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How to prepare good content for a website?

22-03-2013, Category Web Design

Your new website is just being built and now it’s time to write some content. How to do it best? How to make users interested in your offer and encourage them to make contact instead of getting them bored and losing them?


Photo by: April Killingsworth

Principles

Before you write the first word I’d like to teach you some basic principles of writing content for websites. Most of them can also be used outside the Internet.

When writing, consider your target group and always have in mind the purpose of the website

Surely you know well who the users of your company websites will be. Remember you write for them and not for you – put yourself into their shoes. Think whether a given piece of information can be really interesting for them. Try to use universal language and minimize the number of specialist terms and jargon.
Focus on the purpose your website is to serve. In the majority of cases the main purpose is to generate sales leads and so you have to write in a way that encourages users to make contact with your sales department.

Let the recipient feel they are the centre of attention

It’s about phrasing. Use a lot of phrases that refer to the reader, such as ‘you’, ‘your’, ‘for you’.
You are now probably thinking about how to write about your company, i.e. whether to use the first or the third person. There are supporters of both approaches. I belong to the camp that tend to write ‘we offer’ instead of ‘the company offers’. The choice is yours.

Do not copy content from other company materials

Content created for the purposes of the Internet is usually half the size of the printed content or less. That’s because we read texts on the screen and texts on the paper in different ways (more about that below). The text you will copy from a brochure will not only be inappropriate for online users but also its style won’t match other content on the website.
And don’t give in to the temptation to use the texts from the previous version of your website. You are building a new and modern one and so its content should be up to date.

Be concise and succinct

If you think you’re a kind of a literary wannabe try to suppress your appetite for writing or have the content written by a copywriter. Your pages are the place for facts and for no waffle. And also try to avoid marketing gibberish like in lousy commercials.
There are plenty of reasons why it’s not allowed for you. This one particular reason, however, should be enough: it’s likely that your prospects will visit your website as well as some websites of your competition. You really have little time to make them interested in your company and your offer.

Divide your text into smaller parts

Internet users tend to scan texts rather than read them all the way through.
Use subheadings and divide the text into paragraphs. Try to have one thought in one paragraph. Avoid long sentences that may cause your readers to lose the thread. It’s better to break one long sentence into several shorter ones.

Use lists

If necessary, don’t hesitate to use lists, be that bullet point lists or numbered lists. You may associate them with boring slide presentations. But lists within the content of a website have advantages only. They not only visually enrich the text blocks but also make it much easier for the recipients to read and remember the content.

Distance and opinions of others

When you have finished writing give yourself one day to have a rest and get back to the text after 24 hours. You’ll gain a fresh perspective and distance that will let you take a more critical look at your own work. After subsequent corrections get someone else to read your text.

Organization

Most probably it was already when your new website was designed that the agency persuaded you to involve representatives of different interested departments in the process. If not, then it’s your last chance now to invite them to cooperate and make them the co-owners of the project – instead of critics that they would surely become.
Apart from marketing communication, those who are most often interested in the website are the employees from product marketing, sales, public relations, human resources, supplies, customer service etc. Depending on the size of the company structure that can mean quite a number of people.
Your task at this stage – which is probably the hardest – is to gather source materials for different website sections. I say ‘source’ because the worst thing you can do is to publish texts received from different people. The website must speak one language. And this must be understood by most users.
That means that it’s your job to write (rewrite) the whole content if you don’t want to hire an external copywriter.

Structure

You surely planned the initial content structure already at the stage of defining website functionalities. If not, we still an assume that the CMS you implement allows you to freely manage the structure of subpages at several subpage levels.
When it comes to easy navigation, the best structure is the most flat structure, i.e. the most shallow structure, where most options can be chosen at one level. It’s, however, rarely the case that you can ‘fit’ in one subpage level. The more pieces of content you have, the more you should differentiate between them on the basis of their importance by appropriately exposing them or hiding them deeper. You can say that two subpage levels are a standard. The third level is a good place for detailed/in-depth information. The forth and subsequent levels are used in really exceptional cases where the amount of content is huge (portals).
When designing the content structure it’s best to make a tree – like the one in organisational charts. For that purpose you can use the software which is probably there on your disc and which you use very often: PowerPoint.

The tree illustrates the structure of subpages that can be accessed through basic website navigation (main menu). Sometimes a website may have additional navigation, e.g. the second menu used to navigate a developed structure of the product offer. Then you will need a separate tree.
On the tree, it’s good to mark additional connections between content pieces that appear on the pages in the form of ‘see also’ links. An example of such a connection can be a link on a subpage describing a product (under ‘Offer’) leading to a subpage showing examples of implementations (under ‘Realizations’).

Typical subpages

Here is a list of subpages you can find on almost every company website:

  • About us – business profile, history, quality policy and sometimes a presentation of managers.
  • Offer – description and list of products or services.
  • Clients (or, possibly, References or Realizations) – portfolio of clients and examples of implementations (case studies).
  • Career – information about company recruitment policy and current job offers.
  • News – current information about company activities, which is sometimes in the form of a blog.
  • Media – ‘press pack’ including materials for the media and sometimes separate press communications, if not the same as in News.
  • Contact us – contact details, sometimes with a map showing the way to your office and often with a contact form.
  • Legal notice – company registration data and sometimes also website use terms.
  • Privacy policy – information about what user data are gathered and about cookie files used.

Home

Website’s home page is the place where an immediate fight for the user’s attention takes place. The user must right away get to know where they are and decide whether they are interested in obtaining further information about the company. What works here best is an evocative graphics, short slogan and possibly a-few-sentences-long explanation.
You can also consider a slider with some sets of graphics and slogans displayed in turns – but you can’t show too many slides. It’s best when there are not more than three slides. And five slides are a limit you mustn’t exceed.
The slogans should explicitly present the company offer, possibly with the help of a short explanation below. And apart from that it’s necessary to have a call-to-action, i.e. a button that leads you further.

Link subpages

Sometimes – in a website structure with more than one subpage level – there are subpages where you don’t know what to write. For example, in the main menu you have ‘Bikes’ and the options below are: ‘Mountain bikes’, ‘Road bikes’ and ‘Bikes for kids’.
What should you write under ‘Bikes’?
You’ve got three options:
a) write a general text about bikes, for want of anything better,
b) put only large graphic links (banners) leading to subpages,
c) write nothing and show no subpage at all (an option available only with drop-down menu).
From my observation option a) is the most common.

Content subpages

Whatever you are writing about – be it company history, cooperation or clients – make every effort not to bore your reader. The user will read your text only if they find it interesting.
For example, when writing about history you really can skip events that are important only for you, such as a move to the new office. Write about things that might be of any significance to the reader – as far as history is concerned, that can be information about company formation, reasons for its success and growth or important achievements.

Offer

All content on the website should serve the main purpose of this website (which is most often sales). Needless to say, however, it is subpages describing company products or services that have the greatest influence on conversion.
At the turn of the 19th century, advertising pioneers created an AIDA model which has to this day been the basis of marketing copywriting. Attention, Interest, Desire and Action is the content outline which, in different ways, is also implemented on websites.
My adaptation of this model is the content of a product subpage which consists of answers to the following questions:
1. ‘Is this what I’m looking for?’
Or possibly: ‘Do I need that?’ – in the case you educate your prospects.
A short and clear definition of a product or service which will keep users on your website by making them pay attention somewhat longer and read more.
2. ‘What’s in it for me?’
A description of offer features/functionalities which must be written from buyers’ perspective and include the benefits they may gain.
3. ‘Why should I choose exactly this product and this provider?’
If you explain how you are better then you competition, you may make your potential buyer give up reading other offers.
4. ‘What next?’
Or in other words: ‘What (easy) thing should I do to learn more or make the purchase?’.
This is the place for call-to-action, i.e. an element (which is most often a button or banner) that can be clearly noticed and starts conversion – adds to cart, displays a contact form, starts a chat etc.

Illustrations

As I mentioned before, people don’t read websites – they scan them. Graphics draw and keep attention better than a text and a text is noticed more often if it describes graphics.
In the case of ‘physical’ products, there’s no problem – a description will be best illustrated with pack shots, i.e. real pictures of objects. Still, they must be really good and touched up.
In other cases – with more ‘virtual’ products or services – you may show screenshots or operation schemes. But sometimes there are no graphics which are directly connected with the company offer. Don’t give up then – a text without any illustrations will be perceived as much less attractive. What comes to aid here are cheap stock websites, such as iStockPhoto.
Images with people work best – nothing (and really nothing!) attracts people’s eyes better than faces. But be careful! Beware of typical business pictures coming from stock websites! Images showing smiling businessmen shaking hands in sleek offices or ideal-skinned beauties from call centres will immediately damage your credibility.

Video

Video materials are gaining in popularity. They have a lot of advantages but are not without their share of disadvantages. Users don’t always have the opportunity to watch them, especially in offices when without headphones they don’t want to interrupt their colleagues. Furthermore, browsers are not able to scan, index and assess voice and vision.
That’s why the main content must always be in the form of a text and the video material can only complement it attractively and be a kind of a multimedia illustration.
The easiest way to publish films is by placing them on such websites as YouTube or Vimeo and then by embedding the code you receive there on your website. The additional advantage is that your website and transfer is not overloaded because video streaming will be received by the users from the servers of the above mentioned platforms.

SEO

What should be the keyword density on a subpage? That’s a wrong question.
I believe website content should be written for people and not for search engines. And all the more so because Google algorithms are developed to be as close as possible to our human perception. Apart from that, it is people that publish content in social networking services (which are also one of the factors that have influence on positioning) and who would publish an uninteresting text strewn with keywords?
Of course, it does no harm if you place the main keyword in the title. But phrases in the text should be used naturally.
The same with the website description (meta description). Whenever you artificially stuff it with keywords you make a mistake because the main purpose of this short text is to encourage the user to click a given position in search results.

Other

Website content is not only the content of subpages. It’s also communications (displayed, for example, after forms have been completed or when errors occur), email notifications or slogans on banners.
All texts should be written in the same language (tone of voice). And because of that, in the case of alternative language versions, all texts should be translated by the same person.

Recap

The content of a commercial website is not a marketing gibberish but a key tool to convert visitors into sales leads or into clients. Devote a lot of time and attention while working on the texts, try to follow proven principles and your new website will successfully achieve your business goals.

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