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An Intro to Metadata and Taxonomies

by Christine Benson on March 29th, 2012

As the structured/adaptive content conversation progresses, metadata and taxonomies will also become more and more important. To participate in the conversation, you don’t need to know everything—but you do need to understand the essential foundations so you can ask the right questions.

For the record, I’m no expert. At the end of the post, I’ve listed a series of resources from some super-smart people who are.

The goal of this post is to provide an introduction to the concepts, so you can get a general understanding and feel comfortable digging into more information.

Now, this conversation gets big in a hurry—but don’t be intimidated. These terms have been around much longer than the Web, and can be applied in a wide variety of contexts. In the hopes of making this post a bit more approachable, I’m going to fast-forward through the structured content conversation with the diagram below.

Structured content graphic

Simple enough, right? I’ll be skipping past why and how to break your content up into components, and instead focus on how metadata and taxonomies get applied to content components.

Metadata first

The information provided in metadata makes the content findable and understandable to either a human or a computer. There are lots of definitions out there, but when it comes to metadata, I look to Rachel Lovinger, the metadata guru. She defines metadata as “information about the content that provides structure, context, and meaning.”

There are three main types of metadata:

  • Structural: Defines the metadata elements that need to be collected; labels like title, author, date created, subject, purpose, etc. Defining these structural elements is typically based on a mix of organizational and system needs, along with standard schemas like Dublin Core.
  • Administrative: Often created automatically when content is entered into the CMS, these values are used to manage the content. Administrative metadata includes things like date created or author. They can sometimes include sub-elements about rights-management or preservation.
  • Descriptive: These values describe aspects specific to each content component, like title, subject, audience, and/or purpose.

Some of each of the three types of metadata is likely to be used on a typical piece of content, but how and when they get defined is very different. The structural metadata gets identified as part of your system requirements. Administrative and descriptive metadata are identified during the creation or curation of specific content. If you think of it like a form, the structural metadata supports which information needs to be collected (fields on the page), and the descriptive and administrative metadata provide the values for those form fields.

Here’s how they work together:

Metadata example

Taxonomy, shmaxonomy

The term taxonomy gets applied across a range of contexts. In the biology world, it means grouping organisms into hierarchical groups (e.g., kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species).

The web/digital world typically applies it to any kind of structure that organizes information. Information science people sometimes say “controlled vocabularies” instead of taxonomies. Regardless of the term, the underlying goals are to create some level of consistency and control over the information used to describe a content component, and clarify relationships between them.

Common types include:

  • Term list: A standardized list of terms created to insure consistent tagging and indexing. Think of it as a list of “preferred language.” Term lists typically provide a series of metadata values to pick from for elements like format or content type.
  • Hierarchies: Often called a “taxonomy,” a hierarchy defines the structural framework used to classify terms into parent/child or broad-to-narrow relationships. Hierarchies are specifically used to support layered groups of information and not simply for the convenience of creating groupings—although each level of a hierarchy is commonly referred to as a “category.”
  • Thesauri: A thesaurus translates conceptual relationships between the content, often made naturally by humans, into something a computer can understand. Thesauri typically address three types of relationships: equivalent (synonyms), hierarchical (broad-to-narrow terms), and/or associative (related terms).

Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah

At its simplest, a taxonomy organizes information, and metadata describes it. For the taxonomy to be able to organize the information, terms need to be stored as metadata. It all works together to make the content findable, recognizable, and useful.

An example:

Metadata and taxonomy example

Not every site needs every one of these things, but this diagram illustrates how these elements can feed into each other and how they help display content to the user.

What’s next?

Admittedly, I’ve over-simplified these concepts to make them easier to understand. If you’re interested in learning more about metadata, taxonomies, and structured content, there’s no end to the list of resources out there.

Here are a few to get you started:

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Posted in Web Content

Workflow That Works

by Christine Benson on March 6th, 2012

How many great ideas never get implemented or maintained because nobody ever bothered to figure out who would do the work? Or work was assigned to someone, but no one ever looked at the tasks that person was already doing?

Out of the four components of content strategy, substance and structure seem to grab the majority of the conversation. Known as the “content” components, they define what kinds of content are needed and how to prioritize and organize them.

