Knowing the kind of content that your visitors are looking for will help to provide the kind of experience they want. Educational, persuasive and entertaining, are all distinct kinds of content. Some kinds of content will overlap and be virtually inseparable. It is important to identify what, when, where and how content might be useful in order to create a bridge between your goals and your visitors goals.
Are your visitors ready to take the next step or do they want to know more? Is bombarding someone with calls to action effective when they are looking for more information, or is it more effective to provide your visitor with what they are looking for while they are in the buying process? Effective content and design will accommodate and engage your visitors.
The goal of this post is to offer a resource regarding web content for my clients, potential clients, and regular old visitors.
It is important to identify what, when, where and how content might be useful in order to create a bridge between your goals and your visitors goals.
What is the number one thing people will be looking for on your site?
Pick a page on your site (if you already have a website), if you don’t have a site then imagine one.
What would be on the page that would connect what your visitors are looking for with what you are offering?
Site Content, On the Page Content, Content Everywhere
There are a lot of ways to talk and think about content. There is the overall site content that is the sum total of all the parts that make up your website. Who you are, what you are about, what you do, how you do it etc. The image/message of your brand so to speak.
There is also the content on the page. This will most likely be considerably more particular. You could think of the content on the page as an appendage of your brand, for example a hand, your brand hand.
How content is presented could be said to be part of, or a kind of content as well. On the page content vouches for your overall site content and vice versa. Presentation is part of the total offer you make to your visitors.
Don’t do this: Fill your site with ads and pop-ups that make your content inaccessible. Inaccessibility makes your visitors negative experience synonymous with your content.
Don’t hide the content you want your visitors to find behind content they don’t care about.
Do this: Design your content for accessibility. There are various strategies you can employ that will accommodate your visitors. Approach your content design knowing that most of your readers will skim and scan your content. Make it easy for them to grapple into the content they are after. Headings, as an example, are a useful tool in organizing and prioritizing content for quick reader accessibility.
What is the main message of your brand?
(Using the page you picked from the example above)
How does your page communicate your message and connect your visitors with what they are looking for?
Consider the content that is on the page you picked (if it is a text heavy page consider how they would identify the specific content they are looking for within the text).
How many steps do your visitors need to take in order to accomplish both their goals and the goals you have for them?
If the term educational content is conjuring images of a professor or an academic setting, know that isn’t what I am getting at.
I imagine that every site has some form or degree of educational content. This could be information on a product, a service, your company, the thinking behind the company, the goal, the mission etc. Educational content could be said to be persuasive and could also be entertaining.
At one time or another we are all looking for educational content.
When people want more information, to learn at a depth beyond a catch phrase or a sales pitch, they are looking for educational content.
Educational Content: Arts and Entertainment, Charitable and Animal Welfare Organizations and Small Business Websites
For art websites educational content could be the answer for the person that wants to know more about the art and the artist. The why of, why the artist did it this way, or said it like that, kind of approach. Because they want to gain a better understanding of how or why they were impacted the way they were.
For small businesses it might be the specs section to a product or about the staff or company pages. Because they want to make a smart decision with their money.
For charities and animal welfare organizations it might be a spreadsheet of expenses or more info on the issues. Because they want to be sure their time and money is going where they want it too.
Anticipating what educational content your visitors will be looking for is offering more than you are selling. It’s a sign of good will and appreciated by many as it helps to create an engaging, positive experience and helps to build and communicate trust.
What will your visitors want to know more about and what is their reason?
Educational Content: Information, Logic and Emotion are Not in Tension With Each Other
Often times when I read an article about educational content there is a tendency to talk as though informational content is in tension with emotion. Or that the decision on a consumer’s part to move forward in the buying process (whether it’s to literally purchase something, to donate to a cause or to volunteer for a charity) is never based on more logically presented information.
Logic is not devoid of emotion nor emotion logic (most of the time for the kinds of things we’re talking about).
