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Book Review of Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content
2011, Q1 (April 04, 2011)
By David Dick, STC Fellow

Editor's note: Check back next quarter for an interview with author Colleen Jones.

Clout book cover
Clout book cover
Credibility, persuasion, and influence are important characteristics of successful personal relationships and business. They are also important to creating effective web content, says Colleen Jones, regular contributor to UXmatters, principal and founder of Content Science, and now author of her first book titled, Clout: the Art and Science of Influential Web Content.

Jones describes how and why the science of influence is essential to attracting and keeping people returning to buy a product or get information. I was skeptical at first because I have been taught that usability and interaction is the key to successful website, but they do not address the substance of most websites, which is content. “Clout” consists of three parts: The Crossroads, The Principles, and The Climb.

In a poetic sense, “The Crossroads” is where all roads meet, and an ideal title for the first two chapters of the book: “Same Road, Same (Lack of) Results” and “A Harder but Higher Road.” First, Jones explains how people try to get results online using attractive design without meaningful content, over-promised technology features, usability without usefulness, or broadcast marketing techniques. Then she masterfully transitions to explain why the solution is all about content; the kind that influences establishes credibility, persuasion, and influence.
Jones explains how people try to get results online using attractive design without meaningful content, over promised technology features, usability without usefulness, or broadcast marketing techniques.

The core of the book is “The Principles.” Jones describes how rhetoric and psychology contribute to attracting and keeping customers. Jones explains context—result, users, brand, timing, and forums. Using case studies, Jones explains how companies applied these principles to enhance the content their websites. One case study that caught my attention is REI, which is my favorite company for the outdoor apparel and equipment. The REI website is updated to coincide with the current season because timing is important to influence consumer shopping. The website allows customers to share photos of outdoor adventures, participate in polls, contribute to blogs, post questions and answers about all kinds of outdoor activities, get advice from REI’s adventure experts, and view instructional videos. After my tour of the REI website, I was convinced that REI had taken the right content strategy to attract and keep people (like me) coming back for more.

The final part is “The Climb,” an appropriate title about an uphill struggle to get to the top. Jones recommends strategies to plan the redesign of a website, how to prepare to evaluate a website, and how to decipher results to identify areas for improvement. Jones presents several case studies to explain how these strategies led to improvements of commercial websites. It is as simple as why, what, who, where, when, and how. Yes, there will be obstacles along the way and Jones explains what to expect and how to overcome them. My favorite case study is WhiteHouse.gov. Jones describes how WhiteHouse.gov was transformed from an archive of the president’s communications and White House history into a website that takes advantage of blogs, photo galleries, podcast feeds, and integration with social networks.

There are plenty of books on the market about writing for the web, but none address the importance of credibility, persuasion, and influence like Clout. What makes Clout better than the rest is the balance of theory supported by case studies of how companies applied the principles of influence to enhance user appeal. It is a small book that packs a quite a punch of solid information. Jones gets to the point without superfluous words and examples, and simplifies and clarifies complex principles so that any audience can understand them.

To read more about Colleen Jones, and read past presentations and publications, visit leenjones.com.

David Dick can be reached at davidjdick2000 at yahoo dot com. End of article.

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