Sabir x Melissa Williams
A Guide To Content Design (Top Tips From Expert Melissa Williams)
When it comes to content design, Melissa Williams is one of the best, and she has a track record to prove it. She has utilized quality, customer-focused content to drive engagement, increase sales, and help countless start-ups to find their place in the market.
During a recent episode of This Week With Sabir, she had a lot of great insights to share, including:
- Hire Experts and Improve Your Skills: If you can afford to hire experts, you should do so. You don’t have to hire a content design team if it’s out of budget, but you should hire creatives to plug the gaps and do the jobs you can’t do—writing, designing, marketing, developing. And if your budget is too tight, then go back to the drawing board, improve those skills, and return when you’re ready.
- Get your Brand Voice Right: Nail your brand voice from the outset. It should be clear to the rest of your team, as well as your customers. Every brand needs a story. Every brand needs a style and a way of doing things. What’s yours?
- Track Everything: All of the content you create must be tracked. Not only is it a good way to avoid repeating yourself, but it means you can check what worked and what didn’t. There are many free tools out there to help you with this, the best of which include Google Docs and Google Sheets, both of which are free and can be used collaboratively.
- Listen to Your Customers: Don’t blindly create content with no input from customers. Speak to them before you start your campaigns and record their reactions afterward. They are the ones who will consume the content and buy the products/services, so they are the ones you should focus on.
- Test Everything: Everything that you upload should be tested. Make sure it works. Keep tweaking. Keep trying new things.
And Melissa Williams didn’t finish there. She had some parting words of advice for anyone launching a business or getting involved with content design.
Watch the video to the end or read the accompanying guide to learn more about content design and to see these insights for yourself.
Content Design Tips And Strategies With Melissa Williams
Melissa Williams is a master of content design, a field that focuses on improving the user experience with relevant, targeted, and actionable content. We have discussed content marketing, SEO, and even qualitative and quantitative research in previous episodes of This Week With Sabir, but we have yet to touch upon the specifics of content design.
With that in mind, I was delighted when Melissa agreed to come on the show and provide some insights on this topic.
Watch the full video on YouTube and embedded in this blog. You can also check out the accompanying guide below.
What Is Content Design And Content Marketing?
Before I delve further into the topic of content design and discuss Melissa’s strategies, what actually is it and how does it differ from content marketing?
In simple terms, content design is the process of improving the user experience of a given app or website.
Once a customer has committed to using your app/product/site, content design encompasses everything that they see and interact with.
It includes the buttons they click, the articles they read, and the videos they watch.
All of this represents the brand. It’s how the brand is seen and experienced by the user.
All aspects of this content are planned, developed, and tested by a content designer. For instance, they can use A/B testing to determine which color buttons work best or create videos that directly influence a customer’s decision to buy or join.
Content marketing differs in that it focuses purely on the outreach and marketing side. It includes blogs, audio content, video content, and social media. Its goal is to reach out and draw customers in while content design deals with their experience once they are inside.
Hiring Content Design Experts And Using Top Strategies
Now that we know what content design is, we need to address how you can use it and benefit from it.
The most direct and obvious solution is to hire someone like Melissa Williams. She has worked with many startups over the years and has helped them to launch, grow, and establish themselves in highly competitive markets.
But Williams is a pro. She’s one of the best at what she does, and her services may be out of reach for startups with limited capital.
One of the first things that startups do is utilize the talents that are available to them. And that’s great…if you happen to have a friendship circle full of skilled professionals.
For example, a friend of mine launched a small business a few years ago with his partner. He was a writer and SEO expert. She was a designer and illustrator. Both were freelancers; both had skills, and by taking it slowly and working in their downtime, they designed all the products, created all the content, and prepared everything else they needed.
For the stuff they couldn’t do, they used their connections and called in a few favors. They got a top developer to build a site for a fraction of the price they usually charge. They bartered with a marketing guru they knew—swapping infographics and articles for landing pages and campaigns.
In the end, they got a top-drawer, professional, and very effective brand for next to nothing.
On the flip side, I can recall an old friend of mine trying to launch a business off the back of his own skills—which were limited—and those of his family—which were nonexistent. He ended up with content that looked like it had been created by Google Translate and a website that looked like it had been developed on GeoCities circa 1995.
Needless to say, he flopped. And ironically, once you consider the money he wasted on software and services he didn’t need, as well as the cash he gave to his family members and the money he spent on an agency during a last-ditch survival attempt, he spent more than the first example.
Hiring an expert can make a massive difference. They are worth their weight in gold.
If you have $10,000 to spend, don’t throw it all on advertising and then try to cobble together the content yourself. Hire a skilled designer and/or writer. And if you can’t get both, one will do.
If that’s still too much, and you genuinely can’t afford part-time freelancers on sites like Upwork, then by all means do it yourself, but only after you’ve learned the basics.
The less you know and the less capital you have, the longer you should plan and prepare.
Watch YouTube videos. Take a course. Get some advice from friends/experts. Find a mentor. Do everything you can to improve your skills in key areas, whether that means SEO, graphic design, or web development.
That’s the sort of dedication it takes if you want to be successful. Sure, you can just throw money at it and let the experts take over, but if you don’t have the money, your only options are to half-ass it or take time to master it.
Only one of those options will result in a successful outcome.
In a previous episode of This Week with Sabir, I spoke with Bryan Clayton, who launched a multi-sided marketplace with a couple of partners.
He didn’t have the funds to pay for a top coder and he also didn’t want to rely on outside help for the duration of the project. So, he took a step back, spent many months learning to code, and then built the platform himself.
