Web content professionals must think about the findability and usability of their content, as it is no longer enough to think about how to create content.

I recently presented to a group of content people the results of a Task Performance Indicator. This is where we test top tasks with real people and see if they are to complete them. Several key tasks that this group was responsible for had a 100 percent failure rate. Nobody was able to complete the tasks.

The first reaction of the content professionals was that we didn’t test with the right group of people. “Our customers wouldn’t make silly mistakes like that,” one content professional stated. “They’d know we put it in this section of the website.” When we showed them that this was a carefully selected and representative sample of their customer base, these writers lapsed into surprised silence.

They were definitely concerned, but not that concerned. “We need help,” one admitted. “I’m a writer. I definitely need help with this publishing thing.” 

And here we get to the crux of the matter. Most people who have come up through the traditional world of writing and content creation are very poorly suited to web publishing. It’s not simply that they don’t have the skills. They often don’t have the temperament or desire to make their content findable and usable. Content creators can be somewhat reclusive and inward looking. They can look at publishing (findability, usability) as a slightly distasteful activity that has to happen but that they want as little to do with as possible.

Most organizations have more than enough capacity to create content but have very few of the skills required to make that content findable and usable. Even in large organizations it is quite rare to have significant resources allocated to findability. This must change. The web has made most organizations accidental publishers. It’s time to professionalize web publishing.

We have two options to get better at web publishing. We can develop more well-rounded web content professionals who become responsible for the entire life cycle of content: creation, findability, usability, deletion/archiving. Or we can build teams that excel at each of the steps.

Learning Opportunities

The current model in most organizations that I visit is to reward the production of content. That usually results in large quantities of often low quality, poorly managed content. This production culture is flooding most websites and destroying value.

We must move to a consumption/use model. We must measure and reward findability. We must measure and reward use. We must stop measuring the person who creates the content and instead measure the person who is supposed to use the content.

This is a huge transformation for traditional writers and content professionals. I see success in organizations that have teams working on the content. Some excel at the creation of content and others excel at findability and use. However, these teams do not work in a linear, production line fashion. The findability expert tells the content writer what is being searched for. Then the content writer works with designers and usability experts to create something that is findable and usable.

The future for the web content professional is in multidisciplinary collaboration. It’s an exciting future.

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