Our world today is governed by content, hence the expression “content is king”, and whilst you may not naturally think to link content to UX design, exploring an updated definition of the word will help to explain how crucial the relationship is.
Content is, at its core, information. In a digital sense, this information can be presented as long- or short-form text, pictures, videos, newsletters, soundbites, podcasts, website copy, email newsletters, social media posts, and more. Content is how information is displayed on an app homepage, and the information itself. Content is the menu we see when ordering takeout from our favorite local restaurant, and content is the buttons of a website’s menu.
Once you realize this, it becomes infinitely clearer how central to a user’s experience the content they engage with is. You might even say content is user experience. But with so much content to craft across so many different mediums and touchpoints, a certain amount of careful planning is required.
Introducing “content planning in UX”, the process by which UX designers craft the right content, for the right channels, and at the right times to deliver the ultimate user experience to the customers and clients interacting with their company or brand. As an example of just how critical content planning in UX is, note that nearly 90% of all online shoppers say they won’t return to a website after having a bad user experience the first time round.
What Is a UX Content Strategy and Why Is It Important?
UX content strategy goes so much deeper than the simple creation of content. It’s a multi-layered, research-led and problems-based approach to fulfilling a company’s every content need, whilst ultimately optimizing the end user’s experience.
Content strategy in UX is important because it is the backbone of a business’s customer face. In fact, it is the customer face: UX content strategy manages everything the customer sees, hears, reads and feels for the duration of their interaction with your brand, product, or service. Carefully curated UX-informed content is directly responsible for helping small businesses grow into bigger ones, and big businesses stay relevant.
When it comes to defining content strategy for UX, the definition can differ a little depending on the business it’s being applied to, the designer in charge, and the end needs of the user. Having said that, good UX content strategy can be boiled down to this:
A UX content strategy assesses, on a regular basis, the needs of the end user and aligns these with the goals of the business, thus developing a framework for the effective creation and implementation of UX-enhancing content which meets said business goals.
The four key elements to any robust content strategy in UX are:
Credit: Brain Traffic
Exploring the Relationship Between Content Strategy and UX
Most of us are instinctively aware of the importance of quality content marketing, especially for brands just starting out in the world. But exactly what shape does content strategy take when married with UX. To begin, it’s probably prudent to take a quick look at what UX actually is, beyond the obvious.
UX (which stands for “user experience”) can come to mean a lot of things, mostly interlinked. Just like content, which affects every element of our online lives, UX is also ubiquitous with the digital experience. As such, the job description of a UX designer is long and varied.
Credit: Empathy Lab
As you’ll see by studying the infographic on UX above, the best UX designers operate across a wide ranging remit, from researcher and consultant to designer and technologist.
They must understand everything about UX: from the needs of the end user to the client’s business goals, the capabilities of technology to support their ideas, the evolution in online trends (such as Artificial Intelligence search engine algorithms), and how to incorporate all of the above into an efficient, accessible framework for a team to follow.
The end product of all of the various and nuanced facets which comprise a UX designer’s job is… content. Value-adding content which is optimized to a very specific set of goals, based on a very specific set of research parameters, technological requirements/limitations, and client expectations. This is where content strategy and UX meet.
Elements of UX Content Strategy
As we’ve already touched on, the four key elements of an effective content strategy in UX are editorial, experiential, structural and process design. These four elements are broken down further into two essential categories: content design and system design.
Content design focuses on addressing the issues faced by the end user by employing fundamental content strategy rules and UX research.
System design covers all of the stuff going on behind the scenes to allow effective content design to happen, including the systems, metadata, interfaces, technologies and site architecture which UX content designers must work with.
Ultimately, it’s crucial to remember that none of these elements work independently of each other. The “strategy” part of content strategy in UX is all about analyzing the effect your UX-guided content has on the end user, and then adjusting your framework accordingly, in a cycle of continuous design improvement.
Now that we’ve established what UX content strategy is, why it’s important, and the relationship it has to content, let’s explore its four core elements in greater detail.
In any profession, the job of an editor is two-fold:
- To ensure consistency in tone, style, grammar, voice, etc.
- To locate and elevate the most compelling elements of content, to ensure that it appeals strongly to the intended audience
This is as true of an editor at a literary publishing company as it is an editor for a TV series, or – in our case – a UX designer entering the editorial design phase of their UX content strategy. Here, the designer focuses on what the content should say and how it should say it.
