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Sample Chapter: Strategic Content Design

This is a sample chapter from Erica Jorgensen’s book Strategic Content Design: Tools and Research Techniques for Better UX. 2023, Rosenfeld Media.

Chapter 1

The Power of Content Research

Here’s an astonishing example of the power of content research.

While I was working for a major health insurance company, the digital experience team was called into an urgent meeting. We were selling health insurance policies during the national open-enrollment period. That meant we had only 10 weeks to promote and sell health insurance plans. Two weeks into that 10-week window, the senior director of digital experience had alarming news to share: sales were only at a fraction of what was expected. Senior executives at the company were sounding the alarms. We needed to make up for lost time and “fix” the customer experience, immediately. But what was going on? After months of feverish user research with prospective customers, we’d created a visually appealing, simplified customer experience—or so we thought.

Like all insurance companies, we were offering three “flavors” of insurance plans: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. As you’d expect, the Bronze plans were the least expensive (though still pricey!). Silver plans were in the middle. Gold plans were the most expensive, but provided the widest choice of doctors, clinics, and hospitals.

In this meeting of the digital experience team, we collectively hypothesized about what might be happening from a customer experience point of view. All of the health plans were expensive. With this being the first year of mandated health insurance coverage, customers were understandably reluctant to choose a plan, because they were being forced to do so. People who previously had no health insurance were being asked to pay hundreds of dollars a month. And health insurance is an emotionally charged topic, and one that’s famously complicated—it’s one of the industries that’s least trusted by the public, even less so than used-car salespeople!

For customers who qualified, government-funded subsidies were available to reduce the monthly cost—but required that customers jump through some application hoops and provide a lot of paperwork to provide proof of their income.

The digital experience team—including product managers, experience designers, content strategists—collectively put our heads together. Could we simplify the subsidy sign-up process? Part of that experience was out of our control; customers who wanted to apply for a subsidy were directed to a government website with complicated terminology—that is, when the site wasn’t crashing from a huge volume of visitors. But, perhaps we on the digital experience team could provide a better online glossary and step-by-step guidance for customers, to help ease them through that process?

One of the product managers chimed in: “The sales of the Silver plans were so low,” she said, “that perhaps there was a code error.” Was the HTML buggy? Was the “Buy a Silver plan” call-to-action button on the home page even working (which would be a huge embarrassment for our team, as we had done quality-assurance checks prior to the campaign launch date).

What seemed like a good hypothesis was shot down. The CTA button was working. Could there be something else cooking with this customer experience?

Collectively, we decided there was some more user research to be done—and quickly. We needed to find out why people were buying gold and bronze plans but avoiding the Silver plans like the plague.

A few hours later, a simple SurveyMonkey survey was shared with a sample of prospective customers. What we uncovered with that survey was gob-smacking, and helped save the day for the sales campaign. People replied to the survey and said things like, “I can only afford a Bronze plan. I would like better coverage but can’t afford the Gold plan. And the Silver plan, that is not for me, because I’m not over 65.”

Say what?

A pattern quickly emerged from surveying just 20 customers. Silver plans were perceived to be “different.” Customers thought they were Medicare plans and only intended for people 65- years-old and older. Silver plan, Silver Sneakers, Silver Fox, Centrum Silver vitamins…the “branding” of silver was getting in the way of our health plan sales! This was probably further complicated by how the website home page (and radio ads, and ads on buses, and social media promotions, and other advertising) was wholly focused on selling Medicare plans for the other 42 weeks of the year.

Damn.

With about two minutes of work, the content strategy team added two simple sentences to the home page, just above the Buy a Silver Plan call-to-action button, which made all the difference: “Silver plans are Affordable Care Act plans that provide a medium level of coverage. If you are over 65, shop for Medicare plans.” That Medicare link sent customers to the Medicare plan landing page.

What a difference some clarifying content can make. Once that content went live, it was if a light switch had flipped. Silver plan sales took off within the hour. Within a few days, sales were reaching the levels that the executive team had forecasted. It was like we waved a magic wand.

It was fortunate that we focused on the content, instead of trying to simplify the subsidy sign-up process. It was a lesson in never taking for granted how your content is being perceived by your audience.

