I’m Blogging From World IA Day in Ann Arbor

I attended World IA Day in Ann Arbor, MI, and took notes on several speakers. Catch up on all the IA goodness here!

Today I’m blogging at World IA Day in Ann Arbor, MI. Part of a worldwide day to celebrate and learn about the discipline of information architecture, the Michigan event is kicking off shortly on the University of Michigan campus.

I’m on the board of the Information Architecture Institute, a worldwide organization that promotes the discipline and practice of IA. Learn more — and join — at the IA Institute website.

For more from World IA Day all over the world, follow #wiad on Twitter.

My posts from World IA Day-Ann Arbor

The History of Information Architecture — And What’s Changing

The Future[s] of IA

Architecting Search-Engine Friendly Websites

Letting Go of Perfection: Developing IA Agility

Join Me at the Nashville Marketing Association Website Smackdown, Feb. 16

I have to confess that though I’ve been a member [even a board member!] of the Nashville chapter of the American Marketing Association for several years with the Entre Institute, I’ve never before made it to Influencive reviews. But I have heard tell. And people, you do NOT want to miss this.

They’ve made sure I’ll clear my calendar this year by putting me on the panel of expert website reviewers. I’ll be covering content issues. Other esteemed panelists:

You don’t HAVE to submit your website to be critiqued, but this is a really cheap site evaluation!

Can’t wait to see you there, so register today!

Speaking at IndieConf in Raleigh, 11/19

If you’re able to be in Raleigh, NC, on Nov. 19, I hope you’ll join me at IndieConf – a conference for people who are stepping out on their own as web professionals. It’s a great place to tap into the wisdom of other entrepreneurs, and find the support and ideas you need to make a go of it as a freelancer or entrepreneur.

I’ll be speaking about content strategy, of course. The toolbox and the mindset make your marketing and development work easier and more effective, whether you’re an independent web professional or part of a large agency or department.

Let me know if you’re planning to be there — and if you haven’t signed up yet, definitely let me know. I have a few discount codes!

It’s not too late! Sign up today for IndieConf.

Dear Conference Organizers:

I know it’s hard to get the marketing thing right. Believe me, I’ve been in the business for years. All these details take a lot of work and a lot of smart people. And you don’t have the budget you used to. And etc.

But dear lord, when you send me the 5th “REGISTER NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE” email, and for the 3rd time I panic and go scramble through my emails only to find that indeed, I registered 4 months ago, I start to get a little ticked off.

Please, for the sake of my sanity and the love of all that is holy, please, please segment your list. Every time you send me one of these, I question my decision to attend — because clearly no one ELSE has signed up yet, so maybe you aren’t so awesome after all. And you don’t even know that I signed up, for heaven’s sake. Maybe I wasted my money by pre-early-registering when clearly, I could have waited 4 months and gotten the same deal.

And if you really are still trying to fill the seats, just think how much better I’d receive an email with this kind of message:

Hey, you — yeah, the smart cookie. You signed up for ABC Conference last spring, and you are going to be so glad you did. We’ve got some great stuff in store, like As, Bs and Cs. If you want to share those great ABCs with a colleague or client, please pass on this Friend of Laura registration code — they’ll thank you, and we will too!

Now, I’m sure your conference is going to be wonderful, and I know I’m going to love it. If you’ll just clean up this little email issue, we can go right back to being BFFs.

Planning Now for a #contentstrategy SXSW 2012

Well, it’s that time again — time that all the web-nerds penciled in our calendars months ago: The SXSW Panel Picker is open for voting!

If you’ve never been to the all-things-web-digital-music-and-film that is SXSW in Austin each March, I’m not sure where to begin. Last year I remember hearing that there were more than 25,000 attendees at just the Interactive part of the festival, making it the largest part of the event. SXSW pitches itself as uniquely focused on the creative side of the web, and I think there’s something to that. But there’s something for EVERYONE there, no matter your discipline.

In that vein, let me give you a little pitch for my discipline, content strategy.

Over the past few years, the SXSW sessions focusing on content have grown in number, and in my judgment, in quality as well. This year, there are a number of great-looking content sessions proposed in the Panel Picker, but we need your help. About 3600 sessions were proposed total this year, and they’ll take 500. The odds aren’t good for any one session, so content needs your votes and comments to shine strong at the conference.

Here are the ones I’ve specifically voted for. I’d value your thoughts and votes on my own proposal, but also on others that interest you. [You do have to create an account — free! — and sign in to vote. Speaking as someone who spent some time developing just my own proposal, I really appreciate your input!]

First, my proposed session:
Content Structure: Frame It Right, Make It Work
I’m planning to talk about content structure, metadata and information architecture — and how to use structure to make your processes more efficient and your copy easier to manage. I’d love your votes and comments!

Other sessions that got my thumbs-up today: 

Margot Bloomstein’s proposed session: Contextually Relevant Content Strategy
Margot is a smart, smart woman. I’ve heard her speak more than once and I’ve followed her thoughts online for some time. When she’s talking content strategy, it’s good stuff.

