I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately in many of the web pages that appear; get excited about creating a website, have it designed, and… leave it empty.
This is doing your business no good. Having a website is a great idea; leaving your page to then sit without content is not a great idea. In fact, on top of harming your company’s image, it’s probably making it more difficult for you to come up in search results.
What counts as content?
Content is not just pretty photographs or illustrations. It’s not the menu, or the three-line sentence that your index page (the first page people see on your website) displays, nor is it your contact info. Content is meaningful, searchable, well-written text – peppered with a few images – that describes what your company is about, how it began, its mission statement, the products or services you sell, provides news or other form of updates on your progress as a company and urges your visitors to contact you or buy from you.
What meaningful content can do for you
All of this is important when your site is being visited by new customers that do not know you personally, and are interested in what you offer. It is important because including fleshed-out text that outlines the above will:
- create a directed vision of your company and the person/people behind it (ie: your brand);
- engender trust and goodwill within the potential customer;
- through the above, show visitors that your company knows what it is doing, is trustworthy and can, in fact, provide services and products to solve the problems they are seeking solutions for when they find your site.
You may be thinking, I have a targeted audience and usually know the people who visit my site – how can this apply to me? Remember that your brand on the web is now just as important as your brand in person. Showing a commitment to your website by adding new, relevant content on a regular basis will show that you are organised and dedicated to your business. This can do nothing but inspire confidence in potential customers.
Content every website should have
The typical content pages I would recommend setting up are:
- The introduction to your site1: begin with a short overview that explains what solutions your company provides. The index page of your site is the one most frequently entered upon by visitors through search engines and other external links; I recommend that you put your news on this page as well. With news on the first page, Google is much more likely to be aware that your site is updated regularly. Another benefit is that it allows return visitors to see new content on the very first click.
- About us: this is the opportunity for you to wax philosophical about your company. Go nuts! Explain where you came from, who’s behind your business, why you’re in the field you’re in, and where you want to go. Breaking down this information with subheadings such as “Our History”, “Mission Statement”, “Staff Bios” etc. is a great idea to help people scan to the information they want to read about you.
- Products and/or Services: this page (or these pages) should expound what you know and love: the product and/or service your business offers. This is where you can show photographs of your product or service in action, with detailed captions. Try to hire a professional photographer2 to compose well-lit, interesting shots. Remember: everything you put on your website is building your brand.
Other content pages I would suggest including:
- Photo albums: these don’t have to be only for personal use or to display professional photography. A number of my clients incorporate photo albums into their websites:
- Dog Lounge has a photo album to show the environment in which the pets are taken care of.
- Building Blocks Nursery School has photo albums that give a tour of the school and show special field trips or holidays celebrated.
- Melissa Munroe has photo galleries not just for her professional photography shoots, but also to display her past modeling experiences.
It’s not hard to see why these photo albums work for these business owners. If you provide services for events or productions, a great idea is to include a photo gallery of successful past events.
- Articles you’ve written: chances are you have a passion for the industry in which your business resides. If so, it’s a good idea to write about it: help your customers use your product better; tutor them on how to make the most of your services (kind of like what I’m doing in this article…); draw your competitors to your site by critiquing the latest industry happenings; write a report on that successful promotion you just wrapped up. Whatever you do with this section, make sure it is informed, well-written and relevant to your business. The same goes for all pages on your site – just remember not to stray too far from your industry if you decide to write articles.
- Blogs: More companies are using blogs to keep in touch with their customer base these days. Blogs contain writing that is slightly less formal with a more human touch than articles or news sections would contain. They are a current trend and may be right for you to implement. It all depends on how you feel about them, whether you want to update more often than weekly, and how savvy you are at using rich-text editors such as Word.
Setting aside time to write
So, the number one reason you haven’t got any content on your website is that you have no time to write it. My advice? Begin to budget time for it, weekly. Your website copy is just as, if not more, important than your print collateral: it has the potential to reach a much wider audience than print flyers, and to project far more information about your company and its products or services than any flyer or brochure could provide.
If you’re beginning to embark on the task of content-creation for your entire site, consider these points:
- Decide what information is most important – and tackle that first. This means writing up a list of all the information you want to provide on your website, and then prioritising it based on what you a) want your visitors to know about you, and b) know that your visitors are seeking. That way, you get your important information on your website faster, and can boost it with smaller, less essential items as you move along.
- Keep the writing targeted towards your market. Depending on whom you are selling to, this could mean using industry-specific keywords, or distilling your phrases to laymen’s terms.
- Use plenty of descriptive subheadings, and keep paragraphs short. This will allow users to scan the text quickly and find what they are looking for. It’s a fact – people read less these days. Instead, they scan, picking up key information from words and phrases that stand out. Subheadings help with this. Bullet points help with this (but don’t overkill this technique – a well-written paragraph is always pleasant to read too).
- Develop a voice. Are you a mom-and-pop shop, trying to appeal to down-to-earth consumers? A medium-sized company doing business with smaller ones? Do you work directly with clients? Are you aiming for a market that appreciates crass humour? Make sure the voice reflects you and your business’s core values, but also maintains a level of professional detachment.
Keeping the content fresh
Once you have your core content, it’s time to think about how to keep your website up to date. If you have fee schedules, calendars of events, newsletters or anything that changes over time, it is essential to keep on top of them. Whenever you change that file on your computer, have your web designer change it on your website. Dated material on a website begins to cast a negative glow over your brand: the older the date, the less impactful and less credible your site will seem. Think about it: if you go to a website that lists something from 2004 and nothing newer, don’t you quickly move on?
If you go with a blog or a news section, be sure to update it at least weekly.
Content gets you everywhere
If you’ve got a website for your business, content is a necessity. Spend the time, or the money if you must hire someone else to do it for you, to have well-written, informed content that portrays your business in the appropriate light. Work on your voice and phrasing. Keep it relevant and up to date, and in the end you will gain the trust and confidence of your potential customers. The saying is true, as ever: the more effort you make, the more you get out of your endeavours.
1A note on splash pages: these are highly recommended against these days. It used to be very popular to put a sort of “curtain” page between your website and the page that it was entered from. However, this practice is now highly frowned upon in web design: and for good reason. These pages place a barrier between your visitors and the content you want them to access. People have less patience these days and will quickly leave your site if they have to click too many times to find the information they want. Related to this is search engine placement. You want to be placed higher in the results and therefore you need a meaningful, content-driven home page, that is updated often. Splash pages mask that access for the search engine.
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2I recommend the services of Melissa Munroe, a professional photographer based in Toronto, Ontario.
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If you want to learn more about writing for the web specifically, I recommend:
- Writing for the web: [Geek’s Edition] or [Writer’s Edition]. I own the Writer’s Edition, and I’m not too sure why there are two versions or how they differ – or, for that matter, why I considered myself a writer more than a geek when I picked up this book. In any case, it’s been an excellent resource for me.
- Writing for the Web: the blog of the author of the above book, found quite by accident and happily added to this list.
- eClass: Writing and Editing for the Web, Circa 2006: MediaBistro offers writing courses over the web, and this one specifically targets how to write content for websites.