Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Three Qualities of Effective Publishing: Findable, Usable, and Actionable

When the creative process of content generation is complete, there is a tendency to breath a sigh of relief and relax. In reality, however, some of the most important work still lies ahead. To have impact, content needs to be amplified by effective publishing processes just like a musician needs amplifiers and acoustics to fill a stadium with sound. When publishing anything, I ask these three questions. Is it findable? Is it usable? Is it actionable? Let's dissect them one at a time.

  1. Is it Findable?

    If your content is not found, it may as well not even exist. In order to be findable, a piece of content should be unique. It needs to answer a question or solve a problem that hasn't been solved before. Or be an innovative approach to something that people struggle with. Otherwise your content is just going to get lost in the fray. If you have redundant assets on your site, it is time to de-clutter. If are creating content that already exists in other places on the web, divert your energy to doing something original.

    The second part of fundability is that it needs to promoted and linked from where desirable audiences are likely to be. This means promotion on relevant landing pages and navigation, social networks, user groups, etc. It also needs to be worded in terms that people are likely to search for. Findable content is content that appears where people are looking. Metadata like title and description are critical in ensuring that the content stands out on search results and other lists of content.

  2. Is it Usable?

    Now that your consumer has found your content, you want his/her experience to be a positive one. You number one concern is that it displays properly on the device the visitor is using. You shouldn't throw up dialogs that are difficult to dismiss on a tiny display. You shouldn't force someone to download an app just to read an article. If your content is paginated, make sure the paging links work properly. No matter how useful the information, an awkward user experience will leave a lasting impression of frustration and you don't want your brand to be associated with frustration. If you don't have the budget to test all of your content on all browsers and platforms, go for simplicity. This will reduce the likelihood that the presentation will stand in the way of the information.

    Personally, I think content that requires filling out a lead capture form is not usable. I don't want to subject myself to being a sales target before I even know the content is any good. Judging from the information that people enter into lead forms, a lot of other people feel this way too. Marten Rapavy has written an excellent article called Content Marketing: 5 Tips How Not to Kill Your Leads. He advocates optional contact forms and calls to action in the content.

  3. Is it Actionable?

    Hooray! Your content has been found and enjoyed by a visitor. You have made a positive impression but that attention will not last for long. You have milliseconds to convert this positive experience into an action that benefits your business. You hope for at least one of two things. Ideally, you want the customer to engage directly with you and become a sales opportunity. This visitor understands the value that you offer and has qualified himself as a real potential customer. The opportunity is well along the sales pipeline, you just need to close the deal. Make sure you have an easy call to action like a simple form asking to be contacted.

    The other outcome, which is nearly as positive, is that the visitor likes your content so much he/she wants to share it with his/her network. This could lead to brand visibility and many sales opportunities. To make sharing easy, make sure there is a direct URL to a page where friends can access the content. Complex, compound pages (like a portal or an application) can make this complicated. Don't make the Applebees mistake.  A share link builder is useful here. This link better not require a registration form or login. People don't want to send their network into the jaws of a sales pipeline. Protected content does not go viral. Protected content just sits there safely unread.

    To prove that your content drove action, make sure that it is properly instrumented. This means that configuring analytics software and tracking links to see how the content drives behavior such as filling out a contact form or driving other visitors to the site. If your content is not instrumented, you will never know what impact it had and whether it was worth producing and publishing it. You will also never be able to improve your performance.

Most companies undervalue the role of publishing both on external and internal websites. There is this myth that, with the right content management system, publishing is as easy as "saving" content. Yes, adding the content and making it available should be easy and usually are — just like what you saw in the software demo. But that is just the first step in publishing. The rest takes skill, commitment, and time.