5 Common Digital Content Problems and How to Avoid Them

5 Common Digital Content Problems and How to Avoid Them
digital content

Creating and maintaining a great website or app, one that engages and converts, mostly comes down to having the right content at the right time in front of the right audience. It sounds so simple, right? For the last 10 years, I’ve been helping large and small organizations with their content. For some I defined a strategy for creation and publication, for others a style guide. I’ve helped with content migrations and UX writing for apps. 

In this work, these are the five common mistakes I often see when it comes to content creation and management. Five mistakes I tackle on a daily basis, and that actually have eerie similarities with issues I have with my wardrobe, now that I think about it… 

In this article, we’ll go over these five common mistakes, and what you can do to overcome them.

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1. No overview

Confession time: I have too many clothes. My wardrobe closet is practically bursting at the seams. And it’s a large closet, mind you. It’s so bad that I sometimes buy something quite similar to something I already own. Or it turns out to be a bad match with garments that I already own. When I do a biannual deep cleaning of my closet, I invariably find pieces I had more or less forgotten about. 

I’m not proud of this. For one, it proves that I have and buy too much (although I almost exclusively buy fair trade and ecological or second hand, it still counts as overconsumption). It’s also an issue of a lack of overview. 

Whether your clients sell clothing or other products (or run a website with an entirely different purpose), you might be facing the same issue of not having a decent overview of your content. 

"Whether your clients sell clothing or other products (or run a website with an entirely different purpose), you might be facing the same issue of not having a decent overview of your content."

When you’re managing a website, by yourself or together with other people, sooner or later you will have amassed more content than you could have predicted. Even when you might think it’s not so bad, there’s probably more than you’d expect. Think about it: there’s probably product content, blog posts, an about us page, contact page, privacy policy, and more.

After a while of running your site, you might end up with duplicate content, content that is no longer relevant (and might even contain confusing information) and pieces of content that don’t match the rest of your content. You have lost the overview.

Luckily, it’s a lot easier to create an overview of content than an overview of clothes. For content, you can do a manual or automated crawl and create an inventory in a spreadsheet. Make sure you add metadata such as:

  • Who is the owner/creator (not necessarily the same thing, especially when you’re running a larger site) of the piece of content? 
  • Your assessment of it (is it functional, useful, and still relevant?)
  • Where does it live? 
  • What files and products are associated with it? 
  • Will it be outdated at a certain point in time? 
  • Which practical information does it contain (your client’s address, phone number) that might change someday (even if they are not planning to move in the foreseeable future)? 
  • How well did this piece perform? 
  • Where do visitors typically go next?

Perhaps you’re already tracking the outcome of your content marketing efforts. Great! You can use that as a starting point. Perhaps your CMS or tracking tool allows for extra columns and entries.

Now that you have the inventory, you know which content you should improve or keep an eye on, and which you should Marie Kondo off of the website. It will also show you what’s possibly missing (gap analysis) and which content you can reuse. 

On the left: a very cluttered mess of colorful clothes and shoes on racks and on the floor. On the right: the same clothes and shoes neatly hung and stacked in the racks.
Knowing what's what and where you can find it helps you make the most of your content. And clothes. Not my wardrobe, but still relatable.

2. No coherency

Another issue I have is how some items don’t go with others. They clash in style, shape, or color. Since I’m also bad at tossing things, you’ll find wardrobe relics of different distinct fashion phases in my life. 

This is also something that can happen on a website. Because websites are not projects to launch and leave but are ever-evolving, the style of the content may also evolve. Overall, you might not have discrepancies as huge as, for instance, formal to casual. But within each of those extremes, there is a whole spectrum of styles. It’s quite likely that the tone will change over time. Your client might add a piece of content here or there, and in that way, create style inconsistencies in user flows.

To avoid this, you should help your client create a content style guide. It should tie in with their brand identity and (more importantly) with their users’ needs and expectations. In this style guide, you should describe the general style, the vibe you want people to get from the brand: the ‘voice’ of their content. You can use descriptions such as ‘happy and bubbly’ or ‘exclusive and classy’. Both examples give a distinctly different vibe, and you might already be thinking of visuals and phrasing for each one. 

"In this style guide, you should describe the general style, the vibe you want people to get from the brand: the ‘voice’ of their content."

But don’t stop at one such description. Dig a little deeper and make it more specific, so that it will be more unique to your client’s brand. Also describe the boundaries with a ‘this but not that’ list: ‘we’re happy and bubbly but we’re not naive or frivolous’. ‘We’re exclusive and classy but we’re not arrogant’.

Then, make a list of different types of content, for instance: 

  • Product descriptions
  • Blog posts
  • Ordering process pages
  • Service pages

For each one, describe the ideal tone to adhere to. You might want to be a bit more down to earth on the service pages than on the product descriptions. Examples and dos and don’ts are always a good idea to include. 

