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Archive for the ‘Web Content’ Category

You’re Smart. We’re Smart. Let’s Do Some Content Strategy.

by Julie Vollenweider on November 18th, 2010

When it’s time to blog, I focus on one of two things:  (1) something that entertains me or (2) a common question I hear when talking with organizations about collaborating on a content strategy project.

And you know what? Now is no time to try and change a creature of habit.  Here’s the latest in my Q&A series.

What experience does Brain Traffic have in [fill-in-the-blank] industry?

I can appreciate where this question is coming from – clients have a desire to speak the same language. From our perspective, having worked in a specific industry can certainly help – but it isn’t a requirement for a successful content strategy effort.

Our team has experience across a wide range of industries, including consumer goods, education, health care, non-profit, pharmaceuticals, retail, and more. We don’t focus on any one particular industry or market.

Why not?

Because our business model is to stay focused on what we’re good at – Brain Traffic expertly helps people effectively use content to achieve their business goals.

We count on our clients to do the same and bring their unique industry insight to the project. With both of us bringing our expertise – regardless of what previous experience we have in your industry, or what previous experience you have in ours – the result can be a smash success.

Other consultancies will work to specialize in a few industries and tout that experience as a great reason to work together. And this is where Brain Traffic has a different opinion. Instead of focusing on knowing the same things as our clients, we hope to bring something different to the relationship – our leadership in content strategy – blending client expertise with our own.

Yeah, but how does that really work?

It’s simple. We do a Vulcan Mind Meld.

A mind meld needed for Content Strategy? Like Spock? Nope.

Well, not exactly. But close.

The first thing we do for any project is to dig into the existing content assets and ecosystems. We immerse ourselves in the current situation and opportunity. We ask thoughtful questions that may not be as obvious to someone living and breathing a particular topic every single day. It’s during this rigorous discovery phase that we gather the important knowledge on which to base our content strategy recommendations.

Is everyone comfortable with this approach? Nope. Does it work for our clients? Absolutely.

 

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Posted in Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, Web Content

Improving Your Content’s Signal-to-Noise Ratio

by Christine Anameier on November 4th, 2010

If you grew up in a certain era, you probably remember fiddling with the dial on a car radio, trying to tune in a station. When you found the signal: hooray, music! And in between? Noise. Sometimes, web content can seem a lot like the static you hear between stations.

Is your website broadcasting loud and clear? Even if your content is terrific, presenting it the wrong way can make it seem like static. Let’s look at what you can do to make your signal heard.

Even good content can be noise

When we talk about web content, we talk about messaging and audiences—what your site is trying to say, and who you’re saying it to. If something is clearly off-topic or doesn’t apply to any of your audiences, it’s noise. Most people who work on content will accept that verdict, if grudgingly.

Where things get a little touchier is when something is only marginally relevant. Or relevant to the wrong audience. Or not clearly focused. The information you needed yesterday may be noise today. Perfectly good content will be noise to somebody.

The bottom line: When you’re looking for information, everything that’s not what you need at this very minute is noise.

Noise gets in the way

When there’s too much noise, it’s hard to find the signal. With that car radio, we all had days where we got fed up with the static and popped in a cassette.

Sometimes content is labeled vaguely, and this only compounds the problem. If people can’t tell at a glance whether something is what they’re looking for, you’re probably making them work too hard.  And if you make your audience work too hard, they’re likely to wander off and find a site that gives them more help.

If your site has too much static, they’ll pop in the cassette—and, for that visit at least, you’ve lost them.

Boosting the signal

So, how can you break through the noise and get the most out of your content?

Segmentation. We often recommend segmenting content by audience, if your audiences can self-identify, like “Patients” and “Doctors.” (Or sometimes you may need to organize your content by task, or by where the content falls in the purchase cycle.)

Prioritization. Understand your audiences and their tasks, and decide what your website is trying to do. Then make the site structure— and the page structure—reflect those priorities.

Clear labeling. Specific and accurate link text, page titles, and headings are essential. They’re like the numbers on that radio dial. Without them, your audience is just fiddling around hoping to stumble upon something worthwhile.

Content Strategy Signal to Noise Ratio

In many cases, improving your signal-to-noise ratio doesn’t mean deleting a lot of your content. It means finding a better way of organizing and presenting what you’ve got.

Chances are, you’ve got the information people are looking for. Put a good clear signal out there, and they’ll keep tuning in.

