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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Sermons from the Mount: 10 commandments for improving your company’s digital content

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver November 15-21, 2011 issue #1151 High Tech Office column

Last time, readers of this column learned from search engine optimization expert Jeff Quipp how to boost their business website in Google’s listings (“Better search engine optimization will improve your business” – issue 1149; November 1-7).

One of his secrets: sites with “unique and valuable content” score higher with Google’s PageRank rating system. Content also matters to Kristina Mausser of Ottawa’s Digitalword. Since 2004, her company has helped clients – including Microsoft, Sephora, McGill University and Parks Canada – make their web content more effective.

Mausser proclaims that content is a business asset. Here are her “10 Commandments of Digital Content,” which she presented at October’s Internet Marketing Conference (IMC Vancouver).

- Function must exist without form.

Unlike architecture, form and function are not linked; your content can – and should – be reposted and reformatted. Content has moved from paper to online to mobile devices. Mausser noted that more data will be viewed using mobile devices than on traditional screens within three years.

The challenge is that reading comprehension on small-screened devices drops – design content so it can be quickly scanned.
Can you convey your message in 150 to 250 words?

- The message is the medium.

Make your content accessible to your users, regardless of how they try to access it: online, mobile, social media – formatted for each medium’s unique strengths.

- Content can’t be re-purposed.

Users approach content differently when it’s in print on paper, online read on a desktop or notebook computer or on a large-screen or small-screen mobile device.

Plan, create and publish with those forms in mind.

- Content is non-linear.

Users get to your content through various routes, not necessarily starting at your home page – at least as often a web search will deliver readers directly to one of your pages. You can’t assume that readers of one of your web pages know (or care) how it fits into your overall plan.

- Content is consumable.

Accept that whatever you post will be out of date as fast as it’s published. Note that users typically read only about 20% of the words on an online page.

- Content must be shareable.

Once it’s online, it’s out of your control. Accept this and encourage it with buttons making it easy for readers to tweet, email or share your pages on Facebook. Use this to build trust and relationships with your readers.

- Fear not foreign tongues.

Most digital content is in English, but that is not the native language of an increasing number of users.

So focus on “plain language” and on showing rather than telling. Business jargon – like tech jargon – doesn’t translate well. A bonus: plain language is easier for search engines to understand, which increases the odds that your page will be indexed correctly.

- Content is a line item, not a one-time expense.

It requires ongoing monitoring, editing, revision and testing to ensure that it is up to date and continues to meet your needs.

- Don’t make content a commodity.

It’s not just something that gets poured into a design at the end of the process. You can’t just fill in the blanks and expect to end up with content that anyone will want to read. Good content, however, is a valuable business asset – assuming that it’s properly maintained.

- Content should always exceed expectations.

If you’ve done all the above, you can hope that your content will be useful, relevant, clear, accurate and complete. Hopefully readers will want to read it!

Mausser recognizes that it can be a challenge to balance the need to convey an organization’s message while addressing the needs of the potential audience, especially as the devices used to access content are so rapidly evolving.

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