Content Strategists, SEO Analysts, UX Experts, Oh My!

A Musing on the Age-Old Question: Who Does What, When, & With Whom?

Question for you: What’s your job title? And now next question: What do you actually do? I find navigating the area of job roles and responsibilities rather interesting. In a recent conversation with my colleague about what constitutes the SEO’s responsibilities as opposed to the content strategist’s, we were both a little stymied—there was a lot of overlap!

Where does your yellow brick road go compared to mine?

Who’s responsible for what, when, and with whom? And where does your yellow brick road go compared to mine? I’m gonna’ dig into this a little deeper and see if I can find any answers (preferably ones I like…).

The Who

Content Strategists: Front-End & Back End

A content strategist, in the words of strategist Ann Rockley writing for the Content Marketing Institute, “come[s] in two main types: front-end and back-end.”* The front-end strategists “typically have a love for the content and the customer experience. They make recommendations about the content itself.”

According to Rockley, this could include answering questions like these (paraphrased):

  • Who’s our target audience?
  • What content do they need most?
  • How well do we meet those needs and how can we do it better?

Back-end strategists “have a love for structure, scalability, and technology.”

They answer questions like these (paraphrased):

  • How is content organized and delivered (what is the taxonomy)?
  • What content governance processes do we use so that our content is not duplicate or redundant?
  • How do we customize this content modularly to best match the user’s needs?

One of the things I love best about content is the structuring, organizing, delivering, and processes. Who doesn’t want to make sure it’s all structured beautifully (also called information architecture^) and that it’s sorted in the most effective way?

Interestingly, this differs slightly from the description of a content specialist. After perusing job descriptions for a content specialist, I found these main defining points:

  • Create written content for web
  • Optimize that content for SEO
  • Research keywords and apply to content
  • Write blog/articles, do site updates, post content
  • Provide/research marketplace competitive analysis
  • Organize and structure content (information architecture)
  • Do other tasks related to content development

Next up, those search engine optimizers.

SEO Analysts

A search engine optimization analyst or specialist or consultant, or just plain SEO, “analyzes and reviews websites and their incoming links in order to provide expert advice, guidance, and recommendations…seeking to earn more natural search engine traffic and higher ranking positions.”** This involves things like:

  • Web page optimization
  • Keyword research and analysis
  • Keyword mapping
  • Focus on user experience
  • Diagnosing technical SEO issues
  • Auditing websites
  • Optimizing sites for local search
  • Completing online competitive analysis
  • Writing effective headlines, subheadings, title tags, meta descriptions, and the like
  • Improving existing website content
  • Creating the sitemap
  • Numerous other things

What I see here, and what I’ve experienced, is that an SEO has a keener understanding of the data surrounding web metrics and how to interpret this data. They also understand information architecture, competitive analysis (obviously), and technical website function in order to improve the quality of websites.

UX Experts

The descriptions I have found for this specialty are, interestingly, the most nebulous. Here is a great definition I found from UX Designer:

“…the term UX designer describes a wide ranging responsibility to ensure that an end product achieves its core (often business) objectives whilst providing its users with the most effective, efficient and enjoyable experience as possible.”

The definition of a UX expert is the most nebulous.

More granularly, this might break down to skills defined by these roles:

  • UX Researcher (user analysis & profiling plus other insight gathering and planning activities)
  • Information architect (page/content groupings, hierarchy, placement)
  • Interaction designer or UI designer (related but not the same interface creation focused roles)
  • Visual designer (brings the interfaces to life from an aesthetic/brand/creative perspective; some overlap with UI designer)
  • Usability testing expert (ideally provides a continuous user feedback loop allowing timely updates to design thinking)^^

The blog post What is UX Design? 15 User Experience Experts Weigh In on User Testing Blog has some interesting thoughts from several user experience experts.

