In many areas of our lives, we are all guilty at times of concentrating too much on form over function. Whilst we need to make sure that our websites look great and are easy to navigate, this can’t be at the expense of something else. The first attraction to visitors might be visual, but it’s the sparkling conversation that will keep people coming back for more.
Why content is key
The idea of implementing a content strategy will often be ignored because we don’t think we have the time, or we are under the impression that what we already have ‘will do’. Even where time is spent thinking about content, it suffers from a lack of consistency of approach and investment, both time based and financial.
Whilst we’re going to concentrate on writing for the web, high quality content spreads wide and takes on many forms - photography, illustrations, audio, apps and widgets to name but a few. The benefits of investing in your content are tangible results - it helps keep your brand at front of mind, increases user engagement, consistency in your brand proposition and improves search engine optimisation (SEO).
Writing great content for the web is a real skill. However, by following the few simple steps below you won’t go far wrong.
1. Who are you writing for?
Whilst this is your website, you’re not the one who will be reading what you have to say. You may believe what you’ve written is fantastic, but is it actually what your visitors want to know?
Before you start putting pen to paper it’s well worth spending some time to consider who your audience are. If you can, talking to your customers is essential. If this option isn’t available, talk to the teams around the office, especially those who spend time with your end user, to start to build up a profile.
Ask yourself some simple questions and use the answers to think about how you would talk to this person if they were sitting in front of you. You may want to consider
- Customer Demographics - are they young/old, male/female?
- Tone of voice - How do they want to be spoken to?
- Where are they - in front of a screen in an office, relaxing on the sofa at home, on public transport whilst commuting?
- Purpose of visit - What are they trying to do and how can your website help?
2. What is the page’s objective?
Once you know who you are talking to, and before you start writing, consider what it is you want the user to do on each page. This could be a whole host of things, and even on a transactional website it doesn’t always have to be about getting them to the checkout stage. But you do want to elicit a response. It might be to guide them onto further reading, sign up for a newsletter or even just to put a smile on their face!
3. Write for the user, not for SEO
Whilst there are tangible SEO benefits to having great content on your website, you still have to write the content for the user, not the search engine. This has been reflected in recent updates to parts of the Google search algorithms (widely known as Panda) which dictates the order in which pages appear in search results. Panda focuses primarily on rewarding sites with high quality content – someone who speaks with a true authority on a subject, and penalises those concentrating too much on the search engines themselves.
You need to consider:
- Would you trust the information in the article?
- Is the article useful and informative and does it go past just regurgitating the obvious? Does it give original analysis and insight on the subject?
- Does it add more value to the topic than the other pages that turn up on the same search results?
- Does it have any basic errors such as spelling mistakes or factually incorrect information?
4. Creating your content
Once you have considered all of the above, its time to start constructing your page content. One mistake commonly made is the need to present every piece of information as early as possible. The result is to overload the reader with so much that they switch off and disengage. This is quite often seen in email marketing where whole articles are posted, rather than providing the reader with a synopsis – and then the ability to read more if it catches their interest.
To overcome this issue, put the most important pieces of information right at the beginning in short, brief, paragraphs. This way a reader can:
- Scan all the information,
- Know what the page is about
- Decide whether they want to carry on reading.
You can then guide the reader into the subject in much greater detail. Good examples of this can be seen on almost any news outlet websites.
Keeping your customer profile in mind will help ensure that the language and tone of voice you employ will be appropriately targeted. Again, this is where the news industry gives us some nice examples. Pick up a copy of The Sun and The Times (both owned by the same organisation) you will see how the same news story can be written in completely different ways.
5. Show - don’t tell
It’s always worth considering how you can support or demonstrate your written word using other media. Taking into account the page objective you set earlier, could you use images, video or infographics to help guide the user towards that end goal? With the likes of YouTube and Vimeo, incorporating video into your site has never been easier. Setting up your own channel only takes a few minutes to do and gives you a great portal to collect all your video content in one place.
6. Frequency & timing
Creating a fantastic piece of content isn’t the final piece of the puzzle, there needs to be a regular stream of updates. How often this needs to happen will very much depend on the individual company and marketplace, but generally the more frequent the better.
To help ensure you always have fresh new content to add it is well worth putting together a publishing calendar. This will let you visualise how often new content will be added, clearly define who is responsible for each and to identify where there will be gaps. It will also help you create time relevant content, for example we know for certain when Easter, Christmas and Bank Holidays fall throughout the year.
There will also be weeks or months throughout the year, specific to your industry that will be critical to success. You may want to increase the frequency in these periods or change the focus of what you are talking about.
Generating high quality content for your website is often the first thing to be dropped when budgets and resources are being trimmed, however it shouldn’t be seen as a nice to have - it can positively affect how people find your website and it enhances the user experience.
Great content can generate a good number of inbound links and referral traffic to your site. By becoming an authority on a subject or industry more people will share and direct traffic to your website will rise – again increasing the SEO benefit. You can help increase your reach by using social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, Google+ et al. They provide a great opportunity to distribute free links to your content and to drive traffic, whilst also sharing knowledge and creating relationships.
But writing for the web is a skill. Using in-house resources for content generation has it benefits, who else knows your organisation/market better than you? However, passing the responsibility for this around internal teams will provide varying levels of success as everyone adds their own tone and emphasis.
To get the full benefit of great content, you could consider investing in training for specific members of staff within your company or recruit an editor to focus on producing great content. Alternatively, there are a number of good copywriting services available externally too.
Whichever route you choose, don’t let your content strategy become the forgotten child - you’ll be amazed at what it can do for the success of your website.
Sound on the Web - the invisible other half Using sounds to enhance the online user experience
Google Advice on offering high quality content (PDF)
Amazon.co.uk There are number of books available on writing content for the web