Panel moderated by Kristina Halvorson, with Joe Gollner, Erin Kissane, Mark McCormick and Karen McGrane: Rude Awakening: Content Strategy Is Super Hard
Amen. Some great names in the discipline gather to talk through the thorny questions.

Jeff Pfaller’s proposed session: Understanding Digital Content and Human Behavior
Optimizing your content for humans.

Amy Thibodeau’s panel: Copy Matters: Content Strategy for the Interface
Man, do we need this.

Once and Future King: Can Syndication Save Content?
I’ve spent large parts of the past couple of years trying to convince publishers that syndication is a revenue stream, to no avail. I’d been content to let the industry die, but sounds like this panel will try again to convince them. Bravo!

Nashville content strategy meetup: Don’t miss this in June

We had another great gathering last night at the Nashville Content Strategy Meetup. We talked about Confab, user experience, business strategy, the paleo diet and the Roman Empire.

Mark your calendar now for Thursday, June 9, 5:30p.

Announcement on the place will happen in the next few days on the Nashville Content Strategy Meetup group and Nashville Content Strategy Facebook group.

Confab 2011 Wrapup: I Find My People

There are some great workshops going on tomorrow at Confab, but I can’t stay for them. So I thought I’d wrap up here with a few final thoughts on this great first-time conference on content strategy.

  • Agreed with Kristina Halvorson and others that the conversation ongoing about content strategy is really useful. It’s not navel-gazing; there’s a lot of definition still to be done in our discipline. So I’m patient with some of the long-form talk and the Twitter chatter; it’s making us who we are.
  • Really liking Melissa Rach‘s perspective on content strategy. I think there’s still a lot of nuance to be hashed out here, as well. Part of this is about defining the discipline; we are related to user experience, analytics, information architecture, marketing, product development and more. The perspective you work from is going to inform your own definition of content strategy.
  • Really hating Twitter today. It’s been performing poorly for at least 8 hours now, and while the conference backchannel isn’t a national security issue, it makes it hard to talk when this is the channel I’ve grown to depend on for much of my professional communication.
  • The people at Brain Traffic and the UIE staff involved in Confab know what the hell they’re doing. I have been to a whole lotta conferences, and this one rises way above the rest on sheer logistics alone.
  • And then there’s the content. Let’s just agree on the front end that I’m square in the middle of the target audience for this conference. But the content was great, with few uneven sessions. If you care about content, if you have to deal with content, if you don’t know what the heck to do with your content, sign up to attend Confab 2012.
  • Perhaps the best part for me was the people. I got to meet many, many people who’ve just been avatars to me for so long, and it was wonderful to shake their hands and even hug them in person. There’s a lot of smart thinking about content happening around the world, and I’m delighted to get to know so many people working on it.

Here are my notes from the sessions I attended:

Steve Rosenbaum: Curation: Beyond the Buzzword
Elizabeth McGuane and Randall Snare: How to Create a Data-Driven Content Strategy
Angela Colter: Testing Content
Ahava Leibtag and Aaron Watkins: Johns Hopkins Testing Content
Ann Handley: Keynote
Jeff Cram: Learning to Love Your CMS
Christine Perfetti: Essential Techniques for Measuring Your Content’s Success
Rachel Lovinger: Make Your Content Nimble

Launching another salvo in the content strategy-UX war

Update, 8p: I’ve just heard from Melissa Rach about the context that Twitter can’t provide. It’s some great info and I’ll share it here.

From Melissa:

I really appreciate you letting me know about this blog. I wasn’t able to get on Twitter all day (computer meltdown), but I was told that the quote was taken out of context. What I actually said, is pretty much what you say in the second-to-last paragraph of the blog (I agree wholeheartedly). I also agree [with] you that [it] is part of our job to make sure the organization knows what the user wants (that was in a different part of the presentation.)

My definition of content strategy is something along the lines of “helping organizations use content to achieve their business goals.”  And, it’s true, I intentionally leave “users” out of that statement. But, I do that for several reasons:

1. (most importantly) — serving the user should be one of the business goals we are trying to achieve. If the organization isn’t committed to an overall relationship with the user, the content will not be supported and have a difficult time being successful. (It’s a battle we can’t win).

2. A really great content strategy is the combination of three things: user perspectives, business perspectives, and content “best practices.” However, during strategy work, if you say the business perspective and the user perspective have exactly the same weight — in my experience, you get businesses creating types and quantities of content they can not maintain, which is not good for the user or the business. So, we need to say “here’s what the user wants” and temper that with “this is what we can handle right now.”

3. Some organizations get really limited by the user research — they can’t innovate beyond what the users specifically asked for. As, the old saying goes, if you asked people in 1900 about transportation needs, they would have said “faster horses” not “automobiles” — because they didn’t know those things were possible. So, as a strategist, we need to help companies have room to innovate in order to improve the overall user experience even more than users could imagine.

So, actually, I think we’re pretty aligned — and I would appreciate it if you would amend the post to say so.