Of course, if you want to get real-time with this, you can also examine the more recent rush to list positions for UX writers. UX Booth has this article showing job listings from Amazon, Dropbox, and Paypal (all the cool kids are doing it…).

If you made it through all those job descriptions, I’m impressed! Now in this who’s-doing-it, let’s examine how everything works together—or if it does.

The What

Now that we’ve got all the players, let’s take a look at the cross-overs between responsibilities. I’ve created this nifty Venn diagram to illustrate the patterns I’m seeing:

Venn diagram showing the skills that overlap between the rolls of a UX expert, SEO analyst, and content specialist

That’s a lottttttttt of overlap. And I don’t think any one area ultimately owns any one of the shared tasks.

The When

So when do these experts work together, and do you need all of them on your yellow brick road? I think it all depends on what you are trying to achieve and the skill sets you have on your team. From my experience, collaboration between job roles is the best way to achieve a great product (or perhaps it’s just my preferred working method?).

The overlap between content, SEO, and UX is considerable.

There must be a product owner who represents the user (and there’s another wrench to throw into the mix…), but the product owner should not dictate the methods or tactics used by the experts/specialists (and this includes all of the above: content strategist and specialists, the SEOs, and the UX peeps). This leaves the experts to think about and analyze user needs and craft a product to meet those needs.

The best thing you can do for your experts and specialists, IMO, is to clearly define roles. I work pretty amicably with my co-workers, and many of our skill sets overlap, but sometimes it helps to understand who is handling what, if only for organization’s sake.

As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman write in their book First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, the key to having happy employees, successful employees is (in part) ensuring they know the answers to these questions:

  • Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  • At work do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?***

I also recommend spending time actually trying to understand what your employees do before either hiring more people or assuming you know the extent of their work. It’s possible they are already doing things you aren’t even aware of that match the skill sets you think you need. It’s equally possible to give an employee the chance to get training and grow to fulfill a need you think you have.

Where does your yellow brick road go and with whom? Who do you all work with to craft your products? What are their titles compared with their roles and how do they overlap? Do your experts know where they are going?

Lemme’ know if you’d care to. I’d love to hear more about how these skill sets work together in other organizations and what you think the essence of each role is.

 

*Why You Need Two Types of Content Strategist https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/02/types-content-strategist/

^”Information architecture (IA) focuses on organizing, structuring, and labeling content in an effective and sustainable way.” It also involves these things:

  • Organization Schemes and Structures: How you categorize and structure information
  • Labeling Systems: How you represent information
  • Navigation Systems: How users browse or move through information
  • Search Systems: How users look for information

Source: Information Architecture Basics https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/information-architecture.html

**What Does An SEO Consultant Do? http://www.contentmarketingspot.com/search-engine-optimization/what-does-an-seo-consultant-do/ via @seoincolorado

^^ Also from UX Designer http://www.userexperiencedesigner.co.uk/new-what-is-ux-designer-ia.htm

***There are 10 more of these Qs, but I think you get the gist. And read the book. It’s not half bad.

The Art of the Content Audit

Originally published on Pulse, University of Utah Health’s intranet, June 12, 2017, this is a case study about a content audit for the Women’s Health Services website at University of Utah Health.

Content, if you haven’t noticed, is a complex beast. For example, we spend a lot of time focusing on good content, what it is, where we get it from, and how we deploy it. But we spend less time than we ought on considering the outcome we want from the content we curate and post.

A content audit is a tool that allows us to review the content we have and take its pulse. It’s a great benchmarking tool with which to craft and test which content pieces are performing the best and where there might be gaps in the content. If there is important content missing that would benefit our users, a content audit is likely to reveal this.

