Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ask Good Questions to Produce Great Content


“The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.” ~ Ruby Dee

At a meeting last fall of the Content Strategy – Minneapolis Meetup, I asked guest speaker Kristina Halvorson, industry leader and author of Content Strategy for the Web, how she would recommend I handle a client decision that ran directly counter to good web strategy. I had felt surprised and irritated that a former client had chosen to do something on their website that was obviously a bad idea (it diluted their brand message, created confusion for users, and made site management more difficult).

Kristina had a mind blowing response. It was along the lines of, “You know, you could be curious and ask the client, ‘tell me why you’re thinking about doing that.’”

It was astoundingly simple. I’ve used it dozens of times since. “Why do you think that’s important?” “Can you tell me what your thinking is there?” “How important is that to your users?” “What content do your users first want to find when they get to this page?”

This has accomplished two important goals:
1. Established clarity about content strategy
2. Created stronger content itself

Here’s a site I wrote for a small pest management business. I extensively questioned the client about his services, competitive advantages, and the distinguishing features of his commercial and residential customers. I spent two hours just asking questions. For a tiny 5-page site? Absolutely. That level of questioning created content that does its job – to make the case in a compelling way that customers should contact his business for pest control.

The nature of good questions

Good questions are:

  • Open-ended. They begin with “Can you tell me,” “What is…” “Where is…” “How is…”

  • Specific. They elicit information that is measurable and objective.

  • Motivated by a desire to learn. Discard irritation or impatience. Practice curiosity.
Sometimes I have to probe and clarify to solicit more information or make sure I understand the client’s perspective. “Does that mean….” “If that’s the case, then…” “Do I understand correctly that….”

Leadership consultant John Baldoni has useful tips on asking effective questions.

Need to answer some good questions to create your good content? Consider hiring a web content consultant.

Upcoming post: Serving the real needs of clients