It was a lot of work and effort, but it meant he could save a fortune in initial capital and then deal with all of the upgrades, tweaks, and fixes himself.
Keep reading to learn some of the content design strategies discussed by Melissa Williams.
If you find yourself questioning the publication of an article because you “think you did it 6 months ago”, you need to adjust your approach.
You shouldn’t “think”. You should know.
Tracking your content is essential. It will ensure that you cover all bases and don’t repeat yourself. It also allows you to track the success of your campaigns and changes, which is essential for marketing optimization, as well as A/B testing and content design in general.
There are many tools that can help with this and Melissa mentioned a few of them. But she also highlighted Google Sheets and Google Docs, which I recommend too. These services are free, collaborative, and intuitive.
They are perfect for collaborative projects.
It means you’re not sending documents back and forth and trying to remember which is the working copy and which writer/editor has the right one. It also means you’re not caught short if you give a writer/editor a week to complete something and then find out on day 7 that they haven’t even started.
With Google Docs, you can see the progress in real-time and your entire team can work on it. You still need some discipline here—too many cooks spoil the broth, as the saying goes. But it means that your writer can publish it, wait for feedback from an expert, edits from an editor, and final checks from the client.
Everyone will see who did want and when. It’s perfect for short and long projects and even as your business grows, Google Docs and Google Sheets can still play a major role.
There are other great tools out there, don’t get me wrong. Many of them charge a fee and some of them are well worth those prices. But Google Sheets/Docs are excellent and should satisfy your needs as a startup.
Get Your Brand Voice And Tone In Place
A good content strategist—and a good content strategy—will help you to set the right tone and brand voice. It’s important to do this early, as it will set the tone for everything that follows.
You don’t have to blindly abide by the rules that you set early on. They can be adjusted; they can be changed completely if you desire.
The point is that they will give direction to your writers, designers, editors, marketers, and everyone else. They will also dictate how your customers perceive your brand and products.
Learn From Your Customers
How are you creating your content?
Are you assuming that you know best and creating what you think your customers want to see?
Probably. Most startups do the same.
Entrepreneurs usually have some experience in their chosen industry, so they think they can approach it from the perspective of a customer.
But that’s rarely the case.
During our discussion, Melissa noted that she spends very little time creating content and devotes most of her time to planning and preparing. She conducts interviews with customers and finds out what they want.
Your customers are the ones who will buy what you’re selling. Their opinions will make or break your company. It only makes sense that they should be your first port of call.
So, conduct interviews. Record their responses. And shape your content design around them. Once your site has launched, keep those interviews going to make sure you’re on the right path.
Reduce The Load On Customer Support
Customer support services are key to good content design. Your customers will have questions and issues, and the quicker you can address these, the happier they will be.
In the old days, customers wanted to speak to humans. They got frustrated with automated email replies and telephone lines, as well as endless FAQ redirects. There was a universal agreement that they were all terrible.
These days, people are naturally averse to telephone calls. They even get frustrated with live chat, partly because they don’t always want to speak to an actual human but mainly because it can take many minutes to get a response.
The tables have turned and automation is best for all but a handful of customers. However, that only works if the automated processes are actually worthwhile.
Use chatbots and extensive FAQs, and make sure they are created with input from your customers.
Many FAQs are created before the site launch and then never updated. They are FAQs in name only, as no one is really asking those questions and they’re certainly not doing it frequently.
Speak to your customers. Listen to what they have to say. Create long FAQs that address their questions with short and helpful responses, and make sure you update them regularly.
Keep your customer support team in the loop for all of this. After all, they are the ones who actually deal with customers. They know what questions are being asked, how best to respond, and what answers are most effective.
I recently began working with a fashion brand in the UK. One of the things I asked them to do was to include a flame icon alongside their poorest-selling product. Understandably, my client was wary at first, but they did it and it worked.
The sales surged for that particular product, and it’s easy to see why. After all, that flame icon made the product distinctive. It helped it to stand out from the crowd, so it gave customers a reason to choose it over all of the others.
The purpose of this test was not just to see if I could boost the sales of the worst-selling product. That was just an added bonus. I asked them to make the change because I wanted to test the icons, and I got the results I was looking for.
The key to proper content design is to constantly make changes and record the results. You should always be running tests and seeing where it gets you.
Does it increase customer engagement? Does it increase sales?
If you’re not making these changes and recording the outcomes, you can’t truly expect your business to grow.
It’s not about waiting for the evolution to hit you by way of new customer trends or exposure. It’s about forcing positive changes via micro-adjustments.
The $100,000 Question
As you have seen, Melissa Williams has a lot of valuable insights into content design. Whether you’re starting an agency, building a career as a freelancer, or launching a business, these tips could be game-changers for you.
But there is one more.
At the end of our discussion, I asked Melissa Williams for her biggest and most valuable insight.
She reiterated that your content should always be created with input from the customer. They are the ones who will consume it. They are the ones who will be influenced by it. So, ask them, check with them, and test how the content is received by them.
Content is often created in a vacuum.
The content strategists discuss it. The SEO team looks at the keywords and trends. And the writers are sent the guidelines and templates. After a quick glance by an editor, it’s published and consumed and then the process restarts with the next batch.
It’s not just written content, either. This process also applies to videos, audio content, and even website layouts.
But if your customers are the ones you’re trying to engage and entice, they should be consulted before you create your content.
About Melissa Williams
Melissa is a Content Designer who has specialized in working with startups for the past 10+ years. She came to content strategy and design from copywriting and marketing. She loves helping brands develop their brand voice and tone guidelines and use those to create unique user experiences that extend across the entire customer journey. Currently, she's a Content Designer at Rebellion Defense.