles. I go back to it all the time for inspiration about this type of process.
People build a lot of systems, like content libraries and style guidelines, without validating content first. When establishing these heuristic elements, I think it is important to validate the terms you’re using day in and day out through content testing.
When I worked at Microsoft, we had so many terms in our terminology bank that we held twice weekly terminology sessions. But validating “X” number of terms first before taking the information to higher-ups is even more helpful and valuable.
At Microsoft, we had a wiki for our content testing reports and you could see how many people referenced each of them. That was super helpful because you could see all these people on other teams referencing the wiki. People on the Xbox or Azure teams, for example, benefited from the research we did for Office. And this information helped validate that the content research was useful, producing value, and had far-reaching influence.
What is a benefit of content governance you’ve seen outside of guiding new content?
Benefits can vary depending on what kind of company you’re working for.
For example, at Microsoft, we had 50,000 help documents, and that’s too many if no one is using them. Some of those documents were about products and features that were no longer in existence. When these documents are out there and findable, it can leave customers confused. Especially when the information they’re looking for is hard to find because these old documents muck up the Internet. Google and other search engines deem older content inherently more valuable than new content, so if you’re launching a new feature or product, you need to make sure you’re not getting in your own way by not governing and culling your older or irrelevant content pages.
IBM did a case study where they cleared out all their content rot. It’s a lot of legwork, it’s hard, it’s not a sexy job, but it needs to be done. I followed the thread on Twitter detailing how the project lead, Bryan Casey, went around to stakeholders to get approval to remove certain pages — it showed just how hard the job of clearing away all the content rot was
But the business impact was like Pa-Pow! Immediate. Content governance isn’t just about creating new content. When you’ve got content that shouldn’t be there, why are you creating new content? It’s a best practice that just makes sense, and when you phrase it that way, CEOs and senior leadership get excited by the idea of content governance and even say, “Yeah, why are we trying to paint on a dirty canvas?”
And if your competitors are doing it, then there can be pressure for your organization to do it, too. If you don’t, you’re just making a bigger quagmire for yourself and for your team to deal with later on.
What are some ways you’ve seen different companies respond to our age of digital disruption? What would you suggest they do to benefit content?
When I think about digital disruption, you don’t need a lot of high-tech tools to deal with it. It could just be an email or a call from your customer service staff to get customer feedback on design. When I worked for Rover, we went downtown with paper and a clipboard, offering passers-by a $5 Starbucks gift card to get feedback on some of our designs.
But I think there are a lot of cool tools that can help teams inform their design, like Writer and Acrolinx, that boost your team’s capacity for design. You just have to get your company to loosen the purse strings a bit.
When I think back to all the technology initiatives like multi-million dollar CMS adoptions and whatnot, I remember thinking, “What if you took just a tiny chunk of that money and invested it in researching if your content is clear?” Or simply ask your content team to evaluate how some of their projects performed–how the content prevented customers from needing to contact customer service? Or how much did the content improve revenue?
I’m mystified at why more people don’t do that, but a lot of times, content teams are so small that they don’t have the bandwidth to call out what they’re doing, or what they can do to make the company more stable or successful. It’s a lot about using design to improve efficiencies across the board, and content teams working with other departments to figure out what they can do to improve processes and make things more successful for everyone.
What do you see as the role of content design in an end-to-end content initiative creating that truly rewarding user experience?
I’ve been a fan of Colleen’s work in this area for a long time. End-to-end content initiatives are so dynamic in how they help organizations really align on content to achieve their goals.
Content design is all about channeling the voice of the customer into the customer experience using conversational words. It’s about using words that are familiar, comforting, confidence-boosting, and that convey what you’re trying to convey.
Many companies are using content to show impact, like how Atlassian and Intuit have made their content style guides public. They’re amazing resources for clarity, inclusion, and accessibility and shine a light on how content is key to creating customer experiences that are key to business success.
Internally, it’s a lot about showing the sweat and tears that go into making the content. You can peel back the curtain and say, “Look! This message had 17 issues according to our heuristics, and this is exactly how I made it better.” When we can show how to measure and improve content, CEOs across the country will become more involved and excited about these initiatives.
There’s a big disconnect, but the gap is closing, and I think that’s very exciting to see. More companies have dedicated content teams, but not nearly enough. I hope my book will rabble-rouse a bit to get more people excited and involved in their company’s content.
It’s the best and worst of content times for content, from the potential of generative AI to the destruction of misinformation.
Discover the power, benefits, and opportunities of an end-to-end content strategy with this comprehensive white paper.
Celebrate the fifth-year anniversary of The Content Advantage, the top-rated book empowering professionals to better their content.
You’ve reached the article limit. Please login or register to continue.