The other kind of content

error message


When you think of content, you probably think of materials you willingly read or absorb on a daily basis. Yahoo articles (I can’t be the only one still reading those, right?), blogs, facebook posts, instagram captions, WebMD questions and answers, youtube DIY videos and quite possibly some branded content provided to you by the products and services you use and interact with (like emails from FitBit telling you to work on those goals you set). This is all, most certainly, content. In fact, it’s probably the content that fills up 95% of your world.

But there’s this other content that you interact with, too.

Its job is not to get you to read every word of it, but to actually get you to move along to the next thing as quickly as possible.

For the purposes of my job, we’ll call this “product content.” It’s the checkout content you see when you’re buying something off Amazon. It’s the forms you fill out when you’re trying to hunt for a good car insurance quote. It’s the setup instructions you use when you first get your fitbit (yes, two references in one post…I just got one and am a bit excited about it. Chill!). It’s the conversational guidance used to help you file your taxes each year. In a nutshell, it’s the content that helps you get from point a to point b.

Product content is not sexy or memorable. It can be engaging in the moment when you need it, but it should never interfere with the goal of completion.

This is the world of content that I live in, right now.

And it seems like this type of content doesn’t have a very large voice, so I wanted to speak out on its behalf. Because it’s important. In fact, it’s way more important than the majority of the content you consume. How so? Let’s look at content done bad.

If you read an article and there are typos, or the article’s title doesn’t live up to the promise of what you actually read…does it ruin your day? No. Does it leave you a bit jaded and unimpressed? Sure. But you’ll find another article. You’ll read more content knowing that you weren’t obligated to read that piece in the first place. No great importance was placed on you reading that one thing.

Let’s think about product content that goes wrong.

You filled out an online form to get a car insurance quote, and when you hit “submit,” an error message appears that says, “Please correct error(s) on the page.” But it doesn’t tell you where you have errors or why the errors occurred or even what is needed to correct the errors. Well now you’re stuck. You can’t move forward. Your day actually is ruined because now you can’t get a car insurance quote from the really cheap place your cousin uses. You think to yourself as you look over the form field again…

  • Why isn’t the error message more specific?
  • Why aren’t these form fields labeled better?
  • Why aren’t there definitions to help me understand what is needed?
  • Why aren’t there any FAQs to help me troubleshoot?
  • Do I seriously need to call someone to finish this?
  • Why is this so hard?

And finally you think, “If I can’t even fill out a form field without issues, how much can I really trust this company with my business?” And then you move on to another business who’s more invested in the little things…like making it easy for you to fill out a stupid form without issues.

That’s just one example of bad product content. And it’s not even the worst of its kind. The more complex the product is, the easier it is to screw up the content used to get the user from point a to point b.

So that’s where I spend my time.

I work on the other kind of content…product content. And at first I felt like it didn’t hold a candle to the glitzy, glamorous content I was used to writing (okay, let’s not lie…I previously promoted health insurance companies so it was never THAT glitzy or glamorous…but you get where I’m going). But now, I see the importance in what I do. I’ve found myself profoundly more invested in this content, because it’s a lot more challenging and a lot more important.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love creating all types of content. I mean, I’m writing this blog post, aren’t I? But to get paid to solve some really complex content problems is pretty sweet too.

But there’s still this knowledge gap.

I tell others that I’m a content strategist and they immediately think I structure content on websites and help inform editorial calendars. I correct them by telling them I work on the content within the product and then they kind of get it, but there still isn’t a huge niche for me and my “other content” peeps. Before I came to my current company, there just wasn’t a content person. It was all put in by designers and developers…which is why the need for a content person increased substantially.

I think great companies do have great content strategists working on the product side of things, but I just haven’t come across many. So if you’re out there…I get you. I get you at a deep and fundamental level.

We’re more than just error messages and tool tips. We’re more than just crafty loading messages. We’re more than just FAQs and glossaries and well-labeled form fields. We are the ones that help instill trust by seamlessly getting you from point a to point b. And our job is pretty dang important, even if our job is to intentionally not get noticed.

So here’s to all of the behind-the-scenes content gurus making a difference on that other kind of content.

You go, Glenn Coco!!!

3 thoughts on “The other kind of content

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