Creative Best Practices

Content Strategy Trends to Watch in 2013: Adaptive Web Design

Posted by Najwa Smith on January 8th, 2013 at 5:30 am

Najwa Smith, RosettaChances are you know content strategists have something to do with making matrixes. Sadly, we don’t strut in long leather coats or don slick aviator-style glasses (while at work) like Keanu and his band of friends in The Matrix (leather is in, but that’s so 2003). But like the characters in The Matrix, content strategists are often misunderstood, their purpose shrouded in mystery.

Just what are content strategists doing with those Content Audits and Content Gaps? If you didn’t know better, you’d worry that these words describe accounting software. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Audits, analyses and gaps – these words mask the true nature of content strategy. Which is? To create dazzlingly persuasive user experiences – experiences that accomplish a user's or a brand’s mission: to research a purchase, foster connectedness and ultimately engage in a transaction.

Content Strategy plans for and supports the über experience: discover, engage, transact, applaud and measure.  What do I mean? Just think about yourself. Let’s say you’re seeking to engage in cool content X (cool is relevant, it’s what you make it). You find and engage in said content, the content spurs you to transact  (a transaction could be a purchase or, in a social environment, the desire to interact), and based on the experience, you’re so happy with that experience that you tell others about it in some manner (blogging, word of mouth, reviews, tweeting it, pinning it, commenting, etc.). And when all is said and done, we substantiate – with metrics – that our strategies were, yes, that persuasive.

Yesterday’s content strategists had it a lot easier. There were a few basic content types in the collective online vocabulary: text in various flavors (product descriptions, FAQs, about us descriptions, news, etc.), audio, a little video and a few webinars – and fewer metrics.

Today the available content vocabulary has become infinitely more complex – with infographics, slideshows, social media content, communities content, UGC, social data, data visualizations and more…and – thanks to device diversification and adaptive web design – at least four distinctly different screen sizes (mobile, tablet, desktop and TV) on which we can deliver these persuasive and engaging experiences.

With 2012 in the rearview mirror, 2013 will see engaging trends rising everywhere. The core and emergent trends to have on the radar include:

  • Adaptive Web Design
  • Video: One Size Does Not Fit All
  • Social Design: Increasing Content Consumption

In the weeks to come we’ll talk about the good, the bad and the new trends. For now, let’s get started and talk about the adaptive movement.

Winners and Losers in the Multiplatform Content Olympics

Its popularity and potential could be massive, but at this stage, adaptive web design (also referred to as responsive web design) is a leading cause of major brain cramps in content strategy circles. How do we address all those white papers and that “important marketing-speak copy"? Clients have a lot of long-form assets and deep attachments to the desktop experience.

How will content evolve in this brave new world of one-site-to-rule-them-all, adaptive web design? Despite the natural fear of change, adaptive web design’s ramifications require internal teams to revisit and address content and its relevancy. This is a good thing. A very, very good thing.

Nice adaptive site experiences that you can check out include the Boston Globe, for it’s thoughtful design and content hierarchy and ShopWiki, for its purposeful ecommerce design, which has seen significant mobile usage by its users, whether they are in stores or out and about.

What this means for Content Strategists

An opportunity to create an Adaptive Content Strategy? We can get out in front of the curve and design content experiences that fully capitalize on content types that swing both ways – those that are truly cross-platform compatible.

What are the content types that span this multiplatform universe? We can all vote in this contest (and please do, via comments). Good candidates include Slideshares, infographics and videos. Slideshows play well on mobile, tablets and desktops. Keep in mind that that your content needs to be self-contained and self-explanatory, like Google’s

Multiplatform losers are white papers (could they get a Slideshare-esque makeover?) and other lengthy text assets. Details still matter, but so do device screen sizes. Not to mention that in 2013, it’s not just the common cell phone and tablet small screens that we need to be mindful of but also web-enabled dashboards in cars, which will take the concept of multitasking to a whole new level. And then when you go big, how will you ensure that your content translates to boardrooms or family-rooms, where in today’s world, 40- to 60-inch screens are de rigueur? Bottom line: your content has to be more flexible than a game of Twister.

Doubling, tripling or quadrupling up on the ways the same information can be consumed (white paper, slideshow, infographic, audio and video) may help us get detailed information across the Content Olympics finish line – satisfying clients’ needs to get the details out there and the buyers’ need to pick and choose, based on their device, attention level and physical environment.

This is a conversation that will be on the radar for a long time, so we invite you to join the discussion now and over the coming weeks. Share your thoughts on adaptive web design, where you see it going, what it means for you in your role and/or any cool sites that you think are leading the charter.

