In the last blog I looked at the importance of keeping your site updated and the reasons for that. To be honest, few people would argue with the principle. Where arguments tend to arise is with the nature of these updates. I thought it would be helpful to give some thoughts on creating effective website content.

It may be useful to define what I mean by ‘content’. It’s quite a vague term and can cover different media (e.g. text, audio, video), and different formats (e.g. a blog post, an offer or competition, a podcast). Most of the examples in this post are given with written content in mind but the points can apply to most media and formats.

Whatever methods are used, the key is to make sure your content is clear and focussed, carefully created, useful and stimulating.

Clear & focussed

Hippocrates said “the chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.” In other words, unless your audience is a select band of geeks, avoid the jargon. None of us likes feeling stupid and we resent those who make us feel dumb, so keep the message clear and your language understandable.

Focus is vital to any content, both in the message and the target. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and then say it. Don’t try to cover everything at once; you’ll have plenty of opportunities to say more in future updates. Equally, know your audience. Understand who they are and, more importantly, what they want.

Carefully created

This is an area where a worrying number of businesses fall down. Typos, poor grammar, dire ‘jokes’, and dull prose plague many sites and present companies as amateur and, at times, incompetent. Take time to produce the content and don’t give in to the temptation to just ‘get something out there’. Once something’s out there it’s not coming back – people can take snapshots, forward links and archive at an alarming rate! At the very least, make sure you get a couple of people to read over your content; between the three of you any errors should be found.

Useful

You have to make your content worth your visitors’ time. If you fill it with sales talk users will spot it a mile off and leave. By all means mention your product but do so in a way that is relevant and interesting.

If you are referring to a news story that touches on your industry then give your angle on it, don’t just copy and paste it. For one plagiarism will likely annoy the author, but it also adds nothing of interest or value for the reader.

Stimulating

The final key ingredient for quality content is the trickiest to get right, but it gets to the heart of the matter. Your content should elicit a response. Whether that response is a comment, a forwarded link or a purchase, you want the user to do something.

Whatever your desired response, it should be part of your content strategy rather than a happy accident. Think about what you want the user to do as a result of engaging with the content, and then help them make that move. You don’t need to force the issue, but hints or signs can be used to encourage users to act.

Finally

I have a feeling one common response to this article will be ‘easier said than done’. True, but creating and maintaining a successful website is rarely easy.

If you really want to take things seriously, get a professional copywriter involved. You employed a professional web designer (I hope!) so why treat the content of the site with any less care? I mentioned Fiona Nicolson (of Chameleon Media) in the last post and make no apologies for repeating the recommendation! But whoever you use, make sure they have a proven track record (ask to see examples of their work) and try to find someone who has experience in your industry.

Whether you employ a professional or manage your content strategy yourself, get the four key elements right and you’ll see visitor numbers rise, along with your standing in the marketplace.

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