When a client is ready for either a refresh or a complete overhaul of their website, the first order of business is to evaluate what is and what isn’t working on their current site. This site assessment among many things includes: site branding, site architecture, and site content. In this examination, I’ll focus on three common mistakes made when employing site content and list a few action-remedies for each content strategy oversight.
Mistake #1: Hiding the most pertinent information.
All information fights for that coveted space on the home page, but after an evaluation of the content within the site, I frequently find that the most pertinent information is often buried several pages into the site. This mistake occurs with the assumption that your visitors are perfectly familiar with your product or service and that they do not need an introduction. A website is not only to service existing customers, but should actively attract new customers. A clear indication of what services or products you provide must immediately be in clear reveal on the home page. If you make them dig or search for this information they will be wondering why they have arrived here, and move on, unsatisfied. Do not worry about being redundant for return users. Clear communication is never a hindrance.
I like to approach this by creating what I call a virtual greeter.
So, how do we go about this? We break down your service into a one- or two-sentence statement. Most importantly, this statement should be an extension of your brand, helping new visitors get introduced and tune into your ideology. This welcoming message doesn’t necessarily mean that it is cute and sweet. Sometimes a radical message is what will achieve the best results.
The finest of these declarations have the following characteristics:
1. Engaging. This is achieved by using highly descriptive, action-oriented words.
2. Coherent. A blend of the intelligible and the uncomplicated.
3. Simple. Edited and polished to the most compact phrase possible while still delivering your message.
This virtual greeter is all about clear communication. It carries great responsibility as the task-master to tell all those first-timers exactly what you can do for them. In the long run, you’ll be glad you spent time on carefully formulating its presence.
Mistake #2: Putting your needs ahead of the user.
I find that a second common mistake is putting company priorities ahead of the customer. When developing content for the web many are primarily focused on what they want to tell & sell to their customers and they forget to base the content off of what the customer might be searching for. If you provide content beyond the basics of selling your product or service, and give the customer what they are craving, they are more likely to find value-in, and return to patron your site.
Delight and illuminate your viewer.
Provide content that is both useful and usable.
Ways to benefit your visitors:
1. Product Comparison. Don’t be afraid to differentiate how does your product or service compares to the competitor. You can’t be low-priced and top-grade at the same time. Tell it like it is. Your customers will thank you.
2. Product Feedback. Provide a section for product feedback (both good and bad), or testimonials on service that you receive from current customers. Being willing to expose the truth will actually add to your credibility. Especially if you engage in the comment section to show how you help customers resolve the problem. Testimonials will help future customers get a feel of your company climate and if your service approach is a good fit.
3. Industry Information. Sounds like a no-brainer, but by providing industry-related information that goes beyond your specific product or service will reflect on your companies authority in that field. This can range from: articles available on your site, downloadable PDF’s, RSS feeds that originate outside your site from reputable people in the industry, and education or inspirational videos.
4. Internal Site Search. A search feature not only benefits your visitor, but an internal site search feature can give you feedback data and give you valuable insight on how to improve your site offerings.
This is just a small list of how you can benefit your customers through the web. Depending on your product or service, the solutions will vary. As you offer more benefits, you are likely to see the demographics of your clientele expand as well.
Mistake #3: Creating the content before the site structure.
At times this feels like the chicken or the egg quandary, but we really need to begin with the structure of the website before the content. Oh, the characteristics of the content has prominent influence, but not content specifics. Let me elaborate.
As a graphic designer that started out in print 20+ years ago, this was a bit of a revelation for me. In print you begin with content that is developed for say a brochure, catalog, poster, etc., and you evaluate content hierarchy & content characteristics and develop a structure to fit and communicate in best possible manner. This direct and straight forward approach works with print because print is a fixed, changeless entity. Not the web. The web needs to be approached as a moving, flexible, fluid entity. And because of this distinction, content requires a slightly different approach for the web.
Start with the structure + content characteristics, then, specific content to follow.
Ideally we do not want finished content when first approaching a web design. If we do, it will limit the site to a solid construct instead of an adaptable composition. The first step is to evaluate the attributes of the content to assist us in developing a content framework. This is done by asking two main questions: What will be the characteristics of the content? and Where will your content come from? By knowing this information, the designer will be able to create an infrastructure for the content while still enabling the structure to be malleable. This amendable structure will allow for the new content to be flowed-in and still fit the form when the content needs to be refreshed.
1. Content characteristics examples to consider:
A. Hierarchy: In its most basic evaluation, content characteristics should be broken-down into primary, secondary, and tertiary information. By delineating the content into order of importance, this will not only help in the development of the site structure, but when going through the editing process to make the content more streamline, you’ll know what can be the first to be sacrificed.
B. Form: Break the content down into class/category: written word, static image, video, or sound. This allows the designer to establish a structure suited for the genre characteristics.
C. Frequency: The driving force for content to follow structure. Breaking-down the content into frequency that the information will need to be updated will allow the designer to build a form that is easily modified.
2. Content source examples to consider:
A. Internal / External: For content source, the chief distinction is: will this be an internal (within the site content) or external source, such as an RSS feed or external data base? When developing a structure for an external RSS feed, the future material could be unpredictable from the source, and therefore need to be monitored.
B. Who: When setting up a blog, will you need to take into consideration if there will be multiple authors contributing to the same blog and how their styles and content may effect the site structure.
As you develop content for your website, always expand upon the the feel and tone of your brand, and keep these three items in mind:
1. Create a virtual greeter for the home page, that screams your brand.
2. Put the users needs ahead of your needs, and the sales will follow.
3. First focus on a structure for your content that will allow for plug-n-play integration as you introduce new content to your site.