What separates a content strategist from a writer? Information hierarchy. Content strategists typically follow a set of principles that help communicate messages, illuminate actions and organize information. To be effective, it is important to know more about how to position messages in a way that creates an intuitive understanding of message importance for the reader.
In the third installment of our content strategy we debunk some messaging myths with the help from DeAnn Wright, Lead Content Strategist at Ebay.
Myth #1: Always put messages in order of importance.
A typical messaging hierarchy consists of a primary and several secondary messages. For example a product description for a bike might focus primarily on quality and then have secondary messages highlighting price, good design and brand. Common sense would suggest to list the main selling points from most to least important. Wrong. “Research and eye-tracking has shown that people only pay attention to the first and last bits of information in a list. The middle bits get ignored,” says DeAnn Wright. Bottom line: put your most important messages on the top and bottom of the list.
Myth #2: Just make the important stuff bold.
Another common sense maneuver. If we want to emphasize something we put it in bold font. Unfortunately, about every other person ever involved in web publishing has had the same idea. As a result, we have become somewhat blind to bold as it is typically overused. “A better strategy is to place important information next to a visual element. Our eyes look at photos and images before they do at text,” describes DeAnn Wright the proper, industry-standard solution.
Myth #3: Calls to Action always need to be above the fold.
First things first: a call to action is a site element that asks the user to do something (often a brightly colored button) and the fold is the instantly visible area of a website. Getting a site visitor to take action and click on the link/button/headline to buy/read/sign up is obviously very important and companies are spending big bucks and go to extreme lengths to figure out the most enticing call to action.
Traditionally, calls to action were placed in an instantly visible spot on the top part of the site. However, with all the mobile devices people are now more accustomed to scrolling vertically. “This is not an excuse to be wordy and verbose,” DeAnn Wright warns. “The length of the information should be dependent on customer needs, not page real estate.”
Myth #4: Messages in a messaging hierarchy need to be phrased just right.
No, there is a difference between messages and content. DeAnn Wright explains: “For the purposes of message mapping, ‘messages’ are the key points you want to make. ‘Content’ is how these messages are communicated and the actual words. Don’t worry about wordsmithing and making your message components perfect for the hierarchy. The actual writing comes later.”
Myth #5: Breaking the established messaging hierarchy every once in a while makes the site fun and unpredictable.
To a certain degree, a matter of opinion. Here is DeAnn Wright’s take: “I don’t think so. Make your site fun with the words and design and the products you sell. If your hierarchy is confusing or unpredictable, users won’t be able to find what they need. And that’s definitely no fun.”
Myth #6: Implementing a messaging hierarchy really only makes sense if it is done throughout the entire site (like in a redesign).
Implementing a messaging hierarchy across a large site can be a daunting task. Often, organizations shy away from it because they are worried that it will take too long and confuse users who encounter the messaging only on certain updated sites. But message maps can be of any size. “You may need to map an entire site, but more likely you will map smaller sections, pages, and emails,” DeAnn Wright points out. “The important point is here is that all content needs to be planned. Don’t just start writing without a map or plan of where things need to live.”