Content With Purpose: Ready, Set, Action!

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Content with purpose inspires action.

What defines quality content? Does it communicate clearly? Does it attract new users? Does it engage current users? It can and should do all those things, but to what end? Ultimately, content should inspire action.

On Meet Content, we talk a lot about purposeful content — goal-driven content for users and publishers alike. I think that’s an idea most people can buy into. However, when you start talking about user actions, content contributors often get stumped.

"My content is informative. I’m not trying to get people sign up for anything."

“This is just for brand awareness. There’s nothing specific I want people to do.”

You may not have an "Apply Now" or "Contact Us" button on your page, but your content should still support your website goals. If your content has purpose, it supports action. Even if your content is informational, most likely you don’t want someone to simply read it and forget it. More likely, you want them to read it and take some kind of action.

Not all actions are immediate. Consider how many times a prospective student (or parent) browses your website before contacting you. Whether users act now or later, the purpose of your content is the same: to inspire action.

Every piece of content on your website should guide action. That action could be completing an inquiry form, signing up for an event, spreading the word about your brand or subscribing to a blog (hint, hint). Content that doesn’t support action is ROT.

No Content Stands Alone

One of the reasons I often talk about communication goals is because they help content contributors understand that their content supports more than just their department goals — their content ultimately supports their entire organization.

We all need to understand how our content fits together. Student Life may cater to current students, but it also supports the information needs of prospective students. Admissions blogs may cater to prospective students, but they also support internal community building.

This same idea — the need to recognize how our content fits together — applies to creating purposeful content. Even if the content you create doesn’t have a clear department action, it ultimately contributes to broader website and institutional goals.

Understanding the purpose of your content means being able to relate your message to content goals and actions.

Not All Actions Take Place Online

We often discuss website actions in the context of web analytics. Indeed, you need to identify actions to establish and measure analytics goals. But within this context, it’s easy to form a narrow view of user actions. Web analytics measures actions online, but not all actions take place online. Sometimes people contact you by phone rather than email. Sometimes people complete your feedback form on paper.

However, just because an action isn’t completed by a “click” doesn’t mean it can’t be measured. Ask phone receptionists to take note of incoming calls and to find out where the caller found your number. Ask event organizers to record attendee sign-ins and take note of people who showed up without RSVPing online. Where did they learn about the event? Tie these numbers back to your website content goals to better understand their performance.

Measure goals both online and offline.

You Can’t Measure Inaction

Measurement is essential for content governance. How do you know if your website goals are being met if you don’t have defined actions to measure? If you can’t determine whether content goals are being met, how do you know if content is useful and relevant?

Key performance indicator (KPI) is the jargony-yet-important term for describing success metrics. KPIs are quantitative measurements that show whether you are meeting or failing to meet your defined goals.

For example, a web content KPI might be registering for an admission event, submitting a feedback form or viewing a policy page. Using KPIs is much more effective than evaluating content on a vague scale of good, better, best.

Numbers allow you to track performance and trends, helping to isolate problems and recognize success. But you can’t succeed in these accomplishments without first understanding the actions you want users to take. In other words, you have to define specific actions in order to determine relevant KPIs.

All content should inspire action that you can measure.

Ready, Set, Action!

Is your content taking a leading role as a call to action or a supporting role as information? Either way, you need to determine the actions you want your content to initiate to make sure it has a clear purpose.

Ask yourself, "What am I trying to accomplish with the content I create?" To keep your eyes on the prize, consider this simple framework for creating purposeful content:

Purposeful Content Framework: Get ready! Get Set! Action!

How do you evaluate purposeful content? What are the top user actions you plan for on your website?

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About Rick Allen

Rick Allen has worked in higher education for over twelve years, helping to shape web communications and content strategy. As principal of ePublish Media, Inc, a web publishing and content strategy consultancy in Boston, Mass., Rick works with knowledge-centric organizations to create and sustain effective web content. Keep going »


  1. @TariqPiracha says:

    Great point Rick, about offline measurement. Some impact is difficult to measure. For example, we don’t know who is talking about our content at the water cooler. But trying to capture connections through our offline interactions is a good step to enhancing our understanding of how or why (or if!) people engage with our content. Great post. Sharing this one with my team. :)

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