But if content is a business asset, then workflow is what brings that asset to market. Imagine launching a new product without considering the cost of production, manufacturing resources, quality control, distribution, etc. Unfortunately, many organizations design websites and communication plans without considering the resources necessary to support them.

Now, I’m not trying to crush anyone’s dreams. I’m all for vision and aspirations. But you need to create a real plan for how you’re going to get there. Here are a couple of places to start.

There’s more work than you think

A friend of mine used to say, “Everyone’s the star of their own movie.” I have witnessed this to be true 95% of the time for anyone dedicated to a project. Since it’s their main focus, it’s hard to remember that it may not be everyone else’s.

It’s easy to underestimate how many other things people have to do, and the toll that takes on getting things done. Here’s a simple tool for getting to the bottom of how someone’s time is actually being spent.

Write down EVERYTHING you’re responsible for getting done in an average week. Assign percentages to those tasks. You only get 100%.

Workflow piechart

Once you have those percentages, map them to hours. As a default, use 40 hours.

 

Tasks
Percentage
Hours
Creating/editing content 55% 22
Project meetings 10% 8
Submitting requests 5% 2
Reviewing content 8% 3+
Communication plans 2% <1
Reviewing requests 5% 2
Random requests 5% 2
Personal development 5% 2
Non-content organizational needs 5% 2

 

This chart shows how much time a person actually has. It facilitates conversations about what tasks might need to shift or go away to get something done. Sure, a request for a single page may not take that long. But it’s essential to understand how that request fits into the overall process and flow of tasks for all the people involved.

Take writing, for example

Often, time estimated for writers is relative to the time given to the designers. Here’s the problem with that: designers create templates, writers create individual, specific pages. Certainly, it can take longer to get the visual design done and approved than it can to create a page of content. But one template might account for 300 pages. Make sure you’ve got an accurate page count before you fully commit to a schedule.

Next, you need to create an accurate, time-per-page estimate. Is the source content identified? Does the writer need to edit existing content or write from scratch? How familiar is she with the subject matter? Knowing the answers to these questions is critical to creating an accurate time-per-page estimate.

Once you’ve got a page count and determined the time needed to create a page, the estimating is easy:

Number of pages x Time to create a page = Total estimate

For example, let’s say 300 pages x 30 min. average per page = 150 hours. That’s almost a month of a single writer working full time, with no interruptions. That might work if your writer is a freelancer. But if they’re on staff, they probably have a few other things to take care of. Which leads me to my next point …

Of course, there’s more than writing

Oh, by the way, content isn’t done once it’s written. There are reviews. And revisions. And then more reviews. Reviews always take longer than people think. Determine who needs to look at the content—however many people that may be. Find out if one group needs to review and revise before it goes to another level, to avoid conflicting feedback (seriously, this happens ALL THE TIME).

After that, there’s publishing, QA, etc. I’m sure you get the point. Basically, it’s more math and accounting for ALL the steps. But don’t skip it. If you do, your schedule will quickly get off track.

Effective workflow = power to the people

Let’s face it. Estimating all of these tasks isn’t just about getting work done. There’s lots of work getting done every day without it. The goal of workflow is to get work done efficiently. (Read: get rid of “fire-drill” mode.) When one group skips planning, everyone else has to drop what they were doing to quickly complete the request.

By all means, there are circumstances important enough to the business that require everyone to drop what they’re doing and switch gears. But using this as the daily mode of operation makes people feel unappreciated and overworked. It also takes away the ability to efficiently balance the variety of tasks someone has to get done in a day.

It can all be avoided with a little planning up front. Take the time to communicate your needs and expectations. Your content will thank you for it.

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Posted in Content Strategy

Why You Need to Believe

by Christine Benson on December 15th, 2011

Behind every successful project I’ve ever worked on, I’ve found there’s a single, universal truth. You ready for it? I believed in what I was recommending.

As a content strategist, there are multiple levels to my work—two of which are strategic consulting and executional planning. Executional planning refers to the what, where, when, and how of your content. The process produces tangible deliverables. It is the road map for how to execute the strategy. Without it, any strategy is likely to sit in a drawer somewhere.

Strategic consulting means working with clients to figure out why they’re doing something. It’s as much of a process as a deliverable. The work involves a series of conversations and research activities to discover what the organization wants, and why they want it. It then gets transformed into what they can, and should, do.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

Virginia believes, and you should, too.

