What if there was information out there that could end world hunger tomorrow? Reverse climate change? Fix unemployment? There very well could be! We just can’t find it because it’s hidden away in some inaccessible place on someone’s website.
Why do so many organizations create content without any regard for how, when and where people are supposed to discover it? Consider this cautionary tale from the Washington Post. According to the article, the World Bank “release(s) hundreds, maybe thousands, of reports a year on policy issues big and small. Many of these reports are long and highly technical, and just about all of them get released to the world as a PDF report posted to the organization’s Web site.”
For whatever reason, the World Bank decided to review analytics on how people were using these reports and made some alarming discoveries. For starters, one-third of the reports had NEVER been downloaded, not even once. And metrics for the rest weren’t much better.
If they can’t find it, how can they read it?
There’s a lesson here for any organization that publishes content (i.e., pretty much the entire universe): you need a strategy behind your website content efforts if you want to reach your objectives and help your customers. And in order to build that strategy, you need to do some homework about your audience and their behaviors. In the case of the World Bank, it wasn’t that the content was bad or irrelevant (though, in full disclosure, I haven’t read any of it myself). The site just wasn’t serving it up in a way that the intended audience could discover it and consume it easily. But until they checked the metrics, the World Bank’s content process seemed to be: 1. Write big report; 2. Publish to website; 3. Check box and move onto something else.
I wrote a blog post on this very subject of findability earlier this year, so I won’t rehash all the points I made there. Suffice to say, the World Bank example underscores a lot of what I’d been saying about information architecture, site navigation and effective search. The PDFs themselves aren’t the problem; lack of a content strategy is.
Think about your own content initiatives and ask yourself what it would mean if a huge chunk was never read and the rest was seen by only a handful of people. If you’re a marketer tasked with driving leads and demonstrating ROI, such results would be devastating. How do you think it will go the next time you request funding for content-driven marketing programs?
Give your content a fighting chance!
Before you post that great new piece of content, ask yourself if it stands a chance of getting discovered, read and shared. Here are a few things to try:
- Structure your website to draw visitors to your latest and greatest stuff. For example, prominent placement on your home page will drive traffic to high-value content you really want people to check out.
- Label navigation in a way that will guide users to the content they seek, rather than organizing according to your business silos or company lingo.
- Have a cross-linking strategy for surfacing related content to encourage further browsing.
- Promote new content in channels where your audience spends time, such as on social networks or via email newsletters, to reach more people and motivate them to share.
- Make sure your website’s search function is an effective tool that truly supports findability.
- Create metadata and use common terms in places like headers and page names to boost SEO.
We know that quality content can deliver real value and achieve business goals. But we also know that content creation can’t happen in a vacuum and that a holistic content strategy will help ensure that information is structured and distributed in a way that meets your audience’s needs. Don’t fall into the same trap as the World Bank did.