Consider if you are purchasing a tablet or a new PC. You are purchasing it with the intent that it will perform certain tasks. You need specific information that will assure you that your prime candidates will do the job you want them to do. You are also probably not an expert on computers and will need to quickly plunge into an industry you don’t know a whole lot about and don’t have the time. You should not be required to become an expert in computers in order to get the computer that is best suited to you.
I avoid Apple’s web site if at all possible, but, they have a terrific page that allows you to compare the details of their ipads (links to Apple’s compare page). This is a page mostly devoid of any emotion but nonetheless a crucial tool to help their customers through the buying process. As I said, I thoroughly dislike their site, but managed to make it to this page which allowed me to get the information I needed to find the right Ipad for me.
Similarly, with the slogan “Your Guide to Intelligent Giving” in tow, Charity Navigator is a site that rates charities on a variety of criteria, provides source material on charities and offers comparisons within types of charities. On each charity page there is essentially no emotional appeal and yet the information provided is thoroughly educational and useful.
The right tool for the right job is my point. There are times when educational content will be far more and far less of an emotional connecting point. The point is to approach your audience with the empathy required to provide them with what they are looking for from you.
(Working with the same page as before)
Are your visitors looking for some kind of educational content on this page?
What is the reason they want this educational content?
How many steps do they need to take in order to find it?
What tone of content will be best suited to connect them with what they are after?
Persuasive content shows you the path, as well as how and why to take the steps to get to the end of the road. When I hear the term ‘persuasive content’ my vivid imagination always conjures up some adversarial cartoonish suited figure who is aggressively working to make some kind of exploitative deal. In reality, persuasive content is much broader than that.
Persuasive content is the sum total and also all the parts that get a person from point a to point b. With that in mind, persuasive content can and sometimes should be both educational and entertaining.
Persuasive Content: Empathy vs. Manipulation
A dictionary definition of empathy and manipulation:
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
Manipulation: 1. handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner 2. control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously
The way that I hear persuasive content most often discussed for online content, or marketing in general, could be summarized like this: Persuasive content is manipulating people to do what you want them to do. It is not uncommon to find this in an article about discerning your audiences pain points and exploiting them to your advantage.
An alternative to approaching pain from a position of exploitation is to approach with empathy. Approaching with empathy builds trust. Trust builds loyalty.
Empathy allows for visitors to choose and control. For web design, taking the power to act away from visitors is a grave mistake. It is a good idea to nurture and promote your visitors power to act.
The contrary to manipulating your audience is to approach them with empathy. Approaching them with empathy means solving their problems rather than selling your product. The fine line here is that solving their problems sells your product.
Persuasive Content: Empathic Approach for Small Businesses, Arts and Entertainment, Charitable and Animal Welfare Organizations Websites
Example #1 Businesses:
Compare the Apple (links off site) Mac compare page with Asus (links off site) PC compare page. I think both are decent examples of empathic approach. In the end I think the Asus page beats the Apple Page. The Asus page provides more options for users to refine their search for PC’s by specs as well as not limiting the amount of PC’s to compare to 2. I think this is an example of persuasive empathy because each company has attempted to present, in a streamlined design, the content that their users will be looking for. Again, I think Asus outdoes Apple on this page as each PC has an additional description that will immediately help users to filter the information on the page and find the results they are looking for. They employ descriptions such as “The Perfect Home Computer” and “Your Power Hub for Work and Play.”
Example #2 Arts and Entertainment:
Don’t do this: Force people to join your newsletter to access your store.
Do this: Anticipate what items your users will be after in your store and make it extremely easy and enticing to purchase them.
Persuasive content for Arts and Entertainment industry websites will often be mixed into how content is presented.
In cases like civic centers, for instance, the primary connecting point between their visitors and their content is the shows they host. It will be crucial to create an atmosphere that is able to convey the persuasive emotions particular to each show, without creating competition between a vast number of shows.
The Overture Center for the Arts (links off site) does a good job of immediately establishing a positive atmosphere.
Many musician and photography websites could use a strong dose of persuasive empathy. Since I’m not going to name any names I will utilize anecdote as example.
What is the primary reason people visit musician and photographer websites? Something to do with music and photography probably, right?
