Copy & rich media, marketing & content strategy, training & workshops


Website, email & social media projects, copy writing & copy briefing, editorial & campaign planning, marketing advice, content strategy, communications & governance frameworks, related training & workshops.


Web content & the law
Engaging with the rules and regulations governing digital content More

Why should the c-suite care about content?
To get the attention of the kings and queens of the Big Business Jungle you need to demonstrate you can take their pain away More

Posts in category audience engagement

Mobile content – the eyes have it

At the risk of stating the obvious, the proliferation of hand held devices and the emergence of responsive design has changed the way users engage with content. This poses new challenges for content strategists, not only in terms of what-goes-where but how the content engages the eye of the viewer.


For some time I’ve been working with clients and delivering training that holds the content implications of responsive design (and mobile first) at its core.

Content ordering for mobile

Responsive design repositions chunks of content that might populate a standard web page horizontally (as viewed on a big screen), to enable vertical viewing on smaller screens. The visual below illustrates a simplified view of what typically happens.
standard content layout web and mobile
As a result, users are increasing scanning less distance left to right, while being prepared to drop further from the top of a screen to the bottom, in search of what they need.

Of course, the content does not have to follow the A, B, C, D ranking when it is repositioned.

So we all need  to think carefully about how we want our content to be served up on smaller devices.

What makes sense, top right on a desk top, may be less relevant on a mobile. For example, on a mobile you may be better opting for A, C, D, B, reflecting things such as the preferred vertical position for data capture forms, call to action/buy buttons, key offer text, links etc (when viewed on a narrow screen).

Some content may be dispensed with altogether. Depending on your content management system you may be able to make huge numbers of changes dependent on the type of device is being used to view with.

But there are a number of other factors to take into account. Not least how mobile devices require visually appealing, as well as useful content and how even small amounts of content need to operate independent of other elements on the page. These are what I tend to term “eye-modules”.

We all know that users do not consume page content in its entirety. Most of us keep in mind that critical “golden triangle”, which reflects the F-pattern work done by Jakob Nielsen and later underpinned by the way people consume (or consumed) Google search results.

The two images below underpin this traditional view.

traditional web page layouttraditional web page layout with heat map overlay
But… this is changing.

My own analysis and review of the latest research indicates that while mobile searching is stretching how far downward we are willing to scan when looking for useful information – whether that’s a website viewed on mobile or Google search results – we still seem to deploy a mini F-pattern when we find something that engages us.

eye module mini F patternSo… where am I going with all this?

I think content needs to be constructed with the eye-module in mind.

This means each content module or chunk needs to contain more component parts, allowing for more self-contained/independent delivery.

Button love

Content strategy

In practice it means integrating more calls to action and links and more integrated use of buttons.

For example, I’ll be looking to embed buttons into images (where it makes sense) and have learned a lot from Facebook ad construction.

And I’ve been particularly struck by the layout below from the Sumo Me website. It strikes me there are some interesting, and very visually appealing, lessons to be learned.
sumo me website

More reading

readThere’s a whole load of research out there to do with the way our eyes and brains work together to consume content but Wikipedia on eye movement is not a bad place to start, if you’re interested.

I’ve also written about this topic on the Emarketeers’ blog

Digital domination – don’t leave it to the powers that be

77 twitterA couple of years ago I came across a very scarey phrase in a United Nation’s document about digital governance. It spoke about ‘controlling the internet’.

Now, on one level, the powers that be are only interested in controlling something if it is powerful, so hat’s off to the internet and in particular, the self-publishing and social communicating it has enabled. But ‘boo’ to any big cheese or brass hat that wants to control it.

Where the internet gets its power

The internet is as powerful as it is because of the egalitarian nature of its access. Countries who attempt to restrict access to the internet are inevitably repressive regimes. Okay, so some of us (individuals and organisations) are still learning how to conduct ourselves in this massively liberating space, but I’m sure it was the same for cavemen when they first saw flames lick around dry tinder. Something that game changing; well, you’re bound to get burned in the early days.

