Content design in business

Content design may have originated in government, but a growing number of commercial organisations are starting to see the merit in this emerging discipline.

Organisations like Sage, Autotrader, Co-op, Well pharmacy, Asda and BT are currently recruiting specifically for content designers and some of the more forward-thinking digital agencies are recruiting or retraining to meet the needs of businesses who are testing the water.

Unusually for a tech-job trend, this all started in the UK which is reflected in the map below. This shows the UK having the most searches on Google for content designer, followed by Poland, the US and India.

A map showing countries where “content designer” is searched for most on Google

What are the barriers to content design in business?

Many commercial organisations leave all things digital firmly in the marketing department. This has meant that a lot of effort and energy has gone into, well, marketing. Creating campaigns and showcasing products and services.

Marketing is all about getting noticed whereas good content design absolutely shouldn’t be.

Some organisations are now waking up to the fact that their customers need to interact with them online in ways that don’t require being marketed to though. Their customers may now need to access clear and honest information, to communicate with a business or to perform a task that used to be done offline.

These needs aren’t an opportunity to sell but they are an opportunity to avoid frustrating customers.

Culturally then, it doesn’t seem to be an easy fit. A content designer will (and should) be slower to get things done than a copywriter, ask awkward questions, advocate for the user over the business and not be afraid to say they don’t know things. They should be disruptive and unless there’s someone senior in the organisation willing to make and support that change, it’s unlikely they’ll get much success or even hired.

Organisations hiring content designers are doing the right thing, not the easy thing.

So what are the benefits of content design in business?

Reduce customer pain

As mentioned, content design shouldn’t be noticed. They’re there to make things seem easy and instinctive to the users. It’s seems quite rare to hear someone gushing about how great a website is but it’s very common to hear people talking about painful experiences. Spending time and effort making sure that customers aren’t getting frustrated seems like one great benefit.

The video below is a great example of common customer frustrations with online stores and also a very real and useful workshop technique for testing whether your content hits the mark by reading it out to a customer.

Search engine optimisation

Google’s search engine optimisation guide has for years had this in its introduction:

You should build a website to benefit your users, and any optimization should be geared toward making the user experience better. 

– Google SEO starter guide

An SEO agency may still scream that they absolutely need that 400 word block of text that mentions your keyword and its synonyms 50 times but the fact is that Google et al are getting more and more able to define algorithmically what makes a good user experience.

Having poorly written, keyword-dense copy may have given strong hints of the relevance of a page to a users search query in the past and you’ll probably see these pages high up in the rankings for a while still but they’re just not necessary today.

Content, designed will be written in language that users understand, provide useful, relevant information and be trustworthy and accessible – all factors that Google sees as delivering a good user experience and therefore will reflect in its search results.

Accessibility

Over 7 million people of working age in the UK have a disability. Providing content that is accessible to them not only makes sense from a being-a-good-human point of view but it also means that they’re more likely to be your customer.

People who wouldn’t be classed in that group are likely to benefit too. At some point almost everyone will have some sort of impairment which accessibility considerations on a site will help. Slow internet connections, not having access to sound or not being proficient in English are just some everyday examples.

User-centred insights

Thinking about products and services in a user-centred way and using research techniques and methods to design the content on a site can lead to a very different way of presenting products or services.

Take school shoes for example.

screenshot of asda school shoe website
School shoes on the Asda website

What are the user needs around school shoes and how might you use them to make a more useful product listing page?

Parents need to make sure that the shoes are acceptable for their child’s school to stick to the rules, so a section for shoes that aren’t trainer-like and have no logos may be useful. As may be sorting by laces or velcro or hard-wearing. Is a single review useful or should their be an independent expert review in the absence of more?

Digging into the reality of a parent or guardian buying school shoes in the name of content design can bring out a wealth of insights to make a purchase, repeat visit or recommendation more likely.

Not understanding a customers needs is consistently cited in studies as having a negative effect on brand perception.

Reducing customer service overheads

Giving customers information that they need about products and services upfront not only reduces the need for them to contact you or your competitor in the first place, it means that resolving any issues is made far more pain-free at what can be a make or break time for your brand and them.

Culture of caring about content

Finally, in hiring content designers, you’re far more likely to hire people who are going to help change a culture of content last in an organisation. They’ll bring the methods and tools but more importantly, the mindset to make sure that content is placed high on the agenda.

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