This article was originally published in the April 2011 issue (Vol 16, No. 1)
About the Author
David Dick is the Editor for the UUX Newsletter and an STC Fellow.
Interview with Colleen Jones: Consultant, Blogger, Author
By David Dick, Newsletter Editor
Colleen Jones, regular contributor to UXmatters, principal and founder of Content Science, and now author of her first book called, "Clout: the Art and Science of Influential Web Content." Jones describes how and why the science of influence is essential to attracting and keeping people returning to buy a product or get information. I was skeptical at first because I have been taught that usability and interaction is the key to successful website, but they do not address the substance of most websites, which is content.
What inspired you make the leap from writing for UXMatters to writing a book? How does writing for a publication such as UXMatters differ from writing a book?
I have wanted to write a book about content and user experience for several years. Writing the column for Pabini and the good folks at UXMatters allowed me to explore some topics and ideas, not to mention get a feel for the audience interests. In many ways, I'd say writing for UXMatters helped me prepare for writing Clout.
Writing a book was much different. It was much more work, but I enjoyed it. I took time to refine Clout's voice and style. A lot of books about influence or persuasion are rather pushy, and I wanted Clout to be different. I also worked hard on balancing research, theory, principles, examples, and practical advice. Tracking and coordinating good case studies also took quite a bit of time. Through it all, the team at New Riders was very supportive.
I'd have to say the feedback is much different. Writing for an online publication or my blog usually brings some instant feedback. With a book, I've had to wait for a response, but the response means much more than a quick comment on an article. I've received so many kind emails and notes, and people are already writing very thoughtful reviews of the book. That feedback is making the hard work of the book completely worth it.
What are common mistakes companies make to their websites, and why do you think these mistakes happen in the first place?
One mistake is investing too much in Search Engine Optimization, or being findable, and not enough in content that's worth finding. I also think a lot of companies focus too much on driving lots of traffic instead of the right traffic to their websites. Mistakes like these happen when companies look for magic bullets or shortcuts to get results online. You simply can't get around the need for influential web content.
After reading your book ("Clout"), I recognized that many websites have undergone a significant redesign adapting many of the principles you describe in your book. What factors do you think drove the change?
Ah, interesting observation. I think there are two main factors. One is a need to refresh the website. Websites that have been out there for many years have outgrown their information architecture and possibly their technology platforms. Of course, that's an ideal time to clean up your content, too.
Another factor is that many companies want to be more than just service providers or online catalogs-they want to be trusted advisors to their customers. I saw it last year both in Business to Business and Business to Customer situations. Companies of all kinds want to be more as consultancies company wants to show thought leadership and advise customers online, a company has to care about and invest in quality content.
The case studies in your book all have a successful conclusion. Have you had a project that you never thought would end successfully?
Yes. Several years ago, I completely reimagined a checkout experience for a huge online retailer. I created the wireframes, prototype, interface copy, and contextual content. We tested it with users and refined it. The client loved it and got the IT department on board. And, then, the client never implemented the new experience for political reasons. The executive leading the charge on the project fell out of favor, and all the work was lost. That was one of the worst experiences of my career. I vowed never, ever to let that happen again. And, knock on wood, it hasn't. That's why in Clout I include a lot of practical advice about overcoming potential problems and roadblocks. I've experienced them first hand.
Why do so many corporate intranets resemble a landfill, and what can be done to change it?
Intranets often are the victim of a paradox. Most companies don't want to invest a lot of time and resources in their intranets, yet expect their employees to work efficiently with those intranets. I do see some hope, though. For example, larger companies tend to have their intranet data and content in a few different systems, from SharePoint to web-based applications. Content Management Interoperability Service (CMIS) is a protocol that makes it possible for many of these systems to talk to each other. So, you could create a portal or interface that brings together the right data and content for a user-without completely re-doing your backend systems. That's huge.
If you could change something about the book, what would it be?
That's a tough question because I'm very happy with the book. However, if I could change something, I would add longer case studies such as the WhiteHouse.gov case study. I love how that case study explains the saga of transforming an important website from a filing cabinet to a media property.
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