Which is why I currently have misgivings about the army’s revelation that it’s setting up a special unit skilled in non-lethal warfare and where recruits will need to be adept with social media and its use. On the face of its, no bad thing. It’s obvious that if you’re going to win hearts and minds and keep boots off the ground, the major battle grounds will be virtual and psychological.

“shaping behaviour through the use of dynamic narratives”.

But what disturbed me was tucked away in the announcement. It’s the bit where Chief of the Army, General Sir Nick Carter speaks about “shaping behaviour through the use of dynamic narratives”. Now, don’t get me wrong. On one level all of us involved in content strategy have such an ambition. Create the right story. Engage the right audience. Shape a space that delivers the desired action.

You win customers – not wars – in 140 characters

But when the Chief of the Army says it I get a little spooked. The reality is that commercial organisations have spent decades, possible centuries, learning the marketing and communications skills that allow them to engages audiences and working within evolving guidelines and regulatory bodies, in terms of what they can and cannot say.

I’m not sure that the army, no matter how carefully it recruits to the new 77th Bridgade, has those skills. General Carter has an impressive military career. Appointed to post towards the end of last year he is keen to persuade civilians and politicians that the army has a place and deserves a secure budget line.

But miliary experience of content strategy is grounded in war time experience and the Cholmondley Warner school of public service announcements. The only area where it has progressed, in my opinion, is in recruitment, where its use of commercial agencies and the more clear cut customer conversion dynamic have created creditable, well executed marteting messages.

Boots on, on in, the internet?

My worry is that the boots on the internet will still be controlled by a generation of senior military personnel who are not socially mediate and view the interweb as something of a threat; roamed be terrorists, anarchists and young people. Watch their space.

Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and… Jessica Rabbit

I don’t know how much you remember about the the 1988 live action and animation blockbuster, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? One of the lead characters was a sultry cartoon femme fatale, Jessica Rabbit, voiced by actress Kathleen Turner. Curves in all the right places, as the used to say in cheap detective novels.

Jessica, on the other hand, resented the way people made assumptions based on her contours. “I’m not bad,” she breathes… “I’m just drawn this way.” Which brings me on to my first metaphor (well, you must have known there was one coming).

It’s the same with attractive content. In digital terms content can only be truly attractive if it draws both people and machines but until relatively recently content has been drawn to be more appealing to machines. This was hugely important. In digital terms Google’s views were to search what Mr.Disney’s were to animated cartoons. We tended to accentuate our content contours to make it more appealing that way.

“I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known.” Walt Disney

Google grows up

But things have changed… are changing. And that’s because the Google algorithm is growing up. Stand by for metaphor number two.

You can get terribly bogged down in how the Google algorithm has changed over the years. But what it boils down to is something that is becoming infinitely more human and nuanced.

Imagine building a robot that was extremely intelligent but socially naive. Now imagine teaching that robot how to become more and more human.

That’s what I think is happening to the Google algorithm. We’re currently somewhere between spotty teenager and young adult – a rough grasp of the principles but still a little awkward in certain situations. But give it time.

So… what does it mean for content?

When you’re talking to a robot or even  a very young child, you keep things simple. If you wanted early Google to pay attention you spoke in in simple terms. Early search optimisation was employed simple formulas. Multiples and key words and phrases in given densities etc.

But, slowly, the quality of content, its usefulness and its freshness began to take the high ground. The algorithm and its iterations started to grapple with this.

Just as growing up is not a simple process so the algorithm caused havoc along the way and people lost as much sleep over trying to understand what it was up to as the average parent does trying to understand the chaotic mumbling and random actions of their offspring’s puberty.

Hummingbird, the latest algorithmic interation may seem to be all about speed but to me and my metaphors it seems to be as much about a young adult paying more attention to the other people in the room and their needs (context and consequence). It’s more… outward facing and helpful. It listens to and can understand more complex (more human) questions.

I know all the search specialists are currently rolling their eyes and sticking pins into wax effigies of Jessica Rabbit as they read this but stick with me. I’m certainly not attempting to undermine the role that SEO plays but I think that we all have to brush up some of our more intuitive skills when it comes to content creation.