Use the style guide as a living document and revise and add to when needed. It will help you and other writers working on the website keep consistency in your content. 

Have a look at the chapter on voice and tone in Shopify Polaris, where it’s explained in more detail and with some excellent examples. 

An assortment of black and white clothes hanging on a rack. Black and white shoes neatly lined up underneath the rack.
Having a consistent style supports your brand (and personal) identity. Again, not my wardrobe.

3. Not knowing the audience’s needs

I still have nightmares from that time when I was completely overdressed at an event. And how about the time when I was underdressed when I met a new client? I should have done some research into the event I was going to, and the client I was meeting. I could have adjusted my outfit appropriately. 

If you don’t know who the target audience is and what they need, you can only guess about what to do with the content. You might use too much or perhaps not enough words. You might use terminology that doesn’t fit their expectations (or search habits), and may speak to them in the wrong way: perhaps too casual, maybe too formal. 

"If you don’t know who the target audience is and what they need, you can only guess about what to do with the content."

When (notice I say ‘when’, not ‘if’) you’re doing user research and user testing, pay close attention to the words people use in their answers and during tests (verbally and in search queries), and how they speak in different situations. Explore how they might or might not understand the message you’re trying to convey. Where and how in the flow they need assurance. Knowing this will tell you so much about what and how you need to adapt your content. It will increase the sense of belonging, being safe, and understood. 

To go about this, find a healthy mix of statistical input, such as website analytics and global trends, combined with user interviews, surveys, and user testing. Keep listening; keep asking questions. Keep iterating until it fits. 

You might also like: Conducting User Interviews: How to do it Right.

4. Dumping it all in the WYSIWYG 

My clothes are more or less grouped into sections by type (dresses with dresses, sweaters with sweaters, and so on). But some groups are too generic. They’re a catch-all where they could be divvied up into more specific sections, such as by style. This would make browsing my collection so much easier. 

Instead of dumping all of your content in that WYSIWYG field (you know, the big text field in a CMS for the main content of that page or section, which allows for text markup and, in some cases, addition of images), you could chop it up, so that every section is, in fact, an individual content chunk. 

Say you have a title, an introduction, the article or description itself, and practical info, such as contact information or product specifications. In this way, you can add parameters to the filters and create the opportunity to adapt the content to various interfaces (including voice), because you can now search (or ask) for shoes in pineapple leather, or where a specific product was made. Breaking content up into chunks makes it portable, responsive, and adaptive.

"Breaking content up into chunks makes it portable, responsive, and adaptive."

When your client wants to update their design, you can change the layout per type of chunk, and don’t have to go in and change it in every piece of content separately. 

A very organized wardrobe closet with kinds, types, and styles of clothes, shoes and accessories neatly organized in separate compartments.
When you manage to put all the pieces in their own specific place, navigating, combining, and updating them will be so much easier. My wardrobe? I wish.

5. Saving the content for last

If you’re designing clothes, you have to know some things about the people who will be wearing those clothes. Knowing their measurements, the way they move, and what they need to do will inform the design and the material, and is essential for making sure that a piece will fit and that it’s useful for them. 

Also, hands up if you’ve done this too: buying clothes that are just too gorgeous, even though they were just a tiny bit to tight for you. My reasoning always was that I might lose weight, or the garment would stretch and adapt to my body. It’s a terrible way of shopping because 9 out of 10 I would be disappointed, either by the garment or by myself. I was not respecting the content: my body.

The website or app you are building is, in fact, nothing more than a vessel for content. Of course, the design and UX of it play a huge role in how the user perceives it—and how well it converts. But if it doesn’t fit the content, it will completely miss the point. It’s dangerous not to have the content at the designers’ disposal, so that they can see what the container (which is what a page, widget, or component is) needs to be like. 

Don’t forget, words are part of design and UX. Pro tip: get a UX writer to look at all the bits of small copy that guide the visitor through your website or app.

You might also like: The UX Writer Role Has Arrived, But Is It Here To Stay?

Respecting the content means respecting your client’s customer

Make sure you keep the overview, so you can keep your content up to date. Have a style guide with instructions on voice and tone, so you can govern the consistency of the content. Make sure you know what the user needs, so monitor their actions and ask them questions about it. Chop content up into pieces that make sense and label them meaningfully. And finally, don’t design and develop a website or app before you have (at least a draft of) the content. Otherwise, your site or app will be like an ill-fitting garment for the content. Give content a prime focus in your process, never make it an afterthought.

Content can make or break your reputation and your client’s conversion. Taking proper care of your content and adjusting it to the user’s needs is the only way to go. Show respect to your customer by respecting the content. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a wardrobe closet to reorganize.

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About the Author

Saskia Videler is a senior content strategist, currently working at the European Commission in Brussels. Making sure websites and apps are fully optimized to meet the users' needs is what gets her out of bed every morning. That, and good Earl Grey tea.

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