“Never judge a book by its cover”, or so the adage goes – but the mere existence of the phrase is testament to the fact that people make snap decisions about whether to interact with your content based on perceptions, and even make assumptions about your brand by association.

With this in mind, the appearance of your content should be a primary consideration. This is something marketing has always understood – if two people, one sharply dressed and one in shabby attire, are trying to sell the same product, the results will likely be very different – when it comes to digital, and getting that first interaction, the same applies.

Beyond that, a user’s continued experience with your content is no less salient. According to Adobe, how well content displays on the device being used is important to 73% of people, and good design matters to 66%. The truth is, we do judge books as much by their cover as their content – in the same study, 38% said that unattractive layout or imagery would cause them to stop engaging with the content altogether.

So consider: Does the content look professional, or – depending on the audience and the message you’re trying to send – beautiful? Is it optimised for the device your consumer is using?

The bigger picture

When you’re thinking about experience, you also need to consider how your content fits into your audience’s lives. Aesthetics is a key consideration, but usability is also fundamental – in simple terms, if content looks nice, then turns out to be difficult to use, the best case scenario will be that the user moves on quickly – the worst is a lasting feeling of dissatisfaction or annoyance.

If you’re targeting your employees for example, consider what devices they’ll be using – does your company make use of BYOD, and/or will they want desktop access? Whatever devices they use, plan how they’ll be made aware of this, and future content – it’s presumptuous to expect they’ll return to your apps on the off-chance there’s new content. Push notifications or email marketing are a powerful tool.

Thereafter, think about what the content’s for – is it training? If so, where and when will it be consumed? If that’s on the shop floor for example, how could design deliver quality experiences to staff? If you’re a news provider, again, where and when will your audience consumer your content? Will it be on the train enroute to work? During their lunch break? Do they want short-form or long-form content, and what devices might they be using to get it?

Make it easy, make it relevant

Whatever the situation, remember your content is always competing for attention. Not only with your competitors, but with all the other options that the User has on (and off) their device. If their experience with your content isn’t in line with the apps or sites they’re used to, you’re less likely to hold their attention.

So it’s probably no surprise that content experience best practice is closely aligned with the principles of UX in general. Structure is hugely important: how the content is organised, how users find it within your site or app, and how easy it is to get what they want out of the content – even, how good are you at recognising user needs, and recommending suitable content.

Relevance is also vital. According to a Janrain study, 74% of consumers get frustrated when website content doesn’t deliver what they came for – so it’s important for publishers to use data to deliver relevant content.

Why content experience matters

The benefits of positive content experiences are wide-ranging. The more appealing you make engaging with your brand, the more likely users are to do so. The easier and more enjoyable you make it when they do engage, the more likely they are to have a positive impression of your organisation.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is for content creators to remember that quality experiences and quality content go hand in hand. One can’t realise its full potential without the other.