Simply put, content research is a trifecta of goodness. First, it’s an incredibly powerful tool for you, as a content professional. It makes your words work better and it creates a groundswell of influence for you and your team. Second, your customers benefit when you use clearer, easier-to-understand language. And third, it provides a boost for your business, because customers are more likely to trust your company and be loyal to your products, services, and brand when content speaks to them in an engaging, and relatable way. You know the phrase, “You’re speaking my language?” Content research uncovers information about which specific words and phrases are clear and understandable and makes people feel recognized because you’re talking their talk.

What Is Content Research?

Content research involves asking your customers or audience for focused feedback on your content—for example, what they like, what they don’t like, and why—and then using that feedback to improve your content. Sometimes this might be called content testing, especially if you’re asking customers which words or phrases they prefer (“preference testing”). In this book, I’ll primarily refer to it as content research because it more fully encompasses what this practice involves—providing insights that are key to you as a content creator. As with usability research, the insights gleaned from content research are like golden nuggets that can translate into a deeper understanding of your customers and their needs, which can result in improved business performance.

Content research helps you accomplish the following goals, all of which contribute to your doing a better job as a content creator:

  • Understand which specific words, phrases, descriptions, and messaging resonate for specific audiences—and which leave them confused or lacking confidence.
  • Uncover insights about why customers prefer the words they do.
  • Make content as customer focused as possible.
  • Eliminate jargon from the customer experience.
  • Reduce customer service requests and save your company money.
  • Enable your customers to do what they came to your website to do—but more quickly and easily.
  • Validate your content writing style guide.
  • Inform your content design component library.
  • Use your voice-and-tone guidelines.
  • Emphasize just how much excellent content matters.

Understand What Resonates with Your Audience

The “what” of content research involves figuring out which words and phrases are preferred more than others, and the degree to which they’re preferred. This “what” can also be referred to as quantitative information. For example, what quantity or percentage of your audience prefer one word or phrase over another? What specific words are clear, precise, and work best for your specific group of readers? On a scale of one to nine, where one is “not at all likely” and nine is “extremely likely,” how do people from your audience rate their likelihood to use your app, based on a sample of content you share with them?

Uncover the “Why” with Qualitative Research

Step 1—distilling quantitative information (the “what”)—is amazingly powerful, as it gives you insights about what your customers are thinking. But content research gets even better. You can also find out why customers prefer the words that they do. This “why” research is referred to as qualitative research. And this is where even bigger golden nuggets—more like gold bars—can be uncovered so that you can better comprehend your customers’ and audience’s thought processes, which directly empowers you to create stronger, more effective content.

Quantitative plus qualitative information paints a fuller picture of your audience so that you can understand your customers’ point of view: What do they like (or not), what do they understand (or not), and why? It pulls the curtain back so that you know what’s really going on in their minds.

In addition, you can learn which specific words, phrases, and messages are clear to your audience, and which are fuzzy and need more explanation or description? What exact details are missing, if anything, so that your audience understands your business, services, or products? What information is extraneous? What does your audience like, or dislike—and why?

For example, when I started working on Microsoft’s content design team, I was creating content experiences that guided customers as they bought and set up Office (now called Microsoft 365). It can be a complex, intimidating process, especially for small business owners who are counting every penny they spend. For each person in a company who uses Office, you need one license to be assigned to them, before they can start using the software. I thought the word “license” felt formal and not as customer friendly as it might be. Therefore, I felt it didn’t entirely align to the company brand guidelines, which stated writing should be “crisp and clear” and convey that the company is “ready to lend a helping hand.”

Instead of “license,” I thought, why not use “seat,” which essentially means the same thing, but doesn’t have the potentially negative connotations of the word license. To me, “license” brings to mind the waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, bureaucracy, and wasted time. If “license” could be replaced by a clearer, friendlier word, the customer experience would feel a bit easier and lighter.

Well, I learned a lot from this content research study. We found that most customers who were asked (using UserTesting.com) about the word “license” felt just fine about it, to the tune of 17 out of 20 people surveyed. However, when we asked people why they preferred one word over the other, we discovered something unexpected and intriguing, and this content insight led the team to immediately change the user experience for the better.