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

Is Paper.li Good News, or Bad News, for Content?

by Angie King on September 15th, 2010

A recent Brain Traffic Twitter exchange with @dmnguys introduced me to the world of Paper.li. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I like the service or not. One thing’s for sure: it’s no substitute for curation.

WHAT IS PAPER.LI?
According to their website, Paper.li is an online service that “organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format.”  You can create these “newspapers” to aggregate content for Twitter users, lists, or hashtags. Paper.li automatically generates these feeds into a homepage that emulates the feel of a traditional newspaper’s website.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
As Mathew Ingram writes on Gigaom.com, Paper.li is “a great way to catch up on interesting links my network has found — especially if I have been away from Twitter during the day and am wondering what I have missed.”

I’ve only been using Paper.li for a couple short days, but I can already agree that this is the main benefit of a service like this. Other things I like about Paper.li:

  • View by topic—If you want to see things only related to Technology, you can do that without paging through your full Twitter feed.
  • View by media—Gives you a snapshot view of videos and photos, without clicking a link first.
  • Create multiple newspapers—You can create up to 10 “newspapers” to follow the people, hashtags, and lists you’re most interested in.
  • No follow required—You can follow any Twitter list on Paper.li without actually following it from your Twitter account.

WHAT I DON'T LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
This list is meatier than the “What I like” list. Sorry, Paper.li.

Daily Tweets, without context—If you want to share your Paper.li site on your personal Twitter stream, you can click the “Promote It” link below the masthead. This requires you to sign up for daily promotional Tweets, and won’t let you do a one-time promotion of your page. Sure, you can go in and “manage” the papers you are promoting to turn off the daily Tweets—but that’s a bit laborious.

Additionally, Paper.li Daily Tweets provide absolutely no context for the content that appears on your Paper.li page. This absence of context is exactly what drew me to Paper.li in the first place.

Here’s the @BrainTraffic  / @dmnguys exchange that inspired this post:

The fact that the Paper.li daily gets “no input from us” doesn’t bother @dmnguys. Automatic generation of a Tweet absolves them from providing context. But as a user and an indirect subject of their Twitter stream, the Paper.li Daily Tweet ended up confusing instead of enlightening me.

Without the proper context around the “featured” Twitter handles and why they are being featured, the Daily Tweet doesn’t provide any value to followers. At least, not in my book.

Not all “stories” translate—Paper.li attempts to replicate the first paragraph of the links shared by your Twitter community. This lead-in doesn’t always translate well, so you end up reading a bunch of nonsense until you click the link. For instance, Kristina posted a link to some favorite articles the other day.

Her Tweet said:

Paper.li translated her Tweet as follows:

Um … WTF?

Not customizable—Because Paper.li automatically generates the sections of my daily “newspaper,” I have no say in what appears as my lead story. Also, I can’t hide or rearrange any of the topical sections.

No central dashboard—I created two Paper.li dailies, but am unable to access them without a direct URL. I expected Paper.li to keep a list of my previously created “newspapers” somewhere, especially after I’m logged in to the site. (In case you’re curious, the two papers I created are: Angie King Daily and contentstrategy Daily.)

PAPER.LI IS NOT CURATION
Granted, nobody said it WAS curation. But my experience with Paper.li just proves the importance of curation over aggregation.  Without an editorial eye overseeing the publication of my Paper.li page, the content loses value. I actually prefer just paging through my Twitter stream over trying to make sense of the no-context, automatically generated list of junk that displays on my Paper.li page.

But I can’t blame Paper.li for trying to meet a need. It just wasn’t MY need. Probably because I’m not a robot.

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

Content strategy with a British accent

by Meghan Casey on August 6th, 2010

Meghan Casey and Jonathan Kahn

 

After spending some quality time with our pal Jonathan Kahn at Web Content Chicago 2010 in June, we convinced the fellow content strategy evangelist to make a trip to sunny Minneapolis. Jonathan is founder of London-based web design agency Together London, author of the blog Lucid Plot, and an all-around smart cookie. We like him.

Amidst his whirlwind of tourist activities and an intense round of bar trivia (we won third place), Jonathan obligingly sat down with me to talk shop. I can’t wait to revisit the podcast myself: I was too entranced by his charming accent to pay much attention at the time. (Kidding!)

Listen in to hear this brilliant Brit wax poetic on:

  • How he came to the practice of content strategy
  • How to fix a broken web development process
  • Content strategy: A job for one or many?

