The recipe for great digital content

content wordcloud1We all know that great digital strategies don’t begin and end with developing a website. But all too often content creation can feel like a burden rather than an opportunity.

A recent event at Reading Room offered a chance to hear some inspiring stories about using content, whether that’s video, photography, copy, infographics, games or audio. In each case the organisation faced different challenges and had found that a new approach to content had helped them overcome these.

Real-life problems

Whatever your business, you need content. It doesn’t need to be complicated and it doesn’t need to break the bank. But it does need to be meaningful, interesting, useful and effective.

  • Kingspan are a global leader in self-build housing and construction. With over 175 websites they needed a content approach which was consistent, made sense to their customers but reflected the local markets they operate in.
  • Catalyst Housing are in the middle of a business-wide digital transformation. Part of this was looking at how to empower staff to use social content to better serve their customers. Moving from “Oh, no, they’re talking to us” to “hi, how can we help”!
  • The National Archives wanted to find a way to celebrate the Magna Carta and engage children with this part of history. The resultant award-winning resource used video and game elements to bring the archive materials to life.

So what is the recipe for making the most of digital content?

  • Start with a strategy – The basic ingredients need to be agreed from the start and you need to know what you want to achieve. Otherwise you’ll end up with an omelette when you really wanted a soufflé. What is your brand story … and how can digital content help you amplify that message and reach your audience or customers?
  • Understand your equipment – Work within your limits and don’t be overly ambitious, but equally don’t be afraid to be inspired. It would be tricky to cater for a dinner party of 20 with just a microwave, but not impossible. In the same way, what’s important is to choose the right kind of content and the right channel, to suit both you and your audience.
  • A large spoonful of art direction – There’s no substitute for someone who knows what makes the difference between a good image and a great image.
  • Taste, taste, taste – Great chefs taste as they go along. They tweak the flavours and can adjust to their customers’ palates. In the same way, content should be tailored. If you’re commissioning content then you need to work with someone who understands the nuances of your business.
  • Share and enjoy – Great-looking food gets shared, whether that’s at the table or on Instagram! Great content gets shared too. If it tells a story, if it evokes an emotion, if it persuades or inspires … your content is a metaphor for the attitude and ideals of your brand.

And finally … to improve, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all use cookbooks and recipes. Why wouldn’t you get an expert to help you develop your digital content?

Wherever you are in your digital journey, Reading Room can help you. From creating your strategy to producing memorable content; get a taste of how digital content can make you stand out from the crowd.

We’ve recently put our digital content expertise to work for the likes of First Mile recycling, the National Archives and SKODA. Get in touch with our Creative Director, Pete Gomori, to set up an initial consultation.

Reading Room is an award-winning digital consultancy with an international reputation for strategic consultancy, design, and technical delivery. They joined the IDOX Group in 2015.

What you need to know about web design trends in 2016

Reading Room Image

By Matt Fox, Digital Project Consultant, Reading Room

It’s starting to feel like spring again, so if you’re thinking of spring cleaning your website and making sure it’s achieving what you need, here’s our guide to what we see as being big in web design this year.

The visual effect

More and more clients we speak to aren’t satisfied with their websites just being searchable sets of text-based information. Their sites need to work harder for them as brand experiences and as tools to convey practical detail to their users – and both are improved by the effective and creative use of visual assets.

Whether it’s a video homepage, scrolling, Snowfall-style narratives packed with photography, illustration and animation, or interactive 3D models on product pages; imagery is going to win out over words every time. What this will mean is that photo and video shoots, or commissioning of illustration and motion graphics, will become a standard part of any web project. Sophisticated content and brilliantly constructed functionality working together will let the web fulfil its potential for organisations.

Substance over style

Having said that, you have to remember that substance wins out over style for users of digital platforms. As we become more comfortable with the fancy new frameworks available to web developers, the 2016 online user has become bored of unnecessary animation and 3D effects. If it helps your business message and is user friendly then that’s fine, but we are seeing web design come around full circle and concentrate on the message being conveyed.

We have clients ditching carousels, stripping back accordion lists and going minimal on superfluous interaction effects. This is all in the name of boosting usability and performance – especially for mobile devices. Mobile is still on the up and, by now, impossible to ignore. There is no room for fluffy embellishments anymore – users want information and they want it fast and fuss-free.

Pattern libraries

Web design is no longer about creating static layouts and page templates. To keep up with rapidly expanding businesses and the growing umbrella of sub-brands they need to accommodate, websites (or platforms, more appropriately) need to be flexible. More and more elements are now being created as part of a Pattern Library. This is a collection of repeating blocks that make up a page and allow for a consistent roll-out of content across a digital platform. This way of working has also been described as ‘Atomic Design’.

Once brand guidelines have been lifted into a digital styleguide, one can prepare all the code for the different elements that have been designed, so then they are easily implemented in any situation. You don’t need to tell people the rules any more – they are automatically implemented and thought through in advance. Pattern libraries can be used as frameworks for new web templates or elements, and any other design going forward.

Data-driven decisionmaking

Data is everywhere. With wider trends like wearables, home automation and the overarching ‘quantified self’ starting to take over, we are drowning in numbers. This year, more than ever, is all about tapping into the data available to us to make incremental improvements to our respective platforms and/or services.

This means targeting our efforts using analytics and phasing continuous improvement programmes through prioritisation. This is surging in popularity due to both opportunity (the data is there for the taking) and necessity. Project budgets are ever tighter, so prioritising scope empirically and focusing spend is a very prudent approach.

