Sermons from the Mount: 10 commandments for improving
your company’s digital content
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver November 15-21, 2011 issue #1151 High Tech
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
- 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
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
- 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Accept that whatever you post will be out of date as fast as it’s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
- 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.