The best part, though, is where I make him say something Minnesotan. (You won’t be disappointed.)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You may also download the mp3.

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, Web Content

Maintaining Your Non-Text Content

by Clinton Forry on July 16th, 2010

Many of our clients request our help writing video scripts or incorporating interactive tools into their website. We’re all for enhancing the user experience with non-text content, but only if it makes strategic sense. And only if there’s a solid maintenance plan in place. Because publishing non-text content comes with a set of unique challenges.

Be proactive about non-text content maintenance.
In an ideal world, all website maintenance decisions happen as a result of your own company’s preferences, and on a reasonable timeline. But even if you’re not living in that ideal world you can still protect yourself. Here’s how:

  • Retain source and working files from content partners
  • Consider hosting options carefully, and make a contingency plan
  • Build a third-party content revision path into your content workflows

Retain source and working files from content partners.
Anyone with a computer can edit a text file, regardless of its source. By contrast, editing audio, video, and Flash-based elements requires access to the original files and the sophisticated software used to create them.

It’s harder to guarantee that access if you’ve outsourced the content. Unless you make sure to get a complete handoff of all original source files you can get stuck editing these elements in other programs, to the detriment of file quality. (For example, video and graphics are best edited at the highest resolution, then rendered/exported/converted to the resolution at which people will ultimately use it.)

Consider hosting options carefully and make a contingency plan.
To complicate matters, content producers often choose to host their content on third-party platforms. Third-party video hosting services (e.g., YouTube) attract content producers by offering APIs, advanced embedding features, HD quality, and free bandwidth.

Using such providers may streamline your process initially, but also requires handing over a certain amount of control. (Companies get acquired, business plans evolve, etc.) If a change is made to the initial agreement, the API, or even the display/delivery of your content, you may be forced to take your content elsewhere.

Disruptions resulting from external partners take time and resources away from your day-to-day business functions. They also affect the user experience. (Think of a video-centric page missing its videos. Yikes!)

Concerns about hosting problems can be easily mitigated by retaining those high-resolution versions and their attendant metadata. With those in hand, upload to other suitable hosting services will be a snap.

Build a third-party content revision path into your content workflows.
Content workflows need to take into account the complexities of editing non-text content.  This flowchart illustrates the steps involved in successfully making both pre- and post-publishing changes to non-text content:

nontext content flowchart

(click to enlarge)

Incorporating these guidelines into your site maintenance plan will help ensure your non-text content is working as hard as it can to keep users engaged and coming back for more.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, Web Content

How Bad Content Ruined My Vacation

by Emily Folstad on May 14th, 2010

At Brain Traffic, we’re all about asking tough (yet perfectly sensible) questions of our clients. “It’s great that you want to post a news feed on your home page!” we might say. “You’ve got someone assigned to making sure it stays up to date and accurate, right?” And so on.

There’s a reason why we ask these questions. Because it’s not just irritating for web users to find stale content online. Sometimes it can mean the difference between a successful family vacation and a wasted afternoon …

Recently, my husband and I headed to Iowa with my parents for a cousin’s wedding. My Dad proposed we stop at a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on the way back.

Three hours out of the way later, we arrived to a closed gate. The sign read: “Will open Memorial Day weekend.”

This had to be a mistake! The Iowa Department of Natural Resources website told us tours start May 1. We called the house. Sure enough, opening hours had been changed, but the website had not been updated.    

We got back in the car, turned around and headed home. This little mishap meant I spent SIX (6) EXTRA HOURS IN THE CAR WITH MY PARENTS.

Website owners, please make sure your content is accurate. Take the time to think about where it’s coming from, who will update it (and how often), whether you have the resources available to support it, why it’s being included in the first place, and how it will help your users accomplish their goals.

You might not hear or see your users, but we’re out there, trusting you’ve put some smart thinking behind the words we see on our screen. Don’t let us down.


Source: iowadnr.gov

The house I never got to see – Cedar Rock, the Walter residence, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.


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Posted in Content Strategy, Web Content

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

Don’t put content in your users’ blind spot

by Angie King on April 23rd, 2010

So, you’ve done your research. You know what content is important to your users. You put that information on your website and pat yourself on the back for providing useful, useable content.

But wait. Don’t congratulate yourself just yet. Because simply putting content on a page doesn't guarantee users will find it. It could be hidden in a "content blind spot."