In essence, what does this involve?

Intuitive and attractive content

Well, I think the emphasis is on answering questions, showing people ‘how to’ and using marketing research, not just keyword research, to create information-rich content. It’s about keeping it relevant and keeping it conversational.

The good news is that what’s good for people is increasingly good for machines. Just in the same way that teenagers don’t respond if your patronise them so the Google algorithm is getting better at spotting whether the tone of your content is genuine or not.

The other great advantage with all this is that individual skill sets – search, content creation, strategy, technical communication and expertise… can work synergistically and in better balance.

In my head, this is how it all looks…

There have been three major phases to the Google algorithm since about 2011 and they were called Panda, Penguin and most recently Hummingbird.

Just like child development, each one of these contained a host of changes but broadly speaking, Panda was what I now describe as the initial growth spurt out of late childhood and covered the obvious stuff such as sites with really weak, cynical content. Good bloggers who updated regularly suddenly found Google was paying more attention.

Over the various iterations of this algorithm the major thing for me was the increasing emphasis on quality over quantity. It’s a bit like pre-teens discovering and enjoying food experiences outside of a box of Pringles.

Which brings me to the later iterations of Panda and Google’s pre-teens proper. Just like a pre-teen gets better at reading people ( tone of voice, attitude etc) so the algorithm just became better at reading websites and capable of simple value judgments such as detecting trustworthiness and absence of bias. It started to set more store by what other people thought (user feedback). The updates themselves seem to become more thoughtful and phased.

The algorithm’s teens take us to Penguin. This was a huge period of change. Not always very attractive (remember teen spots and smelly feet), but it took Google a long way.

The algorithm started to look up to certain types of website (beyond peer reinforcement) and recognised the authority good website content could command.

Google also learned that different communities had different voices and being helpful was a good thing and didn’t mean you were a dweeb. Link quality became ever more important.


Finally we come to Hummingbird, which I’m still getting my head around. The obvious change here is, in theory, how it allows people to search in a more human way eg “What would you like for supper?” as opposed to “Eats chips for tea, yes?”

It also gave some helpful advice to content owners about how to refresh older but nonetheless valuable content (not only what is being said but the authority of the person saying it) and the deeper reading users are willing to embrace as part of deeper engagement. This is being referred to as content greening.

Of course the algorithm’s journey into adulthood is not without it’s backward steps. The news that Google is encrypting searches in such a way that sites will not be able to use key word data to track visitors, is an example of this.

To me that’s a bit like a young adult putting Do Not Enter sign on their bedroom door. The evolving Google wants a bit more privacy. Where it goes next… you tell me?

In terms of what we do with all this, I’m placing increasing emphasis on content confidence and building training and workshops around allowing people to create content more intuitively and only then check it against things like analytics.

So with clients I’m talking in terms of cross-organisation content engagement workshops, language exchange workshops, content confidence builders, virtual water cooler opportunities (where people can easily trade insights across demarcations) and talent scouting for content champions and new voices outside of the traditional marketing, content strategy and search skill sets.

Attractive content, for me, is all about answering questions, showing people ‘how to’, market research (not just keyword research). It’s all about information-rich, evergreen content, as well as good descriptions and titles. The tone is of the real world and very conversational.

But, unlike Jessica Rabbit, you can draw your own conclusions.

congility-logo-147x50This post is based on a webinar which took place on March 12 in advance of Congility 2014.

Congility 2014, 18 June Workshops, 19-20 June Conference, Gatwick, UK

Change the language, change the culture

There’s an English expression about letting the tail wag the dog. The inference is something lesser being allowed to influence something more substantial to a too great degree. Small things should not overly influence big things.

Within organisations there is sensible context for this. Sometimes silos can have a profound and unhealthy influence on organisational direction, ambition and culture. In such cases the tail may be controlled by strong personalities who wield power and influence. Or the dog is is in the hands of a hierarchy content to let things carry on much the way they have always done.