What we found was that while the word “license” was preferred over “seat” many times over, and that most people understood the purpose of a license (in terms of why it was needed in order to start using the software), many people revealed to us that they didn’t know how many licenses a company needed. This information bubbled to the surface when we asked people to tell us why they preferred either “seat” or “license.” Some people thought you needed just one license for your whole company. Some thought you needed one license for each laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet. The truth is that you need only one license for each person using the software.

The implications of this nugget of knowledge were far-flung. If a customer thought they needed only one license, and bought one but had 10 employees, they would find that nine employees couldn’t use Office. They would need to return to the website to buy more licenses, and they’d likely feel frustrated and annoyed. On the other hand, if a customer thought their company of 10 needed 20 licenses (one for each employee, assuming each employee had both a laptop and mobile phone), they would overpurchase, and probably think Microsoft products were too pricey. Potentially, they would be less likely to renew their Microsoft software subscription and instead would be at risk for dropping their plan and jumping to the competition.

To prevent this customer confusion—confusion we did not know existed prior to content research—we simply had to clarify the customer experience. We immediately added a brief line of content to the shopping flow: One license is needed for each user.

There are business implications from this research! The net result of this action was a bit hard to quantify precisely, as we hadn’t been measuring how many calls about license problems were being made to the customer service team each day. But we did know this: It was an immense improvement.

Say, for the sake of example, 1,000 people bought Office every day. We found through content research that 25 percent of the people didn’t understand how many licenses they needed. So we were helping 250 customers each day to be more successful and feel more confident as they went through the steps to buy and set up Office for their company. This confidence translated into happier customers—customers who were more likely to stick with Office instead of moving to a competitor, and more likely to buy other Microsoft products. And if you extrapolate 250 people multiplied by 365 days a year, that’s thousands of people who were in a better place thanks to crystal-clear content. In other words, content research makes your customers happier, and therefore your business more successful!

Make Your Content Customer Focused

As a content professional, you need to make sure that you’re using words that your audience clearly understands. But when you can’t avoid using words that are tricky and hard to understand—such as if you create content for a very specialized field, like finance, law, healthcare, education, or software—you may want to include definitions of any complicated words in your content experience. You can lean on content research to make sure that the definitions of any complex terms are as clear as possible.

A couple of important facts here: According to research from Deloitte, companies that prioritize the customer experience earn 60 percent more revenue than companies that do not. Hopefully, that is enough inspiration to make sure that the words you’re using are clear to your audience, instead of merely assuming that they are. (This evidence might also support you in obtaining a budget for content research tools and justifying the time investment needed for content research.)

Another fact: The Nielsen Norman Group, a longtime leading user-experience consulting firm, found that even “experts” in their field—lawyers and other highly educated people with advanced degrees—prefer simple, easy-to-understand words instead of jargon. See their study called “Plain Language Is for Everyone, Even Experts.”

Eliminate Jargon from the Customer Experience

By gathering input about your content that comes straight from the mouths of your customers, you’ll help raise awareness with your product-team colleagues about something that should seem obvious, but is often not acknowledged: Your customers don’t necessarily use the same language as you and your coworkers! You therefore need to bring the voice of your customer front and center into your working process. Ongoing interactions with your customers help you create content that’s jargon-free and not infiltrated with confusing or completely unintelligible words, terms, and phrases. At their most innocuous, jargon means nothing to your customers; at its worst, it leaves them feeling unconfident, stupid, incompetent, and wary of interacting with your content in the future.

Reduce Customer Service Requests

By improving your content and creating a clearer customer experience, you can reduce the number of phone calls, text messages, and emails from confused customers to your customer service representatives (and chat bots). You’ll also reduce the number of customers who decide their customer experience was so poor that they no longer want to do business with your company and therefore abandon your company for your competition. Reducing both the volume of customer-service calls and number of lost customers quickly translates into significant money saved for your business. In other words, strong content builds and keeps customer loyalty.

