Sitegeist Blog - Simple & Great

Redact – Editors Victoria event

Tuesday, 10. November 2015 14:29

A couple of weekends ago I was given the wonderful opportunity to run a 2-day training session for Editors Victoria.

The Redact event is held every 2 years, and offers the opportunity for working editors to engage in professional development, and a fair bit of networking, in the gorgeous surrounds of Hepburn Springs, outside Melbourne.

Three participants working on an outside table in the sun

Hard at work. No, really.

There were 3 streams this year: mine was ‘Editing digital content’, which comprised 7 sessions over the 2 days. The other 2 streams were ‘Supercharging your business’, presented by business coach Ilona Way, and ‘Manuscript assessment’, run by the formidable Nadine Davidoff.

Throughout the 2 days, I took 9 experienced, eager editors through the ins and outs of digital content, with a focus on advocating for users and working closely with UX practitioners.

Preparing the 7 sessions took many days of work, crystallising my thoughts, documenting my approach, and treading the tightrope between keeping it fun and upbeat and communicating an enormous amount of professional knowledge and experience.

I had a ball, and the feedback from participants was great too. Huge thanks to organiser Liz Steele, and to the participants who made it such a great event.

Topic: Being good, User focus | Comments Off

Designing content for a grudge purchase

Saturday, 5. September 2015 13:52

I recently completed a 3-year (part time) stint at Medibank – Australia’s largest private health insurance fund. I helped out on the Medibank and ahm brands with content strategy and copywriting.

Before my time at Medibank, the topic of health insurance wouldn’t have thrilled me at all. And, in fact, having worked on it for so long, I can safely claim that nothing has changed.
But what kept me interested and engaged over the journey was the daily challenge of trying to sell a product to people who:

  • didn’t understand it
  • didn’t want to understand it, and
  • thought they were being tricked into buying it.

In short, health insurance is a grudge purchase.

Shared approach
Every day I worked with the product teams, marketing department, developers and – crucially – user experience and design practitioners. The close relationship I developed with UXers was particularly important in our work to improve the experience of users and improve online conversion.

They also understood that the products were complicated and that customers purchased mostly unwillingly. And this understanding was vital when we were designing pages and flows.

So how do you sell to someone who doesn’t want to buy?
Simple: respect the user and their time.

Don’t promote or advertise to them. And definitely don’t thrust campaigns at them. They’ve already arrived. The marketers have done their job. Pat on the back. Now get in the back seat.

In May, Gerry McGovern wrote:

“Let us not focus on engaging but rather on informing. Let us not focus on getting people to spend time with our content but rather on seeing how we can save them time.
“Let’s go on a relentless pursuit of the absolute minimum amount of content that is needed to allow people to complete their tasks. Let us hone, test, refine and constantly focus on and think about our customers.”

This appeal neatly encapsulates my approach at Medibank. We got to the point. We used clear language (not persuasive language). Our customers were rightly annoyed – the government makes it essentially compulsory for many people to purchase private health cover. So our job was to present the products and design a flow that allowed them to purchase as quickly as possible.

Like most organisations with large sites, there was to-and-fro. Not everyone was comfortable with our approach. Sometimes we weren’t able to deliver, as people with more traditional marketing ideas intervened.

But over and over we saw the merit in our approach. And, if online sales were anything to go by, so did our customers.

Topic: Being good, User focus | Comments Off

Quality web content set to soar on Google

Monday, 28. February 2011 12:53

Websites need quality content – and a clear content strategy – more than ever, after Google announced a change to its algorithm that will benefit original, quality content over hack SEO-driven copy.

Better rankings for better content
Tired of getting low-quality search engine results from sites like eHow? Well, so is Google. Big-wigs at the search giant Amit Singhal and principal engineer Matt Cutts announced a few days ago a “pretty big” improvement to results, based on providing “better rankings for high-quality sites – sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

In Google’s sights are “content farms” run by organisations such as Demand Media (eHow, Livestrong, Cracked and more). Demand Media pay freelancers (poorly) to create content on long-tail search engine terms. They have one goal in mind, and it’s not to educate or inform web users.

Gaming the SERPs
While not every eHow article is useless, quality is certainly secondary to keyword optimisation. Content farms are all about ranking highly in search engine results pages (SERP). But because of the sheer weight of numbers and a clever approach to SEO and SEM, eHow is all over your Google results.

Only a few days before the most recent announcement, Google released an extension for its Chrome browser that allows users to blacklist sites they don’t want in their results. While it might be fun to block your competitors and see yourself soar, it seemed like another example of Google admitting that it was failing to keep up with SEO spammers (read my previous post about how SEO tricks Google). Why not fix search instead of making users hack results?

The right direction
The latest announcement is a far more positive step for Google. Users need search engines to deliver the best and most appropriate results. Google’s job is to deliver the best algorithm, and any result page that prioritises quality, original content over $5 articles paid for by word count is OK with me.

So get your content on
Now there are two great reasons for businesses to boost their content stocks with professionally-written, high-quality, useful content:

  1. There’s a gap emerging in the market, as eHow slips down the ladder
  2. Google are on the lookout for the best original content out there.

Take advantage. Hire a web copywriter today.

