4 Key Principles of User Experience Every Content Marketer Needs to Know

You know those clever sentences and interesting little bon mots that you sprinkle throughout your carefully crafted, painstakingly researched pieces of content? If they live on a page without a great user experience, they might never be read.

Depressing? Yes. Fixable? Happily yes, even for content marketers who don’t have control over the nuts and bolts of the site(s) they write for.

By focusing on content structure, formatting, images, and the way you present downloadable content you can make your content more user-friendly, increasing its engagement and making it a more valuable online resource.

UX for content marketers

The Inverted Pyramid of Content Consumption

Back in the early days of journalism nobody knew exactly how much newspaper space they would get for their articles. It’s a little hard for those of us who write for the unlimited space of the internet to imagine, but these writers had to account for the possibility that their editor would just cut off several paragraphs at the end of their article.

Harsh, but it gave rise to a great strategy that translates well for writing online: the inverted pyramid.

Basically with this technique you tell the whole story up front — on our content team we call it “giving away the farm” — and then go into more detail as the article progresses.

The benefit is that people reading content structured in this way can stop at any point and feel that they’ve gotten the whole story, or they can keep reading to learn even more.

Simplicity and Ease Matter For Content Marketing

Keep in mind that people aren’t browsing the web looking for clever metaphors or broad generalizations. They’re scanning and looking for the answer to a specific question or the solution to a particular problem.

KISS: Keep It Simple. Seriously.

It’s our job as content marketers to make it clear to them that our content can help by simplifying our pages and making them easy to consume.

People read an average of 25% slower on a screen then they do on paper, so simplify your writing wherever possible.

In fact, a study by Daniel Oppenheimer at Princeton University in 2006 found that, “the more complex a piece of text was, the lower the readers rate the intelligence of the author.” CITE

In other words, your credibility depends on your simplicity.

Easy Does It: Headers and Lists

Now that your content is reader-friendly, it’s time to turn to your formatting. Headers, sub-headers, and lists all help busy scanners find the content they’re looking for without too much reading, so make liberal use of them.

Accurate and compelling headers make it easy for people to quickly identify what your content is about, and it allows them to jump to the sections that are relevant to them. In fact, most people scan down a page looking for headers that contain their particular search terms or problem and will only read word-for-word when they find a promising section.

This means your headers need to be accurate, and preferably contain keywords and/or answers to questions people are likely to have searched for when they arrive on the page.

Lists draw the eye of scanners too, and they can give lots of information in a small space.

However, don’t overuse them for the sake of drawing the eye. Only add them if they make sense as part of your content, and make sure to use the right kind. Numbered lists are for step-by-step instructions or an ordered sequence only; use bullets for all other lists.

Finally, make sure your list isn’t just single words unless that’s absolutely relevant to your surrounding writing. This type of list rarely helps answer questions, so avoid it in most cases.

Visual Content Marketing: Explanation, Not Decoration

We all know we need images to go with our content, but they often become an afterthought that we grab from a free stock photo site just before we hit “publish.” This isn’t creating a good user experience, and it may be seriously hurting your engagement and credibility.

Images are one of the first things people scan when they arrive on a site. They tell people if you’re a reputable source of information, and, if they’re done right, they might even help answer a visitor’s question.

To be clear, stock photos do not meet any of these criteria.

In fact, Jens Riegelsberger, M. Angela Sasse, and John D. McCarthy of University College in London did a study on using stock images on various e-commerce websites. Their basic conclusion: “Adding any generic stock photo to a site is not a way to build trust.”

Instead, incorporate stats, excerpts from your text, supplementary quotes from experts, etc. to create visual interest, guide scanning eyes down the page, and help answer the questions of your visitors.

For a bonus, use keywords or common search phrases within your images to add potential for showing up in image searches, an ever-growing segment of online queries.

Downloadable Content: One Page per Piece

If part of your content strategy is to offer downloadable resources, your users (and the search engines) will thank you for creating distinct pages for each one.

From a user’s perspective, these pages can offer additional details about exactly what’s in the resource they’re about to download. This lets them evaluate their choice more carefully before they hit download, and it increases their trust in your site overall.

For non-written content like videos and podcasts, make sure to include transcripts as well as links to other pieces in the series. Transcripts increase the text on your page and can help search engines identify its subject matter.

Interlinking to past and future episodes will establish credibility, because users can see that you are a regular, trustworthy producer of content. Nothing is less credible than a single podcast with no other episodes in sight.

Finally, having these types of resource-specific pages helps you keep track of your conversion rate. You can compare page views to actual downloads to see how well you’re making the case for a download. The resource may be awesome, but you’ve got to convince a visitor that it’s worth their click.

Bonus: Site-Wide User Experience Tips

For those who actually have the ability to change how their site is laid out, consider these three key points for structuring site-wide content:

  1. To make it easier to consume, content is usually structured by category, audience, or task. Decide which is right for your users and stay consistent. The longer it takes people to learn how your site works and where things are, the more likely they are to leave without engaging with any content.
  2. Navigation should reflect your structure, and be totally clear. User interaction design specialist Chris Nodder estimates that 10% of online tasks fail because of issues with navigation, so “the sooner you create a good content model, sometimes called the information architecture, the sooner you can arrange your content in a way that makes sense to your users.”
  3. Finally, make sure the site’s language reflects that of your audience. Avoid jargon and technical terms wherever possible, keeping in mind that visitors may be at many different points in their learning processes. Don’t assume they’re all experts, or you risk alienating a large percentage of them.

User Experience: Not Just For Designers Anymore

Content marketers often don’t think about user experience when creating web pages or content, but we do our beautifully written words and our audience a disservice by neglecting UX.

Take a few extra minutes with each piece of content to step back and consider how you might engage with the page as a brand new visitor. This type of empathy is the core of UX, and it’s a practice content marketers should embrace.

Our readers, and our conversion rate, will thank us.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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