Help Your Customers

Customers rely on the content on your website, app, or other digital experience for very specific reasons: to share information with them, guide them as they accomplish a specific task, or buy something. In other words, your customers have a job they need to do. Logically enough, in the user-experience world, approaching design work from this perspective is referred to as the “jobs to be done” approach. (See The Jobs To Be Done Playbook.)

For example, consider a parent who has a teenager. That teen just passed their driving test and has a brand-new license. (And that parent might have some new gray hairs!) That family may use a car insurance app to add that teen to their car insurance policy. Some more examples: A customer who is starting the onerous task of filing their taxes needs to know which IRS forms to use and what financial records they’ll need as they fill out those forms. A person with an elderly parent who was just diagnosed with dementia needs to understand the various services provided by different types of long-term care facilities.

As a content expert, if you can ensure that you’re using the clearest, easiest-to-understand terms to assist your customers as they complete their “jobs to be done,” the happier your customers will be, and the more likely they will be to return to your site or use your product. (Note that each of these scenarios is emotionally charged! By creating clear content, you’ll be helping people feel less anxious and stressed.)

Sometimes what customers need to do is buy things. If you work in ecommerce, content research can translate into more products sold and more money earned for your business, because content research points you to the words that appeal most to your customers and which specific details about products are most important to them. (Ever buy a dishwasher that should fit perfectly in your kitchen, but the box wouldn’t fit in your apartment-building elevator? Details matter.) This sort of content clarity can also translate into fewer customer returns, again saving your company on costs and building the case for staffing up your content team because clear content translates into a stronger bottom line for your business.

Use Content Research for Style Guides

Many companies have established reference guides called writers’ guidelines (and often user experience–specific content guidelines) that identify dos and don’ts for content teams to follow. Following these guidelines creates a cohesive, consistent experience for your customers. For example, on your app splash screen, do you ask customers to sign in or log in? How exactly do you spell your product and feature names and describe what they do?

Some additional entries typically found in a style guide include an A-to-Z word list of important words and frequently misspelled or misused ones. You can also often find which words are “on brand,” to support the content voice and tone that your company is aiming to achieve, and which words and phrases should be avoided for specific reasons—including branding, sensitivity, diversity and inclusion, and ease of translation into multiple languages.

As you might imagine, style guides can be voluminous. As language and culture change, your style guide needs to keep up. A quick example: Referring to a person or a product as “crazy”—even “crazy good”—is now considered by many people to be offensive and improper, as that description is insensitive to people with mental illness. Many writing style guides therefore recommend avoiding the word “crazy.”

One of the better-known style guides that’s available publicly is the Mailchimp Content Style Guide (see Figure 1.1).

The home screen of the Mailchimp Content Style Guide, with section categories that include voice and tone and writing for accessibility.

Figure 1.1
Mailchimp’s Content Style Guide is one of the first digital content style guides to be shared publicly and provides brilliant advice, especially on catering voice and tone to a variety of customer content experiences, such as newsletters, legal content, and so on.

You’ve learned how content research can be used to make sure that you create strong content, and how it can be used to improve content iteratively that’s already live. Another powerful way to use content research is to use it to validate your content writing style guides or content design library. In other words, to the extent you can, take advantage of content research to make sure that the words in your content style guide are the words that your audiences have told you are preferable and clear during content research studies.

By “to the extent you can,” it means that you certainly don’t need to validate every single word in your style guide. That could take years! Also, content teams are often understaffed, so it would be nearly impossible to conduct research on all the words and phrases in your style guide. That said, it’s worth checking the “big cheese” words—words you use frequently, words that appear front and center on your app or get used over and over on your website, social media posts, sales team content, and so on.

Each time you run a content research study and learn about which words and phrases are clear and helpful to your audience, note this in your writing style guide. For example, because the Microsoft team’s research confirmed that “license” is a word that customers tend to prefer instead of “seat,” we noted “license” in our team style guide as a preferred word, along with a link to the research report that documented the research-study questions, participant responses, and resulting insights.

When documenting in your writing style guide or content design library which word or phrases have been validated, it can help to add an icon—such as a green check mark—next to each, for easy reference. Note the date that the research and its report were completed. (Depending on the volume of research studies you and your content team conduct, you may want to create a repository of searchable research reports.)

