Improving ContentOps to Deliver a Better User Experience

Remember the push to put content first, to banish lorem ipsum, to design with real content, and to bring disciplines together around a shared goal for content? All necessary, and all still missing from many organizations. I’ve even written about those myself, trying to get non-content professionals to work with content teams for the greater good.

Roles and disciplines are working better together, and they are also converging. Look up any job description for content designers, content marketers, content strategists, UX writers and the dozens of others of related roles and there will be some overlap. There will be differences too, but on the whole, it seems content and UX are becoming one. Content is UX. UX is content.

Whether you see content and UX as one, as complementary, or as two ends of one very long spectrum, people want information. How organizations deliver that information to their audiences on a daily basis is where we need to focus on content operations (or ContentOps).

The latest ops to step into the spotlight

There’s DevOps, DesignOps, ResearchOps and now ContentOps. Although, ContentOps isn’t that new. Deane Barker published a definition of content operations in his 2016 article “The need for content operations” and stated that:

Content operations is concerned with everything between content strategy and content management, and therefore is the “glue” between the (1) plan for content, and (2) the content management system in which it’s managed and delivered.

There are certainly more organizations thinking about ContentOps nowadays, but why is it that ContentOps is getting more attention now, and what does that mean for businesses and their audiences?

diagram showing contentops at the intersection of people, process, and class=

Three pillars of ContentOps. Via GatherContent.

The need for efficient ContentOps

To answer that question, we need to look away from our screens and out into the world, a world that is one full of choice, on demand.

It’s no longer a world where a business had a single website. Once, a business would thrive from that. Now they may not survive, let alone thrive. Even if a website is the cornerstone of an organization’s digital estate, they are likely to have several sites, social accounts, newsletters, and blogs. Across all of these they need to be publishing content consistently to meet their audience’s needs, or else that audience will quickly find what they want elsewhere. Add in AI, voice, chatbots and all the emerging technology that has started to yield new behaviors and more expectations, and we have ourselves a demand for content that simply has to be effective.

This challenge puts pressure on the production of content. So the ultimate challenge is an operational one.

To meet the demands of their audiences, organizations must find scalable and repeatable ways of organizing, structuring, producing and delivering content. They must avoid cookie-cutter approaches to content and instead adapt the elements of ContentOps to suit their needs.

These elements include:

  • Clearly defined roles
  • Production workflows
  • Content types and templates
  • Content style guides
  • Governance model
  • Audits and tools for ongoing measurement

Each of these elements can help improve the content, which in turn improves the UX:

Clearly defined roles

People know what their involvement in the content process is, with no gaps or overlaps in responsibilities. Content will be given the attention it deserves from the right people.

Do you know who’s responsible for tasks in your team? Map your roles and responsibilities against tasks using a RACI Chart or simply level-up your ContentOps by listing everyone on your content project and identifying gaps and overlaps to start getting people organized.

Production workflows

Having a clearly defined workflow helps to remove bottlenecks, avoid delays and keep content on track. Content will follow only the necessary stages and always be considered.

If you know who is doing what, do you know in what order? Define a workflow for your ContentOps by listing every stage content needs to pass through and then assign people to those stages.

Content types and templates

Consistency across content types makes for a good user experience as conventions are followed and expectations are met, as well as being scalable and repeatable for organizations to do more with less when it comes to their content.

Are you creating structured content? 10X your ContentOps by evaluating your content types to identify patterns that you can use to start building templates for consistent structures across content types.

Content style guides

Style guides also help teams work towards consistency in tone, style, and format for content. They help organizations deliver high-quality content, with confidence in its accuracy and style.

Does your organization have a content style guide? If yes, is it up to date and being used? If no, look for inspiration from Mailchimp’s great style guide and start creating your own to empower authors and move towards content that’s consistent in style and format.

Governance model

Content needs ownership and governance to get published and then be maintained. It’s not enough to publish and move on, there must be accountability around the content and governance models help organizations achieve this.

Where does good governance begin? You can improve governance as part of your ContentOps by listing all people, responsibilities, roles, and processes that are currently in place at your organization. Finding out where you’re starting from is the first step to identifying areas for improvements and where resources may currently be wasted.

Audits and tools for ongoing measurement

To know if content is effective its performance needs to be measured and it needs to be audited regularly. Audiences expect up-to-date and accurate content; businesses expect content to deliver on goal.

Do you know what your content estate looks like? Doing an audit is a good way to start getting to grips with the state of your ContentOps. What content do you have, on what channels, when was it published, how is it performing, who has ownership? Ask these questions as part of your audit to ensure time isn’t wasted on content nobody wants or is looking at.

The outcome all of these elements of ContentOps allow for is effective content. That alone doesn’t guarantee a good user experience. Websites need to load quickly, dead-ends should be removed, call to actions must be contextual, accessibility should be baked into best practices and the content needs to deliver in whatever way is necessary.

Content and UX coming together is more than usability alone and is more than content alone. It is about considering both aspects, with the relevant people involved and then ensuring appropriate processes are put in place with the right technology used. These are the three pillars of ContentOps, people, process and technology.

Content operations come after strategy and before delivery. Organizations still need a plan. They need to know what they are saying, to who, how, when and why. ContentOps is everything that happens between strategy and delivery and gaining efficiencies here can reduce content debt, which in turn can improve user experience.

A better content culture

Whilst focused on day-to-day operations, investing in ContentOps is also investing in the organization’s culture and overall approach to content. Teams need to be able to collaborate and change management needs to be successful. It’s the organizational change that is the hardest and most crucial part to get right. Whilst content may be published, it doesn’t mean how it got to that state of being was efficient, cost-effective, or even an enjoyable experience.

Any organization that produces content likely has a person (or people), a process and some technology. But are they the right ones for the job? Making the operations around content deliberate can allow teams and businesses to deliver more value through effective content and better user experiences.

As the multi-channel world of on-demand choice continues to introduce new requirements and increased expectations from users, having efficient ContentOps is no longer a luxury but is now a necessity.

As Angus Edwardson said in his recent article for Boye and Company, “to achieve operational prowess, ContentOps argues that it’s time for the pendulum to swing away from this obsession with delivery, back towards the internal workings of organizations.”

Focusing on ContentOps ensures content is considered with the user in mind. In his User Experience Honeycomb, Peter Morville states that information must meet certain criteria in order to provide a meaningful and valuable user experience.

hexagons representing the elements below and showing how all are class=

User Experience Honeycomb. Credit: Peter Morville

As stated in the explanation of this diagram on usability.gov:

  • Useful: Your content should be original and fulfill a need.
  • Usable: Site must be easy to use.
  • Desirable: Image, identity, brand, and other design elements are used to evoke emotion and appreciation.
  • Findable: Content needs to be navigable and locatable onsite and offsite.
  • Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Credible: Users must trust and believe what you tell them.

If we are to take information as meaning content, then our content has to work hard to ensure a good user experience. If the people, processes and technology involved in producing and delivering that content are inefficient, not best for the job and generally not considered, then the outcome can only be content that reflects the operations around it.

ContentOps brings order to the chaos and helps organizations produce effective content at scale, for multiple channels, audiences, and uses. ContentOps bridges the gap between content and UX, in a world where audiences interact with organizations online and expectations and needs must be met.

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