So, let’s start by recapping what we covered in the first article in this series.
The basic message – it’s all about content, and planning.
If you were writing a novel, you’d think through the plot and jot down all the key points before you actually put fingers to keyboard and started typing. Same with a website – be sure to plan before you start actual development. Not only will it save you going crazy through getting part way, realising it’s wrong, ripping it up and starting again, but it will save hours or days of time and, if you’re contracting development to a web designer, lots of money too.
Rather than “plot”, we call this Content Strategy. Trust me – it’s really worth taking the time to think this through properly. As I wrote last time, there are 6 fundamentals you need to address. All of them seem blindingly obvious – but, as I’m sure you’ve seen for yourself from looking at other business’s websites, most overlook one or more of them. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
1. What audience do you want to attract?
Lots of questions here. Are they the “general public” or other business professionals? Do they fall into a specific age category? Are they likely to be all from a single country or are you expecting an international audience?
Whatever the answers are, you’ll want your website to be attractive and engaging. However, you need to think about it from the perspective of your chosen audience – and, especially if you yourself aren’t a typical example of the species, you should canvass opinion from others who do fit the profile.
Your audience profile will influence three critical aspects of your website.
Almost everybody commissioning a new website agonises over fonts and colours. Despite spending so much time and effort, so many get it wrong. Wrong from the perspective that they might think it’s attractive – but their prospective customers don’t.
Others rely on standard templates, such as those available for WordPress, and leave the fonts and colours unchanged – either on the assumption that they must be a good choice, or perhaps through laziness. As a result, their websites end up looking almost exactly the same as other ones – lots of other ones. That’s a real turn-off, because a prospective customer skimming through websites will simply look at the home page, think “oh, I’ve seen that one before” and go elsewhere.
But don’t spend too much time on the design just yet – that can come later. What we’re after first is completing the Content Strategy.
You may plan lots of pictures for your website – but what will really engage your audience are the words. Needless to say, you’ll need to be sure the spelling and grammar are correct (but don’t rely on Word or other software tools alone!).
It’s critical that the text (especially the longer bits) are in a prose style that will engage your audience. If they’re academics, or perhaps legal or medical professionals, they may expect long detailed sentences and long technical words – indeed, if they’re not there, they may think that your offering is too simplistic for them.
Most people, however, want it kept simple. Straight to the point. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. A reader’s attention span on a website is much shorter than when reading a book or an article. Forget what you were taught at school about engaging the reader with the first paragraph. It’s the first sentence that counts here.
These points are even more important if your website will be translated into other languages or needs to be understood by those whose first language isn’t English. The simpler you make it, the less likely you are to be misunderstood or mistranslated.
What content do you want your audience to find on your website? How can you make sure that they will find it – easily and quickly?
2. How will they find your website?
You might not need uninvited new viewers of your content. If, for example, your website is only going to include material intended for existing customers – or new ones that you’ll provide the domain link to – then your answer to this question might simply be “we’ll send them the link”.
Most probably, though, you will want to attract a new audience – people who will find your website through a Google search.
And for that to work, you’ll need to think about SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. Now that’s a real dark art – basically, it means constructing your web pages so that Google and other search engines “find” them and put them high in their page rankings. Whatever others tell you, there is no known way of ensuring that your web pages are the first ones that a searcher finds. But there are definitely things that you can do to help, and you can start right now when planning your Content Strategy.
All the experts agree that successful SEO starts with a few key elements
- Good clear titles that explain exactly what’s on the page – using key words (the ones that people searching for you are most likely to use)
- Adequate text – at least 300 words per page
- Put the subject matter clearly in the very first paragraph and keep repeating the title and those key words
- Put links to the titles of each page on other pages on your website
For your Content Strategy you have to list the pages that you want anyway – so this is a great time to start thinking of the best titles. If you’ve already got text for the page, check it and see if it’s going to meet these SEO objectives or if you’ll need to rewrite it. If it’s not written yet, draft the first paragraph or “bullet points” now.
3. What is the primary purpose of the website – selling (e-commerce) or informing?
If you want people to buy straight off the website – e-commerce – then there’s just three basic laws.
