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Understanding the content experience

15 min read
Producing and publishing content is valuable, but what’s the next step? By understanding content experience and working to improve it, you can get the best out of your content investment and create stronger relationships with your audience.


Standing out in a content-saturated marketplace

These days, every business produces content. It’s almost inadvertent – if you’re on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, if you have a blog or news on your website, you have a stream of content. The same is true if you have a YouTube channel with promotional videos, how-to explainers or ad content.With so many individuals and businesses on the digital stage, how do you make sure your content stream is performing at its best and standing out from the crowd? The answer might lie in thinking not only about content quality, but about the experience your content offers.

What is content experience?

The content experience is every aspect of consuming a stream of content from a brand, including finding it, downloading or reading on screen, and also engaging or responding to it, perhaps with comments or sharing.

The scope of content experience is much broader than just the content itself. It could include meta-factors that affect the user, like font choice, layout, video quality, captioning or lack of, sound quality, how ads are present and whether they actively interfere with enjoyment of content (e.g. as popups).

It also covers how and where the content is published, including the choice of channels (such as a blog, video channel, social account or combination of all of these) and whether the content is paid-for, gated or freely available. How frequently content is published, how well it’s promoted and whether it’s easy for the audience to find on the channels they use also plays a part.

Finally, there’s the question of personalisation – is the content suited to the individual who sees it? Are specific streams of content recommended or promoted to someone based on their interests? Content produced by a commercial business, for example, should form an ongoing, logical progression for the user to help them progress through their customer journey.

Content experience is holistic – it arises from a combination of the content elements themselves (the stream of content), the way they are presented and curated, plus the digital context in which they are accessed.

Working on your content experience means viewing your content through the audience’s eyes and thinking about how enjoyable, interesting, coherent and accessible it is, how it reflects on your brand and how well it ties in to your business goals.

Akin to Customer Experience (CX) and user experience (UX), content experience puts a business in the shoes of its audience and helps it improve on what it’s offering.

eBook: The digital experience playbook

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Content experience vs content marketing

Content experience sits alongside a number of other terms, like content management, content strategy and content design. They are all worth knowing about if you’re interested in improving your content, but the one most closely related to content experience is content marketing.

So what is content marketing and why is it different from content experience?

Content marketing means using content to promote a business and strengthen a brand. It’s about using high-quality content as a marketing asset that grabs attention and nurtures interest in a business or product.

 

An example would be a business that runs a branded YouTube channel full of content that creates value for users and attracts a lot of views and subscribers.

Because it’s providing high quality content, the people watching the channel are more likely to perceive the brand positively and to see them as an authority in their area of expertise. Consequently, the viewers are more likely to trust the brand with their business and become customers.

Content experience is more pragmatic in scope. Rather than simply producing and publishing the content that will appeal to the target audience, optimising content experience means you’re helping the audience have a seamless experience finding, using, and interacting with the content, and making sure they can use it to support their customer journey.

 

Some marketers see content experience as an essential component of content marketing, supporting the overarching goal of using content to market and promote a brand. But you can also extend the idea of content experience beyond commercial interactions, using it as a focus for UX work and content strategy that improves user experiences with or without a business-customer relationship.

Content experience, UX and CX

Content experience can be placed among a cluster of other user-focused topics including UX (user experience) and CX (customer experience).

They’re all concerned with listening to end users, understanding their needs and closely observing user behaviours in order to make improvements. The end goal is to make sure the experience is as good as it can be, while removing any usability-based barriers in the way of your business aims at the same time.

If you’re embarking on a content experience programme, it’s beneficial to look at what you’re already doing with UX and CX and to collaborate with people working in these areas within your business.

They’re likely to have best practices you can apply and programmes of improvement you can tap into and extend into your content experience project.

Why is content experience important?

You can view content experience as a missing puzzle piece in the world of content production, distribution and measurement. Putting that missing piece in place can elevate the success of your content operation as a whole, and turn underperforming parts of your content into the big hitters they deserve to be.

Have you ever read an article that was well-written and interesting, but so full of difficult-to-close ads and overlays that you had to give up and close out of it before getting to the end? What about the YouTube video with a catchy and interesting title that turned out to be mostly about something you weren’t interested in?

Then there’s the how-to video that gave you some of the information you needed, but left you hanging when you wanted to learn more. Or what about the podcast that you enjoy but can’t access on your usual streaming app, so you have to be at your desktop or download a separate audio player to listen to it?

