Content Strategy Day 1&2 with Nielsen Norman Group in London 2015

If you look through my blog carefully, you will see that most of the posts are about SEO, link building and content marketing. The last one is the most significant for me, following the rule “content is king”, and also because thanks to it I have what to work on. This time I went on the training that had been on my mind for a long time but I used to put it off – later on I will explain why. It is not about CM as in the SEOs understanding but in a more scientific way, starting from the basics, so it is the look at its fundamentals, tasks and the target groups.

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There was one more reason I chose this and not another course. CM is intertwined with SEO all the time and I often see the situation that there are so called content managers taking care of content on the client’s side. My job and responsibility is to cooperate with them closely but in a way that it brings value for both sides. Before I start to, gently speaking, get irritated by how these people imagine quality content, I must know what purpose they see in it. That’s why it was this training – Content Strategy held by Nielsen Norman Group in London.

From what I observe on the Internet in different branches, they all produce some kind of content. It is better or worse, attracting attention or not, but it is widespread. However, it is not about producing any kind of quality meeting the needs of Google algorithms anymore. Nowadays the quality must also meet other requirements – create product/service brand, establish credibility in the eyes of the customers and closely match the requirements of the target group. Content has its specific tasks in terms of SEO and marketing. And a good content strategy must take into account both points of view, which most often are – believe my word – very different. So, the training which I am going to tell you about was crucial for me. I know a lot about CM in terms of SEO. It’s about time to learn about another approach from the border of UX.

Content Strategy Training in London

The training took place in London, in a hotel, in a prestigious location. It was one of several events within Usability Week London held by the Nielsen Norman Group company. The course was set for two days, each of which we spent over eight hours on slides, diagrams and group work. I think they were reasonable about the division of the lecture and practical parts – they were equal. The whole group was about 30 people, 4 of which only were men 😉 So we were in the minority and I also stood out as a person dealing with SEO. Most people were journalists aged 30 + and people responsible for content strategies. I also was in the minority due to not wearing glasses 😉 and in another minority which didn’t have a Steve Jobs computer with a logo of an apple. Then as I’ve said – the participants were the professionals who had cut their teeth on writing. They came to improve their work – I did to learn more about how they see it.

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The training was divided into two days but in fact each day was a separate subject block. The first day was devoted to business goals and the processes behind every content strategy.

They said about:
– cases for investment in the content strategy
– the process of creating content for all channels on promotion and communication of the company, it was discussed step by step
– expanding the strategy with other materials, also offline and strictly marketing
– audit of the existing page which we are creating on
The second day was devoted to the use of content for brand creation and applying its specific tone through proper editing.

They said about:
– business value of properly selected content formats for your site
– samples of different formats and encouraging people to use them and follow clear guidelines for content creation
– techniques of developping style and tone of voice of the site and using it consistently on different platforms

You must also know that the Content Strategy training is part of a group of courses, thanks to which you can obtain the Nielsen Norman Group certificate. It is a fairly valued confirmation of knowledge, worth investing in. To get it, you have to pass at least five trainings with a score of 80% or more. Luckily, there’s no need to pass everything at once. There are no time limits, you can as well do it for several months, signing up for the most interesting trainings for you. You can take the certification exam online 35 days after the training. The certificate is quite hard to get but once you do, your UX and related knowledge is confirmed. After the training I am at the halfway point of certification – I hope I will be able to obtain it in a while.

A little about Nielsen Norman Group and Content Strategy

A lot of people in Poland have heard about the NN Group but rather not SEOs. In the UK NN are a respected group of specialists who have worked in the company since the end of the 90s. They work mainly in the User Experience field – the field which is more and more interesting for SEOs. NN Group is primarily focused on various studies and analyses of different types of interfaces which allow them to make raports and strategies leading to improvement of the site usability. They work in three fields – research, consulting and training. The last field I already had a chance to check during their Usability Week London, which took place between 9th and 13th November 2015. I was mostly interested in two days – the 9th and the 10th November – when the Content Strategy training was held. The other trainings by NN Group appear outside Europe, e.g. in Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Singapore – so London was the closest option.

