Mourn ye not the loss of those nasty, useless websites from the 1990s. We’ve moved past those early, unsophisticated days of Al Gore’s invention and today the Internet is an ecosphere teeming with intelligent design. Content that appears carelessly has a hard time competing against its highly-realized and sophisticated brethren; this is Darwinism at a literary level.
If you’re going to shout above that din, you can’t be merely a Wielder of Words, a Purveyor of Progress or a Thinker of Thoughts. You need to be a Crafter of Content!
What can we learn about capturing an audience’s hearts and minds by considering not just what words and sentences to use in which order, but how and where they appear on a page, and what appears around them?
When you get down to the bones of a great piece of contemporary content, everything is carefully sculpted and delicately connected. This is what I call the Content Map. It’s the architecture overlaying the actual words, like signposts on a journey, or finding clues on a treasure hunt. The Content Map provides direction and motivates the reader to continue.
A Content Map is: a series of planned visual and word devices that intentionally encourage a reader/viewer along a creator’s meaning-full path toward completion.
You want the reader to experience your content in a certain way for maximum impact, and you don’t want them to quit because they got sidetracked down the wrong fork in the road.
This post begins a series on the Elements of the Great Content Map. Check out the infographic below for Suzy Manuscript Marker’s Great Content Map.
One of the ways content mapping is most obvious is in poetry, and especially in the poetry of e.e. cummings. Not only was he famous for using only lowercase letters, but he was a master of the irregular placement of text (Check out The Sky Was) to emphasize the way in which the poetry should be read aloud, and to lead the viewer along a meaningful path on the printed page that wouldn’t otherwise occur with typical poetic scansion placement.
A few important thoughts to keep in mind when thinking about Content Mapping:
- Great copy comes first. Don’t get me wrong: Your words, first, have to be great. Your ideas, valuable and original. Your sentences, structure, grammar: pristine. But all of those things can be bang on and if your content doesn’t measure up in its presentation to the competition, all that great work might ever not get noticed.
- Add value, not window-dressing. Is thinking of your manuscript as content a marketing strategy? Certainly! (And there’s nothing wrong with that.) But you need to consider what actual value you are adding with content mapping; not just how you can window-dress your words. The point is to clarify, add interest, meaning, value…not to just make prettier.
I’m not interested in being taken down a rabbit hole link to a video on cupcakes when I’m reading your expert informational article on how to restore an antique armoire (and, come to think of it, that would probably cause my ADD to flare up and send me to the kitchen!). However, I would very much enjoy and appreciate seeing a two-minute video on the most expensive armoires ever to auction at Sotheby’s.
- Know who you’re serving. How do you know what’s relevant, what adds value, and if you’re improving clarity? Keep front and center the purpose of your writing: conveying passionate, purposeful messages within the scope of your subject matter expertise to your specific community of interest. Who are they? What do they need and want to know from you? You can’t go wrong if you focus on your audience.
Create a content map to suit your own communication needs, and follow along as we explore these elements in more depth over the coming weeks!