Photo by @jbtaylor

Setting the stage for success

To test any strategic recommendations, I ask myself questions about how I’m going to communicate (and possibly defend) the approach. For example:

  • What problem will it solve for the organization?
  • How is it better than what is happening now?
  • What will the organization need to stop doing for this to succeed?
  • What about it will get people excited?
  • What will make people uncomfortable?
  • What will help them overcome the discomfort?
  • Can others learn to communicate it effectively?
  • Will it be able to grow and change over time?

When I believe in what I’m recommending, I see the value in the project. I can clearly articulate how it’s a good thing for both the client and their users. Because of this work, I can guide collaborative conversations with the client to refine the overall approach. Clear goals and objectives have been defined, which makes the executional planning go faster. Decisions have been made, people understand those decisions, and work gets done.

Over the years, I’ve heard people say, “Well, it’s not like we think anyone’s actually going to do/use/want this.” Huge red flag. To me, this says they never did any real strategy work. Someone just came up with a quick solution to make the client happy, slapped the word “strategy” on it, and called it a day. Without taking the time to discover what the best approach is for the client, it’s pretty hard to believe in what you’re doing.

Be realistic, but don’t settle for sub-par

I’m not saying you’re going to love every single project—there will always be unforeseen challenges and setbacks. But, if there isn’t at least something you think will be useful or valuable to both the business and the user, then you probably need to keep working. Remember, belief is a powerful thing, especially this time of year.

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Posted in Content Strategy

What You Don’t Know About Brain Traffic

by Christine Benson on October 13th, 2011

Thanks to social media, many of our internal jokes are public information. While firing Meghan and a cake obsession may be well known, there’s more to us than you might have guessed.

1. We take pride in being a bunch of nerds and overachievers.

Every person who works here is driven by a high personal standard for quality. While we come from diverse backgrounds, it’s the one thing everyone has in common (other than an unnatural love of content).

It reminds me of a Family Ties episode where Alex and Mallory compete in a quiz show on TV. Their dad is the host of the show, and the team that wins is from the all-girls Catholic school. After the show, one of the girls comes up to Mr. Keaton and says, “My teacher says my answer about the Crusades was correct.” Mr. Keaton says, “What does it matter, you won?” The girl responds, “Yes, but we want to win by more.” We’re not jerks, we just really want to get things right. We take pride in what we do, not just for our clients, but for ourselves.

2. Most of us are introverts. Big time.

At events, we’re usually the group over in the corner, talking to the same people we see every day. And it’s not because we don’t want to talk to you—we’re just seriously shy (kind of goes hand-in-hand with the whole nerd thing). Feel free to come over and say hi. We’d be happy if you made the first move.

3. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company, even when we’re not working.

Every all-company meeting begins with story time. Some days, this takes up more time than the actual meeting. Also, at least once a year, we throw a party at our office. For ourselves. After many years of company outings, partying at our office was consistently voted the favorite (see #2).

Lots of party food

4. We frequently show up at places dressed like each other.

Seriously. This happens. On accident. All. The. Time. Even with the guys.

Matching outfits

5. Everyone gets a real paper card on their birthday, signed by their coworkers.

The first rule about birthday card signing is we never talk about birthday card signing. The card gets passed around in a folder with a checklist to record who has signed/needs to sign. We all pretend like we don’t know there’s a card in there. Any follow-up communication is handled over email. No words are ever spoken.

6. We have an unusually high number of similar or repeat names on staff.

There are three Christines (luckily one goes by Chris) and a Kristina, two Erins, and two Meghan/Megans. In the past, we also had two Angies and two Katies.

7. There’s an internal backlash against cake.

Cake will always be at the heart of Brain Traffic, but it’s nice to mix things up from time to time. Many of us secretly prefer pie, and in August we had a chip buffet.

8. However, we still have very detailed conversations about cake.

A thank you goes out to Erik Westra for noticing this. We don’t just eat cake; we have in-depth conversations analyzing cake qualities. Various flavors, cake vs. frosting, types of frosting … the list goes on. Even the cake backlash can trigger a good 10-minute conversation.