Before I jump to the conclusions, listen to a few more facts about the trainer and the course schedule – it is easier for me to tell the story and give you my opinion later on. So, get to know Catherine Toole who told us for two days how to do CM. And she knows how to do it, because she is the founder of the Sticky Content agency. She knows Content Marketing from all its sides, as besides leading the content agency she had also been on the other side of the barricades. She used to work as a journalist and copywriter, so the process of creating valuable content is well known to her.

I like people who not only have the vision of perfect strategy and the final result but are also in knowledge of every step of the work they guide. A SEO Practicioner will always be better than a SEO Theorist. So, Mrs. Catherine Toole leads content strategies for many cool clients (Walt Disney Travel Company, Aviva, Alstom etc.), and she also professionally teaches others how to make digital content interesting, effective and useful for customers. Catherine Toole is easy to like 😉

Content Strategy according to Catherine Toole

I must warn you – the people looking for easy solutions, trivia or “meat” won’t be pleased.
In the beginning of the training we were asked not to mention any key information from the course on our blogs or in social media. A lot of information presented came from paid research conducted by the NN Group, that’s why they care so much not to reveal it to wider audience. We have made a “gentleman agreement” and I must stick to it. All I can tell you are my general conclusions and opinion on the utility of this event.
Ok, it’s time for a few words about what Kate told us, and she spoke a lot for two days, but she told us to practice, talk and ask questions more, though, according to the rule of “practice makes the master” or whatever. The main thought of the whole training was that behind each internet project (and not only) success, there is content marketing – which was not a discovery for me. It’s that not all content and not every CM strategy is good.


Our aim is to get to know the rules of creating the strategy, which will:

  • increase sales and margins of our services or products
  • raise interest among users and consumers
  • decrease the number of complaints by uninformed clients
  • relieve workers and content authors who don’t like chaos and sudden changes of rules they are working by and aims they are aspiring

Mrs. Toole treated Content Marketing as a new scientific/business discipline which is very flexible and can be adjusted to every subject we could think of. However, it also has some strict rules which must be followed in order to talk about making any kind of strategy.

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So remember – the slogan “let’s write 10 articles about teeth straightening, give 2 videos and a link to social media” is not a strategy yet. The training was different from those I had attended. First time it was not focused on content in terms of SEO. There was almost nothing about how to write good articles which will give us traffic, social signals or links. It was from a completely different view, from the other side, I would say – more psychological and analytic. Strictly about content, its tasks and target group. Most of it was about writing how-to articles, preparing information about frequently asked questions and preparing internal term dictionaries – why we make them, how and is it worth it. Besides there was a little about creating rules and preparing statement templates for client service and complaints, because it greatly faciliates work of the people dealing with the subject in the company, and it also communicates a lot about the brand itself.

We started with the subjects of why to invest in quality content at all – and there was nothing about the Google needs but a lot of good practice that could be drawn from the level of printed content which takes business objectives and user goals into account (based on their profiles). I also want to add that it concerns content on the site, in e-mails, social and more.

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What was new was tips for the people who create this content – tips on ideas for content, its editing, completeness and coherence. They mentioned different formats which can be juggled and used for their own purposes. What to avoid and what’s ok. Big part of the training was about the content audit and consistent control of what we publish. This subject was also mentioned in the practical part. A lot of time was devoted to content formats and their influence on users. For example, the youth would rather read an infographic or watch a video than focus on the text itself. The older people on the other hand will more likely read the text, from the beginning to the end. Let’s not forget there are people interested in specifics, without waffling like bullets etc. In fact, the format choice depends only on the target group.

The second day of training was certainly useful for people who create strategies, direct them and oversee the work of contractors. It was shown in a very cool way how to create clear guidelines about the content formats which can be replicated and used, and which are easy to use and apply by everyone – even non-specialists. The tips were mostly about maintaining consistency, despite work of several different people, which affects the brand recognition and creates it very strongly. A lot was told about how to develop the published content skilfully and what impact it has on brand perception. What you can afford today and what is frowned upon by users.

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We also discussed how to design information to make them attractive and good but it was also mentioned that the choice of language we publish in will have influence on the content.

