Content strategy is not always UX

4/10/12

You're at a new restaurant and you've just ordered your meal. The decor looks fabulous, the host was friendly and warm, and the wait staff is attentive but not pushy. Your first course arrives and the presentation is superb. You take your first bite—and ugh! It’s not what you expected at all. Maybe it’s bland and tasteless or perhaps it’s too heavily seasoned.  The second course is even worse. You choose not to stay for dessert. What a disappointment. All the beautiful presentation and ambience couldn’t make up for the lousy food.

And maybe we’re not talking about restaurants—maybe we’re talking about websites. You know the sites:  beautifully designed, easy to navigate, but the content doesn’t taste that good.

I'm guessing that most people go to restaurants to enjoy a good meal―the presentation and ambiance are important elements and help create a great experience, but ultimately you want some good eats. But if the food is gross, you probably wouldn't go there again. Worse, you'd probably strike the restaurant off your list and write up a bad review on OpenTable.com. Similarly, if the content on your website isn't relevant to your visitors or doesn’t meet their needs, they’re not going to come back―and they’ll go to your competitor for the information.

So what happened? Was the website project an exercise in user experience (UX) or content strategy? Or did someone decide content strategy was UX? Before the UX pros among you start tweeting us a piece of your mind, hold on.

The complex interplay between UX and content strategy allows for many different scenarios, but one thing is clear to us: Most of the time, content strategy efforts should not fall under UX. UX professionals are expert in creating intuitive, clear paths within websites for visitors to consume all your audience-targeted content. Content strategists are expert at creating content that meets audience needs.

Or put it this way―“content” in “content strategy” is the creating of audience-targeted content (the reason why your visitors come to your site); “strategy” in “content strategy” is the user experience.

Content professionals and UX professionals can and should work hand-in-hand―optimizing the content experience is half the battle; the other half is developing content that is relevant, useful, and drives visitors to the next stage of the buying cycle. If you make content a check box on a list of considerations for UX professionals driving a site design, you are relegating content to data. As Tendo content strategy expert Christine Zender (also our VP, Content) says, "Content is the art; UX is the science."

So who should lead your content strategy? If you don’t have a dedicated content team, perhaps the best answer is your marketing department. "The marketing department is focused on what the users want to do. Smart marketers will try to focus what customers want. Marketers are more prone to understand the possibilities of what content can do. UX is about the experience part of ‘user experience,’" Zender says.

What are your thoughts on UX and content development in content strategies? Does your answer depend on how much weight you give to “content” vs. “strategy”? Should one lead the other, or are both equally important? Which function led your site design, and why?

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