Making personalisation count

2016 has brought with it the challenge of more discerning digital consumers than ever, all with different needs and motivations. One-size-fits-all web strategy is beginning to run its course and delivering a personalised experience to their audience is on the minds of many of our clients.

Personalisation – the art of adapting page content to suit a particular user – is one thing, but we need to understand the whole picture before we get to that stage. It’s the ‘who, what, where, why, when’ that counts when attempting to personalise your digital platform. Up until now, a lot of people have been dipping their toes in the personalisation pond but it’s time to step back and think, ultimately, about the key question … ‘what are we really trying to achieve here?’

This year will be about taking that step back and approaching personalisation sensibly. Reflecting the drive to ‘substance over style’ it’s about appropriate use of technologies to meet business needs. We’ll be helping clients answer the questions like ‘Who are my audience segments?’, ‘What will I use to identify them?’, “Where will I provide personalised content?’ and ‘Why will this help our business goals?’.

Conversion over traffic

For years, people have just been concerned about traffic. “We want more traffic!” is often heard ringing through the room when discussing a new website project. In the effort of boosting leads or sales, the go-to strategy has almost always been to increase footfall. Banner ads (boo!) could be to blame. With diabolical click-through rates (of the order of 0.01%), it makes sense to invest in traffic and get a tiny sliver of the huge pie.

But forget about traffic. That conversion rate isn’t getting any better. Your website, Call To Action,or form isn’t going to convert a higher percentage of users just by getting more eyeballs in front of the screen.

2016 is the year of conversion. Traffic is only part of the story. Invest in optimising your conversion rate and you will continue to reap rewards long after your one-off investment.

Reading Room is a digital consultancy that identifies opportunities, creates experiences and builds systems to help clients benefit from technological change. It joined the Idox group of companies in 2015.

Enjoy this article? Read other blogs on digital from Reading Room and ourselves:

What is “the right approach” to public service website design?

socitim finger pointSocitm have recently reported on their 17th survey of local authority websites, Better Connected 2015, and the picture still isn’t great. Although rising expectations are said to be driving improvement, there are still significant gaps in performance. The key highlights from the report illustrate this:

  •    Slow and intermittent progress in improving their websites in the past year.
  •    Advances in accessibility – 43% providing satisfactory features for the disabled.
  •    Increases in number of responsive sites – increasing to nearly 50% (easy reading and navigation).
  •    8% now reach the 4 star ranking.
  •    Public satisfaction fell by 30%.
  •    The gap has narrowed by over 9%, between satisfied and dissatisfied.
  •    Slow progress in mobile performance experience – only 1/3 passing the assessment, especially customer journeys for top tasks.
  •    Only 37% of councils passed the top tasks standard, a slight improvement on last year.
  •    Nearly 50% of new sites launched didn’t improve the 1 or 2 star ranking.

Martin Greenwood (Socitm’s Insight Programme Manager) said shortcomings are due to councils having limited resources and not taking the right approach to designing websites. He highlights key barriers to improvements:

  •    Lack of resources and skills.
  •    The need to simplify.
  •    Focus on mobile, getting this right helps with the website as a whole.
  •    Addressing what makes the website poor, such as standards, digital governance, and management of content, before making the same mistakes.
  •    Not having strong editorial control, to ensure consistency.
  •    Not having a national structure for budgets, third party software and information sharing.

So what is the right approach? Information on how individual councils perform is available in the full report, but 34 councils achieve the maximum 4 star. In the past year, there has been a significant increase in the number of councils that have implemented a responsive site, up from 107 (26%) to 198 (49%). Many of the issues highlighted are the same for all websites, and ownership, clarity of purpose, clear user journeys are key to all websites. So how can all websites be improved?

  •    Have clear editorial processes and accountability.
  •    Really focus on the customer journey and remove any distraction.
  •    Make the information architecture clear and consistent, prioritise top tasks.
  •    Design for mobile devices first.
  •    Keep content relevant.
  •    Make sure all forms have context, such as the process or service which can be expected.

and specifically for local authorities Socitm highlights:

Should local authority websites be a priority in today’s efficiency saving climate? Ipsos Mori shows that 85% of the adult population now use the internet, while Ofcom found that half of internet users use government websites, including local authority ones, and this is growing rapidly. With 45.3m visits each month to council websites already, this will continue to grow, but will sites be resilient enough to cope? 30% of visits end in failure, even the best performing sites have 15% failures, and most failures lead to other modes of contact, such as calls to already busy call centres. DCLG found that 65% of local authorities said they had made savings as a result of implementing digital services, with an average saving of £1.4m, and also the added value of greater efficiency and transparency. The digital trends which are emerging across the public sector are driven by technological solutions to create efficiencies, as well as a better use experience, for a more digitally aware customer. Part of the solution to this efficiency is strategic use of content, simplified and used across the whole organisation. Technology will be used more and more in service delivery, better use of call centre information and feedback, and improved searching functions for information. The results of Better Connected, although promising, have some way to go. Although failure to meet, what are essentially customer service standards, may not be having a direct monetary impact currently, it will in the future if local authorities do not keep pace with the principles of user-centred design. Idox agrees with the report’s findings, especially that user-centred design is key to online services. As a company we are taking this forward within our business strategy. We have found that there is a an eagerness to develop and improve web experience, but with constraints on financial budgets, public sector clients are prioritising the improvements which are absolutely necessary. The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on digital service delivery, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us. An example of other resources we can offer to meet the challenge facing the public sector: Better Connected 2015 (Press Release) Local Digital Today Digital Trends in the public sector Digitally positive: an essay collection Technology Manifesto Internet Citizens 2013: use of citizen-related online content and services