The Badminton Bible

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Our new approach to content

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Posted 2 years ago

The badminton articles on this site are pretty popular. I'm proud of them, as I think they've helped a lot of players. Just the other day, for example, I was contacted by a young player who told me:

I've almost read all your articles. Your articles helped me win gold in the inter colleges at province level.

Nevertheless, there are some things I'm not so happy with about the articles. They are a bit "academic" in tone and structure, which is not the best style for instructional material. They are often too long, and they try to be too comprehensive. But it's hard to be comprehensive when you have only a two-level structure and a hugely complex subject like badminton.

In general I feel the articles are organised too much like academic theses, instead of being organised around how players actually learn. To some extent, if you were being harsh, you could even say I was showing off how good I am at analysis; and while analytical skills are a good quality in a coach or educator, they are really something that should live in the background.

I also feel that videos are much better for learning most badminton skills. It's hard to understand many of these techniques unless you can see them. Of course, video is also the "product" for the website --- subscriptions are the only thing that pays me back for all the time I put in (and so far, they don't even come close to paying me back).

The trouble is, there's always been an awkward tension between the videos and the articles. The articles are meant to help everyone, but they also serve as "advertising" for the videos. To that end, my video planning was based around the idea of "slotting videos into articles". I would first write the article, and later make videos for bits of it.

This approach has several problems. The videos were not being designed properly: I was asking the wrong questions when planning a video. Instead of asking, "what would make a good video in this topic?", I was asking, "how can I make a video that will fit in this article?" Consequently, the videos suffered from the same structural issues as the articles, but those issues are worse in a video, where you can't easily skip through the content.

To highlight the existence of videos on a topic, I embedded them in the articles. But the embedded video boxes were small, because I didn't want them to dominate the article. The videos also needed "a place to live" on their own, so they had their own pages too in the videos section. This led to the website navigation asking people to choose between articles and videos. But why ask that question? I don't think people are really that interested in choosing between articles and videos. I think they just want to find useful content on a topic of interest to them. The primary navigation choice of articles vs. videos is clunky and it doesn't help the player.

Rethinking it all

Late last year, my dad and I hashed out all these issues and arrived at a new plan for content. Our plan is based on three main ideas:

  • Content should be "video first", not "article first".
  • Content should be broken into smaller pieces.
  • The content structure should be organised by topics, not by content type.

"Video first" content

My content has been created "article first" for historical reasons. Articles are where I started; articles are where I felt confident; articles have brought the most traffic to the site.

But I believe video can be far superior to text alone. Video is also the "product", and it's daft to run a business where the product takes such an apologetic, background role!

At this point, I expect some readers are feeling troubled. Maybe you think I'm going to "cash in" and make the Badminton Bible a paid-only resource with only token free content? I can understand the worry, but it's not going to happen.

Removing free content would make me unhappy. I didn't start this project to make money; for that matter, I didn't get into badminton coaching for the money! But removing content would also be bad for business. It is the free content that brings in traffic. The more people come to the site, the bigger my "shop window".

It's going to work the other way around. Every video will come with free text, describing the video content. And as the video library grows, we will also increase the number of free videos. Obviously we're not going to make them all free: then no one would subscribe and, with no money coming in, the production of new videos would grind to a halt (again). Currently we have a target of about 10% free videos.

Switching our video hosting to Vimeo helps here, because I no longer have to worry about bandwidth costs. No matter how many people are watching the free videos, I get charged the same fixed amount. That means I can put up as many free videos as I want, without destroying the business with huge bandwidth bills.

Breaking content into smaller pieces

Some of the articles and videos are way too long and unfocused. The worst example is the lift technique details video, which is a 25 minute laundry-list ramble. Yes, there is some good advice in there; but it's just too hard to digest in that format, and there's a lot of repetition or overlap with other content. I was grinding my teeth when I reviewed that one in our content audit.

Instead, we plan to break content into shorter, more focused videos. Typically we will be aiming for around 2 -- 5 minutes per video. Of course, it depends on the nature of the topic, and we're not going to be completely strict about that target. But if a video is running much over 5 minutes, it may benefit from being split.

This is not about removing detail. You can have the same amount of detail, but divide it between more videos. Doing so opens up many opportunities for organising content so that players can find what they need, which becomes increasingly important as the amount of content grows. Already, with about 40 videos, organisation is becoming a problem. Now imagine it with 400 videos...

Organising content primarily by topic, not type

The top-level navigation will no longer include "videos" and "articles". Instead, the top-level choices will be topic categories. Initially we'll have "shots", "footwork", and "tactics". Later we may add others, such as "fitness" and "mental training".

Breaking the content into smaller pieces also means you have more individual pages. To keep things organised and simple to navigate, we will use a tree structure. For example, you might find a page by drilling down like this:

Shots > Smash defence > Basics > How far back should you stand in defence?

Nowadays you don't see many websites structuring content like this. I think that's probably due to the popularity of Wordpress and the blogging approach. For topical (time sensitive) content like news, a blog structure works great. For "evergreen" content, not so much.

Having made a content management system for myself, I can also testify that, from a programming point of view, it's much harder to implement this structure. Maybe that's another reason you don't often see it. Hopefully it will be worth the effort!

Transitioning the old content

The existing videos fit reasonably well into the new content structure. Okay, they're not always as focused as I would like, but it works.

The articles are different. It's not practical for me to "import" them into the new structure, because they have so much text. Perhaps more fundamentally, the monolithic style of the articles just doesn't fit with the idea of breaking content into smaller pieces.

For now, the articles are not being replaced or moved. They will stay where they are, but I am providing links from the new content structure to the articles. This isn't perfect, because it means the articles exist in a kind of "legacy content silo". But at least I won't break anything!

Of course, article and video content often overlaps. I will be highlighting this in the articles, so people can easily find videos on the same topic. I feel this is better than cutting out chunks from the articles.

Eventually, if everything goes well, I hope to replace every single video and article with improved content. But that is a big task. It's also wise to take it slowly and see how people react to the new approach.