Insights from the Tactical to the Strategic
Designing a website requires more than a consideration of aesthetic principles.
Everyone understands the importance of simple navigation and a color scheme that doesn’t hurt your user’s eyes.
While these decisions are important, their impact is largely beside the point if your website architecture is a mess. Between the growing complexity of brand storytelling and the role websites play in driving these content experiences, UX design has never been more important in making sure your content can do its job.
The nature of content architecture continues to be influenced by emerging immersive platforms, a growing emphasis on brand storytelling, and the cultivation of personalized experiences that let each user experience the content in their own way. To ensure this content experience remains coherent and in service of larger business goals, the UX design needs to support both the website’s functionality and the intended design of the content itself.
Brands are moving away from content that functions as static, one-off pieces. Instead, innovative storytelling strategies are linking content together to create larger content experiences capable of shaping narratives and increasing audience engagement. It’s one thing to create episodic or interconnected content, but this creation only pays off when there’s a framework to properly deliver the experience.
When it comes to developing this website architecture, marketers can aid developers and designers by placing an emphasis on certain tactical objectives.
In the transition from creating “content” to creating brand “stories,” one significant change is that pieces of content do not operate in isolation. They serve as pieces of a larger ecosystem, and UX design must reflect this fluidity.
Look around the Internet and you’ll find endless examples of these curated experiences in action. From YouTube’s linked videos to the way Snapchat and Instagram Stories link videos together to create larger narratives, businesses are using a content architecture that keeps consumers engaged by quickly moving them to the next piece of content. In turn, additional marketing goals are being achieved: Brand loyalties are deepening, positive associations are blossoming, and consumers might also be advancing further down a sales funnel through their continued consumption of content.
These experiences are possible even if you’re only using your website architecture to increase engagement with top-of-funnel content instead of moving site visitors through the buyer journey. A wide range of media sites arrange their articles and videos so that when one is finished, the user moves seamlessly into another, related piece of content. ESPN.com is a great example: It has revamped its architecture with endless scroll so that readers never reach the bottom of the page. This experience is more in line with how social media creates an endless content feed to keep users engaged. The content experience keeps on going.
With this approach to content experiences comes the opportunity to tailor that content to each user’s interests. This personalization can take many different forms: Content could be recommended to users based on past user behaviors, or it could be dictated in real-time based on the user’s engagement with interactive content.
The rise of interactive content is helping brands shape UX design in new, exciting ways, with major brands creating custom, self-contained experiences that are fun and rewarding for users while also serving the brand’s business goals. A prime example of this strategy is Heineken's “Go Places” web experience, which uses an engaging, clickable video experience—hosted by a self-proclaimed “Curator of Choices”—to lead users through 12 questions designed to decide what type of worker you might be.
At the end of the experience, users are told what type of professional profile best describes them. They also have a CTA to send their LinkedIn CV to Heineken to be considered for jobs with the company. This is the business goal at work: Heineken is using an interactive microsite to engage prospective employees and fill their well with prospective talent.
Heineken’s interactive example underscores the value of creating consumer personas: The endgame for this experience essentially funnels users into one of the personas the company has developed for its job applicants. It’s easy to envision how the experience itself was reverse-engineered after the worker personas were created.
Information architecture is not typically the domain of marketing professionals, but with UX design playing a critical role in how content is delivered and experienced, the lines separating marketers from developers and designers have blurred. Collaboration is key to building a UX design that serves the content itself. Increasingly, marketing data is being relied upon to identify where business goals, user interest, and content can find common ground.
Conversion XL notes some specific ways this marketing data can be used to shape a brand’s UX design. For one, the metadata for pages must align with the functionality of that page: While developers can create the destination on their own, and marketers can communicate the function of that page to developers, it’s marketers who must make sure the metadata can help connect the page to relevant users.
Scenario planning also aids in the architecture of your content experience by utilizing personas to understand why a consumer would visit any particular piece of content, as well as what should happen next. Scenario planning is key to verifying the logic behind your content architecture, making sure what you’re creating will serve your audience.
Each piece of content must serve two basic functions: To help qualify the user or aid them in completing a task, and to easily lead them to the next step of the experience. Developers and designers can create the framework for this movement, but marketers will create the connective tissue to make the UX design work.
In the course of developing a UX design, it can be tempting to swing for the fences with sophisticated architecture that raises the standard for storytelling performance. What marketers and developers need to remember is that, where content and engagement are concerned, complexity doesn’t always represent improvement.
Even in a marketing campaign as technically complex has Heineken’s interactive video, the user’s side of the experience remains very simple. Heineken only gives users two choices at any given point. A more complicated set of questions, featuring multiple choices for each step, might be more effective in evaluating the user and assigning an accurate persona, but it wouldn’t drive as much engagement. And although the conceit of the experience is that the video questionnaire will tell you what kind of worker you are, the true aim of the content is to increase applicants to Heineken’s open positions around the world.
Too many choices can actually de-motivate consumers to take action. One of the most famous studies demonstrating this phenomenon found that when a jam company reduced their free sample options from 24 to six, the number of consumers it attracted for a free sample dropped by 33 percent—but the percentage of people making a purchase shot up from three to 30 percent. The lesson is that too many choices can overwhelm. Where a UX design is concerned, and especially when it comes to interactive content, less is more.
When content and website architecture are created in isolation, design can undercut a brand’s efforts to tell its own brand story. Effective UX design requires interdisciplinary teams focused on architecture that serves business goals. In this way, marketers may find themselves serving more as project managers as they make sure content, development, and design stay on the same page.