And yet, on so many of these websites you can’t find a lick of music. And yet, on so many of these websites the photography is second place to structural design elements that take away from, or altogether hide, the photography.
Maybe its events listings that the musicians’ visitors are after, and the events pages aren’t updated or difficult to navigate or buried somewhere on the site that makes it difficult to find.
If you articulated the thinking behind this approach to design it would sound like this: We understand what our visitors are after and we are going to hide it and/or make it hard to access. This doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Remember above, in the brief discussion about the layers of content? Persuasive empathic content offers a layered solution to your visitors need. Take photography, imagine you have a visitor looking for wedding photography. You specialize in various kinds of photography, wedding included.
You could present all of your fantastic work on the assumption that this will surely show how skilled you are and your visitor won’t be able to pass on the opportunity to work with you. Or, a better idea would be to showcase the work specific to your visitors query. Even better, while you are showcasing that specific work, have a text section that will address the concerns your visitors have (and potential wedding photography clients have and should have many concerns).
Analogy: Imagine walking into a department store looking for ties but the department store is not organized into departments. They have chosen to display the products they like the best at all the entrance points. They have a tie rack somewhere, but in order to find it you will basically have to sift through all of the stores products to find it, they have turned their products into obstacles.
Example #3 Charitable and Animal Welfare Organizations:
Again anecdotal, not naming names here. Imagine you have an organization that rescues abused dogs.
On your homepage you have great images of all your rescued puppies and happy dogs. Everyone that visits your site is immediately filled with the relief and happiness that come with seeing happy puppies and dogs. Your visitors are filled with positive emotions throughout their visit and they want to donate.
The car screeches to a halt.
Too many organizations funded through donations have been found to have objectionable expense practices. Your visitors want to know how much of their money goes to making happy puppies. They want to support the mission they have experienced on your site. They look in vain for any material on your site regarding how donations are handled and where they go. The information is there but they can’t find it because the links are hidden.
They now will have to either look online for someone who has found that information, or call you directly and see if you’ll provide it, or look for similar organizations.
Working with the page from earlier examples.
Now that your visitor has the education they were looking for, what should they do next?
Presumably you have steps you want them to take?
Does your page provide what they need in order to take the steps? If not, is it readily accessible?
Is there anything else preventing them from having their problem solved?
Entertaining content could be a mix of educational and persuasive content but could also be just entertaining. For example, my wife introduced me to a YouTube video produced by the Ellen Show of her producer and his assistant visiting a haunted house. My wife and I both found it quite entertaining watching a couple of people get frightened. That being said, it really doesn’t have/need any educational content (at least for my purposes) nor does it persuade me to watch or buy more Ellen stuff (nor does it need to, it’s a fun video). We did watch a number of the other Ellen haunted house videos and enjoyed them as well.
Entertaining Content: More Useful Than a Spoonful of Sugar
Entertaining content can make educational content persuasive.
Imagine there is a computer company featuring a new product that has a mind blowing new mega dual processor gamma.
I don’t know what that does either. But lets say its function is to allow videos to play and display at an unparalleled capacity.
What if they added a line to their specs that tells what the spec does in comprehensible language? They could even make it mildly amusing by couching it in a tone that shows they know identifying the spec is not so useful for many, but that the function is useful to a lot of people.
mega dual processor gamma – the thingy that will give you the greatest videos you have ever seen, faster than was imaginable.
This would be fairly useful to people who happened to be after just such a thingy. Even better, if someone was looking for “the computer that plays great videos” on Google or Bing, you would stand a chance at having your product displayed in the search results.
Content, Everywhere Content Feeding Into Content
The whole experience is part of the content, and the content is part of the whole experience. Don’t let your marketing connive the heart out of a great idea.
Sometimes the best experience of a website is one where your visitor will be able to zip in and out of your site while quickly getting what they came for. And this visitor will return because you also gave them an uninterrupted, accommodating and intuitive experience.
Knowing the kinds of content that your visitors are after will help to provide the kind of experience that they are looking for.