Do content strategy and business priorities mesh?

Updated April 13, 2024
Originally published on The Content Wrangler’s blog on February 10, 2014

Content is business. Great content sells. Bad content doesn’t.

No matter how hard we try, “content and usability strategy can’t predict outcomes,” said Jared Spool, the Maker of Awesomeness at Center Centre, at his annual presentation sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society, GBC/ACM, and BostonCHI at Constant Contact in Waltham, MA.

“The key is understanding business models. Great business models are designed.”

Business models have strategies, and like content strategy, there are priorities. Spool said there are five priorities for any business strategy:

  1. Increase revenue.
  2. Decrease costs.
  3. Increase new business.
  4. Increase existing business.
  5. Increase shareholder value.

And, he continued, these priorities are the same for content and usability strategies. “Take the money and put it into the (user) experience and see where it gets you,” he said.

An investment in great content goes far. For example, Zappos’ quick, convenient return policy has actually helped the company increase its business. If you’re unhappy with your purchase for any reason, you can return it absolutely free. The return policy is accessible from one click, a big Help & Support button in the top right corner of Zappos’ Home page. You can read clearly written instructions or watch a video. If you return a product, you can print out the pre-paid UPS shipping label directly from Zappos’ website. The ease of usability actually encourages customers to buy more at Zappos, because they have a delightful shopping experience.

Investing in great content is much more profitable than spending the same money on advertising, Spool says. “Ads don’t work. When you don’t pay for the product, you are the product.” He used as an example, where users see mostly ads on the page when they look up definitions. The content on is free, because it’s funded by advertising. But to find the content users want, they have hunt for it by scrolling down on the page. So what happens? Readers ignore the ads, although they must work to find the content they’re after.

Spool cited several statistics about the performance of ads. There’s a 0.1% click-through rate for 1,707 ads seen per year. Four of 10,000 clicks are for the best ads. And 31 out of 100 ads have never been seen. So the odds that people will actually make a purchase from seeing an ad are slim to none.

“The best performing ads don’t look like ads,” he said. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful tool. “Things that work the best are out of the company’s control.”

On March 28, 2011, The New York Times began a radical business strategy of reducing the number of ads on its website and switching to digital subscriptions, also known as a metered paywall. Readers are allowed to view 20 free articles, videos, slide shows, and other features per month. When the twentieth article is viewed, they receive a message that they need to become a digital subscriber. Since then, the Times has earned more money from the metered paywall customers than from advertising.

Why? Quality content. People are willing to pay for great content.

The New York Times played with a business model and the returns to get the best results. And because they followed the five standard priorities of a business model, they’ve survived and thrived at a time when many newspapers are going out of business.

So the lesson here is that delightful content creates a great user experience. And with those great experiences come customer sales and loyalty. Content and usability strategists “create delight by working at the intersection of business and design,” Spool said.

Is your content delightful? Do customers delight in the experience? If they are, you’ll know, Spool says. “The better the content, the better the business.”

That’s the bottom line.


Cook, Jonathan E. and Shahzeen Z. Attari. “Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall.” Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking, 15(12), 2012, pp. 1-6.

New York Times. “A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions,” March 17, 2011. Retrieved April 13, 2024

Zappos’ return policy