Website content matters. Possibly more than many businesses appreciate. The words you use make all the difference to whether anyone can find your site and to what they do when they get there.
Yet I often look at business websites and wonder just how much thought and effort went into creating the copy.
If you’re having a new site put together, refreshing your existing one, or perhaps wondering why your on-line presence isn’t delivering the results you expected, here are a few questions and suggestions that could help you do a better job.
Don’t Think About your Business
Your first instinct when planning the content for your site is probably to think about your business and to start listing all of the things you sell. You will then hopefully start thinking about how these products or services can be grouped and presented so that they are easy to navigate and make sense to your customers.
If this is what you do, your new website could be scuppered before you’ve begun!
Try making the customers you want to attract your starting point – before you even think about what you are going to write.
Things to think about:
- If you’re selling to businesses, what size of business are you targeting? What expectations are they likely to have in terms of the professionalism of your marketing? A similar argument applies if you’re selling directly to consumers.
- Are there some defining characteristics for your target customers that will help you choose the right words and focus your content on the appropriate audience? Our target audience is people or businesses who want to…
- What will be motivating somebody to look for what you sell? Try to list 5 or 6 circumstances that would cause somebody to search for your products or services and would particularly attract them to your business.
Aim to use these ‘themes’ throughout your content. You might find that these themes are a better way to organise your content than providing the standard ‘description of what you do’ approach based around product or service categories.
Here’s something else you might notice. When you focus on themes and things that really matter to your customers you’ll probably find that many of the things you’d intended to include are insignificant details. They won’t have any influence on whether or not potential customers decide to get in touch and can be safely left out.
When your vision of who you want to sell to is as sharp as a freshly unwrapped razor blade you are ready to create your content map.
If you are selling services, try to avoid the easy and convenient content map that groups services under a descriptive title (eg Audit, if you’re an accountant). Think about what your clients want to achieve by using your services and define and present them in those terms.
This might be harder work for you but it makes it easier for customers to relate the relevance of your offer to their situation and challenges.
Who and When?
The next step for most businesses is to decide which lucky members of the team get to write the content.
Sometimes you’ll find somebody who is keen to do it (which doesn’t guarantee they’ll be any good at it), and sometimes there has to be a bit of arm twisting.
If you are writing your own content (as most SMEs do), who’s going to do it? You? A member of your team? How much ‘spare’ time do they currently have? If they are fully occupied, what are they going to stop doing in order to get the content written?
Why this matters: Any web designer will tell you their biggest frustration and the biggest cause of delay is waiting for content from their client. The record from conversations I’ve had with designers currently stands at 18 months (can anyone beat that?).
I’ll leave you to work out the opportunity cost. Also, how effective is the content likely to be if it’s been ‘bashed out’ because the web designer is running out of patience?
Website copywriters who are experienced at putting content together still have to take a lot of time and care to perfect the words. They know that a simple word change can transform the impact of an entire paragraph and make a vital emotional connection with your customers; finding the right voice for your business is never easy – even for a professional.
And if professionals find it difficult – what does this mean for an amateur and how long they will need to create truly effective content?
How Well do you Understand SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation is increasingly intertwined with content, to the extent that you cannot have an effective optimisation strategy that doesn’t have content at its core.
Once you could buy in SEO as a purely technical service. Knowledge of how to optimise a site, fill it with the right keywords and procure back-links could get almost any site to rank highly in Google.
There’s still an important technical element in SEO but it’s now much more about creating valuable content and effective promotion through on-line networks. Trust, authority and reputation are becoming the main levers for improving search ranking and your content will be critical in earning these attributes.
You should have access to some keyword research that will give you insights into what people are really searching for. It helps your visibility when you structure your website content around the questions that people are asking. But it’s more than just shoe-horning the keywords into any old content – you have to give convincing answers to those questions.
Writing intelligent and SEO friendly meta title and description tags is not easy. Integrating keywords into content in the most effective way, while still creating natural and easy-to-read copy requires skill. Is it reasonable to expect somebody who is taking a break from the day job to get this right?
Why this matters: Is there any point in having a website that nobody can find? Structure, usability and the reader’s experience are as important as selecting the right keywords in getting your site to rank well in Google. There’s no quick fix for this – despite what several emails in your inbox may be claiming.
Can you be Objective about your Business?
Your business may well be one of the big passions in your life. You are bound up in it and you are excited about your capabilities and your opportunities. Will a potential customer have quite the same perspective?
Sure, they want to know that you care about what you do – but they really want to know what you are going to do for them. Standing back and seeing what matters from an outsider’s perspective is difficult.
Why this matters: Content that engages and persuades is the difference between ‘having a website’ and having a website that makes a positive contribution to your business growth. An external resource will inevitably see your business differently.
This often makes it easier to identify and emphasize the critical arguments that will attract and persuade your target customers.
How confident are you in your ability?
However you choose to produce the content, your website is a significant investment. It’s not just the money that you pay for design and hosting, it’s also the time that your organisation has to put in to make it happen.
Design matters; but even with the best design in the world your website will stand or fall on how easy it is to find – and how well it engages and persuades your target customers. Creating readable, engaging, persuasive and search-friendly content is quite an undertaking. Are you confident that you have the skills in-house to do all of that?
Why this matters: Writing is a bit like driving: people are reluctant to admit that somebody may be better at it than they are. But, while I can drive competently, I’m happy to acknowledge that Lewis Hamilton is a more skilled driver than me (there, I’ve said it). Choosing to write your own content might be like Mercedes asking me to drive their F1 car – both likely to result in a big crash and disappointment!
Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger and Content Marketer