“Measurement, not fairy tales” - Catherine Toole at Content Strategy Forum 2011

 by Martin Belam, 7 September 2011

Download this, and all of my notes from the Content Strategy Forum as one printable PDF or in epub format for iBooks

Over the last couple of days I’ve been blogging my notes from the sessions I saw at the Content Strategy Forum in London, including those by Karen McGrane, Eric Reiss, Lisa Moore and my own. Today I’ve got my notes from a masterclass in micro-copy delivered by Catherine Toole - “Seven micro content strategy projects with high return on investment”

Catherine Toole - “Seven micro content strategy projects with high return on investment”

I say masterclass, but Catherine Toole of Sticky Content actually made it into a fairy tale - teaching us what “The princess and the pea” could tell us about content strategy. Her argument was that if content strategists could find the peas that were causing the pain, then they could win on the handsome prince and the approval of the procurement process. Or something like that. Trust me, it worked a lot better with Catherine’s exquisitely timed delivery and illustrations.

She identified several “avoidance” tactics that people use to defer committing to improving their content strategy, including:

  • We’ve got one already thanks (when they haven’t)
  • We’ve got no budget for consultancy (although they can squander it on a poorly optimised site)
  • We’re scared (of change or of looking foolish)
  • We can’t get anything signed off without a business case for immediate ROI (there is a recession on you know)

She also revealed that she gets a lot of approaches for “writing a content strategy” when what the client actually wants is a PowerPoint, something they can circulate, something they can show to the board. What they certainly don’t want to do is go through the slog of actually implementing one.

Catherine went on to identify seven different ways that small changes to copy on a website could have dramatic effects in lifting conversion rates and making money. This, she said, is the kind of thing that is important for making sure that the fairy tale has a happy ending, because “before we are content strategists, we are all content strategy sales people”

Her talk was then packed full of examples, including using phrases like “Get started now!” instead of “Sign up”, or helping the user picture the outcome by using more evocative words like “enjoy” in promotional copy.

What I especially liked about her talk was that this wasn’t some vague notion of content strategy making your site better by organising the mess of your FAQs into a neater pile of better written messy FAQs. This was about meticulous attention to detail, multi-variant testing, and above all making evidence-based decisions. Nothing makes me happier.

She recommended people visit “Which test won?”, a place where you can pit your professional wits against the real actions of users in A/B tests.


My next post will be my final set of notes from #csforum11 - looking at Elizabeth McGuane’s talk on topic maps.

This is one of a series of blog posts written at the Content Strategy Forum 2011 in London:
Download all the blog posts in one PDF or in epub format for iBooks
“How the Guardian’s custom CMS & API helped take content strategy to a traditional publisher” - Martin Belam
Gerry McGovern, Melissa Rach and Margot Bloomstein at Content Strategy Forum 2011
“CMS - the software UX forgot” - Karen McGrane
Lisa Welchman and Eric Reiss at Content Strategy Forum 2011
“Making sense of the (new) new content landscape” - Erin Kissane
“Agile and content strategy” - Lisa Moore
“Measurement, not fairy tales” - Catherine Toole
“Topic maps, disambiguation, and multi-disciplinary teams” - Elizabeth McGuane
You might also be interested in these notes on these talks from the August London Content Strategy meet-up:
Lisa Welchman, Sophie Dennis and Tyler Tate

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