Want more behind-the-scenes info about Brain Traffic? Check out our other posts from around the office.

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Posted in Around the Office

Are You Really Collaborating?

by Christine Benson on August 18th, 2011

Definitions of “content strategist” vary widely, but one thing everyone seems to agree on is the need for us to work with a diverse group of teams and individuals—a content strategist needs to be a great collaborator.

"Look, if we work together we'll get done a lot quicker."
(photo by kennymatic. cc licensed)

I’ve always thought I was good at collaboration, but after reading a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Teams That Only Think They Collaborate,” I began to question my own collaboration practices. In the article, the author divides up the way teams work into three categories, only one of which is actually collaboration.

Compliance

This happens when each team member works independently and takes action in his or her own area of expertise. For example, a project starts with everyone agreeing that their company website is confusing to visitors. Hopefully, everyone works together to define or identify business goals and objectives. They then go off to develop their individual components. One person creates site messages and provides them to the writers. Another person develops site navigation and overall structure, and then gives it to the designers and developers. But, because no one made sure everything was tied together, the improvements are likely to be inconsistent and marginal.

Cooperation

When each person still works independently, but also shares what he or she is doing with the group, this is called cooperation. Each individual creates and implements their individual solutions without an overall collective strategy. Then, before things are considered final, there is a gathering and sharing of feedback. That feedback usually falls into one of three categories:

  • Minor word changes and clarifications
  • Identifying any major gaps
  • Things to consider for next time

Even when people take additional time to look at the deliverables, they’re more likely to simply validate that high-level thinking has been done, rather than considering and questioning why it’s been done. Cooperation will improve the work, but it doesn’t really support exploring alternate ideas and directions.

And finally, collaboration

With true collaboration, individual goals are set aside to create collective achievement. It involves everyone working together to define and address the problem using the combined resources, ideas, and talents of the team. When you collaborate, you get others involved in the decision making process. You all work together to figure out the best way to solve an issue. It’s not just about content strategy issues; it’s about how to make things better overall.

What collaboration really means

Any of this sound familiar? I realized that I had been complying and cooperating as often as I was collaborating. I wasn’t doing it on purpose. But after reading the article, I discovered there were a few habits I could change right away that would help me work more collaboratively.

  • Leave room for others to collaborate. Before, I would take my thinking almost to the final solution before I shared it. This makes it difficult for someone to go back and understand every decision—which in turn makes it difficult to give meaningful feedback about other options. Just because it’s a workable solution, doesn’t mean it’s the best solution. It’s just the one that I came up with. By inviting others in at the key decision points, I’ve been able to include additional ideas and directions that I wouldn’t have considered on my own.
  • Get things down on paper early. I tend to think through stuff in my head before I start writing. But it’s difficult to share complex ideas that only exist in your head. While you can talk people through things to a point, you still need to provide some documented direction that outlines what you’re thinking, along with where you have questions or holes. Once you have that, you can share it more easily with others. By creating documentation in iterations, I am giving others a framework to understand where I’m coming from and build upon.
  • Understand it’s still ok to work alone. Collaboration doesn’t mean you’re joined at the hip. Everyone still needs time alone to do research and analysis, and develop shared ideas. It’s when and where you come back together that makes it collaborative. If you feel you’re at the point of setting or changing the approach or overall direction, that’s a great time for a collaborative working session.

It’s not easy

Of course, collaboration is not without challenges. Working in a new way is uncomfortable. I’ve had to set my ego and insecurities aside to share work that isn’t perfect. I’ve had to talk about ideas and strategies before I’ve felt ready. But the work is better and “getting there” faster. I feel more confident about the solutions we’re proposing, and I get to bask even more in the brilliance of my coworkers.

In the past, I’ve focused on having the answers to questions and solving problems. Now, I realize that involving others in the development of a solution adds to the true value.

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Posted in Content Strategy

The Inside Job: Getting Started

by Christine Benson on July 5th, 2011

There’s been some great success lately with raising the visibility of content strategy in organizations. Recently, I’ve spoken at several conferences and events, and I'm seeing a stronger representation of people who work “on the inside” – within organizations large and small. After each session, several of these insiders come up to me (with a look somewhere between excitement and terror in their eyes) and ask: “How do I get started?”

