Thursday, April 24th, 2014

How to Keep Your Content Promises

Treat your content as a product

“Have you seen my sunglasses?’’ I yelled out to my wife as I was heading out the door.

“In our room on the night stand,” she yelled back.

Little did she know that she was setting in motion a series of events destined to ruin a fine Saturday.

You see, she unwittingly set an expectation in my mind, an expectation that my sunglasses would be there on the night stand beside the lamp and the book I read before bed.

But when I got to the bedroom, they weren’t there.

The series of events that unfolded next are classic human reactions, reactions that you may be creating in the way you present your content.

I entered stage one: I got angry. Not “throwing things” angry, but “disappointed because I just want to get out and do some errands but I’m attached to wearing my sunglasses when I’m out” angry.

Stage two: I got self conscious, so I looked all around the nightstand. Nothing.

Stage three: I got self righteous. I climbed down the stairs down to my wife, building my self-righteousness with every step.

“They’re not there,” I said, my voice dripping with thinly-masked disdain.

She looked at me with a face and stance that would have made our teenager proud.

“Did you look on my nightstand, too?”

Stage four: I questioned my very ability to function in the world. I slinked back up the stairs, retrieved the sunglasses and snuck out the door.

It was no fault of hers that I assumed the sunglasses would be on my night stand, but visitors to Web sites across the Internet are coming with expectations.

When we don’t consider what visitors expect when we offer them our content, we set the exact same series of events in motion. This isn’t good for our business.

What is the Psychological Price for Your Content

When you invite someone to read your content, you are making a promise. Your promise is that you will help them solve a problem or entertain them.

Our invitations, be they found in an email, a status update or a blog post must promise something or there would be no clicks.

Visitors may be finding and consuming our content just fine, but we can extract a severe price by making things unintuitive. Just because someone finds your content, doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.

Here are some of the innocent things we do to make our visitors feel frustrated.

The Drill Down

If you’re content link is sending your visitors to your home page or to a “resources” page, you’re setting them up for stage one anger.

Most people expect a click to take them to the very place that content exists. Don’t let them down.

Sure, you my have a logical navigation strategy.

“All they have to do is click on the White Papers menu item then select Case Studies, then pick the one they want,” you might say.

Visitors are saying, “All you had to do was put a link to it on the page you sent me to.”

My wife assumed I would look on both night stands. I assumed she’d have specified the “other” one if that was where it was.

The Scroll

For many many visitors, if the content headline isn’t above the “fold” on your page, then it doesn’t exist. Period.

What would push the headline down? Usually, it’s a BAH (big-ass header). The BAH is usually some large stock photo plastered across the top of the page. This is a common feature of Web sites and is found on both home pages and interior pages.

Bosses love this kind of thing, but it foils visitors.

Your headline and first paragraph should start as close to the top of the page as is politically possible.

This Wall of Questions asks much and promises little. This page asks a lot but doesn’t promise much.

The Unending Preview

Too often, one BAH isn’t enough, so designers have invented the “flash scroller” also called a “rotator box.” If you are employing one of these to present content choices, you are WAY over-estimating the patience of even the most interested visitor.

Don’t make us sit through a series of cross-fading options.

An image fades in, then we wait.

Another image fades in, then we wait.

Another fade, then we wait.

We won’t last long. I probably lost dozens of readers just writing those three sentences.

The Wall of Questions

One of the best ways to generate leads is to promise great content in exchange for contact information. However, you must look at this as a purchase, not a gratuitous grab for their email address. Don’t present them with a wall of form fields and ask them to fill out the form.

You have to sell them.

To this end, a proper lead generation page will have the following components:

  1. A headline that is as identical to the promise of the ad or link as possible.
  2. A picture of the product. Even an eBook can be formatted to look like a publication, and visitors get it.
  3. Tell them very specifically what they will get when they complete the form. Don’t be afraid to lay some text on the page.
  4. Your form should only ask for information you absolutely need. Your content may not be “worth” their phone number and address in their eyes.NOTE: If you must ask for qualifying information, explain how it will be used and why it is needed.
  5. The text on the button should tell the visitor what is next. “Get Your Report” or “Subscribe” is much more clickable than “Submit”, especially if we aren’t sure to what we’re submitting ourselves.

This is what is expected when someone clicks on an invitation to read or view content.

Deviate from this basic formula only if you must. Otherwise, visitors may leave your site questioning their very ability to function in a digital world.

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