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Published on May 25th, 2009 | by Rahel Bailie

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Delivering the steak, not just the sizzle

How closely do you identify with this scenario: You visit a website, looking to get in and get out quickly – to find the information you need, absorb it, put it to use, and get on with your day. You find the site beautiful; a graphic designer has obviously put a lot of work into the optics. The usability is there, and you find the site easy to navigate. The interactions go smoothly; you can get an account and log into it without a hitch. But when you get to your end point, the content you need simply doesn’t exist.

Whether the content you’re looking for is product content to help you make a purchasing decision, or post-sales content that helps you with product use or maintenance, there are too many sites that seem to be great sites. They might even be winners of industry awards, which they use as ammunition for not changing the status quo. But unless you happen to want what they think you want, you’re left feeling like you’ve been on a treasure hunt, only to find there is no treasure.

This is the “sizzle without the steak” effect, so aptly described byJakob Nielsen in his study of a business consumer researching an LCD projector. The vision of the content a user would need to make an informed decision missed many critical assumptions, resulting in a hunt for content across fifteen different sites.

While Nielsen categorizes this as a usability problem, the usability issues lie with the content more than with the structural or interactivity aspects of the site. Had the content simply been “misplaced” on the site, the user would have shown more bouncing between pages within the site. The fact that the user went to fifteen different sites indicates a serious lack of content on the site. Skimping on content encourages users to practice site fickleness, bouncing from site to site to compare information.

Anticipating what users want to know, and providing the right type of content, in the right place for the right time for the right user, in the right tone keeps users on your site. A good content strategist will look at content through the filter of user experience, and ensure that the content created contributes to a rich user experience, and that there is enough of the right type of content to allow users to complete whatever task they arrived at your site to accomplish.


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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,



One Response to Delivering the steak, not just the sizzle

  1. Pingback: Three Questions to Start Thinking Like a Content Strategist | I'd Rather Be Writing - Tom Johnson

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