Start Here

(photo by Twid. cc licensed)

Having spent a lot of my career “in-house,” I can sympathize with the challenges. I know how hard it can be to get things done. If you’re an insider, here are a few tips to get the ball rolling.

Get focused

Looking at the entire landscape of an organization's content can be daunting. In truth, enterprise content strategy projects can take months, if not years, to complete. And that's with a team of people focused on nothing else. You probably have a variety of responsibilities that make "fixing our content" an almost impossible starting point.

With an internal role, the work is usually more fluid and ongoing. To make things manageable, you'll need to set some priorities. When you're looking across the organization at everything you could do, here are a couple of tips to help you get focused:

  • Find low visibility content with high potential. People often have strong opinions about the home page and main section pages. These content hot spots can be difficult starting points until you have some success stories to back you up. Look for things that have high potential for customer engagement, but usually get ignored. Support content like help sections, customer service pages, or error messages are good candidates.
  • Pick sympathetic business partners. You likely work with a wide variety of groups within your organization. Each group probably has its own culture—some you may work well with, others, not so much. It’s always easier to get things done with people who are supportive. Use their requests for some early test projects to build a case for larger initiatives.
  • Use workflow as a foundation for quality. Establishing a common definition of content quality can be hard without some serious organizational support. But most groups are allowed some autonomy to define the best way to get their work done. Use this to your advantage. Create tools that will help you gather the information you need to keep your content in shape. Focusing on the behavior (i.e., process), instead of values (i.e., quality), will make it easier for others to adapt to. Plus, gathering information up front will make it easier to create and maintain high-quality content.

Get to work

Now that you know what you’re focused on, it’s time to get stuff done. There are numerous processes and approaches out there, but I would recommend the following as a bare minimum:

  • Know the business goal. You have to know the business goals to know what you need to produce. The best approach is to ask questions. It can be as simple as “what are we trying to achieve?” Then be brave and ask it again (and again) if you didn’t feel like you got a real answer. If you keep asking, you’ll open the door to several possibilities:
    • Business goals could be defined
    • Identifying a lack of business goals moves the request to the bottom (or off) of your list of priorities
    • People figure it out before they come to you
  • Analysis + documentation = gold. This is the single biggest thing I would change if I went back to a corporate team. When you’re really familiar with the organization and its content, it always seems like a waste of time to write down what feels obvious. But finding 250 web pages with errors or 15 people using different definitions of the same term provides concrete examples that others can identify with. The time it takes to complete an analysis and develop documentation is worth the clarity it creates. It’s the best defense against scope creep, changes in direction, and inconsistent assumptions.
  • Get some help. If you need support but can’t afford to hire an external consultant, look to your peers for best practices. The content strategy community is an extremely friendly, generous, and talkative group. Look at #contentstrategy on Twitter and the content strategy Google group to connect to a universe of smart, respected people; many are also top professionals in the discipline.
  • Make it work for you. Think of all the possible content strategy deliverables and resources like a buffet (the big fancy buffet at the Bellagio, not Old Country Buffet). Don’t be afraid to take only the parts that you need and combine them with others. There are no rules. Remember, the best practice is not to create a page table or an audit, but to gather and communicate the information necessary to achieve your goals. A page table or any other “standard” deliverable is just a version of that communication.

On your mark, get set…

It’s encouraging that so many organizations are getting interested in content strategy. The ongoing nature of the organizational content strategist is crucial to improving content long term. It can be challenging to hear a conceptual approach and figure out how to apply them to specific circumstances. Remember you don’t need to know the solution to get started. Get focused and get to work and the rest can be figured out along the way.

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Posted in Content Strategy

Communication Tips from Client Services

by Christine Benson on March 31st, 2011

The Brain Traffic VP of Client Services

While a lot of our content strategy work happens at a quiet desk with a Word doc or an Excel spreadsheet, our recommendations would never be realistic or useful without effective client communication and partnership.

Our VP of client services, Julie Vollenweider, is a master at communicating with clients. She has a distinct style that is both professional and personable. She also happens to be our reigning queen of catchphrases.

Working with Julie, I’ve learned a great deal about my own communication style through these phrases. Here are a couple key Julie-isms that have helped me become a better content strategist.

1.     “Spill it Christine.”

