Colorful content mapping visuals can tell a better story. (Image via mkandlez)
Let’s face it, content strategy traffics in spreadsheets. As we and our clients know, the rubber hits the road where the row meets the column. In our line of work, it just seems that the data points live for the familiar quadrants of the grid. But sometimes the traffic comes to a halt and a grid just won’t do. The music swells, the sentiment soars, and the data longs for a life outside the matrix. What does it want? — visualization.
As anyone knows, stories can be told quickly with pictures, and if you don’t need to provide exhaustive inventories for record keeping and analysis, it makes sense to consider a visual treatment of the information you need to present. It comes down to a question of what’s the best way to convey insights and make persuasive arguments, especially to an audience that has no patience for line reading. If a spreadsheet does the job, fine, but if you need to rivet attention to the telling points of your research a visual treatment may launch your audience right into the heart of the matter.
When I mention data visualization, I’m mostly talking about maps, something sorely lacking from the usual set of content strategy documents. Maps are ideal for capturing broad landscapes of information—the ecosystem—showing the breadth, hierarchies, and relationships of content. And when you are fortunate enough to have extensive site metrics to add to the picture that show such things as user paths, volume, and frequency, you will be able to create a vivid and powerful illustration of the state of things.
A mapping of data is also ideal for showing an evolution of a site—real or projected, which is important for the strategy side of the work. A simple comparison, a before and after, will lend extra force to either a content strategy you are attempting to enact or a retrospective of how your content strategy has led to transformative results.
When is it best to use data visualization?
Anytime you think a picture would tell a more powerful story, but especially during the discovery phase when you are trying to create a graspable perspective of the current state of content. Additionally, mapping is useful if you want to move on to the next iteration of a site and to show what’s been accomplished already.
What content insights are best suited for data visualization?
• Structural relationships: grouping similar types of content
• Volume: what areas are the deepest in terms of pages
• Hierarchies: what content is more important from a business perspective or from a user perspective
• User Paths: what are the paths users are taking to and from content
• Values: what content holds the most user interest
• Migration paths: where is content coming from, where is it going