What’s a content blind spot?
Content blind spots occur when the information is there, but users can’t see it. In general, users scan and skip content, looking for clues before committing to read. But if the clues are missing, users won’t find the content.

Problems that prevent users from finding content include:

  • Information is not where users expect to find it, based on past experiences on that website or the web in general
  • Links do not look like links (e.g., link text not underlined or not blue)
  • Copy is “hidden” inside a graphic element or photograph
  • Page titles and links do not use relevant keywords or common user terms

Just like those little Smart Cars that hide in your Prius’s blind spot on the freeway, content stays unseen until someone changes their position. While driving, that means you or the Smart Car needs to speed up, slow down, or change lanes. Likewise, content stays hidden in a blind spot until either the user changes their approach to accessing the information, or you change the way it’s displayed.

What it’s like to experience the content blind spot
While doing our taxes, my husband asked me how much interest I paid on my student loan in 2009. I went to WellsFargo.com to find out.

I get all my bank-related documents electronically, so I knew right where to find that sort of information—or so I thought. I logged in to my student loan and went to the Statements & Documents tab. Once there, I saw a link called “Available Tax Documents.” Bingo.

 

 
“Hey! I’m looking for information to help me file taxes. The 'Available Tax Documents’ link will give me what I need.” (Click image to enlarge.)
 

Wrong. I went from feeling triumphant to confused within seconds—or however long it took a “Tax document not available online” error message to load.

After a few more failed attempts, I called customer service. A friendly representative walked me through the exact same process I had just gone through. I got the same error message. She was confused. I was confused. She transferred me to another department. The call was disconnected mid-Muzak stream. I was fuming.

I gave up. But my husband was convinced the information had to be online. I handed him my laptop, and wished him luck.

He found the information in two seconds.

 

 
“Oh. The information I was looking for was there along. Now I’m mad at Wells Fargo for making me feel stupid.” (Click image to enlarge.)
 

How the content snuck into my blind spot
I totally missed seeing my 2009 tax info because I had expected to find it in the Statements & Documents tab. Then, the tab rewarded my incorrect assumption by providing an “Available Tax Documents” link.

I didn’t even look for the information on the Account Activity page. Why? Because I was used to looking at a similar page for my checking account, and there is no “interest paid” information there. It’s just a summary of my balance. So why would I look on that page for interest information on my student loan account?

How to avoid the content blind spot

My experience is just one example of how content can “hide” from your user. To avoid this type of content blind spot:

  • Be consistent in where you put similar pieces of content throughout the site
  • Use relevant keywords and user terminology—especially when labeling links and navigation
  • Don’t mislead users with links that don’t deliver what they promise

If you put content in your users’ blind spot, they’ll leave your website feeling angry, confused, and frustrated. And without the information they needed. Not everyone has a husband with eagle eyes, you know?

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

Content Strategy, or, Let’s Make a Mixtape

by Clinton Forry on April 16th, 2010

While digging through my box of cassettes the other day, I had a minor epiphany. Content strategy and the creation of mixtapes are shockingly similar.

As it has been said, content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. For a website, certainly. But for the creation of a mixtape?

For those unfamiliar, a mixtape:

  • Is a compilation of songs (just as websites are collections of content)
  • Created for a specific someone (consider your audience)
  • Communicates a specific message (in service of business objectives)
  • Should elicit a particular response (meet user needs/assist in task completion)

Although they can now be a collection of downloads, “mixtape” is a throwback to their heyday in the 1980s when they were cassettes. Later, they took the form of burned CDs, then mp3 playlists.

For those unfamiliar, a review of some basic tenets of content strategy:

  • Analysis: Objectives defined, assumptions and risks noted, success metrics established. Account for internal and external forces that might influence them.
  • Audit: A quantitative or qualitative review of your current content landscape.
  • Strategy: Actionable, achievable recommendations. Includes editorial workflows, calendars, messaging hierarchy, content types, formats, plus much more!

First is analysis. "What do I want to do with this website (or mixtape)?" Surely you've a recipient in mind. Otherwise, you wouldn't be making a website (or mixtape), right? This goes hand in hand with the objectives and message. All websites (and mixtapes) need clear objectives. They can both do many, many things, but a focused approach will make their creation and delivery much easier.