What it means: Be direct. When Julie says “Spill it,” it’s a cue that I’ve been avoiding what I really need to say.

How it helps: Be honest and open with the client and start difficult conversations early. Clients frequently ask for “blue sky” ideas that are “without limits.” But, there are real reasons why they have not, or cannot, achieve these dreamy outcomes. Specifically, workflow and governance challenges. The earlier you have those conversations, the sooner everyone can get focused on (and excited about) realistic solutions.

2.     “I’m not sure what you’re telling me.”

What it means: Too many details. If I verbally problem solve, it’s just a rambling list of topics coming out of my mouth as soon as they enter my head. With no order or structure, it’s impossible for her to follow what I’m saying.

How it helps: Details are there to support your main idea. While details are important, they are not the star of the show. Make sure you have a main idea AND SAY IT before you jump into a million little points.

3.     “What can I do?”

What it means: Focus on the information and issues I want her help with. Sometimes it sounds like I’m asking for help, but I’m probably just presenting a bunch of issues that:

- I may or may not want Julie’s help with
- Julie may or may not have the ability to help with

Figuring out what I realistically need from Julie before I go talk to her saves both her time and mine.

How it helps: Make sure supporting information ties back to the recommendations. When dealing with content, there’s no end to the amount of interesting information you’ll find. But, you need to determine what’s not only interesting, but also useful. The client doesn’t need a reference document about everything in their organization related to their content; they need an easy-to-understand plan—focused on the key ideas—that they can actually implement.

4.     “Totes.” “Tawes.” And my personal favorite, “CMB, YATB. HOEDIESWY? YDABTITT!” 

What it means: She makes up words and acronyms. There’s no point pretending that I get them. So I ask. Every time.

How it helps: Never be afraid to ask a question if something doesn’t make sense. Every industry and client organization has an internal language. If you don’t understand what the client is talking about, there’s a good chance their customers won’t either.

For more words of wisdom on managing the client side of content, check out Julie’s blog posts.
 

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy

Content Strategy Can Help. Literally.

by Christine Benson on October 21st, 2010

You’d be hard-pressed to find a reputable e-commerce site without some sort of help/support link in the header. But how many times have you clicked on a help link and found NOTHING helpful?  How did that happen? Everyone agreed that a help section was needed. They all knew the customers were going to go there.

But there was still a disconnect between putting the help link on the page and actually planning for that content. Determining what content should be there, how it should be organized, who will create it, and how it will be maintained are all central to the practice of content strategy.

For the sake of keeping this post short, I’ll assume that the product copy is already planned for.  If you’re creating an e-commerce site and you haven’t done that, you’ve got some serious content problems that a blog post probably can’t solve. Moving on …

Interface design is about the numbers. Great design supports the majority of interactions the customer comes to do. User testing uncovers error scenarios for those interactions. Then interface improvements are made to eliminate or mitigate the scenarios.

But there are exceptions. Sometimes people have questions or need additional support. An interface that tries to provide a solution for every exception usually results in something messy and less useable.

I’ve personally witnessed user testing where these outlier scenarios were uncovered. The facilitator asks, “Where would you go to answer that question?” 99% of the time the answer was “I’d use the help link.” Awesome, problem solved. The user found the help link. Test over.

But wait … What’s actually in that help section?

If you find yourself staring at a blank or non-helpful help section, here are a few tips to get your content back on track:

Identify the needs
Do new site users have the same questions as existing users? Are they in the middle of a task or looking for general information? Is this something that can be answered online or will they need to call customer service?  Answering these types of questions will help determine what content to include and how to prioritize it.

Make a plan to create the content
Someone needs to write the content. That someone will need source material. Make friends with the user experience and customer service people. As the front lines to the customers, they can identify what questions are being asked and the frequency of those questions. They can also explain the process needed to resolve the customer’s issue.

After the content is written, it’ll need to go through proofing, revisions, publishing, and other processes and checkpoints. Never forget that creating content is about more than writing.

Set style guidelines
How your content “speaks” should be in line with your brand, but a help page should not sound like a marketing promotion. Here’s a real life scenario: say you ask someone for directions and they start by telling you about their wonderful city or apologizing that you’re lost. You’d likely be impatient at best. Don’t do that. Answer the question directly and succinctly. Then be done with it.

