One of the most common questions I receive when it comes to content is how do I know if my content is relevant? In their book Creating Breakthrough Products by Jonathan Cagan and Craig M. Vogel, the authors write that what makes a great experience for a user is a combination of three elements – useful, usable, and desirable. When it comes to providing content usefulness is the easiest – you just have to know what the user wants and provide content that is relevant to that want. The problem for government agencies, who are still designing sites and publishing blogs under the mindset that everyone is a customer, is not knowing what content is relevant to the user.
When it comes to making Web site and Web 2.0 content relevant to the user, there are three components:
- Understanding the user. This is pretty straight forward – if you don’t understand your user, then how can you write content for them? It all starts with personas. This also includes understanding their goals in relation to what you provide.
- Users getting what they want. Relevancy of content to a user means that they get the information they want in a format that they are comfortable with. A great example is the AMBER Alert program. Government agencies can send out content via text messages to mobile phones, email, and on Web portals – among the many available channels. People who sign up for these messages get the content they want – information about a missing child in a channel they are comfortable with.
- Content providers getting the response they want. Relevancy of content to a provider means that they get the user response they expect. Under the AMBER Alert program, the government providers get the response they want – a lot more eyes looking for the child, or a person or vehicle connected to the child’s disappearance.
So you have personas and you have an understanding of your users. How do you check the relevancy of your content? By using direct and indirect methods. First, direct methods focus on a known user set and strives for feedback directly from the target users. These methods include:
- User ratings. If you have a rating system in place for specific pieces of content such as an article then user ratings offer some value. I say some value because it takes little effort on the part of the user to select between one star and five stars and can easily be influenced by external factors.
- User surveys. Surveys of registered users and casual visitors are the most common form of checking the relevancy of content and are moderately valuable. They are moderately valuable because they can give you deep insight, but only on the questions you ask. Remember that you are not looking so much for statistical relevancy as you are looking for general trends.
- User comments. Though generally few and far between, these comments are the most valuable user feedback because a user took the time to write out a specific response to a piece of content you distributed.
Indirect methods focus less on a user set and more on the broad experience users get from a site or Web 2.0 tool. There are not direct correlations to what the user thinks, but only indirect indicators. These methods include:
- Analytics. Common analytical measures like time on site, bounce rate, traffic sources are good indirect indicators of the relevancy of the content for visitors. They are also relevant in the Web 2.0 world for blogs, wikis, and other social media.
- Path analysis. With path analysis you look at the aggregate of user traffic to determine the frequency of use of certain sequences of pages. This gives you have an indication of whether the user thinks the next step that you have established for them is relevant. It may also give you insight in to other paths you had not intended but that have a high level of relevancy to the user.
- Viral spread. Have your users linked to your content on their site, tweeted about it on Twitter, Digged it, Stumbled Upon, or bookmarked on Delicious? These are all methods of spreading your content virally. The more it is spread, the more likely the user found it relevant and thought someone else may find it relevant also.
The Bottom Line: Make sure your content is relevant to your target user by using both direct and indirect methods to measure, and then adjust accordingly.