I have found such tail and dog dynamics at board and senior management team level, all the way down to (but not always including) the shop floor. IT was one area where, traditionally, such a dynamic might be found.

Take a scenario where the IT head honcho has been in post some time, running a small and similarly long-serviced team. Collectively they hold the IT infrastructure together and little has changed over the years. Everybody else is petrified that one or all of the IT inner sanctum will leave and the system will come crashing down. Tails traditionally wagged dogs using fear and mystery. If I don’t understand what’s going on how can I fix or change things?

Not all tail wagging is bad

Tails should sometimes wag dogs. Sometimes dogs have had their day for far too long. Dogs who refuse to be taught new tricks.

Enter the semantic tail…

Language is often indicative of organisational culture. It can have a practical role to play. I first began to study this in earnest when I was working within the National Health Service.

Language silos could be highly efficient – a surgeon and consultant discussing a patient in precise technicality, unhindered by soothing rhetoric or ‘layman’s terms’. This procedure would achieve this outcome with this likelihood of success or complications. No need to gussy it up for the patient.

But it could also be used to make something major seem less so. There was an over fondness for using words like ‘challenge’ to describe a ‘problem’, for example.

I became very interested in how risks (and risks are always part of organisational activity) are described. On the one hand, like the surgeon and consultant, the semantics of risk could be precise and used to discuss what could go wrong, its likelihood and consequence, in no nonsense terms. It could also, sometimes, make something very major seem very everyday and less consequential. The description of risk became formulaic.

I began to discern the same patterns in the financial sector and in those organisations who operations could have profound impact on the environment – such as in the chemical and petroleum industries. Here it was less about formula and more about trivialising, in much the same way as frequent transatlantic flyers might call the Atlantic Ocean ‘the pond’.

Language and in particular preferred vocabularies within any organisation could exert subtle but profound influences on how an organisation regarded itself and those that interacted with it – employees, customers, wider communities…

Habla customer?

A more obvious but nonetheless disturbing manifestation is within those organisations that like to bandy their internal terminology around wider audiences. You know the sort of thing; website navigation that uses the same business unit descriptors as appear in the annual report and accounts, even though these descriptions bare little if any resemblance to the terms a customer might use.

Why call a spade a spade when you can call it an an earth moving implementation device? Internal business unit/activity names can reflect budget lines, organisational history, even business hubris but not always the basics – customer need and understanding, or usefulness.

But what I’ve also noticed and been lucky to play some part in, more than once, is the shifting of organisational attitude and attainment by shifting the language.

On it’s own it’s a tough call but it can help kick start change.

It can be as simple using the word spade… or ‘problem’ more often, or asking more specific questions in meetings, such as “Who is going to do this?” rather than “How are we going to approach this?”

Sometimes there’s a need to bring several languages together. Sales terminology needs to be mapped back to product development and then rationalised with support/after sales services. Sometimes shareholderese has to be demoted from first language status. Sometimes language needs to be braver, less… apologetic.

Often there is a need to go out and listen to customers and port some of that language back into the organisation. I recently spent several days dealing with a call centre over a mobile phone issue and whomever developed their scripts deserved to hear some very specific Anglo Saxon and Norse terms from my own vocabulary.

I stress was some higher authority I wanted to get at. It was very obvious that the call centre staff had been rehearsed in responses that they also found difficult and artificial. Which is why I made the point earlier about: ‘all the way down to (but not always including) the shop floor’. Often, when you get to the shop floor, you hear things the way they are. Shovel makers do not mince their words. And a spade is exactly what it should be.


Moving image as a business tool and a corporate value

I was lucky enough to work with the University of Sussex recently and helped organise a discussion about television values and ideology.

The topic might sound a little highbrow but it addresses some of the fundamental issues around the use and abuse of a powerful medium – whether you’re:

  • bloggers looking to introduce a little video into your mix
  • commercial television companies seeking the next X Factor
  • charities trying to tap into public consciousness
  • commercial organisations looking to oil the wheels of doing business
  • or audiences looking to be entertained, or informed (or a bit of both).