Feed and care for your help section
Content is never done. Out-of-date content is not only embarrassing, but damaging to your brand. Your customer came to you for support, and your content didn’t deliver.

If you’re making enhancements to your site functionality, include a plan to review the help content. Things like changes to store policies or new product lines can also require updates to the help section. Determine a regular audit schedule to check for accuracy and information gaps (remember that part about making friends with the customer service reps?), then make sure the content gets updated.

And if you’re still stuck, call us. We’d love to help.
 

(Image: "Help" by Flickr user LiminalMike (CC: by-nc-sa 2.0))

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Posted in Uncategorized

Top 10 infographic resources

by Christine Benson on May 7th, 2010

We're infographic junkies here at Brain Traffic, and it's not hard to figure out why: Successful infographics are the marriage of great design and useful information. In other words, infographics are visually appealing content.

Converting your information to an infographic benefits your users by communicating your message in a visually compelling form. Whether they show up in internal deliverables or online, infographics seem to get everyone excited. Whenever I'm ready to create a new graphic, I use these resources for ideas and inspiration.

Great Lists from other sites
1.  Smashing Magazine They've done several infographic round-up posts, but this is the one I keep going back to.
2.  Six Revisions There's a strong consumption theme running through this collection. I've sent the coffee and beer graphics around to family and friends on more than one occasion.
3.  Blog of Francesco Mugnai 50 great infographics. Nothing else. 

 Sites dedicated to Infographics
4.  Flowing Data  Great graphics and advice about how to create them. Props to Nathan Yau .
5.  Chart Porn There's a humor category. (swoon)
6.  Cool Infographics  Lots of resources for creating graphics as well as examples. Check out the tips for designing infographics
7.  We love Datavis The browsing on this one is not my favorite (the thumbnails are tough to decipher without clicking), but the graphics they pick are really strong.
8.  How Toons Cartoons are not infographics in the traditional sense, but these are so entertaining I had to include this example.

 Print Infographics
9.  Feltron Annual Report Nicholas Felton does a report every year. It’s pretty amazing.
10.  Good Magazine You know about Good, right? No? Just go there. Go there NOW. 

 Bonus – Interactive graphics!
I know I've already named 10, but I have to end with my all-time favorite interactive infographic. It's the New York Times Olympic Medal count – there's one for the Summer and Winter. They’re both so amazing, I love to go back to them even when it's not an Olympic year.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content

Ask yourself

by Christine Benson on December 9th, 2009

Do you really need that?  

As an Information Architect and HUGE Martha Stewart fan, I have unrealistic expectations about how organized my house should be. I periodically take on projects to get sections of my house in order. I approach them similar to my work projects, with audit and analysis, followed by designing a solution and implementing the structure. 
 
Early attempts at these projects would always stall in audit and analysis. I would come across the random things that just didn’t seem to go anywhere. Unable to find a home or at least some friends for said item would paralyze me into inaction.
  
But I’ve since found a solution that’s made my projects finish without fail… I get rid of it. 
 
This doesn’t always work, but approaching a large organizational task by assuming that I will be getting rid of anything that is redundant or without a home clarifies the usefulness of the item and my emotions about it. 
 
If I truly cannot part with it, then it needs a home. Usually that home is a highly prominent location that allows for organization based off of frequent use, like a utility drawer.
 
I’ve since transferred this process to wrangling source content. When I’m left with the stragglers that aren’t like anything else, I consider a series of questions: 
 
"What will this information add to the experience?" 
"What would be lost if this information went away?" 
"Who would be affected if they look for this and can’t find it? 
"By including this information, will it get in the way of more important information?" 
 
If any or all of the answers to the above mean I need to keep it and there’s still no obvious home, perhaps I need to reconsider how I’ve organized things. 
 
If I don’t need to keep it, then it’s simple. It just goes away.
  
Useful, usable website content is not about providing every single piece of information that anyone could ever think of, but instead focusing the information that people are most likely to want and use.
  
Getting rid of extra stuff clarifies your message and makes it easier for the majority of people to learn what they came there for. 
 
So when you’re faced with leftover pieces of content start with "what if we got rid of it?" If you can answer that, the rest is much easier. 

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Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, User Experience, Web Content