Validate Your Content Design Library Components

If you work in content design, you can use content research to validate your content design library components. Several companies like Apple and Atlassian have published their content design libraries online. How do you know what language to use in each element of your customer experience, including call-to-action buttons, error messages, empty states, and more? You can validate your team’s language choices using content research.

Use Content Research for Voice and Tone

Because content testing is a conduit for hearing directly from your customers, it’s also an excellent tool for developing or honing voice-and-tone guidelines. Voice-and-tone guidelines are often included in writing style guides and content design libraries as a special section.

Voice can be thought of as the unique stylistic qualities that identify your content. Voice often echoes the main characteristics of your company’s brand. Is it playful and fun (like Taco Bell) inclusive (like Sephora), inviting and warm (like Starbucks) or sophisticated and refined (like Lexus)? (See Figures 1.2-1.4 for examples from these companies.)

The tone of your content should align to the voice principles, although tone varies based on the situation. For example, if you’re writing content that’s used to acknowledge new customers, you may want to reflect an upbeat, optimistic, welcoming tone. If you’re writing error-message content (for example, when a customer is providing their credit card number and they accidentally skip or mistype a numeral), you would write content with a straightforward tone, to help the customer fix the mistake and immediately get back on track.

Here are a few additional examples of unique voice and tone:

Lexus

The landing page for the Lexus Rx Hybrid car is shown, with a bronze-colored Lexus with detailed grill and blurred background.

Figure 1.2
The details page for the Lexus Rx Hybrid automobile. The description of the car is heavy on words that convey a sense of luxury and richness. Words like “uncompromising,” “exhilaration,” “advanced,” and “astonishing” combine to convey Lexus’s luxurious tone.

Taco Bell

The Taco Bell home page shows a woman eating Nacho Fries with cheese sauce. The fries are described using words including “bold” and “epic.”

Figure 1.3
The Taco Bell home page uses words like “bold,” “epic,” and “cravings” to convey a sense of fun and communicate the playfulness of its menu.

Sephora

The Sephora Beauty Insider Community page includes photos of customers wearing makeup and a list of community groups including “Skincare Aware” and “Nailed It.”

Figure 1.4
The Sephora Beauty Insider Community page includes content like “Hey there!” “Ambassador,” and “people like you” to create a sense of belonging for its customers.

One way to think about voice and tone is this analogy: voice is like your city’s climate. Most of the time, it’s predictable and falls within an expected range of temperature and precipitation. Tone is like the day’s weather; it changes based on a variety of factors but doesn’t typically veer outside of what you would expect for your climate.

Just as you can validate your writing style guide using content research, you can validate voice-and-tone guidelines using content research. Here’s an interesting question to ponder: How did your company’s voice-and-tone guidelines get developed in the first place? With all due respect to your colleagues, who says the words in your style guide or design library are the preferred and very best words to use, and how can they be so sure? You can turn to content testing to find out how well word choice and messaging approaches resonate—or don’t—with your audience. It’s an ideal way to collaborate with your marketing or brand colleagues to ensure that voice-and-tone guidelines support the creation of content that’s appealing to your audience, and therefore is more likely to attract and keep them as customers. Validating voice-and-tone guidelines is also an excellent way to ensure that your own biases and those of your teammates’ don’t get in the way of the creation of effective content. (Note once again: The words you personally prefer aren’t necessarily the same words that your customers like best.)

Table 1.1 shows an additional example of voice and tone.
Brand: Starbucks
Voice description: Passionate, friendly, and warm
Tone: Varies, depending on the product, the content format and the customer experience or use case

Show That Excellent Content Matters!

Word choices can make or break a customer experience. Words can be the deciding factor between a happy, confident customer, and one who drops your product or company like a hot potato, abandons your brand to run to the competition, and then encourages their friends and family to do the same.

How to Conduct Content Research

Content research can often be conducted online using platforms like UserZoom or dscout. It can also be done in person (when that’s safe to do).