These are examples of great content, or at least great content opportunities, being let down by a poor content experience. In all these cases, content experience improvements could have turned a near-miss into a key part of a quality content stream, either by tweaking meta-factors like title and link text, taking control of platform and presentation issues, situating content elements within a coherent, user-task-focused stream, or a combination of all the above.

eBook: The digital experience playbook

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How to get the content experience right

The process of improving content experience involves some best-practice steps you may already be doing as part of a content marketing operation or editorial strategy.

1. Content audit

Before you can improve your content, it’s critical to know and understand what’s already there and how it’s performing. A content audit involves reviewing your content as a whole and identifying where there are out-of-date items, duplications, poorly-performing elements and so on. You can also use a content audit to identify gaps in your content where new items should be produced.

As part of a content experience audit, look at how your content fits together. Review not just individual items but content journeys, keeping your users’ goals in mind. Assess whether these journeys are complete and useful, and note where you can make improvements through linking items together (through titles, links or cross-references) or adding new content.

Think about how content is arranged in your information architecture and whether items are grouped together logically according to user goals and journeys, too.

2. User testing

Consider user testing with the real people who consume your content – and even those who don’t, since they’ll be able to offer you a new perspective.

This will help you understand how your users access and discover your content, and  learn where there are pain points in finding your content or being able to access it. Let users go through the process of moving from one piece of content to another so you can see how well your content experience flows across different content elements.

3. UX writing review

Labels, titles, summaries, link text, button copy and captions are all small but hard-working pieces of microcopy that help users to appraise content and decide quickly and easily whether they want to consume it.

Spend some time reviewing this content-about-content to check how well it’s performing and whether it promotes clear, accurate and helpful journeys through your content streams. As well as reviewing internally, invite feedback from your users if possible.

4. Audience segmentation

Great content experiences use personalisation to serve the right content to the right person at the right time. Use your knowledge of your customers, including personas and customer journey mapping, as well as contextual information like pages they’ve recently visited, to serve up content that is interesting and relevant to your users.

This might involve mapping out content experiences for different personas and journey stages, assigning content elements to different points for different people.

5. Omnichannel approach

An omnichannel experience is one that delivers consistently across every platform and touchpoint, so that businesses are authentically and consistently themselves wherever a user finds them.

Omnichannel is an essential ingredient in a great content experience, since part of the aim is to produce a stream of content that flows together, rather than individual content elements that stand alone and are consumed and then forgotten by the user.

Support a great content experience by reviewing your channels and platforms as a whole. Is there a consistent and smoothly flowing experience across them?

Check for things like reposting the same content across all your platforms without tailoring to the audiences on each (think auto-posting Instagram posts on Facebook), and posting in one place without signposting users to the content from other channels (e.g. if you’re hosting a live event on Twitch, make sure you cross-promote and link from your newsletter, social channels and website).

Also make sure that every channel and platform is kept up to date and uses the same branding and content themes. If your Instagram is regularly updated and your bio link is for a current promotion, but your Facebook hasn’t been touched in months and your pinned post links to a competition that’s already closed, that’s a poor content experience.

Measuring the content experience

How do you know whether your content experience is working well?

One way to measure content experience is by comparing past with present performance. If you’ve made some improvements to your content experience, you can gauge their effects by looking at some classic content metrics like:

  • Clicks/pageviews – the number of people who have clicked on or viewed your content. An increase in impressions shows that your content is more visible and findable as a result of your content experience fixes.
  • Social sharing – if someone thought your content was worthy of a share, it’s likely that the quality is good and the subject matter has resonated with the audience.
  • Bounce rate – shows when someone has arrived on the page and quickly left. A higher bounce rate could indicate a mismatch between what people are expecting when they navigate to your content and what they actually find. Lowered bounce-rates suggest that your label, link, button and other signposting microcopy fixes are working.
  • Time on page/scroll depth – the amount of time a user spends on your page, combined with how far they scroll down the pages indicates whether they are fully engaged with your content.
  • SEO page ranking – does Google think your content is worthy of the front page? Higher rankings point toward better content experiences.

But what about the human experiences behind these outcomes?

If you want to know what people actually think about your content experience, what made them bounce away from a page or subscribe to a channel, measuring experience data is the way to do that. Combining X (experience) data with O (operational) data like impressions and shares above gives you a more complete picture and a clearer pathway to action.

Gathering experience data means listening to what customers are saying and soliciting their opinions. It might mean running user surveys or placing intercepts or buttons on your content pages, or you may run social listening to discover how users react to either individual content elements or your content stream overall.

Too many voices to hear at once? Tools like text analysis and sentiment analysis can help you gather a consensus view of how your content experience is performing based on what users say and how they feel.

eBook: The digital experience playbook