Topic: Being good, SEO, Trends, User focus | Comments Off

FAQs: A Content Strategy Smackdown

Friday, 29. October 2010 11:54

At a rate of around once a fortnight, I find myself trying to convince clients, friends or people I’ve just met on a bus that FAQs (frequently asked questions) on websites are BAD and WRONG.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Earlier this year, R. Stephen Gracey wrote a great piece about FAQs for A List Apart. And he was following on from stalwart Jakob Nielsen who talked about “infrequently asked questions” in an end-of-year summary of web mistakes on

Both Nielsen and Gracey reflect on big problems with FAQs, but both also concede that they’re sometimes necessary. I’m not convinced. I think they’re a scourge.

So why are FAQs bad?
As a content strategist, a hefty part of my day is spent thinking about content. Not content floating on its own in the ether in a writerly, poetical kinda way. Content in situ.

Good website content (and, indeed, good content anywhere) is best when it fits (space, tone, context) and when it’s found (i.e. it is where you either expect it or need it to be).

Sitemaps, page structure, design and words…all of these things should combine online to create an intuitive, comprehensible experience for website visitors. Content should be structured (and labelled) in a way that enables visitors to see it, and to click with confidence. This is the fundamental job of content strategy and user experience folks.

FAQs = fail. They’re a generic spot where businesses and site writers lump stuff, out of context. Any stat you have that shows a user moving from any other page of your site into your FAQs is a mark of failure.

Content should be clear and in context. No room for it on the page where a user might expect to see it? Make room!

Questions are OK….sometimes
I’m not saying that question-and-answer sections are, in themselves, bad. Usually they are, but sometimes they’re the best way to communicate information, and have the advantage of forcing site writers to actually try to think like a site visitor.

If I’m selling t-shirts, it makes great sense to have a “Questions about our t-shirts” area, where I might pre-empt queries such as:

  • How do I choose the right size?
  • Are there special washing instructions?
  • Where are the t-shirts made?
  • What if my t-shirt doesn’t fit?

If I’m feeling radical, I might even keep track of questions people actually do ask, and use these on the site. Crazy, sure. But it might be just crazy enough to work.

I could link to these questions from every specific t-shirt product page (actually, I’d probably recommend listing the questions on each of these pages and linking to answers or showing them in hover windows).

I might also have a section containing info about shipping and returns. And I’d call it “Shipping and returns”. If I wanted, I could present these as a Q&A. But what’s the benefit? Might as well present my information clearly under friendly, easy-to-scan headings such as:

  • Shipping options and costs
  • Tracking and delivery times
  • Customs
  • Multiple items
  • T-shirt returns

…and anything else I needed to tell people about the fine art of mailing a t-shirt to someone.

In both of these examples, it would be a mistake – a terrible, lazy mistake – to put this important info into a generic FAQ.


When did you last look at FAQs? Was it up-front when you first arrived on a new site? Did you load the site thinking, “Oh golly, I just can’t wait to feast my eyes on them FAQs!”?

Probably not.

Most likely, you were looking for information that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Your search around the site probably wasn’t exhaustive, but you figured, well, there’s the FAQs in the navigation. Maybe I’ll take a look there.

And did you find what you needed?

Probably not.


(As others have pointed out, FAQs are rarely actually questions people ask frequently. They’re more likely to be details the site owners want to tell people, but they couldn’t think of a better place to put them.)

Or maybe you landed in the FAQs from a search of the site. Good news – you probably got the information you needed. Shame it wasn’t placed in its logical site context, where you probably would have found it without needing to search.


Content strategy is about putting the right content in the right place at the right time. It’s about creating positive experiences for users. It’s about making sure the content is there when and where they need it.

FAQs fail every one of these objectives. Site designers, UX practitioners and lovers of content need to work harder. FAQs must die!

Topic: Being bad, User focus, Web dev | Comments (158)

Content before design? Tear down the wall!

Friday, 10. September 2010 10:29

A client called me yesterday, asking me to check through some web copy. She wanted to make sure it’ll work effectively on her new site.

I agreed, of course, and asked her if she had designs or wireframes I could see, so I could understand where the content was meant to sit, and where the opportunities were for related content, calls to action, contextual links, etc.


I’m the guy who bangs on and on about how the best way to develop your website is to create the content first (or at least at the same time as your designs). And here I was asking for the designs. Why?

I’m glad you asked. A couple of reasons:

History: In most cases, the designs or wireframes would have already been done. It’s not right; it’s just how people work. It’s a bad habit. But it is extremely common. For a reminder of why it’s not the best way to develop your next web project, read my first ever blog post about how lorem ipsem (placeholder content) leads to bad websites.

Teamwork: While I’m sometimes the person who actually develops the wireframes in addition to my content strategy role, this isn’t always the case. And for this project, a digital agency is doing the design work.

But this doesn’t mean I’m hopeful that they’ll wait to see the content before commencing wireframe work. The client is controlling the project, and – understandably – wants to see everything happen at once. So this means that the page design is happening in parallel with content development (good…), but the content strategist isn’t working directly with the designers (bad).

With this Chinese Wall between content strategy and design, it would actually be best if I could see the designs up-front, for the best outcome in the circumstances.

For the best outcome full stop, though, we need to tear down the wall.

Topic: Being bad, Being good, Uncategorized, Web dev | Comments (86)