P.s. There are actually examples of enormously successful (but of somewhat unethical) content strategies that actually do exactly the opposite of the what is in the users’ best interest. Not something I would advocate, but interesting to read about. The IBM FUD example is an interesting one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt

I’m going to leave the original since Melissa refers to it, and because I DO see people using the business-only perspective.

Original: It’s been a long time since my mouth fell open at something I heard at a conference, but it happened to me today. I want to say that the unfortunate part is, it happened at a session I wasn’t in. So from the outset, perhaps I’ll get corrected or someone can clarify that the tweet I read was completely out of content….but I asked about that and got more context, and my mouth was still open.

Earlier this year, Erin Kissane wrote a broad post on the Brain Traffic blog talking about where content strategy fits in the web strategy landscape. I largely agree with her post. [Following is the part that no longer applies:], but I can’t agree with a comment from her colleague Melissa Rach that was tweeted today. [But this part still does!] I’ll say first, I momentarily met Rach Sunday night and she seems lovely, and by all accounts, her presentation on strategy today was one of the highlights of Confab. I’m sorry I missed it.

Here are the two tweets that rearranged my face [See context above!]:

@CSApplied2012 As a strategist I’m here to help the business achieve their goals – user isn’t in my definition @melissarach #confab

@CSApplied2012 Content strategists serve the business and through the business we serve the user @Melissarach #confab

It may just be that I approach my work from a different perspective. But to me, in my work, the user experience is primary. If the business goal isn’t aligned with user goals, you aren’t going to succeed. And the business perspective is fine, as long as the business actually understands its users. But I find that many, many organizations do not even bother to ask their current customers what they need. They just assume they know.

So I think the first job of any successful content strategist has to remain helping a business figure out what its customer actually needs. We have to be user-focused first, or we can’t help the business in the end.

Confab | Christine Perfetti: Essential Techniques for Measuring Your Content’s Success

Christine Perfetti is talking about how to test and measure your content.

So important: Web analytics tell you WHAT is happening. They do not tell you WHY.

Perfetti is showing really horrifying and totally believable tests….

  • People who got all the way through reserving a room at Disneyland…who wanted a room at Disneyworld.
  • People who were thrilled with the hotel reservation form for another hotel…until they got to the end and discovered it didn’t work the way it appeared, and they didn’t have a reservation set up after all.

Both these examples just make my stomach hurt.

Perfetti’s recommendations on usability testing

Oh, love this: Perfetti just has observes in the room. She says, People know there is someone behind your one-way mirror. Better just to have them in the room and don’t be sneaky. Intros people by first name only, not title. Prefers that observers use paper and pen so as not to have distraction of typing.

Perfetti’s recommended books on usability testing

What you should look for in a test

  • Users going to the FAQ: People aren’t getting what they want
  • Users clicking on Help
  • Users going to a sitemap
  • Users clicking the back button: They’re not seeing what they want
  • Pogosticking: Going back and forth on a list of links, looking for something they never find
  • Going straight to search: People don’t want to search. They haven’t seen their trigger words, so they type them in.

So now we’re going into advanced techniques specifically for content.

5-Second Test: Bring up a page for literally 5 seconds, see if people can figure out how to solve a problem you give them. We’re doing one here about uploading photos…does it seem it will be quick and easy to do? Perfetti shows a page full of text from Photobucket…the room laughs. Is anyone confident they can upload photos? No one.

Now we see 5 seconds of Picasa. This was also text heavy, but also had a big blue button that said, Get Started. Now we’ve seen a Flickr page. It showed a visual representation of the process. Most people agree this is the one that makes it look quick and easy to upload photos.

fivesecondtest.com will let you test pages on their site. Perfetti warns: 5-second tests work “very, very poorly” for home pages — these pages have many priority. Use these on content pages or other single-purpose pages.

Great point: People want to spend all their time testing their home page. This is not usually a good use of time. They want to find the page that is useful to them. Test whether your home page directs people to the content they want, but test the effectiveness of your other pages.

First-click test: Give users a specific task, and see where they click first. Are they headed down the wrong path?

Love this: Users don’t like to choose their role. Perfetti shows the WebEx site where users were befuddled when forced to categorize themselves as individual, small, medium, large enterprise. They redesigned the site with a single “Products” link, and users found that much easier to navigate.

Comprehension test: Use to determine if people understand your complex content. Sometimes Perfetti will use a questionnaire, or sometimes will just ask questions. She shows the content, asks them to read through it, and asks the questions while they can still see the content. These are generally information, but will clearly show if users understand the complex content.

Inherent value test: Helps you figure out if you’re conveying the product value to prospects. In phase 1, bring in your most loyal customers. You ask them to give you a tour of the site and talk through the value of the product or service. Have them share what they find most valuable. You can also ask them to complete tasks, but that’s not the main goal. In phase 2, bring in people unfamiliar with the product. Then, ask the prospects to complete the tasks that the loyal customers do all the time. You will find out if they see the same value.

Catalog-based task testing: Find out what’s important to users. Take any printed catalogs or brochures [or print out same info from your site] and ask users to highlight important content. Then ask them to find the same content on the website.

Some other software and resources that were mentioned: