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Posts Tagged ‘content strategy’

No, You Cannot Skip These Essential Content Strategy Steps

December 11th, 2013 • No Comments

Trust Tom Colicchio. You don't want to hold that ingredient. He knows what he's doing.

You know how chefs get ornary when they find out you want to hold an ingredient, or substitute something in its place? Well, I can sympathize with their reaction in my line of work.

In the case of content strategy, skipping strategic steps up front will always dilute the end result. If you are presented with a supervisor who wants to “ala carte” your content strategy project, here is your defense:

Content Goals

Frequent excuse for skipping: ”We already have marketing goals established. We don’t need another set of goals?”

Why it can’t be skipped: Marketing goals often cover umbrella ideas for all initiatives. But as a result, they do not offer tactical aspirations when it comes to something as complex as content. That being said, content goals should always take the lead from marketing goals, and translate them to relevant applications. “If we want to accomplish x, then our content online must do y.” Content goals also have great longevity: you can hand them to any good content writer down the road, and they’ll have their marching orders.

Content Audit

Frequent excuse for skipping:  ”It takes too much time. Can’t we just audit 20 pages and be done with it?”

Why it can’t be skipped: How many websites a day do you visit? And of those, what percent do you bounce from due to a bad user experience, or content that just doesn’t make sense? Exactly. Odds are, your site is turning someone off right now because a link is broken, a navigational path is too convoluted, a typo makes you look sloppy, or a page they thought was about A is actually about B. The point is, none of us have patience when we’re online. The only way to wrap your head around what’s wrong with your content (and how your site supports it) is to allow someone to get in the weeds and start pulling.

Tactical Workplan

Frequent excuse for skipping:  ”Now that we know what’s wrong, why don’t we just fix it?”

Why it can’t be skipped: Completing an audit and identifying fixes is just the beginning. And if small fixes are identified — typos, broken links, empty fields — go ahead and get going on them. But an audit isn’t like editing a mid-term paper. The biggest reason for this exercise is to identify overlapping trends across the site that are preventing you from accomplishing your content goals. Often, this goes beyond just the words on a page, and trickles over to design, development and even workflow. Documenting the tactics that will need to be employed — as well as who they involve and in what order they need to be implemented — not only gets everyone on the same page, but its creates an easy-to-follow way forward for everyone.

Kale

Frequent excuse for skipping:  ”Kale is bitter. I would rather eat dandelions laced with Roundup.”

Why it can’t be skipped: Kale you can skip. I hate kale, too. I’d even ask a Top Chef to substitute it.

Other Steps

The three steps outlined above are just the three most common ones to be jettisoned from my experience, and certainly, every project is different. But content strategy is founded on (a) establishing objectives, (b) evaluating how you are currently meeting (or failing) those objectives, and (c) establishing a corrective course of action. It’s not a three-course meal. It’s a process. Don’t skip any of these steps.

What to Make of the New Google Maps

June 4th, 2013 • No Comments
New google maps screen grab

What Wengen, Switzerland looks like on the new Google Maps. ©Google

I have long held an obsession over maps. I enjoy reading them as much as I enjoying reading a good novel. In fact, my love of maps is so dorky that (a) in college, I decorated the walls of my dorm with topo maps of Colorado’s backcountry, and (b) I also insisted on having a blue topo backdrop as part of the branding for Headwaters Content.

So, needless to say, my obsession with maps means that Google Maps gets a lot of visits from me. So I was particularly intrigued to get an invite to test its newest version a few weeks ago. By and large, it is more visually arresting, but it has several flaws. Here are the pros and cons for the everyman (i.e. those of you not lining up for Google Glass).

Pros

Google Maps screen grab of Tiberon, CA

Google Maps makes a lot of places look really, really pretty. ©Google

Better Visual Presentation – Google Maps has always been clunky with the way it looks, a fact that didn’t bother me because of the platform’s solid functionality and unrivaled data. But if there is a headline for this new iteration, it is that Google Maps has gotten a lot prettier, and less functional. More on that second part in a moment…

Nothing is more important in a map than clarity, and the new cartography — with easier-to-read streets and landmarks — makes the experience more inviting. The filmstrip of photos along the bottom, and quick snapshots of Streetview within the “info card,” make this version of Google Maps endlessly entertaining. I could poke around for hours.

Other things to like …

New Google Maps. Flight integration.

Nice flight time and cost integration on directions. ©Google.