10 Responses to “Content Strategy Trends to Watch in 2013: Adaptive Web Design”

  1. Aaron Gustafson says:

    Thanks for the write-up. The challenges of adaptive content (and design) are great, but so is the opportunity.

    One thing I wanted to note is with regard to your comment on Whitepapers and other “lengthy text assets.” Studies have shown people are not only willing but actually prefer reading on mobile platforms, including phones ( The most important thing is ensuring your content is relevant, engaging, and appropriate. Fulfill those needs and you're golden.

    • Najwa Smith says:

      Thanks Aaron, yes there is value to be had in white papers. My point here is that companies need to think about how their content is represented and viewed based on the platform used. Your link on the rise of E-Book readership is an interesting read, and on a personal note, I identify with much of what the author stated. I am a huge fan of E-books. But an E-book is not a white paper. White Papers are formal in tone, linear, long form, data-centric with a tendency to be text heavy and light on visuals.

      Reading long form content is doable, on a desktop and tablets, sure, but not desirable in other platforms. In the world we live in today, that same content can get better visibility if translated to a different format (consider video, etc.) then consider making your classic white paper available for download as a part of that experience. This concept leads more to the integration of transmedia storytelling as a part of your adaptive design strategy, a topic for another day. At the end of the day, your audience and your market will be key drivers in the decisions that you make regarding the content types that are most appropriate for optimal delivery of your message. Bottom line, maintain your message but consider whether you're using the best vehicle to deliver that message to your audience.

      I enjoy talking about these ideas so please keep sharing your thoughts!

  2. In my book, Content Strategy for Mobile, I cite data from read-it-later service Readability that shows that engagement on mobile phones is actually higher than on desktops or tablets. People spend MORE time reading on their phones than on other platforms. I've seen the same insight reflected in client analytics data. It's a myth that people don't want to read long-form, linear text on smartphones.

    I'm not suggesting this as a prescription—merely pointing out that our gut feeling about what works on various platforms doesn't always check out in real life. Similarly, I've heard lots of people suggest video as an ideal solution for mobile... only to discover that the data declares video is a dud.

    • Najwa Smith says:

      Hi Karen, yes, I have your latest book, which, was a recent topic of discussion within our team a couple months ago. Regarding your point about readership of long-form content, the decision to, or, to not use long form content still begs for ongoing validation that takes into account multiple variables (i.e. market, product, audience, point of engagement in the buyer's journey, etc.) that the content provided is presented in an optimal format that is easily consumed by the target audience for an engaging experience in their chosen platform (and it goes without saying that the content must be relevant).

      Your book speaks to this point in the context of creating reusable content (which is sometimes referred to as the creation of content building blocks). It's important that we move away from thinking about creating or delivering content in a singular format, and as you stated, "Content written for one context often does not make the leap to other places all that well. To give your content the best shot at making sense in whatever way the user wants or needs to consume it…".

      And true, not every idea that a brand may bring to life will be a success. That's why analyzing, optimizing and implementing a governance strategy should be key components of a successful content strategy.

      So is long form content still relevant? Take the factors listed above into account. And, let's just say that long form content has a place a the table, just not the head of the table unless it can show that it's deserving of the big piece of chicken. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for a nice article. Yes we need to address the customer needs on various platforms.
    But i think depending on the content types, the type of customer also differs and the platform they use too.
    Suppose the executives use a tablet or mobile platform and they would love to see videos and presentations than the white papers (Sorry if i am wrong.) and the needs of the common people will be product information's which they might view in a laptop or desktop. Ofcourse as you said the purchase through eCommerce is rising through mobiles, but still we need to accept the fact that most of the consumers still depend on laptops/desktops. So i would say more than the responsive design the content strategists need to think of content types. A responsive design will make a content viewable on all platforms but do we actually need that? Is there a need to replicate the same content on all platforms?
    We dont need to run behind responsive design because everyone is following it. But we need to find our need and work accordingly.

    • Najwa Smith says:

      Hi Krishna, yes, i agree that the platforms used by any given customer will vary and should be based on a combination of factors such as their market and product offering as well as the audience that they are trying to reach. And responsive design will not be for everyone but everyone should assess whether they have a need to factor it into their future strategic efforts or not. Thanks for your insights!

  4. Great article and very relevant for increasing engagement and conversions online.

    If I could, 'd like to mention one additional item here related to, but slightly off the topic of, content marketing. Its about responsive themes aka adaptive web designs and search. Many businesses don't realize that it is possible for you site to rank higher in mobile search results compared to the competition if they have a responsive theme.

  5. Adam says:

    Who would win in a fight? Responsive web design or Adaptive web design?

    Stick that in your J and Query it.


  6. any says:

    very informative and helpful, ty

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