Avoiding content debt: why product teams should prioritize content early in the development cycle

By Ashley Coolman | August 13, 2019
Avoiding content debt: why product teams should prioritize content early in the development cycle

Today’s article is a guest post from Ashley Coolman, Content Strategist at Qordoba. Enjoy!

Product teams care about UX copy, but often don’t involve content strategists or UX writers until a project is in its final stages before launch. The copy in a product, just like the visual design, user flows, and navigation, are all tightly connected pieces of the overall customer experience While it may be easier to simply include lorem ipsum copy as a placeholder until the design and flow have been finalized, waiting to include your content team until the 11th hour isn’t the best strategy for creating a great product experience.

Problems with the “content can wait” mindset

Putting off product content creation and review can create more problems for the entire team. Just as you start finding development bugs and technical or UX debt, your team—or worse, your customers—may also uncover content bugs.  An awkward sentence here, inconsistent capitalization there, a label that confuses users rather than helps them, a flow that would make more sense if structured a different way—all of this contributes to the overall product experience and it takes time, iteration, and testing to get it right. If content strategy is introduced in the final stages of design and development, it's likely that your team will need to redo the work they thought was complete. This can increase stress and impact team morale, which can be prevented by involving your content team early on. Additionally, waiting makes it more likely that a content bug won’t be found until after the launch (in production). Because most content strategists aren't able to make changes directly in the product, they’ll need to create tickets. Then, when scheduling sprints, engineering bugs and cleaning up UX debt almost always take priority because it’s easy to measure how those problems impact the user experience.  Since the impact of content can be harder to measure—a well-known pain for content strategists and UX writers—content issues may find themselves piling up in the backlog, creating its own content debt.

Have a content-first mindset

Content strategists aren’t just wordsmiths, they’re user champions. They know how to identify opportunities to use content and design together in order to create a better user experience, which means your product will be more likely to meet its goals. Their feedback can help guide both product and process decisions.  Content strategists also thrive on collaboration in order to accomplish their goals, often working in the spaces between teams (just like a product manager). Having them on your side when you need to align everyone around the user needs will help you get stakeholder buy-in while keeping what counts the most—your customer—at the center of everything you do.  Here are just a few benefits to including writers early on in your product development cycle:

Customer benefits

Operational benefits

  • Connecting work to business needs
  • Clarifying content design process and workflow needs early, avoiding last-minute changes
  • Offering insight into what your audience needs, wants, and expects from you
  • Sharing experience with user flows that have worked and failed in the past
  • Creating a structure to analyze whether or not the product content is effective

Creation benefits

  • Focusing on creating the right content rather than writing for the sake of it
  • Making sure the necessary content exists and is surfaced at the right times
  • Finding ways to reuse existing content, instead of recreating the wheel
  • Ensuring consistency in user experiences across a product (or suite of products) through terminology and structure, enabling people to get comfortable with and learn how to use your product faster

How to involve content strategists

Content strategists want to be involved in the entire process so you’ll find it easy to get them involved—just communicate early and often.

  1. Invite them to the very first ideation meeting, and to the regular update meetings from then on, so they can offer their expertise at every stage.
  2. Have them work directly alongside the designers; if possible, even sitting side by side. This gives the content strategist ample opportunities to understand and provide feedback on design decisions, product functionality, and ideal user flows. With all the context, they’ll be better prepared to create the best content to support that dream. 

Make sure that you have a content specialist on your team, and that you involve them early on in the development process—rather than asking them to “work their magic” in the final hours. A content strategist who can champion your users and your product will be your right hand in working to create a successful, user-friendly product, and a better overall customer experience.

Learn how to plan, conduct, and analyze remote customer research with this comprehensive guide.

About the author(s)
Ashley Coolman

Ashley is a content strategist at Qordoba, a platform that uses AI to help everyone at a company write using the same style, voice, and terminology. She specializes in content AI and digital strategy. Previously a linguist, English teacher, and marketer, Ashley has always loved thinking about how words impact human experiences, especially in digital spaces.