As a content pro, you can run content research yourself. If you have a user research team, you can choose to collaborate with them to do content research or see if they can run content research on your behalf. (However, user researchers are often in great demand and frequently, unfortunately, understaffed.) If you have the budget for it, you can hire a separate third-party team to do it for you. Often, it’s easier and faster as a content lead to run the content research yourself, because you thoroughly understand your company’s writing guidelines, brand guidelines, and audience needs, and are therefore able to quickly plan and run studies yourself that will yield clear actions to take.

Each of these research approaches has its own pros and cons, which will be detailed throughout the book.

The great thing about content research is that, in many cases, it can be completed pretty quickly, so long as you scope your work to cover a manageable number of questions and focus on a select few, precise things you want to learn. If your audience is very specific or otherwise unusual, it can take more time to find the customers to participate in your research. That said, if you have a broad audience, you can often run a content-research study using a platform like UserZoom and get helpful feedback and content insights in a matter of hours.

What to Expect from Content Research

Your content team will feel more empowered—and more connected to your customers—when you conduct content research among the team. When members of your feature team—product managers, visual designers, software developers, marketing managers, data analysts, and others—hear about the insights that your content team is uncovering using content research, you’ll notice something magical starts to happen: You and your content team will start being treated with more respect. Respect will manifest itself in several ways: You’ll be less likely to be left off the meeting invitations for a project kickoff and less likely to be skipped during the product-development process. You’ll also be less likely to be looped in at the last minute to “clean up” content immediately before a project launch (the bane of content pros everywhere!). You’ll also be invited to present at monthly business reviews and All-Hands meetings. With content research, the role of the content creators and the importance of the words in your customer experience move to the spotlight. Instead of being the caboose in the product or digital experience development process, content moves to the front of the train and leads the way.

Be Diplomatic When Improving Content

A bit of warning when you conduct content research: You need to be careful when you evaluate content that’s already “live” and out there in the world in front of your customers (sometimes referred to as customer-facing content). This is for two main reasons: one, the most obvious element here, is that you’re criticizing someone’s earlier work. Someone, or possibly many people, worked hard on that initial version of content. (Maybe it was you, if you are a content team of one or work on a small but mighty content team!) Whoever created that content did their best with the information they had to create the content as it currently stands. When you do content research on content that’s already customer-facing, please do so gently and kindly, with a growth mindset—a mentality of let’s always be learning and improving—instead of a critical, harsh approach.

The second thing to consider as you run content research studies is a managing-up issue. When content that’s currently customer-facing is deemed lacking in some way (such as if content research reveals that significantly different terminology is preferable to what’s currently being served up to your audience), you need to be careful as to how this is framed to your higher-ups. Again, try to take a positive, “let’s-continually-be-improving” approach. The Japanese call this improvement-focused approach kaizen. You’ll be better off taking a sensitive, emotionally intelligent approach than if you use a harsher attitude of “Wow, this current content is no good, and the research proved exactly that.” Your leadership team will be more likely to embrace and support the practice of content research if you take a more thoughtful, kaizen-like approach. Proceed with tact and be diplomatic. (By the way, if you’re ever presenting content research results to higher-ups and they ask why you didn’t conduct research on all your customer-facing content, that’s a perfect opportunity to ask for additional content staffing.)

What Content Research Is Not

While content research is sometimes a truly magic bullet for the content development process, there are a few things it’s definitely not. Keep the following tips in mind as you take on content research, share content insights with your colleagues, and iterate and improve content to align it to the insights you discover.

It’s Not a Crutch

Content research should not be relied upon to an extreme degree. Sometimes teams can get caught up in research and want to use it to answer every single content question every single day. While content research absolutely provides valuable insights and helps you make informed content decisions, it’s not the be-all, end-all. When teams rely on research to an extreme degree, they often have difficulty using their own good judgment to make content decisions. Don’t let this happen to you!

While it’s terrific to be able to run content research on the words that are most important and essential to your customer experience (like, say, the splash screen of your new app, or your customer onboarding steps), it’s impractical to think you can research every single bit of content you launch, or research every feature name, or every verb in every call-to-action button. The truth is, you don’t need to use research for every content decision, nor should you. You must choose what content to spend your all-too-valuable time on, and that really ought to be the content that you know has the biggest impact on your customer experience.