The objective of creating a mixtape might be to musically convince the recipient that you are indeed cool, or in love, or sorry, or over them (or in rare cases, all of the above). Focus on a theme and/or purpose for the mixtape, give it a title, and dig in.

To put together a website (or mixtape), you'll need source content (songs, in this case). Now would be a good time to perform a qualitative content audit. The audit should note what content (here, your music collection) is currently available, and if it is usable.

Websites brimming with content that is redundant, outdated, and trivial are frustrating and often impossible to use. Broken links, five year old “news” articles, and duplicative pages get in the way of achieving objectives. An audit helps to determine what can stay and what gets the boot.

The same applies for the content for your mixtape. For example, your Bee Gees 8-tracks won't make it onto a mixtape if you don't have an 8-track player. Is that vinyl LP copy of "Thriller" too scratched to use? Did the tape deck in your friend's Camaro eat your copy of Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet," rendering "Wanted Dead or Alive" more dead than alive? Perhaps your computer hard drive crashed, corrupting all of your Justin Bieber downloads.

On this mixtape, you might choose to include some content (songs) you don’t actually have in your collection. How will you decide where to get it? The provider of that content will be selected on the basis of what best suits your needs. For instance, you may already have an ongoing relationship with a content provider. Is it the funny-smelling record store down the street? Amazon.com or iTunes? You might also pick a place all your friends are raving about. Or you might avoid one your parents happen to frequent.

With source content in hand, selecting the songs from the pool begins the mixtape editorial workflow. These questions will help you get started:

  • Does this content (or song) support the overall message?
  • Does it make sense in this context? (Not everyone will “get” your raga references.)
  • Does its place next to other selections make for a pleasing experience?
  • Will it fit in the remaining time on side B of the cassette?

Make sure that the content (song selection) is relevant to the lucky recipient/user. Putting punk songs and opera and hip-hop tracks one right after the next might be jarring for some, but not for others.

Remember: Stay true to the focus of the theme, consider the recipient, and assert your coolness.

A few additional tips:

  • Create your mix with the end user in mind (be aware of their pop culture knowledge).
  • Clearly state the title.
  • Write the title and track list in a language they can read (as opposed to Esperanto. Or Klingon.)
  • If you are making a cassette, make sure they have a cassette player.

The associated “metadata” (in this case, title, track list, and any totally sweet, custom artwork) completes the package. The tone and voice of the title and artwork are all additional opportunities to continue the theme and message of the mixtape. The track list rounds out the experience by providing a reference to the greatness you've compiled. If you follow these important rules, your final product will be so much more than the consumable tape or CD alone.  

Just like creating a mixtape is more than slapping a couple of songs together haphazardly on a cassette, creating websites with useful, usable content is more than just slapping words on a page. Taking the time and effort to carefully go through these processes will produce an end result that will make your website users happy (or your mixtape listeners happy).

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, Web Content

Clients say the darnedest things: How to deal with bad feedback

by Elizabeth Saloka on March 18th, 2010

You spend weeks writing your client’s site. And it pays off. Your messaging is dead on. Your copy is fresh, clear, and active. Deliriously tired but satisfied, you email the document to your client.

Two days later you get the document back. You open it. 

MAMA SAY WHAAAATTTTT?! 

She. Butchered. Your. Document. Butchered it! Using track changes, she reformatted your beautiful bulleted lists into gigantic paragraphs filled with run-on sentence after run-on sentence. She added “dynamic” and “synergism” to the home page intro. As an overall comment, she requested you please “change all the links to ‘click here’, so people know to click.”
 
This feedback is bad. Very bad. But she’s the client. What do you do?
 
First, let’s clarify something.
This article is about dealing with bad feedback. Not dealing with negative feedback. Bad feedback and negative feedback are two different things.
 
Negative refers to how the client perceives your work.
 
Bad refers to how the client expresses their perception (negative or positive) of your work.
 
For my fellow visual learners, a chart:   
 

Now let’s talk about types of bad feedback—and how to deal with them.
Below, a profile of four popular types of bad feedback accompanied by coping tips: 
 

1. Jargon-y feedback.   
Your client: “I’d like the copy to be more delightful.”

You: “Sure! No problem! I’ll make it more delightful!”

Wrong move, buddy.

When a client uses subjective, vague terms in feedback, you MUST call her on it. Right away. Even if you know stopping to dissect and analyze her feedback is going to take extra time and effort. Even if you have to revise schedules.
 