Goals​

For our content audits [at University of Utah Health], we have identified these specific goals:

  • Reduce number of website pages with thin or low-performing content
  • Combine pages with thin content OR flesh these pages out, depending on website goals
  • Archive pages that are out of date, no longer applicable, or very low performing
  • Identify areas where we might want to add content

Where to Start

An audit can be as in depth or concise as the site necessitates. You can also tailor the information you collect in the audit to fit your overall site goals. The typical content audit might include these items:

  • Analytics
    • Page views
    • Time on page
    • Bounce Rate
  • SEO factors
    • Meta title & length
    • Meta description & length
    • H1 heading
    • H2 heading
    • Subtitles: additional use?
    • Word count
  • Content type (video, form, text, etc.)
  • Contact information
  • Images
    • Type of image
    • Image alt text
  • Affiliated documents
  • Duplicate content
  • Last modified

We determined to add in these additional audit points as particularly applicable to our patient-facing sites:

  • Call to action
  • Referring physician link included?
  • Specialist list included?
  • Related MBM specialty?
  • Affiliated service line
  • Affiliated marketing campaign
  • Affiliated research or other programs
  • Any additional content
    • Patient experience story included?
    • Health Feed/Scope inclusion? [U of U Health blog and podcast respectively]
    • Related tags to Health Feed/Scope
    • Clinical trials inclusion?
    • Patient education?
    • Vendor library content included?

Once you have outlined what you would like to inventory, you can begin to collect the data.* Take a look at the content inventory for our women’s health services website:

Redacted content audit women's health
What the full content audit looks like for women’s health services; please forgive the omission of analytics data!

Now that we’ve inventoried the content (rather exhaustively), we can examine how each piece is performing and make some assumptions as to whether the page should be kept, revised, or removed.

Example: Content About Midwives

Previously, we had two website pages about midwives on our women’s health services site.​ The page /what-is-a-certified-nurse-midwife.php receives far fewer page views than the /midwives.php page. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly as the time on page is over 1 minute. That’s a lot of time in our virtual ‘verse. So the content is important to those who are looking at it, even though the page doesn’t receive a lot of traffic.

In this case rather than get rid of the content, we are going to optimize it by moving it onto a page with more visibility, in this case /midwives.php. This should increase the main midwife page’s value while indicating to Google that we have both updated our site and checked our content for accuracy. (When search engines crawl websites they look for a number of factors that might tell the importance of the webpage. One of these factors is the date the page was last modified.)​

Webpage featuring content about midwifery (or midwives) on University of Utah Health’s women’s services website

The sticky navigation (a navigation bar stays with you as you scroll down the page) allows readers to access all the content about midwives and our services without leaving this page for another. Thus we’ve consolidated a low-performing, but important, page into the content with which it fits, letting the search engine know that we’ve updated the content by modifying the page, while keeping content that is clearly valuable for our readers.

End Objective: Increase Quality of Page Visits

This is just one page treatment out of many options that we might use when it comes to structuring content. All of the content audit goals lead to the most important objective of our content strategy: increase not just traffic to the website, but the quality of the traffic; namely, we want this content to show up for the right people at the right time in the right place.

Where Do We Go Next?

What happens after an audit? We look at the recommendations we’ve made after reviewing each page and determine who is responsible for whatever action needs to be taken. We also track the progress of the content updates.​

Ideally, we apply this process to all our websites on a regular basis, ensuring that our content remains up to date and within best practices.

And that, my friends, is the short of it (the long is all wrapped up in all that data and detail gathering). In the next few months, we’ll keep checking in on this content to see how the website data analytics change (usually we must allow about six months to get a relatively accurate picture of how the content is performing—performance has leveled out by then after the significant changes have been made to the site by then).

*I’m afraid I’ve had to redact the data here; I’m sure you understand!.

Be Brief! And Other Paradoxes of Long Form Content

After All, Brevity Is the Very Soul of Wit*

“Be brief!” says Howard Rauch, author of Get Serious About Editorial Management.1 “Following this should be duck soup for most editors,” Rauch writes. “But that’s hardly the case.” What does Rauch mean by this? Should our sentences consist of only three words—noun, verb, direct object? Or should we seek for more, as the long form content movement progresses?

