There’s No Such Thing as Neutral

Blue man thumbs up It’s either thumbs up or thumbs down.

Let’s start with a story.

Say, your MP3 player has frozen up and you aren’t sure how to fix it. You figure it’s probably something simple like holding down a couple buttons, so you go to the manufacturer’s website to find out if there’s some sort of reset function. When you get there and search for “MP3 player reset,” you find a page with instructions on how to reset your MP3 player.

At first you’re excited and relieved. That was easy, you think as you start to read the instructions.

Very quickly, though, you stop being excited. Turns out, those instructions are confusing, complicated, and ultimately don’t fix the problem. Clearly a technician wrote these instructions and you, as a lay-person, don’t understand them. You keep searching for a while, trying to find better instructions, but eventually give up, frustrated.

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After you’ve given up on the manufacturer’s website, you head out to good ol’ Google and search for “MP3 Player Brand X Reset.” The first result on Google takes you to a tech company’s website with a simple three-step explanation of how to reset your MP3 player. It’s written in plain language and accompanied by useful images. It takes about 10 seconds of your time and fixes the issue in a jiffy.

Now, imagine how you feel about the website that provided the solution.

The answer is probably positive, happy, relieved, trusting. If you have a lot of tech products and get stuck easily, perhaps you’ll bookmark the site. And even if you don’t bookmark the site, the next time you see that same brand/site come up in a search result, you’ll remember that you liked them and you’ll click on their link.

What about that first site, though? The one that had the step-by-step instructions that confused you and didn’t fix your issue?

If you’re anything like most pressed-for-time internet users, you’re probably annoyed at the manufacturer for having an inscrutable and ultimately incorrect set of instructions on their site. Not only will you not return next time you have a tech issue, but you may also begin to build negative associations with that brand overall. Because a brand that would waste your time like that? They probably don’t give two craps about you. And we all want to feel like valued customers.

So here’s my point: sometimes we’re faced with a choice between speed and quality. And far too often companies choose speed. They’d rather have poorly written, technical, or problematic content out there than none at all.

I don’t blame these companies. They want to get information out the door quickly. They’re trying to serve a need. And maybe when content marketing and the internet were still in their infancy, the simple act of publishing something made you look endlessly helpful. And if it wasn’t correct? Well, at least you tried, right?

But today, with your competition breathing down your neck and everyone and their mom providing tutorials and tech support, this is no longer true. Publishing incorrect, inconsistent, jargon-riddled, or unclear content won’t just leave your users saying “oh well, too bad that didn’t work” and feeling neutral about your company. It’ll drive them away, not just from your website, but from your brand.

You see, people see bad content as a waste of their very precious time. And if you don’t respect their time? They’re not going to give you any more of it.

That’s why it’s far better to have no published articles on MP3 player troubleshooting than to lead your user down an unending rabbit hole of half-completed solutions. Because part of the job of content is to generate positive feelings from your users, right? And no one feels good about spending two hours on your website, reading jargony articles, and still not being able to solve their problem.

When you’re faced with a speed vs. quality issue, prioritize quality. This doesn’t mean your review process always has to be five levels deep. It doesn’t mean a mistake won’t ever sneak through (look at full-length books: those have been edited to death and still typos sneak through the process). But it does mean you’ll be respecting your customers’ time and building rapport. And the value of those is worth a little delay.

Photo by Doug Hay on Flickr.

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