One, make it easy to find everything you have to sell.
Two, make every product look as compelling as possible, and provide enough detail so that the customer knows that it’s exactly what he or she is looking for.
Three, make it easy to buy!! That basically means that, once the customer has decided to buy, there’s a minimum of hassle – minimum of forms and fields to fill, minimum of clicks.
If you’re selling a service or a bespoke product that needs to be quoted individually, you still need to make it easy to buy – or at least to get more information. Put a click-through opportunity to request more information on every page, and think about using forms so your potential customer can provide you with at least some of the information you need.
What if you’re just informing? Don’t need to bother with all that, right? Not so quick…. Although you may not be selling anything directly off the website, you are always selling your brand and expertise. So there’s still value in putting that click-through opportunity for more information on every page.
4. What action do you want every visitor to your website to take?
You might not have a specific action in mind – but you’ll certainly agree that you don’t want the visitor to simply look and go away.
Ideally you’ll want to know who has visited. Can you ask for their email address at an early stage in their browsing of your web site? They may not give you a true address, of course, and you can’t force them to give you one at all – but most people don’t object. Having a prompt like that also helps get site visitor traffic – though there are several sophisticated tools and services that can do that for you.
If it’s going to be an e-commerce site, of course, you want the visitor to buy something. What can you do if they don’t? Consider building your site using tools that don’t let visitors leave without an “are you sure?” pop-up. If you offer a range of similar products, perhaps suggest alternatives to the ones they were looking at. There are several web tools that make this easy to implement.
Even if your site just informs, consider what you can get your visitor to do before they leave it. Maybe a pop-up asking “did you get the information you were looking for?” or, better, “can we send you more information?”,
If you’re posting blogs, invite “likes”, “comments” and “shares” for every one. If your website will contain articles, instructions or downloadable documents, you might consider adding a “was this useful?” on every page.
5. How will you measure success?
You’re putting a lot of effort and money into your web site. You’re doing it because you want results – tangible sales or other business improvements. And, once complete, you’ll expect your web site to go on giving for at least the next few years.
If it’s e-commerce, success is easy to measure. Setting KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – is a doddle. You just need to measure how many visit each page of your site, how many buy (and how many don’t) and how much they spend.
If you’re just out to inform, KPIs are more difficult. Yes, you can count the visitors to each page easily enough – but not the additional sales that result. That’s where those calls to action come into their own – the ones that I was explaining in point 4 above.
You might think that this is a topic that you don’t need to fret about just yet. However, it’s a true fundamental of Content Strategy. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, why are you planning a web site? And if you’ll never know what you achieved, how will you know that all your hard work and investment was worthwhile?
6. How will you measure failure? (the times that people you want to click through look at your website but don’t engage)
Nobody wants to fail. But, let’s face it, we all do from time to time. When we do, it’s best to admit we got it wrong, and fix it or even start again.
You want your website to succeed – and the same principles apply.
However, the most likely situation is that some pages on your website get lots of views and engagement, whilst others get skipped or ignored. So it’s really important that you know the results for each page, and that your web site is designed so that you can replace “failing” pages quickly and easily.
You’ll need to differentiate between the pages that fail because viewers don’t engage, and those that fail simply because they are rarely or never found.
It’s usually easy to resolve those “lost” pages. Either there are no links to them from other pages on the site, or the links are unclear or obscured in some way – or mention the “lost” page in a way that just doesn’t seem interesting to the viewer.
The pages that just don’t engage are more problematic. Perhaps they are out of date, or the text isn’t interesting.
Well, you haven’t built the website yet, so you don’t need to fix failing pages! But you will, and what you need to do as part of your Content Strategy is plan how to measure failure and fix it promptly. It’s important – one mouldy page can spread its influence across the whole web site; if the viewer finds it first, they may ignore the rest of the site, however good it is.
Lots to think about and plan! I hope these thoughts help you plan your own Content Strategy and get ready to actually start preparing content and constructing the website. At last! We’ll get to that in the next article in this series – right now, get back to your Content Strategy!