This article will explore the relationship between UX and content strategy.

An Iceberg was the undoing of Captain Edward John Smith. On 11:40 PM in the evening of 14 April 1912, at a speed of 20.5 knots, an Iceberg scraped along the huge starboard side hull of his ship, RMS Titanic. 

The Iceberg sliced open the hull below the waterline. Many wouldn’t have seen it from the surface. But you know the consequences of the tragic story.

The photo above was snapped by Stephan Rehorek on board the German steamer, Bremen one week after the Titanic went down.

It is believed to be the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Why? It has damage on the side consistent with a collision. It also matches the “Rock of Gibraltar” description given by Seamen Joseph Scarrott who was on board the Titanic when the iceberg hit. 

Although they look beautiful, Icebergs do conceal their hazards underneath.

Since then, the ‘Iceberg Analogy’ has been well-used to warn folks of stuff they don’t see or know. 

Many a website project falls into this category. One part of the project in particular – the content.

Although it looks simple on the surface, there is more to content than than meets the eye.

Content and the User Experience (UX)

Many website projects are sunk by the lack of consideration for content and how it can improve the user experience.

We spend a lot of time talking about ‘campaign’ content; PPC ads, emails and blogs. They all play a role in driving customers to a website.

But there’s still a job to do when they get onto the site. You can’t land them there and expect them to work out the rest. They need guidance.

Here be monsters.

Without content, you rely on what it looks like.

Danger lurks when you steam straight towards the visual design stage of a website.

Chances are that the designers will come up with a beautiful looking homepage. That’s the designer’s job.

At first glance, the design is amazing. But look closer…

  • There are placeholder images in the header 
  • The words are a mix of copy and pasted gobbledygook and lorem ipsum. 
  • Only some of the icons are relevant 

Just like the iceberg, from the surface, it all looks good. 

But it’s the next stage when the depth starts to catch people out.

How are the other, deeper pages shaping up?  The product pages, FAQs, About Us? 

After all, customers may want to go deeper than the homepage. They might want more detailed information about the product or service. Perhaps they want to know that the team behind the service are not axe murderers

If a click through the PDF shows that these pages look almost identical to the homepage then sound the alarm. 

The danger of ‘content drifting’…

With the design only notionally ‘signed-off’, the designers and developers will need the content from the client. The client will assume that it’s all part of the design stage. The project will slowly start drifting off course.

Read more about this in a post that George wrote.

Cooking with content

Just like a Michelin star chef cooking their signature dish – the designers and devs have the recipe and the skills – they just need the ingredients to make the masterpiece.

It’s the same when you’re making a website. Content are your ingredients.

70 – 80% of your average brochure website are words and pictures (alright there’s code too). Aside from the User Interface (UI), content is all we got.

Watch any screen recording of someone using a website and see how the cursor dances around the screen – taking the user to where they want to go. It’s content that guides that journey.

There is more to content. But how much more?

Read this far and thought ‘there’s more to this than meets the eye’? Let’s look at what content you will actually need…

To ‘de-iceberg’ your content, you need to ask some basic questions before you start designing and building anything.

  • Who will use the website?
  • What tasks do they want to complete on-site? 
  • What content do you have right now? And…
  • …Is it relevant?

By answering these you make more relevant content and it’ll give you, your colleagues (or whoever’s making the content), a UX content strategy blueprint to work from.

A good way to get these problems resolved as a team is to run a workshop. We use the 5 Planes of UX as our guide.

Empathy maps

When Sherlock Holmes is trying to catch the baddies. He’ll build-up a mental picture of who they are, how they behave and what their next move might be.

When you’re looking to write content that resonates with customers – you need to do a similar thing. 

Your customers aren’t baddies but they’re not you – so don’t assume that you know how they think and feel. Or what they say and do.

This is where empathy maps can help you understand.

Empathy maps will help you get under the skin of your customers. 

They will show what problems your customer has (pains). They can also show how your customer benefits from the solution you offer them (gains) It’s also a great tool to share with colleagues and stakeholders so everyone can input and agree on the audience as people – not numbers.

You can build an empathy map using qualitative data. So things like:

  • Call logs to the sales or customer service teams.
  • Feedback via email
  • Reviews on platforms like Trust Pilot or Google Review. 
  • Conversations you overhear.

All this data will help you build a picture of your customer. The best thing about that is that it will help you contextualise your UX content strategy so what you say is relevant and authentic.

Find out more on Empathy Mapping from the Nielsen Norman Group.


Your content is ROT?

You’ve a super new team of devs and designers, and built a beautiful picture of what your users expect from your content to engage them. Great stuff. Job done!

… woah. Hold on a minute.

Have you considered what to keep, cull, or write from scratch? What images could still be used, what needs to be retaken? Is your corporate video still appropriate? Who’s responsible for different areas internally, and what’s good to be migrated?

Answering these questions and the responsibility for it. That’s all part of the agency remit, isn’t it? Probably not.

Junk in versus junk out

In my experience, the number one cause of projects coming to a juddering halt is lack of consideration for existing content, how it’ll fit (or not) into the new information architecture (IA), and identifying what content needs to be created from scratch. This needs to be mapped from inception.

Not only does this help to reduce time wrangling back and forth later in the project from client to team, but also to align yourself with any new site goals, and put yourself in the shoes of your user from the start.

Without assessing what you have and whether it’s relevant, you could end up with the same junk content going into the build, which may never have worked in the first place.

What can you do about it?

Helpfully there’s a really easy process to help: Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial (ROT) analysis.

You can perform a ROT analysis by:

  1. Organising your content into three buckets – ROT.
  2. Analysing your content sets based on data and insights;
  3. Deciding what to delete, rewrite,or refresh.