  • Getting from Point A to Point B has a lot more options, including flight integration, and better presentation of bike routes (particularly handy for planning a bike-oriented vacation)
Google Maps screen shot of Buttermilk

Its pretty badass to scout ski runs using Streetview. ©Google

  • Click on a spot, instant Streetview. This is especially cool for some of the newer applications of Streetview, such as ski resorts, where they have used their 360-cameras on ski runs at a handful of popular resorts. (In working with Aspen-Snowmass, I’ve been eager to find new ways to integrate Google Maps and Streetview into their site’s on-page content.)
Google Maps of transit terminal
  • And finally, the abundance of 360-degree photo spheres will allow you to get inside of places where Streetview hasn’t been, such as transit hubs.

Cons

Flawed Search Results – Far too many times with this new update, I’m left without answers while doing searches. Google is steering far too many searches toward advertiser-centric results.

Of course they are.

For instance, a simple search for “U.S. Capitol, Washington DC” first yielded “Capitol Associates,” a lobbying firm located a few blocks from the Capitol. I was also presented via autofill with “U.S. Capitol Visitors Center” and “U.S. Capitol, Capitol Driveway Northwest, Washington, DC,” neither of which offered search results for the official U.S. Capitol page or Wikipedia page (although the Visitor Center Site did come up). For more info, it took me to the Capitol’s Google Plus page, with reviews. It ranks as a 4.4 out of 5, but on what scale I’m not sure. (And here I thought Congress had an approval rating of 4.4 percent).

Screen Grab of Google Maps, US Capitol

Who says lobbyists own the U.S. Capitol? Oh. Even Google Maps does. ©Google

Anyhow, the trend to turn Google Maps into a social network is troubling, and not just because I don’t have many friends. But rather, from a curation standpoint, it is unreliable — which ought to be a death knell for any map platform, don’t you think?

The best example of this is the map for Aspen, Colorado. If you want to find Maroon Peak, you are presented with so many variations on its location because of where Google users have placed it. It’s downtown, on a lake, in Woody Creek… It gets worse with a search for “Grand Tetons,” and embarrassingly worse with “Arkansas River, CO,” a query that plops you in the middle of Little River, Oklahoma with related links for Little River County Solid Waste and Campus Embroidery & Letter Co. (At least we have a photo of “Grandpa’s House” in the photo strip at the bottom).

New Google Maps "Arkansas River, CO"

I broke Google Maps with the search term "Arkansas River, CO." ©Google

Considering what an enormous attraction the Arkansas River is for visitors to Colorado, this is a pretty pathetic. (Note: A search for “Arkansas River, Colorado” yields more relevant results, but all of them advertiser centric).

Screen shot of new Google Maps

What to stay in Boonville? "Consider Ukiah" says Google. ©Google

The irrelevant search results happen in far too many travel-related scenarios, and its not just confined to natural features. When I did a search for “Boonville, CA” and then selected their related link for “places to stay,” it zoomed out and showed hotels in Ukiah, some 40 minutes away (not even mentioning the B&Bs in the valley or the cult-favorite Boonville Hotel right in town).

At this point, I might be piling on, but these scenarios are happening enough to make the new Google Maps less reliable than before.

The Takeaway

The lines between search and social strategies have been blurring for years, but this may be the biggest shove we’ve seen from Google. Unfortunately for Google Maps, it is at the cost of reliability. I’d recommend Google Maps for point A to point B navigating, for seeing what a place looks like, and for utilizing Streetview and Google Earth. The amount of applications this data has on planning your travel or feeding your curiosity are endless.

I just wouldn’t use it as a search engine … unless you need a lobbying firm that can show you how to navigate the U.S. Capitol.

Tagging Your Content Consistently

January 17th, 2013 • No Comments
Diano d'Alba with Alps near Montelupo Albese, Piedmont, Italy

Quick! Taxonomize this photograph! (demonstration below)

Ah taxonomy. The grubby, mind-twisting terrain of identifying our content. Typically, people who love executing taxonomy strategies also love the Container Store.

Me? Not so much. But when you can properly organize, tag and identify your content, you begin to make relevant connections easier for your audience. That, I do like. So, for me it’s a necessary evil that must be embraced. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to make it one-step more fun than buying a closet organizer for my 3-year-old daughter’s toys.

Why Taxonomy Is Important.

To tag your content properly you need two things: specificity and consistency.

The more exact you can be in identifying your content, the better you will inform a system of that content’s exact relevance.

And the more consistent you can be in your process and word-choice, the more uniform your content connections will be.

Whether you are playing around on Pinterest, marketing your company through a blog, producing a vast ecosystem of B-to-B content, or selling stock photography, you have to master taxonomy. Here’s how I make it work for me.

The Q-and-A Approach to Taxonomy.

