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The Lean Approach to Content Strategy

10:56 am on Dec 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

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I've recently read the Lean Startup which for many of you might be old news but I've found it fascinating.

For those who don't know what it is about, it's about being efficient, failing faster and learning often. This is done by releasing a minimum viable product, watching how users interact with it and incorporating their feedback back into the product in order to create the product that they actually want/need. It's based on the idea of continuously testing, failing and learning.

I started thinking how I might use these principles in my content strategy. As a content website, the content IS my product. Of course I have keyword research to tell me what people want, and my own web analytics data to tell me whether people truly find the content I've produced useful but that only answers half of the question (what people are looking for AND whether I've managed to give them what their need).

What this doesn't give me is insight in the early stages of my content strategy. My visitors are interested in Topic A, but how do I know that MY original analysis/insights/recommendations, the way I present/format the content/content features will REALLY cater to their needs? How do I find this out BEFORE I invest in producing the content? Finding this out after the fact (by measuring user engagement and outcomes) will not help me when I've already spent my budget.

So how could we use the lean approach principles to learn how and what content to produce BEFORE we invest TOO much in it? Is there such a thing as a minimum viable product when it comes to content? If yes, then how do you conduct user feedback on this barebones version?

I've been guilty far too often of producing content based on keyword research only and then hoped that it would produce the right degree of user engagement and desired outcomes. Surely there must be a more effective way of doing it to prevent us from investing too much, too early, into something that our users might find useful but not as MUCH as they could do if only their feedback were taken into account ALONG THE WAY.
6:47 pm on Dec 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Market research and focus groups can be equally expensive.

One of my clients asked a similar question, "How can I find out what my users want?" I suggested get feedback. He did not want a comments section for UGC. I agreed... then said what I meant was a "Letter to the Editor" function... either a real email at the website address "editor@example.com" or an input form, non-visible to the public but which generated a thank you email to the submitter. This eventually became a fair source of ideas for the client with little cost to implement. Of course, there was the usual amount of spam sent to the "letters", but time and programming reduced that significantly.

If you want to know what your audience wants, you have to ask them. And give them a way to tell you.
8:02 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I think the letter to the editor idea is great.

I might take it a bit further and have an animated face of The Devil surrounded by flames and say something like, "Hate This Article? Let Us Know!"

Or maybe, "Flame Us Here," or "Go Ahead, Make My Day! Leave Us Some Feedback"

Something a little bit provocative.

What I have found that DOESN'T work (for my sites, anyway) is: "We would love to hear your thoughts, good or bad, about this article." That mostly generated spam comments from people whose username was "Cheap Flights To Kinshasa"