This will become an essential document in your planning process and critical to making sure your project doesn’t stick at the usual points for the entire team.

Want to know more? This post on ROT by the European Commission has it covered.


Design: More than a pretty face

Content slows down a build process not only because it’s often overlooked in the planning stages, but (usually) because it’s not considered in the wireframing and prototype phases, either.

Often treated as the ugly cousin of user interface (UI) design: We know content’s there to be acknowledged, but we’re mostly too anxious to stare at it directly.

A ROT analysis is a good start to peel back the layers of the content onion. But what happens next? How can we further smooth the process?

Content Design

Sarah Richards of Content Design London says “Content design is answering a user need in the best possible way for the user to consume it.” It helps your user to get that content when they need it, in the language and format they need it.

Just like wireframes, UX content strategy works on the end-to-end journey to help users complete their goal and deliver an intent. It:

  • Makes sure appropriate content is shown to a user in the right place and in the best format.
  • Meets user needs to make content easy to understand.
  • Is included from the wireframe and prototype stages. (No Lorem Ipsum here!)
  • Leverages research, empathy mapping, and user stories to create useful, usable content that users actually want or need.

By doing this, content design should give you a good sense of the problem, instead of going straight for the solution.

The good news is that combining empathy mapping and ROT analysis will give you a solid foundation for your content design.

(Plus, working with the folks here at Insightful UX, you’ll already have your research and user journey’s nailed, which is imperative in this process, too!)

The outcome is a wireframe filled with the actual content that your website will use. So, no more scrambling around at the eleventh hour panicking over who’ll create that video, design that graphic, or agonise over that page of content.

Blocker removed.


It’s not me – it’s you.

One of the biggest problems with a lot of website content is it ignores the audience. 

To see what I mean, skim through the average website homepage. 

Count how many times the word ‘we’ is used.

  • We are a <company descriptor>
  • We have over <xx> years experience
  • We have lots of shiny amazing <products and service description>

Would it be better if the website explained what they could do for you?

Who likes hearing from somebody who talks about themselves relentlessly? I don’t. Do you? Imagine you’re a customer and reading that type of content. You’ll be thinking ‘what about me?’

Try this instead

What about talking about the visitor like they’re important? Like you care about them. Like you have a service or product that can actually help them?

A simple copy trick.

Look at these examples from a pretend bagel shop wot’ we made up:

Version A 

‘Each morning for the last 25 years, we’ve been baking three types of fresh bagels for our valued customers: a seeded bagel, a fruit bagel and a classic bagel.’

Version B 

‘When you’re in a rush to get to work in the morning, you can now order direct from your smartphone. Your bagel will be hot and ready to go as soon as you turn up.’

Version C 

‘Acme Bagel Co. offers a variety of fresh-baked bagels in addition to their artisan breads. They bake exclusive breads every morning for their discerning customers.’

Each of them is written in different tense – remember that from school?

Look at how many times version A rants on about itself. This is written in the first person so it feels very ‘me, me, me!’

Now look at how many times the word ‘you’ or ‘you’re’ is used in version B. That’s in the second person tense so it feels friendly and conversational.

But see how distant and aloof version C reads. That’s the third person tense – slightly cooler, a bit corporate and a tad impersonal.

Which one is more appealing?

To answer that question honestly, put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer. Get into character.

Now ask yourself again – which one speaks to you? Which one would encourage you to take a closer look and click? 

The reason why second person tense is so powerful is that it focuses on the audience. It prevents ranting on about ‘me, me, me’. It demonstrates empathy.


UX Strategy – What tasks do they want to complete on-site? 

Customers will have very specific tasks to perform on-site. Your ‘flow’ is the journey that enables them to complete that task.

E.g. If it’s a new website visitor, they’ll need to know how you can help them, how you’re different (and better) to the others. They might need reassurance and see what others like them think of your service.

Download the worksheet here


Effort is rewarded

There you go. Hopefully you can see that there is more to UX content strategy than meets the eye. But when thought through, it doesn’t need to be like an iceberg.

But here’s the good news. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in. With good UX content strategy, you will get MORE. 

If you’re an agency

Thinking about UX content strategy earlier means your web project won’t drift or sink. You can own the process and build an even closer relationship with your client on the journey. You’ll get a better result and use the right people at the right time.

If you’re a marketer 

Great content means you’ll get more engagement from customers and more reasons why they should choose you. Along the way you’ll show stakeholders and colleagues how the web build process can be made less painful and more rewarding.

Written by George Beverley and Angela Barnard

Written by
George Beverley

George Beverley

Director at Insightful UX.
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2 Responses

  1. Really interesting read thanks. As an ex ad-agency Account Director turned Copywriter it’s with a mix of glee and frustration when clients come to me and say A) can you help me with the content for my website and B) how do you do it? It’s about asking the right questions (often awkward, sometimes stupid!), thinking like a customer and doing your research, oh and then a bit more research. It’s mad that clients don’t naturally think design and content go hand in hand. One without the other is just like a “freshly toasted crumpet without the melted butter” – disappointing and shoots shy of the mark! When I was at McCann’s we always used to brief the creative and copywriter simultaneously so their ideas maximised both dark arts (!) and they were far more likely to come up with exciting, compelling and “hit them between the eyes” campaigns. Saying all that, I often write the content after the design and artwork has been done, so then it’s about getting the right words to fit, sometimes coming up with a great line which might mean tweaking the design ever-so slightly. But, getting the copywriter to the table at the outset means you get both creative and copywriter brains working together, feeding off each other, bouncing ideas around and that can really be, well … magic!

    1. Hi Vicky, thanks very much for the feedback. Good to hear that the writer and art director ‘magic’ combo is still alive and well. Great to hear you’re championing the research phase with your clients before you pick-up the pen. Long may it continue!

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