They must work with their understanding of their intended audience, as well as the goals and branding of their client company. Combining the two, the editorial UX strategist compiles a style guide which lays out clearly and consistently:
- The messages which their content must convey
- The language, tone, and voice which should be used to convey each message
- The point of view of the client brand
- Any brand standards or language standards which must be complied with
- How to most effectively deliver each message (i.e. which type of content to use)
- When it will be most effective to deliver each message (e.g. at checkout, or as soon as the end user opens the app)
The twin to editorial design in the broader “content design” family is this: experiential design, AKA experience design. This is the phase in any good content strategy for UX at which the designer considers the experience of the end user. After all, it is for the benefit of the customer/client who engages with the product that the designer is working.
A great deal of primary research should be conducted to achieve success here. It’s important to know who the different audiences of the product/brand are:
- Their age
- Their socio-economic background
- Their cultural or religious background
- Their interests
- Their location
And, most importantly:
- The issues they face online
Experiential design in a UX content strategy requires the designer to understand their audience(s) intimately, so that they can determine the specific set of issues facing them in their daily digital existence. Having done so, and knowing enough about the audience to paint a clear picture of their likes and dislikes, the designer gains a much better understanding of what type of content can be used to improve the end user’s experience.
Knowing what the brand’s customer journeys look like, the UX content strategist can map out a more efficient, accessible, better tailored journey map. They can then plot on this map each point at which content will be required, what format that content should be – will it be user-generated content, or created in-house – and which elements of the editorial message will be best delivered at each point.
Also important at this step is to draft a clear framework for how best to optimize the user experience across different platforms: i.e. for web, mobile, tablet and more.
If content design (editorial and experiential) is all about perfecting the look, tone, and intention of content – for the purposes of improving the user’s experience – then structural design (AKA structural content engineering) is all about optimizing the information architecture of content to ensure it is both findable and digestible for the consumer.
Put more simply, imagine publishing the most in-depth, accurate, useful and entertaining “how-to” article on the internet, but forgetting to format it, add metadata, or even to include a link to it from your website menu. The incredible piece of content you’ve generated – even if backed by editorial and experiential design – is both hard to find and even harder to engage with, rendering it completely useless. It will not enhance your user’s experience, nor help meet any attached business goals.
Structural engineering for content strategy in UX should first evaluate the following:
- The existing information architecture of the brand/product, noting its strengths and weaknesses according to how users engage with its content
- The layout and structure of the brand/product as engaged with across different interfaces and platforms
- The most popular search terms and categories explored online by the intended end user audience
Having gathered that information, UX content designers can then redesign and reorganize the information architecture of an app or site, say, to make it more navigable to the average end user. They can also ensure content is more discoverable to the user by tagging and categorizing it appropriately, and writing a framework which streamlines this process for the creation of all future content.
This specific tagging will help increase the SEO backlinking worth by optimizing the visibility and relevance of the content to search engines and other websites.
Finally, the ultimate element in content strategy for UX: process design. The other three core aspects to a UX content strategy are focused on establishing what content should be saying, how it should say it and where and when, as well as how it should be structured. Process design is the phase in which you, the UX designer, puts all of this together.
Also known as “content governance”, process design controls:
- How content will be created: who will create it; using what software or tools
- How content will be edited: who will be informed about content creation and consulted on it along the way
- How content will be approved: who has the final say on whether or not a piece of content is ready to go live; what will the process of content publication look like
- How content will be reviewed: what metrics and standards will be used to determine whether content is fulfilling its purpose/to determine how content is performing; and how will content be refreshed (i.e. what will the life cycle of content look like)
Without this vital step in UX content strategy, it would be impossible to determine how effective the strategy as a whole is operating. However, with quality process design, the overall cycle can be iteratively improved upon until user experience is optimized and client goals met.
Conclusion: Recapping UX Content Strategy
Every little thing we do when interacting online – whether it be through a smartphone, tablet or PC, on an app, website or search engine – involves two things: content and user experience. As such, determining how to make your company’s or client’s content be the absolute best it can be, whilst ensuring it improves user experience and meets your client’s goals, can be tough.
Credit: The User Experience Project
A skilled UX content designer must consider a thousand different things in order to master the art. Without a robust content strategy in UX, it all falls apart at the seams.