Optimizing Deliverables for Maximum Usefulness

With every deliverable UpBuild sends to a client, our primary goal is to ensure the end user can understand the document as thoroughly as possible without needing to ask us additional questions. We don’t mind questions, of course (we love them actually!), but we realize our client’s time is limited. Our time is limited. We don’t want to waste the time we do have discussing something that could have been avoided had we taken the extra step to answer it in the deliverable already.

To achieve this goal, we spend time making sure everything we send out looks a certain way, follows specific guidelines, and ultimately successfully educates the reader on the issue, what the next step should be, and who is responsible for it. 

Before sending anything to a client we always ask ourselves, “will this make someone’s day better?

In this post, I’ll go over some ways UpBuild builds its deliverables so that they provide the maximum value to the client.

Use Consistent Formatting to Keep Readers Focused

Consistent formatting allows the user’s eyes to adjust to the document they are consuming and ignore the structure of the content, allowing them to focus on the point we are trying to make.

We do not want the user to be distracted because the font style changed randomly, destroying their concentration. We don’t want the user to be confused about where to find a specific piece of information.

This is about improving the readability for our clients and making our recommendations as easy to digest as possible. By not using multiple types of fonts, sizes, or colors with no rhyme or reason, the user’s mind doesn’t need to keep adjusting to the new look, which could distract from the message trying to be conveyed.

All text should follow similar formatting throughout your deliverable. For example, column headings should be the same font type, size, color, and weight. In contrast, the actual data in those columns could be something else. For example, UpBuild two Google fonts:  Raleway for labels, and Roboto for data.

When it comes to deliverables, form is part of function.

Color-Code When it Would be Helpful

Color-coding large data sets or spreadsheets can help your client differentiate data sets and elements without getting overwhelmed, especially when there are hundreds or thousands of rows in a document. Color-coding can make it easier for clients to scroll through and put issues into mental buckets based on the color. Eventually, they’ll know that e.g. a red cell means there is a problem with this item and something actionable needs to take place.

Color-coding cells in a spreadsheet also add another layer of filtering and sorting ability. Now, in addition to sorting cells based on their contents, you can also sort or filter by color. This additional layer can help you and your clients reveal even more useful data.

In this example, we’re highlighting pages that have duplicate description tags.

Color coding can help clients differentiate data sets.

By color-coding rows containing URLs with duplicate descriptions, the client can identify the problem pages and fix them, rather than hopping around a document to find all the URLs with a particular tag.

Make Labels Obvious and Actionable

When labeling columns in a spreadsheet or on a slide deck, make sure to provide detailed descriptions of what each column contains. Labeling is important because clients will want to know what they are reading. Giving each data set an explicit label will help them do this. 

Often, clients get sent raw exports from SEO tools with poorly labeled columns and data (as we’ll discuss later), so making sure to label everything yourself (rather than relying on the column labels generated by the tool you’re using) can help fix this.  Even as the person who created the document, will you remember what a piece of data means in context if there are no labels? Reduce the chance of that and label everything.

For example, when labeling URLs with multiple redirects, it might be helpful to name the column of each redirect step as something more specific, like “2nd Redirect, Remove this Redirect.”

These types of labels can empower clients to dive into the data and your recommendations and hopefully take action without much more input from you.

In the above example, we have column labels for the following:

  • URLs with Duplicate Page Title
  • Current Page Title
  • Current Page Title Length
  • Action Item
  • Assigned To

This makes it very easy for the client to find the URL with the issue, identify the problem, see the current issue, and act on it or assign it to the correct department.

Sort Items and Leverage Filtering

If you’re providing a client with a list of data points that are weighted by a count, like pages with the most or least links to them, then sorting columns high-to-low, or low-to-high could help your client focus on the biggest offenders of the given issue. 

Sorting rows or elements by some factor, like count, helps provide some built-in prioritization as well. 

In addition to helping with prioritization, adding some sorting options helps provide order to documents that could otherwise start to look a little chaotic.

Here we have a simple example of sorting pages by which gets the most inbound links.

Sorting can give structure to a large dataset.

UpBuild also finds it helpful to set data up in a way that filtering will provide a more specific subset of that broader data set.  For example, here we highlight how we leverage the filtering features of Google Docs to let clients filter to only find pages with this self-canonical tag issue. 

Filtering gives the user the ability to surface subsets of larger data sets.

Assign Tasks to Specific People or Departments

A reader of your work should not finish the document and not know what to do next. That is a great recipe for getting nothing done.

