Good Content is Clear
Seek clarity in all things.
When we say that something is clear, we mean that it works; it communicates; the light gets through. Good content speaks to people in a language they understand and is organized in ways that make it easy to use.
Content strategists usually rely on others—writers, editors, and multimedia specialists—to produce and revise the content that users read, listen to, and watch. TMCC Web Content Providers will need to know how to do this themselves.
Good Content is Consistent
Mandate consistency, within reason.
For most people, language is our primary interface with each other and with the external world. Consistency of language and presentation acts as a consistent interface, reducing the users’ cognitive load and making it easier for readers to understand what they read.
Inconsistency, on the other hand, adds cognitive effort, hinders understanding, and distracts readers.
That’s what our AP style guides are for.
Good Content is Concise
Omit needless content.
The Web offers the space to publish everything, and it’s much easier to treat it like a hall closet with infinite stuffing-space than to impose constraints.
So what does it matter if we have too much content?
For one thing, more content makes everything more difficult to find. For another, spreading finite resources ever more thinly results in a decline in quality. It also often indicates a deeper problem—publishing everything often means “publishing everything we can,” rather than “publishing everything we’ve learned that our users really need.”
Mission statements, vision statements, and core values. Long, unreadable legal pages. Redundant documentation. Are you offering the same audience three different FAQs? Can they be combined or turned into contextual help?
Once you’ve rooted out unnecessary content at the site-planning level, be prepared to ruthlessly eliminate needless content at the section, page, and sentence level using the tips listed previously.
Many have made the wise observation that when a stone is in motion rolling down a hill or incline that that moving stone is not as likely to be covered all over with the kind of thick green moss that grows on stationary unmoving things and becomes a nuisance and suggests that those things haven’t moved in a long time and probably won’t move any time soon.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
Good Content is Supported
Publish no content without a support plan.
If newspapers are “dead tree media,” information published online is a live green plant. And so, too, must content be tended and supported.
Factual content must be updated when new information appears and culled once it’s no longer useful; user-generated content must be nurtured and weeded; time-sensitive content (like breaking news or event information) must be planted on schedule and cut back once its blooming period ends.
This is all easy to talk about, but the reason most content is not properly maintained is that most content plans rely on getting the already overworked to produce, revise, and publish content without neglecting other responsibilities. This is not inevitable, but unless content and publishing tasks are recognized as time-consuming and complex and then included in job descriptions, performance reviews, and resource planning, it will continue.
Hoping that a content management system (CMS) will replace this kind of human care and attention is about as effective as pointing a barn full of unmanned agricultural machinery at a field, going on vacation, and hoping it all works out. Tractors are more efficient than horse-drawn plows, but they still need humans to decide where and when and how to use them!