In the long run, you will save time, the content will be better, and your client will be happier. Promise.
 
If you can, help your client see the flaw in her logic. If she wants the intro to be more “robust,” respond with an open-ended question such as, “What does ‘robust’ mean to you, exactly?”
 
Also, make sure you get examples—ask the client to email you “robust” copy samples. That way you have something tangible to work with. 
 
2. Vague feedback.
She says, “Looks great!!!” And that’s, like, it.
 
Your client read all 87 pages of your copy deck and had no changes? Riiiiiggghhht.
 
I’d bet my bellybutton this is what’s really going on: your client didn’tactually read your whole content doc. Or at least not thoroughly. She’s so busy worrying about the site’s design/other projects/her newborn octoplets she didn’t have time to read it.
 
So she’s cool with it. For now. That is, until her site is four hours from launch and she calls you for a boatload of last-minute revisions.

Do yourself and your client a big favor and make it very clear she needs to provide feedback now (remember, do so nicely!) or forever hold her peace.

Say something like, “I’m so tickled pink you went through ALL the content and you don’t haveANYrevisions. I’ll go ahead and send you the invoice and close out your project. It was great working with you!”

 
If she responds with, “Wait! Wait! I might still have some revisions!” you can firmly (but nicely!) remind her of the feedback process you agreed to when the project kicked off.

Tip: Include one or two questions using the comments feature in your document when you send it to the client. That way, if she gives you the ‘ol, “Looks great!” you can respond by asking if she had any further thoughts about your questions.

If she has no idea what you’re talking about, or if she responds with, “Oh, right. We’re going to have to change that,” you know she didn’t look it over thoroughly. Proceed with caution!

 
3. Contradictory feedback.

She says, “We only call ourselves ‘managers’ internally. Please don’t use that term in the copy.’”
 
You say, “Okay.”
 
What’s so contradictory about that, you ask? You’re right: It’s perfectly straightforward direction. Until you get your document back from your client and see she added ‘managers’ to the company tagline, home page headline, global navigation, footer, and image ALT tags.  

Clearly, you need to clarify what your client wants.

But, for the sake of your working relationship, you also need to be careful not to put her on the defensive or make her feel foolish. There are many ways to proceed. For instance, you could say …  

“Earlier you said I shouldn’t call you ‘managers.’ But throughout the document you inserted the word ‘managers.’ What exactly would you like me to do?”

There’s nothing wrong with that approach. I guess. But doesn’t this just seem friendlier …

“Hey! Thanks for the feedback. I had one quick question regarding the word ‘managers.’ I see you’ve added it in a few places—is it okay to use that term now? Thanks!”

See? Nicer. Generally, clients like it when you’re nice to them.

 

4. Nonsensical feedback.  
Maybe she’s high on coffee. Or she prefers expressing thoughts verbally. Or maybe she’s been up all night watching Lethal Weapon and its sequels. Whatever the reason, sometimes your client will give feedback that, well, makes absolutely no sense.

“Could you please add another future verb to this entire beginning of copy paragraph? Thanks!”

Huh?

“I talked to Janice and she said Tom’s player copy doesn’t need any more action-oriented dropdowns (except maybe for twice?). Thanks!!”

Whazza who?

“Legal review. Stakeholders. Danny Glover. Thanks!!!”

Mmm.  

If you have no clue in sweet heaven what she’s talking about (it does happen), schedule an in-person interview with her—over the phone works, too—so you can walk through her, um, “points.”

Start by reading a couple of her comments back to her. Hopefully, she’ll stop you after a couple minutes and say, “Geez. I wasn’t making any sense! I meant to say blah, blah, blah.” Or whatever. If she doesn’t, hopefully you’ll be able to glean some insight into her state of mind through verbal cues. 

Finally, a request.

It’s easy to roll your eyes when a client gives you slick, vague, contradictory, nonsensical feedback. But you know what? She’s likely juggling a billion things, from wireframes to babies to Lethal Weapon DVDs. Your copy is just one of them. Cut her some slack. And remember, she’s not a writer. If she were, she wouldn’t need you.

If you’re willing to have patience and put forth a little extra effort, you can help your client. You can educate her about content best practices. You can show her examples of successful websites with great content. You can take time to really understand where she’s coming from, so you can put her feedback in context.
 
In the end, your content will be better. And your client will be grateful. So, what do you say, ‘ol chum?

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Posted in Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing