Ryan on Ryan: a self-reflective interview on the process of planning your digital content

This post is inspired by digital content and writers and writing, specifically the book Ayoade on Ayoade, as well as the art of the self-interview, a tradition which includes Vladimir Nabokov, Oscar Wilde, James Barrie, Evelyn Waugh, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Glenn Gould, Milan Kundera, and Philip Roth.*

Plan from the beginning and the end will write itself

Ryan is a member of the Digital Editorial Team at Plymouth University. Ryan is a blogger for the growing industry blog Digital Days. They share the same age and both look alike, but part their hair on opposite sides.

The interview took place in Ryan’s office one morning in January 2015.

Ryan
Ryan, thank very much for meeting with me. It’s great to visit all of you at your office.

Ryan
Thank you for coming to see us. Happy to help out the best I can with your blog. Digital content is something the whole team is very passionate about.

Ryan looks down at the scribbles listed on his notepad.

Ryan
Likewise. Let’s kick-off then. What exactly do you mean when you say ‘plan from the beginning and the end will write itself’? Have you developed a new app to write webpages for you?

Ryan
No, very funny, but no. What I mean and what I hope to illustrate today is some careful planning and prep work at the beginning of a digital content job will make the journey of the task in hand much easier and pin point the steps needed to reach your goal. And ultimately make your goal successful.

Ryan
So you are saying, don’t jump into a piece of work without sufficient planning. In the same way you wouldn’t go hiking without taking along a good map, a sturdy pair of walking boots and checking the local weather forecast first?

Ryan
Well yes, you must always be prepared…

Ryan
…Like the Boy Scouts.

Ryan takes a sip of water.

Ryan
There are some really important points to think about first in your planning process, before even starting to add content to a page. Let’s break it down. What is your ultimate goal for your content? What does it need to do? What are the calls to actions you want your users to do? Why should this page exist?

Ryan
As in existentially speaking?

Ryan smiles, shakes his head dismissively.

Ryan
OK, so you’re not talking Nietzsche or Bergman here. You mean if I wanted to sell a holiday, my content would have to be written in such a manner to make the user want to visit a particular destination. It exists to sell a dream, an alternative reality for two weeks. To make someone feel like they could put their feet on the golden yellow sands on the beach seen in the picture on the webpage…

Ryan
…Yes, or looking from our perspective, if you want to promote a course to a prospective student, we need to ensure we showcase all the great things that makes a course stand out from the crowd. I’m talking about its key features that will make students go yes, that is the one for me! A course page has many components, but it exists primarily as an advert for selling the right course to the right student and getting them to apply.

Ryan straightens his tie.

Ryan
In both your example and mine, our ultimate goals are for the tourist-to-be / prospective student to view our pages and click on the book now / how to apply section and go off to UCAS to apply to us.

Ryan
So the page has a function. We have our ball, our user so to speak, and our goal. What’s next? Take a shot?

Ryan
No not yet. You wouldn’t want to miss from six yards out. Skew the ball into the stands and risk the wrath of your manager, your user, at half time.

Ryan
No, not recommended.

Ryan
You need to play out from the back. Get astute tactics from your manager and carry them out for 90 minutes to get the result you and your users want. You need to think like this. Do you already have content? If yes, review it fully. Does it serve a purpose? Does it do a job? What is missing? How can it be improved? Always think of your target user and edit, delete and create content accordingly. This applies to the content, but also how the content is written. You must think about the tone of voice you need to apply. How do you want the content to come across? How do you want to make the user feel? What is your relationship with your user?

Ryan
It’s like writing a novel.

Ryan looks slightly puzzled.

Ryan
Before you start writing a novel you would maybe write a plot synopsis derived from a brainstorming session. Think about characters and draft their biographies. Maybe think about the genre you’re writing to, the tone, the type of characters, and reader’s expectations. Plan out your three-act structure, that is if you follow Aristotle – get your beginning, middle and end in order…

Ryan
Yes, that’s right, you must think about your user journey. Can the user get to where they want to go in a logical and straightforward manner?

Ryan
Don’t write a mystery book with twists and turns…

Ryan
…No, the user doesn’t want any surprises, any unwanted content hidden behind links. Any secret corridors. They’re busy, they want to get to what they want quickly. We need to guide them to those call to actions in a simple and smooth fashion. Walk them to their goals in seconds.

Ryan
And this is why we plan our content.

Ryan
Yes. Does your home page contain everything a user is expecting? A title. A summary or hook? Give your users well-structured, layered content. An introduction leading to others areas of secondary content, all well signposted. You to need to plan out everything from the beginning to make it easier to get to the end.

Ryan
Sounds like the map I suggested taking with us earlier.

Ryan
Yes you can call it a map. A map to plan the user journey. Just make sure your site is joined up and well signposted, you don’t want users getting lost and leaving us for another site.

Ryan
Jumping ship to a rival fleet?

Ryan
We want to keep them fully on-board. We can do this with well-structured, linear pages. Taking them from A to B in as fewer steps as possible. Part of doing this is thinking about your navigation on pages and between pages. Breaking up content into sections with similar themes. Different building blocks of content which slot together to form a website.

Ryan
Like building a house?

Ryan
Yes, similar in some ways. You need a solid foundation to build on – a robust CMS and well thought-out plans. Sturdy walls for support – the different sections of your website all organised in an agreed fashion. And reliable pipes and wiring to provide light, water and heat throughout – that would be your links connecting the pages together. Making the user journey pleasant, seamless. We think of all this together as the information architecture, or IA. Another map which accurately shows how every section of a website fits together.

Ryan
A digital jigsaw puzzle!

Ryan
Yes very much. Even when planning one new article page you need to think about where best it should fit in the overall structure and hierarchy of your site.

Ryan
Very good. So to recap, and please correct me if I’m wrong, before going in and editing or creating new content, we should review existing content…

Ryan
Yes, decide if it has a job to do, can it be improved or if it’s unnecessary? Speak with the content owner and find out what they want the user-centric goals to be. Backing up your thoughts with user testing and analytics is very useful as well at this point.

Ryan
So take the content which is already out there, then you create, after speaking to the relevant content owner, new suitable content and edit and delete existing content as applicable.

Ryan
Yes, then make sure it sits in the right place in your website, so it can work alongside similar content. Like a research section houses all the research materials. Or courses all being sat together. It helps the user’s journey if similar content sits beside each other.

Ryan
Like aisles in the supermarket? That’s the IA you were talking about.

Ryan
Yes. Once your content has a home on a macro level, you then have to plan your user journey within your pages, the micro level.

Ryan
Think big, then think small. Ensuring the user can get from point A to B, to the calls to actions as easy as possible.

Ryan
That’s it!

Ryan closes his notepad.

Ryan
Great, I think I have enough to get on with. I’ll get this written up and published on our blog soon.

Ryan offers out his hand to Ryan. They shake hands.

Ryan
Fantastic. Glad to be of help. And if you or your readers have any tips or ideas about how to plan digital content they would like to share with us, then please leave us a comment or get in touch with us at createdigital@plymouth.ac.uk.

Ryan
Sounds like a plan! Thanks very much for your time.

Ryan
And thank you for visiting us.

This interview will be posted online in the coming weeks.

* Read the Paris Review article, ‘Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of the Self-Interview’ for further context.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *