An empty house can be strong in its foundations, and well maintained, but without furniture, fittings and family it is still only an empty house. Content makes it a home. Content is everything – as it is with a website. It is a fact of online life that a well-produced website with poor content will always fall behind a badly produced website with excellent content. Browsers are online for a reason, and that reason is content.
Good content engages the audience. While delivering a message is paramount, it is just as important to consider the way in which that message is delivered. This can start with such basic considerations as grammar and spelling. If your site is designed to present you as an expert in your field, how much negative impact on your prowess do you think the spelling mistakes and missed punctuation will have? Illiteracy is not a desirable skill and it doesn’t pay to underestimate your audience and assume they won’t pick up on it.
Nor should your content outstay its welcome. In this age of diminished attention spans, nothing sends a user fleeing for the hills like a great wall of insurmountable text, with nothing to break it up. The user experience (UX) is essential to the success of your site. If you have a point to make, don’t waste time getting to it. This will only serve to test your audience’s patience.
The web is constantly changing, and with it the way in which content should be prepared. This is the age of social media and sharing, and content which can be easily shared between users will always have the biggest impact. It is time to view your content as something that can live beyond the confines of your site. Good content travels, and with it your brand name.
CREATE A PLAN
Planning your content strategy is essential – but it is worth considering certain factors before diving in
When it comes to the creation of websites, there are endless tutorials that can be found online dedicated to designing and building the perfect site structure. Web design and web development practices are being constantly perfected, updated and refined. However, there is one area of web creation that too often remains ill-considered and badly planned – the content itself. Content is the driving force behind any website. It doesn’t matter how well-built and functional your site structure is, if the content it houses is sub-standard and fails to do the job for which it is intended, you’ve wasted your time.
Creation and analysis of web content should be as important a primary stage of the development of a website as determining the technology in which the site will be built, but quite often the content is treated as a secondary concern. When you think about it, this really makes no sense at all. The content is the reason that the site exists in the first place. People have come to your site for a reason, and it’s not to click those perfectly scripted button animations or simply sit and watch the expertly executed page transitions you spent time on.
Your site only exists to deliver your content, so you have to question whether your content is the best it can be. For example, have you actually considered who your target audience is? This may well be one of the most overlooked and yet essential factors of content strategy. How can you design a site that will appeal to a group of people if you don’t know which people you are trying to attract? While you may be hoping to appeal to everyone, this will only make for an ineffective content strategy. Even if you are going for a more broad appeal, there are still ways of narrowing it down to a more manageable group – consider age range, for example.
Having identified the audience, you need to work out what would be the best way to communicate your message to them. Different audiences respond to different voices, ideas and media – and this can have a huge impact on the way your site eventually looks.
Following on from how you address your site visitors, the next step is determining exactly what the core message is that you are trying to get across to them. When the audience leaves your site, what should they take away from the experience? With a strong message, you can make a real impact on people.
Finally, you need to ensure that every item of content on your website has a defined purpose, otherwise there is no point in having it there. Every piece of content on your site should serve to reinforce your message and resonate with the target audience for maximum effect.
These are the main principles of content strategy, a series of best practices for creation, publishing and maintenance of web content. In this overview, we’ll go over these basics in a little more detail and demonstrate how you can prepare your content. Not just for your site, but for the benefit of your site’s audience.
A BASIC CONTENT STRATEGY PLAN
• Determine your audience
This is the most important starting point. Who is the content for? Who are you trying to attract to your site, service or product?
• Find your theme and message
What is the message that you want to communicate to site visitors? What do you want to tell or show to the audience you have identified?
• Develop the appropriate voice
What tone of voice will best deliver the message and resonate with the chosen audience, to bridge the gap between need and solution?
• Be useful
Does your content serve the purpose for which it is intended? Is it actually useful to those for whom you have identified a need?
• Maintain consistency
Is your content consistent in tone of voice throughout the site? Does your site communicate with one voice?
WHO IS THIS CONTENT FOR, ANYWAY??
Before you do anything else, it is vital that you understand who you are trying to reach
Understanding your audience is so vital, and so obvious a need for any business, that it may seem strange to even mention it. And yet, it is often skipped over by those who would rather assume that the site is there for the good of everybody who visits. While this may be a pleasing ideal, almost every business has a majority demographic they should be targeting.
The approach to identifying your key demographic depends a great deal on your business and available assets. If you already have a website and wish to improve on the content, then using Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools to track and measure your site’s visitors is an excellent way to build a profile. This can tell you where your site hits are coming from, and which parts of your site are proving the most popular.
However, those who are starting out on their first website will probably need a different approach. Customer surveys can be extremely useful for finding out data, if possible, either on the business premises or by an email campaign. Creating a social media presence for your business, such as on Facebook and Twitter, can give you access to your customer base, although this can take some time to build up. Larger businesses can go a step further and organise focus groups or engage the services of canvassing companies.
The main aim is to build a profile of the target customer. Create a character with likes and dislikes, habits and traits, budgetary constraints and needs. The more detail you are able to fill in, the easier it is to tailor your content to fit them perfectly.
GIVE YOUR CONTENT A PURPOSE
Your content is not an aimless idea, waiting to be noticed – it exists for a reason
Now that you have a good idea who your target audience is, you can start to think about how you are going to communicate with them and what it is you want to communicate. Usually, there is a service or product that is being promoted by the site. Your message must exist in the gap between your service and the customer’s need. That is the bridge your content needs to build, and finding the correct ‘tone of voice’ is key to building it.
Tone of voice is determined by the target customer profile. The key point to nail is that you communicate in a way that they understand. For example, does he/she respond better to an informal, conversational approach? Or would a reserved, professorial persona be more appealing? Is there a target age group in your demographic? If so, does that have some bearing on your tone of voice? If you’re targeting a younger audience, can you make your content more bite-size without dumbing down? It is absolutely vital that you get this right, so you don’t alienate your site visitors.
Once you have this tone of voice, it is important that you stick to it. Make sure that it is employed throughout the site – even down to the 404 Not Found page. This means that, if you have more than one or two people working on your content, there should be a style guide of some sort. Perhaps even a tone of voice persona, that matches well with the target audience.
Think about the different types of content you can make available. Would your target audience be more inclined to watch videos than read text? If you have a lot of text, is it easily readable? Would interactive elements, such as a forum or review facility, be a major advantage to your demographic or be deemed a tedious distraction? Add share buttons for social media and encourage users to pass your content on by all means, but avoid cluttering the page.
Above all, ensure that your content is useful. Better still, instructive. Every word, every image, every video, must be able to justify itself and contribute to the overall message. There’s absolutely no room for repetitive content, or useless content that is included by the business director for sentimental reasons.
THE STEPS TO A KILLER HEADLINE
Follow these tips to really make sure your headline is selling your content
GET THE LENGTH RIGHT
There is some difference of opinion on the length of the perfect headline. A short headline can be catchy and to the point, but make it too short and you’re probably not revealing the right amount of information to draw your readers in. A longer headline will give enough information, and include some useful keywords for SEO purposes, but make it too long and you not only risk falling victim to that limited attention span of web surfers nowadays, but revealing so much that you render the content beneath it pointless. The best approach is to keep it as short as possible, but do not neglect the following points in doing so.
UNLEASH ITS FULL POWER
Too often the headline is put together as an afterthought to the content, but in many ways it is the most important part of all. If it doesn’t entice, the content will never be seen. Use your headline to its full potential. Don’t undersell your content. Describe what it is to come. It may even help to make it seem like the reader will be losing out if they don’t read on. For example, if your content is all about your range of kitchen utensils, then try ‘How our range of kitchen utensils can save you time’. Now readers know that there is an advantage to reading on. Don’t be afraid of using a little hyperbole – this can help grab the audience’s attention.
INCLUDE A SUB-HEADLINE
A useful practice is to give your headline a sub-headline, an H2 tag to your headline’s H1. This can be used to offer a little more information or enticement without having to extend the length of the main headline. It can take the form of a short sentence or even a brief, bulleted, rundown of major points from the content. For example, you can follow ‘How our range of kitchen utensils can save you time’’ with ‘And they last a lifetime’. Or perhaps something simple and appealing like: ‘quicker to clean’ or ‘fully guaranteed’. You’ve now provided more enticements for the reader to stick with your content rather than click off somewhere else.
SEO AND GOOD CONTENT ARE LINKED MORE THAN EVER
Refreshing your content and updating regularly could see you ranked much higher in Google’s search results
SEO has moved on quite considerably over the last few years. Google’s quick-fire updates, with their endearing animal names, have left many once-solid SEO techniques either dead in the water or at the very least far less buoyant than they used to be. Blog comments, paid links, directory listings and link exchanges have all been rendered useless by Google’s algorithm updates.
While keywords and link-building still retain their importance, it is content that appears to be Google’s primary focus now. For this reason, it is absolutely imperative that your content is primed and prepared to appear relevant and informative in Google’s eyes.
These days the search engines are emphasising quality over quantity. They are looking for well-produced, useful content that adheres to the topics it claims to be catering for. This is why relevance is vital. Good spelling and grammar are also more important than ever – as is the variety of content types, such as images, video and infographics.
Google also favours content that is updated or added to on a regular basis, which is why so many business sites have now started to incorporate blogs into their web presence. This can be an especially helpful tool for those that struggle to update the core content of their website. Maintenance of a blog allows for regularly published content. Providing fresh content, combined with smart integration of keywords and social media networking, is one of the best SEO methods currently available to us. A Facebook, Twitter and Google+ extension of a brand is also invaluable.
But it is ‘natural’ optimisation that seems to be the SEO route for the future. This new direction by Google may have made life more difficult for SEO agencies in the short term, but it does make it much easier for site owners to include good SEO techniques in their own websites, without the need for external services. Plus, raising the quality of all web content ensures that the end user gets what they are looking for (as opposed to irrelevant content stuffed full of keywords) and a good experience, while your content is protected from future algorithm updates.
Well-written, relevant content that can be easily shared across social networks can get your site higher up the search rankings and seen by more prospective clients. It is well worth refreshing and regularly updating your site in order to finish higher up the search results.