Strategic traits of content #2: Staging

This is the 2nd in a series of three articles about the traits shared by effective web content. The first installment was about progress.

How well content achieves it purpose depends a lot on how it is staged. We don’t think twice about restaurants serving us a meal in a series of courses. But it wasn’t always the case. Up until the early 19th century, food was laid out on the table and everyone ate in whatever order they felt like. Then came service à la russe, with one dish after another. The meal was staged. The content creator went from being a cook producing sustenance to a chef creating an experience.

Dosage and order

I define staging as the dosage and order in which content is delivered. I’m sure everyone can think of poorly staged content. Content that arrives at the wrong time or in the wrong place or in the wrong quantity or the wrong format. A lack of staging can creation frustration, confusion or tedium. Staging isn’t graphic design. It’s more analogous to directions in a screenplay.

One of the most complicated parts of staging is the notion of progress. There’s the progress of the visitor through the site. Then there’s the visitor’s progress in his or her relationship with the brand/organization. Put simply, staging content for a prospective customer isn’t the same as staging it for a returning customer. The content may be the same, but how it is staged probably shouldn’t be.

An example

I was recently doing some research on CMS systems and ended up on the ExpressionEngine website. (full disclosure: I’ve never used the product and have no ties with the company. Looks like a great product.).

I’m a content creation practitioner, so I figure I must match one of their user personas. Specifically, I was looking for examples of what the business end of the software looks like, because that’s the part of a CMS that I spend the most time with. I wanted to get a feel for the interface.

Upon arriving on the home page, I zero in on the “learn more” button. I notice there’s some video content, but I skip that (for the moment) because I’m more of a text kind of person.

This leads me to the Overview page. A quick scroll down the page and a scan of the headlines shows there are no screenshots. Humf. A quick click on Features and I’m frightened away by the laundry list. Frustration sets in.

I go back to the home page and decide to try the video. I’m trapped. Sure, it shows some of the interface but there are no chapters. I have to sit through the spiel, which I don’t have time to do. I decide to close the overlay with the video player. But like a moron I can’t find the close X. It doesn’t occur to me to click on the page behind. I leave. By the looks of it, they spent a lot of time on the content, but I barely touched it – in large part because of the staging.

Final installment: Trajectory

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2 comments on “Strategic traits of content #2: Staging

  1. Ahava
    October 26, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    This is what I call sticky, sticky, bounce, bounce. They trap you and then you leave because you’re so frustrated. That kind of thing does not create a feeling for a user that they trust the provider. So many websites are like that though.
    I also like to say that content is meat and design is the plating, or that content is the diamond and design is the setting.

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