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Simple content strategy: relate your headline to your first paragraph!

I know this sounds like common sense, but with the long holiday I’ve had a bevy of extra time to catch up on a million email digests, Google reader feeds, etc, and I have been absolutely shocked at the number of times I was drawn in by an articles’ title, only to get two paragraphs in and realize I had no idea why I was continuing to read. Aside from the obvious problem of failing to deliver on an implied promise, there is a more serious issue in terms of a loss of trust. This type of practice will lead to users no longer trusting the author or site. Given the amount of available options, and limited screen-time people generally have, this is detrimental to building a lasting and fanatical audience.

The initial traffic bump of a catchy but misleading headline will ultimately erode users confidence that they are going to find value after that click, and will likely be lost forever. I’ll freely admit that I don’t have any empirical evidence on the subject, but it doesn’t seem like a presumptuous assertion to make, given my own observed behavior, and informal discussions with others within my digital community. In the ever growing shift to user-centric experience/design, I firmly believe that the value proposition of a well formed title and correspondingly on-point article or post, will lead to greater levels of user satisfaction, more shares, and a far more loyal base of repeat readers. Disagree? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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Value mapping as a mechanism to drive consensus

Let’s face it; when it comes to wire-frames & designs, consensus is hard to come by. Especially when working within an organization (as opposed to externally, as a consultant) and particularly in non-profits, hard, user based evidence can be pretty scarce. Decisions are the product of opinion or group think, and the value proposition to the user can be lost in the shuffle.

All hope is not lost. There are some simple tools that can be used to help drive consensus without alienating anyone in the group, with the added bonus of getting to the heart of the user-centric value proposition.

Recently, I was faced with a similar situation as the scenarios described above. A team of folks of varying areas of expertise were working on the user experience of a particularly critical set of screens for a member-based section of a website. Upon seeing what was termed the ‘final version’ I quickly realized that the page had staggering visual hierarchy issues, which would render the user more confused than they were with the current iteration of the page. Without wanting to alienate the designer, and knowing I had some non-UX experts to convince, I launched into the following value-mapping exercise:

1) First, create a prioritized list of all of the features and visual elements on the page. I find it is helpful to assign values of 10, 5 and 1. 10 is meant to represent elements that are of the highest value to the user, 5 is in the middle and 1 is the lowest.

2) Gather the group, and ask them for their input on the value based list. The goal here is to reach some measure of consensus as to what features should be the most value to the user.

3) Then, have the group look at the current design or wire-frame, and have them rank what is there using the same scale.

4) Finally, compare the prioritized list of features to the visual weight represented by everyone’s score on the design/wire-frame. The point here isn’t to ‘give direction’ to the designer or information architect, but to represent that there is a mis-match between the value you are trying to convey to users and how the visual hierarchy is currently being received.

5) Rinse and repeat until the desired features present in a way that is congruent with their priority or level of value.

While there will still likely be a robust discussion, at least there is common ground: value to the user. It is unlikely that opinion won’t still be a factor, but at least the playing field has some context and there is less ambiguity than there would be otherwise.

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