While content design isn’t a substitute for SEO, it’s a great way to meet the needs of your user while maintaining simple SEO principles. But getting people on your website is one thing - not the whole picture. You can’t lose sight of the need to keep them there after they arrive.
1. What does the user want from me?
Whatever you call them – your users, clients, customers, service users. Do you know who they are, what they like and dislike about your product - what they need? There are a lot of things that you need to consider when designing a website - but by starting with these questions, you’ll be on track to creating something people want to use.
If you were cooking a meal for somebody you just met, you would ask what food they like. You would also ask if they have any allergies. You wouldn’t want to cook them a dish only to find out later that one of the ingredients ruined their week.
By conducting user research, this is what you’re doing, and good content design starts with good user research. Rather than building your site around an element that isn’t going to work, you’re checking with the user before committing anything to code. As well as focusing on what the user wants, you’re protecting yourself from unnecessary work.
That’s not to say that by adopting this approach you won’t have to test and iterate. You will, and you should. No product is going to be perfect from the beginning. However, taking this approach should mean you’ll avoid having to start from scratch.
So, get to know your user. Plan for their needs. If you do this as early as possible, then you’re likely to produce content they can easily use and enjoy. Content design is rapidly being adopted, and for good reason. Read more about the importance of content strategy.
2. Where do they want to go?
Mazes are fun when you have time to kill, not when you want to get something done. Users and search engines should be able to find their way around your content easily. This means prioritising the places they want to go and making navigation as intuitive as possible.
If content designers are involved early on in a project, you’ll know what content the user wants. This will lead to a user-informed information architecture (IA) – the structure of the website. The purpose of IA is communicating to the user where they are and where they need to go to get the information, product, or service that they want.
There’s no one size fits all. If there’s a huge variety of products on sale on your site, it wouldn’t make sense to prioritise them. However, if your user is likely to have one specific goal in mind, that should be prominent in the IA.
An online department store will have products arranged in categories and will likely rely heavily on an onsite search tool. There won’t be any specific page that the organisation or user prioritises. A charity on the other hand, is likely to want users to contact them to engage with the service, or to make a donation. The structures of these two sites are going to be very different.
It’s important to be aware that user needs and organisational needs are not always perfectly aligned. Let’s use a mental health charity as an example. An organisation or business goal might be an increase in donations. The user, however, wants to speak to someone about their mental health. If you design a site based on the organisation’s needs, the end product is a site that pushes donations and obscures the support line. This is why it’s so important to learn about your user as early as possible; to strike a balance between demands of the user and organisation.
3. How do I get them here?
Information architecture contributes to SEO. Exactly what factors Google uses to rank sites is a well-kept secret. What we do know is that previous shady practices of keyword stuffing and link farms are no longer rewarded. Which suggests, perhaps quite obviously, that Google’s ranking system is getting more sophisticated.
So, we don’t know exactly what factors Google analyses in order to rank your page in their search results. Our advice - treat Google as a user (read our article that explains how to do this). If your site has an intuitive layout, with easy-to-follow navigation and descriptive links, Google will be able to find your content. Which means your user will find you.
Good content also contributes to SEO. If your written content is succinct, relevant, and well-structured it should also be rewarded by Google. Gone are the days when an internet user typed a website address into their internet browser. For the most part, people navigate using Google. Researching what the user wants, and what language they use, pays off twice.
An early step in the content design process is identifying what language a target audience uses around your product or service. Say for example they want to buy a tennis ball. Like most English-speaking humans they call it a ‘tennis ball’, so they will search using that term. If you somehow decide to use the term ‘fuzzy bouncy sphere’ on your site, they’re not going to find you.
This example is exaggerated, but similarly a user might not find your tech repair service if you only use terms like ‘desktop’ or ‘hard drive’ with no use of the word ‘computer’. Using the same language as your user means that they’re more likely to find you. It also means they will have to exercise less mental effort to engage with your content, which is so important.
Part of a content designer’s role is to test assumptions about the words that people use. The language we use around topics isn’t static. For example the term ‘GP’ is widely used in the UK today, but 20 years ago people would have spoken about their ‘doctor’.
Content design keeps you in touch with your user. While it’s no substitute for SEO, well designed content can lead to increased visibility on search engines, and increased satisfaction among your users. There really is no underestimating the importance of content that is friendly to users’ brains. We are all digesting more and more information in our everyday lives. Stand out by simplifying.