Remember, there’s no substitute for your experience as a content designer, content strategist, or content writer. You are a magical word person, and you therefore have an enormous amount of content knowledge in your brain and solid instincts from years of experience. Don’t let content research erode your confidence!

It’s Not A/B Experimentation

Content research is not A/B experimentation, and that’s a good thing. A/B experimentation is the process of creating alternate versions of live content and displaying one version (the “control,” or Version A) to one portion of your audience, and an “experimental” version (or Version B) of content to another portion of your audience. A/B experimentation has its time and place. It can be helpful, especially in ecommerce, to identify the words that are most appealing to your audience—the content that gets the most engagement or clicks. Sometimes A/B experiments are expanded to A/B/C/ or A/B/C/D/E experiments, also called multivariate experiments.

(A/B experiments are typically run until a “statistically significant” difference in engagement is seen. In other words, you need to be comfortable with and well-versed in statistical best practices to run them successfully. A/B experiments are therefore best suited to websites and apps with substantial daily traffic volume, so statistical significance can be reached after a limited period —days or weeks, instead of months.)

However, A/B experimentation is complicated and can be risky. It often requires assistance from your engineering team and your analytics colleagues to set up and run experiments and analyze their results. In addition, you’re putting an untested version of content out into the world for your customers to see. If customers have a strong negative reaction to your experimental content, you’ll be hearing from them!

Instead of managing complex, risky, and time- and resource-intensive A/B experimentation, you can use content research prior to A/B experiments to improve their effectiveness. That is, you can leverage content research as a first step, to identify appealing, engaging examples of content and run those freshly identified content examples against the “control” version. For example, say you have a call-to-action button label that’s not performing as strongly as you’d like. You then think up five potential options for replacing the text. You can first run a content research study to discover which one or two out of those five options is most appealing to your target audience. Then you can set up your A/B or multivariate experiment with those “cream-of-the-crop” contenders, instead of merely guessing which may work most effectively. (If your content research study reveals a runaway preference, you can save time and skip the need for A/B experimentation altogether.)

It’s Not “Regular” Usability Research

Content research can be conducted in collaboration with your user research team. But it’s special in that it can often be completed by content pros without any help from the user research team.

(This is not at all meant to minimize the experience and wisdom of user researchers. They are irreplaceable and a key part of a successful product team. For example, I would rather not set up and analyze a tree test to identify the optimal navigation of my website. Similarly, I am in awe of the user researchers on my team and their ability to conduct moderated interviews, think on their toes, and adapt questions as they go.)

In other words, content research is something that content designers and content strategists can and ought to have responsibility for. In this respect, it’s something that as a content pro, you can become known for in your company or organization, and it will further build your reputation as a content expert and customer-centric product team member who influences business impact.

Making It All Work for You

If you take away only one thing from this chapter, let it be this: Content research builds the influence of and respect for your content team. Content research can pave the way for so many things that come along with that influence and respect: being invited to project kickoffs, instead of being asked at the last minute to “wordsmith” content prior to a project launch; getting a seat at the table to represent content as an integral element of your company’s digital experience; and the satisfaction of being recognized as a content professional with broad and deep specialized skills and expertise. To be clear: You shouldn’t need content research to be able to prove your worth as a product professional. But until CEOs and VPs clearly understand the critical role of content in creating an exceptional customer experience, content research can play a pivotal role in transforming your work life.

As a content professional, you’ll often hear unsolicited comments from your product teammates about how they can write, too. But not just anyone can create high-performing, customer-friendly, effective, clear, amazing content. In the same vein, anyone can use TurboTax to complete a simple 1040 tax return. But not everyone is a certified public accountant for a Fortune 500 company and responsible for profit-and-loss reports and complicated quarterly earnings statements. You are like that CPA, with expertise well beyond the average TurboTax user. The difference is like night and day. You deserve to get respect for your skills and expertise and their significant impact on the customer experience and your business’s success.

When your company embraces content research, you’ll elevate the levels of influence and respect that you and your content team receive.

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