It got me thinking…

Say the word “television” and I initially think of the traditional box in the living room but this is way too old school. The ‘vision’ bit is fairly self explanatory. ‘Tele’ comes from the Greek for ‘far’ or ‘distant’. I had to look that last bit up, but I’m glad I did.

Looked at this way, television is a more apt catch all term than video or audio-visual when it comes to describing the many ways moving images are now delivered into our personal living rooms: that bit of tech space we surround ourselves with as we navigate the world.

If I watch a YouTube video on my smartphone to keep boredom at bay on a train journey, or dip into a Ted Talk on my computer, instead of getting on with some real work, it is, to all intents and purposes, tele-vision. It just so happens that traditional television, delivered and consumed in a linear fashion, accounts for the bulk of it. But the lessons learned can be applied much more widely.

The presentations that formed part of the University of Sussex event covered a huge range of material from how the traveller community has been framed by a Big Fat prefix that modulates our perceptions of their culture and values – some fantastic work done by the event’s organiser Roberta Piazza, Senior Lecturer in English Language – through to Clive Jones, Chairman, Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), and his thought provoking insights on how a disaster appeal must also have televisual appeal if it is to tap into mass market heart strings and purse strings.

You can download a full list of speakers and topics at the end of this blog.

Images as part of the giving process

Mother nature doing her worst under the baleful gaze of the camera can focus attention in a way that aid workers working discreetly in politically fraught environments cannot.

Identify an aid worker by showing them on television one day and one faction or another might take a shot at them the next. Nonetheless, the giving public evaluate available images as part of the giving process. It is a transaction. I receive an image that triggers a response that provokes me to give. Quid pro quo.

Of course, not all of us are looking at this from academic or charitable perspectives. But any organisation considering moving images needs to think about both value and ideology.

Value first. Why use images and is there additional value in images that move?

There is significant research that indicates that images can have a powerful impact. They can aid charitable giving and foster trust in commerce. The images need to make sense.  Whether you’re selling a cause or a product they need need to work and not just take up space (attention and real estate) – show after as well as before, particularly in the case of charitable campaigns.

Givers need to know how money will be spent and be shown images that support this. In the commercial world, potential purchasers respond positively to images of past customers in receipt of their purchases.

But what about images that move? The value of movement has long been recognised. Laws of public decency used to pivot around this point, making nudity legal when static but more desirable when in motion.

But what got me excited was some research I came across under the title ‘At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence’ (Lombard and Ditton, 2006), which indicates that virtual reality simulators, video conferencing, home theatre and HD TV provide users with an illusion that: ‘a mediated experience is not mediated’.

In effect, the more like reality it is the more we take it at face value and believe what we see. Moving images are more lifelike. The more like life then the greater these images may play in helping us store information, retreive it and and make decisions based upon it. Moving images also create a degree of harmonised experience shared by watchers. Powerful things all.

Now to ideology. That’s a tricky area.

In a commercial sense this has to be the system of ideas and principles that underpin use. In terms of an organisation looking to use moving images this would seem to cover not just having an ephemeral vision but practical strategy governing that use and budget and goals that can be as ambitious as you like, but have to be evaluated against actual performance (who came, who saw, who bought/gave). Moving images are sexy but that’s not a good enough reason for using them.

If I have an issue with regular TV it’s that as the images have become more real the values and ideology that underpin them become less so. So-called reality TV shows are now no more that poorly rehearsed dramas.

If there’s a fly on the wall it’s only because the documentary-style footage on often smells distinctly fishy.

Finally, to this paradigm I add the concept of self. If as an organisation you plan to use moving image you are also up against not only your competitors and peers but the global audience of individuals who both record moving images and upload them through social media. Welcome to the world of ME-TV. And the subject of my next blog.


Values and ideology in TV discourse: A one-day interdisciplinary colloquium on recent research, University of Sussex – School of English, Friday, November 22nd 2013. Speakers and topics: Values and ideology in TV discourse