To help avoid this, we aim to assign every task we need done to a specific team member or point person at our client. Sometimes this is a particular person we can name, and other times we have to assign something to a team like “legal” or “web dev.”

Even if you can’t assign an action item to a specific person, assigning it to a department or team at least gets the task in someone’s queue, and hopefully, you can go back to them for a follow-up.

We do this so that tasks don’t get lost in the shuffle. We even assign things to ourselves as the consultant if we are going to be taking care of something on behalf of the client. This lets the client know they are not responsible for that item, we are. By not assigning the task to anyone or any team, you’re hoping someone picks it up and takes responsibility for it, which often doesn’t end up happening.

Instructions

Most deliverables we send a client will have some “action items” or next steps that need to be taken. We’ve already discussed the importance of making sure those tasks are assigned to someone specifically. We also need to make sure the instructions themselves are detailed enough that the reader can act and rectify an issue.

If you send a client a document with inadequate instructions, you might see a few things, including:

  • An email or call from the client, asking, “what am I supposed to do with this or do next?”
  • Action items ignored entirely.
  • Recommendations implemented incorrectly if the directions were not specific enough.

To avoid this, make your instructions easy to read and understand. Leverage bullet points, images, references to online articles showing examples, do mocks ups, provide code samples, etc. Go the extra mile with this part of your deliverable, and your client will need less from you; you’ll see better and quicker results because the document was actionable.

You should also learn over the course of your work with any given client what they respond better to. If you get feedback that they still don’t understand something, maybe try providing more images or examples; you might also need to rewrite the instructions differently. Remember, if your client can’t act on your recommendations, then no one wins.

Provide Images of Current Issues or Examples of Them

Remember how we just said that not every reader of your deliverable would learn and understand things the same way? Well, providing images of things you’re trying to explain is a great way to cover more bases in terms of different types of learners. 

Taking screenshots is easy on almost any device these days, and can help get your point across. For example, if you’re trying to explain how an element on the client’s webpage doesn’t load when Javascript is disabled, this might be difficult to explain in just words. Taking a screenshot of the missing element can help hit the point home.

Here are some different ways to take screenshots on various platforms:

Once you’ve got your screenshot, don’t forget to label it when you insert it into your deliverable, so the client knows what they’re looking at!

Provide Visual Mock-Ups of Recommended Changes

Like taking screenshots of current issues, when you recommend a fix, use your web browser’s console to mock up the change you are recommending if a visual representation makes sense.

We use this all the time to show what a new H1 tag would look like, how a page reads by moving content around, demonstrate what a code change might do to a page like providing contrast and usability recommendations, and highlight how different colors look on the page. Images can be your best friend when explaining complicated issues.

Using a mix of before and after photos or current and recommended mockups, you can provide a clear picture of what the issue was and how it should be fixed. 

Here is how to access the developer tools on Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.

You can also take screenshots of developer tools so you can show the client’s specific code changes or issues.

Don’t Lean on Raw Exports from SEO Tools

Most SEO tools don’t export data in a very user-friendly manner, giving the user a CSV with oddly named columns that aren’t formatted in any way. This makes raw export data very difficult to consume upon opening, especially for someone who doesn’t do this day in and day out and may not be familiar with industry terms or tool-defined metrics. That is why we never send a raw export from a tool if it can be improved upon.

At UpBuild, we take the exports from any tool and format them in a way that it ties in with the recommendations that go along with those exports. We rename columns so they make sense to our reader in the context of the deliverable, then remove unneeded columns, format column widths and heights so they are easy on the eyes to consume, change the font to  our standard fonts, and then sort filter, and color-code as needed.

Give the Client Prioritized Tasks and Recommendations

It might be obvious, but your clients are as busy as you are. By setting prioritization for each task, you help your client manage their workload and improve the chances your most important requests will get handled. I’ve found it creates a better working relationship as well, because you are recognizing that they’re busy, and you are respecting their time.

At UpBuild, we generally use a system of “high, medium, and low” for prioritization, but if there is a long list of items, we might just number them #1-X based on the order in which the tasks should be done. How you prioritize is up to you; just make sure you give your client some guidance on tackling tasks so that they get the most value for their time.

This also helps you make sure the most important things are at least considered by the client. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll get done, but at least you can have a conversation about it.

Final Thoughts

A lot of these recommendations are really about not being complacent, and taking another step to ensure that the hard work you’re putting in sees the light of day once the client receives it. 

Before sending anything to a client, consider what type of document you’d like to receive when dealing with a topic you’re not familiar with, and aim to create that experience for your client.


Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.