Primarily, Rauch references sentence structure and grade reading level. He writes of something called the Fog Index, a quantitative measuring resource I will have to check out. He brings up, what is for many of us, a fantastic point: how long are our sentences? What grade reading level are they written for? For whom are we writing?^

But how does this figure in to long form content?

Long Form Content

At first glance this long form business appears to be based around search engine marketing, but hark! What is the end goal of search engines? I find the answer to my question “What does a search engine do?” confusing:

What does a search engine do?

Apparently, a search engine is a web index. That’s nice and all, but how does that help me? Web indexes in search engines provide us with results to our queries on the internet. So, let’s ask Google another question: What is the point of search engines?

The result can be found with an even better question: Why do people use search engines? Dummies.com suggests the top uses for a search engine are:

1. Research,
2. Shopping, and
3. Entertainment.

While my experience certainly does not support the ordering of that list, it definitely supports the content. (My experience rarely equates with the 99%, however, I can only guess that it does make up some part of that total percentage as someone, somewhere, does relate with my experience, probably that miniscule .00000001 percentage of people—I call them friends).

If those are truly the top uses of search engines, then it behooves the search engine to try and align the quality of their web indexing to match those user goals. If search engines are focused on users, then it follows that perhaps we should be too.

Why have I followed this train of thought so thoroughly? Because I focus quite a bit of energy on thinking about applying SEO guidelines to my work. And SEO best practices should be very aligned with content best practices. While search engine results can’t tell us why users are doing something, they can certainly tell us what they are doing.

And if what they are doing is spending a lot of time and energy on long-form pages, perhaps we should spend some time focusing on quality long-form pages.

There and Back Again**

Not too long ago, I recall breaking up long form pages of content. These pages were miles long—well the web equivalent of miles—with anchor links and “back to top” under every section. If long form is The Thing, why then did we change our pages a couple years ago, breaking up information into tabbed pages?

I tend to think we followed a design trend. Or perhaps it was the explosion of SEO-gaming tactics, writing multiple short articles about nothing—fluff punctuated by keywords leading to higher search results. There were also things like microblogging and tumblr.

Design-wise, in a desktop focused industry, it was a way of making vast amounts of information more visually palatable. The web however, as all other things do, evolves. What remains constant is the centrality of search engines in our lives.

With this brief reminiscence, we now ask: long form content, what are you now?

Long Form: 2,000+ Words

A return to Search Engine Journal indicates long form is primarily 2000+ words formatted in whitepapers, e-books, and how-to guides. Short form content, like blogs, social posts, and emails (although I’ve seen some reallllllly long emails…) are apparently also useful, often referencing this long form business.

The best length guidelines for content that I’ve found focus more simply around your audience. What are their needs? What research are they conducting? What do they need to know to make a purchase? What tasks will your content help them to?

Longer form content for webpages focus on these user tasks. What does our user need and how can we deliver that information?

In my work at University of Utah Health, we discovered in our content audits that pages packed with information approximately 1,600 words more or less in length performed very well, at least as far as number of visits and time on page. Whether these met marketing and conversion goals, however, is another story!

Duck Soup^^

Our mission then is clear: we must be brief—but not too brief—focusing on our users’ needs. We must write for our readers using well-constructed but not overly wordy sentences. Our brevity must be more than a haiku but less than a dissertation, and I like to think witty.

Shall we organize a duck soup tasting?

  1. 2017, Get Serious About Editorial Management, Howard S. Rauch, pg 120.

*A sentence that was for Shakespeare, indeed very brief.
^Note: I write this primarily for myself to study and consider the vocation of content. If you are reading it, then wow! Please continue!
**A reference to Bilbo Baggins’ recounting of his journey in The Hobbit. If you don’t know who hobbits are, you have missed out.
^^An idiom meaning something easy to do or accomplish, which became widely used after its use as a title for a Marx Brothers film in 1933