I recently helped a client with a taxonomy issue. Multiple departments from different disciplines — think: journalists in one camp, data crunchers in another — were publishing content to the same platform. Each was approaching the tagging process completely differently, and it was destined to break the system we hoped to set up for them. Our end goal was to revamp the site and power it with standard relevant content modules throughout. Problem is, no matter how robust and fancy a CMS is, if its working with inconsistent and vague taxonomy, it won’t be able to serve relevant content. In other words, journalistic pieces on wine importing could not connect with relevant research papers on burgeoning Asian wine markets.

To iron it out, I set up a question-based workflow for entering taxonomy into the system. What geographic regions are the focus of the content? What industries does the content serve? What themes are present in the content? Etc. We identified 10 questions and paired them with two simple rules:

  • Don’t go overboard on keywords
  • Avoid synonym stuffing
While this sounds overly simple, its the first step for all departments to get on the same page with their content tagging.

Other Applications.

Content strategy is my day job, and photography is my passion. They have a lot of natural crossover, particularly in the main industry I serve — travel. And as with the written work, taxonomy of photography is enormously important.

So when tagging my photos at import into Lightroom, I adopt a custom Q-and-A workflow:

  • Where were these images taken? Europe, Italy, Piedmont, Langhe Hills, Italian, wine country 
  • What style of photography was I using in this shoot? Editorial, Landscape
  • What season is present in these images? Autumn, Fall, October
  • What consistent themes cover the entire set? Travel, countryside, pastoral, food, wine, cuisine, culture

It’s a consistent process and I go through it in sequential order everytime. Then when an image is ready for uploading to Photoshelter — my stock photography platform — I go deeper.

  • What is the subject matter of the image? Diano d’Alba, Alps, town, village, church, hill, campanile, mountains, vineyards, grape, nebbiolo, Barolo wine
  • What color palette is expressed? yellow, green, blue, red, fall color,
  • What is the photo’s orientation? horizontal
  • What is the photo’s pricing structure? royalty free

You get the drift, but if I shot from the hip while keywording these images, I wouldn’t come up with nearly as robust or consistent a set of keywords. If someone wants to see other images with a campanile and the Alps in Italian wine country, they can.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to run to the Container Store.

Aspen-Snowmass Hires Headwaters Content

July 6th, 2012 • No Comments

 Aspen Snowmass home page

We’re excited to announce that Aspen-Snowmass has hired Headwaters Content for content strategy and development services for their both their website and publications.

In May, we began work by closely collaborating with Aspen-Snowmass’ marketing team to develop content for their Vacation Planner — both the domestic and international editions. Since then, our attention has turned online where we are focusing on search engine optimization, engaging landing-page content, and communications strategy for the upcoming winter season.

As a mountain resort, Aspen-Snowmass is in its own league. It is simultaneously a haven for celebrity glamour, a leader in environmental stewardship and the home to the Winter X Games. Yet, despite its international fame, this ski resort has not lost its local vibe.

In the winter, it’s four mountains — Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk — serve skiers and snowboarders on one lift ticket. The options are staggering: steeps and glades at Aspen Mountain, bowls and bumps at Aspen Highlands, halfpipes and cruisers at Buttermilk, and more than 3,000 acres of terrain at Snowmass. Give me a week, and I’d ski maybe 20% of the four mountains.

In summer, the mountain resort plays host to outdoor concerts, mountain biking events, an award-winning camp for kids, and several niche festivals. Back that up with an insanely good restaurant scene and the iconic Maroon Bells as a backyard, and its pretty close to being the perfect mountain destination.

Business trip anyone?

Water for People Hires Headwaters Content

March 5th, 2012 • 1 Comment
Water for People's website

Water for People's website

 

Few things are more exciting for us than a new client. But a new client that is working on one of the world’s most critical issues? Now that’s something that truly fires us up.

We’re very pleased to announce that Headwaters Content has been hired by Water for People to create a long-term content strategy and develop content for their suite of communications.

Around 884 million people in the world are lacking access to safe drinking water, and an astonishing 2.6 billion are without adequate sanitation facilities. Compounding these two facts is an increasing shortage of water supplies, which will only place more — and in many cases, catastrophic — stresses on populations.

 

Solving this massive issue requires more than just building wells and improving sanitation — it requires an infrastructure to maintain and regulate the system. It is because of this that Water for People takes a new approach, which they call Everyone Forever (see above video).

To truly change the reality for communities ravaged by water poverty, Water for People works in areas where it can give every resident safe drinking water and sanitation systems that are self-sustaining. To do this, they collaborate with local governments and business leaders to fund, develop, and maintain water systems that will break the cycle of water poverty for good.

This isn’t a build-a-well-and-move-on-to-the-next-village operation. This is lasting change with extensive health and economic benefits for these communities.