  • More specific information from the training
    Although I would like to tell you much more, I really have to limit myself to just a few remarks – I had to commit to this. On the other hand I understand NN Group – their content is supposed to be given during trainings, not getting around on the Internet. What I can tell you, is that we touched upon the issues, such as:
  • division of the site section due to the personas
  • describing forms of content presentation depending on the target group (bullet points, enumeration, blocks with contents in paragraphs, pictures & video – each group prefers something else)
  • SWOT analysis of content
  • brief as a key and most important element at every stage of content production
  • discussion about user generated content for websites and its interpretation
  • a lot of info about the language that we use on the site – tone, syntax, spelling, vocabulary, etc.
  • assigning part of the template for different groups of personas
  • mentioning a Google blog post about panda in the context of writing “for Internet”
  • testing content the same way packages and flyers to the medication in the United States are tested
  • examples of using content tone on the sites of Disney, Coca Cola, Amazon, Nokia, Apple
  • the fact that it is actually content that convinces clients and sells on pages
  • adjusting the content tone to the “image” of the company
  • content tone is not only content itself, but also what surrounds it
  • very interesting cases about cooperation and struggle between content managers, marketers and seos during content creation
  • thorough description of creating personas and the process of cooperation
    Sheets and content audit process described in a cool way by third parties .. or writing content just for writing is no longer the story 😉 The point is that it is no longer the times when you commissioned content to some copywriting company thinking “there are the pages, find some phrases and give us the content – the quicker, the better. ” Today it is no longer the way to go.

In addition, because the trends change, we were given a list of various places/ groups/ forums, where we can keep track of and observe the current subject of the content strategy. The host ensured that we educated ourselves – we were given a list of books that should be our “must read” if we wish to plan and lead our strategies properly. We should become acquainted with them along with 350 slides which we viewed during the two days of training (more than 16 hours of classes), which should give us a good base for independent action. This was necessary, because the range of subject is enormous and our time on the training was limited. Each participant also received a full presentation in pdf format. on a pendrive but with all the precautions of the company, so that nothing leaks out from their trainings. Don’t be surprised that the presentation is also on password 😉

Conclusion of Content Strategy by NN Group – London

Even though I can’t tell you the cases and the examples I heard on the training of Content Startegy during the Usability Week London, I think that from the tone of my article you can tell my attitude towards the course. Summing up I will tell you that I’ve been doing SEO for 8 years and I had been to a lot of CM trainings, several times in the US and UK – and not only, and until now I didn’t realize how big of a role content plays in the life of Internet communication. I am absolutely not talking right now about using keywords, creating headlines, meta titles and meta descriptions or subject etc. It’s all going about the user context and their needs – actually in the way that         recommends it in its latest presentations studying correlations.

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I now look at content and its tasks/functions completely differently on the corporate sites of Amazon, Apple, Nokia, Orange and the government. I will rather not be asking content managers stupid questions like “what is this content for, how is Google supposed to find it, what phrases should it rank for”; -) I now know and understand that not everything is always written for SEO and search engines 😉

Practical information:

  • UX people are completely different personalities than SEOs 😉
  • Although I know English on B/C level, the dictionary was in use all the time ; -) Journalists have so large vocabulary, slang + the pronunciation that it was not always possible to get what they said immediately: -) I expected this, that’s why I put off this training as long as I could.
  • You could buy interesting recent UX printed reports for the specialists, made by the Nielsen Norman Group at attractive prices
  • Training is recommendable and each seo doing SEO for larger companies’ sites should, in my opinion, show up on it. The same applies to people working daily on content and the journalists who write on different websites. And no, they did not pay me to write it 😉
    In case of questions, the trainer gave us her contact details and invited to write if we had any problems or doubts, which was a very nice touch at the end. I will certainly use it.Well, my dear, Content Strategy in London was the last training this year which I reviewed for you. Because of tight budget you will have to wait until 2016 for the new posts of this kind, so stay tuned;)If you want to talk, I will see you in Brno in the Czech Republic in 2 weeks on the next edition of the Marketing Festival, which I also attended last year.

This time, I can proudly say that one of the speakers will be a Pole, a representative of the Elephate company – a great seo and my good colleague, Wojtek Mazur. Wojtek will talk about cooperating with bloggers and not only 😉
Who is curious, what else, can peek at his twitter:


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