Quality Content - Learning the Universal Language

An image of an echidna at a blackboard, with "Ask Echidna" written on it.

When building sites or designing content, some people get too caught up in ensuring everyone is "represented" on a page -- breaking it down into various subgroups and microrepresentations to the point where the audiences' actual needs get lost.

Quality content and intuitive design really is the universal language that crosses almost all demographics. And by starting with a focus on desired actions and outcomes, you can develop a solution that makes sense to a vast majority of your clients.

This is especially true in the healthcare and education fields, where you have an extremely diverse group all coming to the same location. So how can you be all things to all people? You can't -- at least not effectively. But you can create a structure wherein the 95 per cent (those key groups who make up the majority of your site's traffic) can be satisfied.

Jonathan Kochis at ResIM, a company with whom we've worked on a few recent projects, including some in the post-secondary market, recently wrote about their assumptions and research on how international students self-identify on post-secondary web spaces.

What he says make sense. And it can be applied to an even broader demographic -- ranging from current and future students to families.

In our blogs, we often talk about the importance of the "What's in it for me?" messaging. It's a tool we use to keep everyone focused on what really matters -- the end user. Sometimes we can be enamoured with things that, while important, aren't really that critical to the majority of people in the limited amount of time that they're on your site.

Sure, your visitors may like to learn more about the history of your organization. Or they may want to dig deeper into your corporate social responsibility activities or internal culture. But, for the most part, they want what's relevant to them, right up front.

Jonathan talks about not needing to have a specific "international students" section of a site, but rather ensuring that relevant information is woven throughout the tapestry of the site's content.

It just makes sense. No matter where you're from -- or even what program you're in -- you want to know the basics: what are key dates? How do I register/get more information? What are the program's offerings? While arts, business, and science students couldn't appear to be more different, but when it comes to calls to action (registration, course selection/info, etc.) they couldn't be more alike.

These similarities are not just common to domestic and international students, but also their parents. They want to know those same bits of information, so the focus shouldn't be on demographics, but rather results.

We sometimes say that users should "see" themselves reflected in a site's content, but that doesn't mean we have to bludgeon them into submission. Instead of a "Hey you!" we need to focus more on, "Is this what you're looking for?"

When we say that customers need to see themselves reflected in your content, it's not about individuals or demographics, but rather their needs and the solutions that you offer.

Obviously, there are some exceptions -- as there always are -- to the rule. If you have a particular demographic that needs specific servicing (e.g. language-based challenges), then you can address those. But even in those cases, it would still behoove you to make all content available on your site (or a significant majority) in the most popular languages to help foster that idea of inclusion and needs-fulfillment.

You're not going to be able to personally tailor your web experience to every single person that comes to your site. What you can do, though, is ensure that your content is structured in a way that makes it easy to access, clearly directed to, and readily actionable.

In the end, quality content is truly the universal language.

Questions Answered

Do I have to have different sites for different audiences?

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