As bold as Everyone Forever sounds, it is an approach that has come to fruition in Chinda, Honduras, and is well on its way in other municipalities where they work.

Water for People is currently operating in 11 countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Guatemala, Bolivia and India. We’re thrilled to begin work with this next-generation NGO.

Business Blogging: 5 Questions to Answer Before You Start

January 9th, 2012 • No Comments

A good friend and frequent partner-in-crime asked me the other day whether he should have a blog for a new business he’s launching. As someone who frequently reads blogs, strategizes about blogs, and contributes to blogs, my knee-jerk reaction was about as predictable as NBC’s prime-time programming: “Hell yes, you should be blogging.”

But, wait. Let’s think about this. After all, I want a new car, but do I need a new car?

So we ran through a few questions that helped him decide that its probably not the top priority for him.

  • What’s the editorial focus of your would-be blog? What’s it about?
  • Who is really going to read that blog? 
  • And how will you make them care about your content again and again?
  • How often are you hoping to publish something on the blog?
  • OK, now really: how often will you publish something to the blog?

If these simple questions take the wind out of your sails, I hate to say it, but creating a compelling and powerful blog and keeping it fresh just isn’t going to happen for you.

If you want to use a blog as a business-building tool, it takes massive amounts of discipline and creativity over a long period of time. It also helps that you are a decent writer, but more importantly, that you enjoy writing. Without that, it will most likely die on the vine.

My wife and go-to website designer, Hailey Day, fits this mold. A few years back she started a blog for her business, HeyDay Creative. She doesn’t really enjoy writing, and at the time, didn’t really know who her audience would be. After a handful of posts, she discovered that carving out the time to write about graphic and web design was taking away from billable work. So her marketing strategy shifted to SEM, and she hasn’t looked back.

Blogs are easy to underestimate — both in terms of man-hours and the creativity they require to keep it interesting. Having said that, the inverse is true: the power of a great blog and its ability to build customer loyalty (and organic traffic to your website) can also be easily underestimated. Start with these questions, and you’ll begin to get a sense on whether blogging is worth it for your unique situation.

Inspirato Brings Headwaters Content On Board

December 6th, 2011 • No Comments

One of Inspirato's Tuscany residences.

 

We’re pleased to announce that Inspirato — a new luxury destination club which Forbes recently called one of America’s Most Promising Companies — has hired us for extensive content strategy and development services.

Headquartered in Denver and launched earlier this year, Inspirato already boasts spectacular residences in 29 destinations around the world, including Tuscany, Paris, Turks and Caicos, California Wine Country, Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Colorado.

It is also based on a premise we love: “overpaying for a vacation is not a status symbol.” Well said.

They offer something unique to the luxury vacation club market: lower nightly rates and more flexible availability. Inspirato members pay a one-time initiation fee, then an annual maintenance fee, which allows them access to residences and experiential tours around the world for a significantly reduced rate (up to 80% off in some cases). Here’s more on how the club works.

We’ll be joining the Inspirato marketing and web teams through 2012 to provide strategic support on how compelling travel content — on their website, blog, video channels and print destination guides — can lead to more members and more vacations.

Quality Content – September Edition

September 2nd, 2011 • No Comments

OK, so we’ve established that content farms are responsible for the crapification of the web. Not necessarily a news flash, but a fun eyeball to poke our finger into.

Fortunately, there’s also plenty of great content out there. Here’s what’s intrigued us in the past month:

10 Things to Know About Headwaters Content

September 2nd, 2011 • No Comments
  1. The definition of “content” is not text. It’s not photos, videos or metadata. It’s substance. Let’s start there.
  2. We are a microagency that serves lots of people, including advertising agencies, PR firms, interactive shops and publishers. A lot of our “clients” are actually their clients on their behalf.
  3. We like to play the rock and roll music while we work. We’ll turn it down if you’d like.
  4. Our specialty is travel and tourism. We know it. We dream about it. We live it. But we’re always eager to expand our horizons.
  5. We believe in lunch. The world doesn’t take enough lunch breaks.
  6. We think Denver is a fine city to do business in. It would be better if the parking was free downtown.
  7. We believe in the power of info snacks. Your audience probably consumes content like they are on a diet of frosted ding-dongs and Cheetos. But that doesn’t mean “concise” needs to be “dumbed down.”
  8. We’re opposed to drum solos and we think QR codes are overrated. Hope that’s OK with you.
  9. We’re usually closed on Monday mornings. That’s designated family time with this little cutie. We’ll be in by 1pm and we’ll work late if we need to.
  10. You can call us “consultants” or “Mitch.” Either is fine, but we don’t know where you came up with Mitch.
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Kevin Day, Principal / Content Consultant » 303.915.9464 »