Websites, social media and apps are such a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives that it’s difficult to imagine a time when we made decisions about products or interacted with services purely by picking up the phone or looking at a printed catalogue and completing an order form. We all love the benefits that the digital revolution has brought; it empowers us as consumers, helps us make more informed decisions, brings individuals and communities closer together and ultimately gives us access to previously unimaginable amounts of data and information.

Yet there are drawbacks to this revolution. At times it can feel like we’re drowning in content. People have never been so empowered to make decisions but conversely never has the potential to be overwhelmed by information been so great. What strategies do we adopt when dealing with information overload? Unwittingly or not, we have all become more discerning and savvy as consumers. We cut out or ignore the fluff and the unnecessary content that competes for our attention, we become accustomed to curating content based on our needs and interests and look to trusted sources to validate any decisions we need to make when it comes to parting with our hard earned cash.

When using digital services and products, people expect to get what they want easily and then move on. If they can’t get what they need then it casts a brand in a negative light.  And as much as a business proclaims its offering to be the best, if what customers experience is the opposite then all its marketing efforts are in vain. This experience really gets to the heart of defining a brand: it’s not what a business says it is – it’s what other people say it is.

Thanks to the likes of Apple and Google, people expect products to, well….work. Think of Google’s search box, it’s there in all its minimalist glory providing one function and providing it exceptionally well. The service speaks for itself. In the past, traditional marketing messages or communications were often used to justify, explain or announce (often less than perfect) products or services. Nowadays, without careful consideration these same messages can often be a distraction or, worse, an obstacle in a user’s journey through a website.

[Tweet “Each piece of content that we add to our website needs to justify its existence”]

For website marketers this presents us with a big challenge. Each piece of content that we add to our website needs to justify its existence as it has to relate in some way to that same user journey. If we don’t know why it’s there then that content is potentially working against your customers and ultimately, the business.

In the Web Services Team we’re meeting this challenge head-on by focusing on user needs before we write the first word of content. Our workshop process now helps clients get to grips with who is using (or likely to use) their web pages. This is informed by solid research and testing to construct profiles (aka personas) of typical users with a list of top tasks that they are looking to perform. Armed with these top tasks and a clearly defined set of business objectives we then use something called the Core Model method to outline the content that they need.

Admittedly, it’s still early days but delivering these workshops and listening to ensuing discussions has been fascinating. On the whole, clients have responded very positively to the notion of developing content that benefits users and the business at the same time. Project workshops are collaborative by nature and have often resulted in eureka moments when someone suddenly gets a new perspective on how their website is used. As we start new web projects, we encourage everyone who has a responsibility for their web pages – from editors to management – to attend. The fruits of this process should be the engaging, purposeful, relevant and accurate content that everyone who uses our University website deserves.