Content is king – Small businesses typically spend huge amounts of time thinking about the design and functionality of a website, but neglect the words on the page. Elissa Baxter investigates the importance of well-crafted content in the quest for the perfect online marketing tool.
You’ve bought the advertising and made sure your web address features prominently. You’ve spent long days and longer nights making sure all of your links link and your pop-ups pop. But how can you make sure that once you lure people to your site, those people stay and actually read what you have to say?
“You can have the most beautiful website in the world, but without the right content it’s like having a shop with a sign on the door saying ‘closed’,” says Sue Blatchford, head of the search at search engine marketing company payperclick.net.au.
“I’m afraid that many small businesses make diabolical mistakes in this area.”
Blatchford says that small businesses should start thinking about the content of the website before anything else.
While graphic design goes some way to giving customers an impression of your business, the content of a website is what is going to get you noticed by customers (if they find you) and, possibly more importantly, by search engines like Google.
“If you don’t have good content, Google can’t find you,” says Blatchford.
“Then you have no customers.”
Content comes first
Longtime web designer and developer Joseph Stab Darling of MondoWeb agrees. He says content should be planned at the very earliest stages of a website design, and well-planned content should be incorporated into the design.
“Websites are an interactive thing, so I have content in mind when I start planning a site for a client,” says Darling.
“That human communication element needs to be incorporated into the structure of the site.”
Darling says business owners should know their audience, and the type of message the business wants to communicate. The way the words on the webpage are written will depend on those two elements.
“ … website content should be clearly set out and broken up into digestible chunks … using bullet points and checklists …”
“The style of writing on a website should be based on the type of company you are and also the audience you want to reach,” says Darling.
“We had a client recently that is an Australian food company and it wanted to keep its Australian personality. But it also has a small export market and wanted to reach out to customers overseas who might not know the products. So it’s a balance between the company’s style and the audience’s.”
Blatchford agrees that balance is important, knowing the audience is important; it is essential to understand why customers come to your website.
“Reading a website is not like curling up with a magazine,” says Blatchford. “The writing shouldn’t be too artsy or clever. When users come to your site, they want information and they want it now.”
Blatchford says that website content should be clearly set out and broken up into digestible chunks. She advises using bullet points and checklists that put useful information into a form that readers can grasp quickly. She also suggests clear and simple headings, with text that answers a potential customer’s questions, allays any fears they might have, and then gives them a strong call-to-action at the bottom of each page.
“It’s really simple but most people don’t do it,” says Blatchford.
“It is absolutely vital to have a call-to-action at the end of the page. Websites are not brochureware – if you’ve got a customer to your page, you have to tell them how to contact you.”
Optimising for search
Fortunately, text that is easily read by humans and that answers customers’ questions, can also be good for improving search results as long as it follows some fairly simple rules.
Search engine optimization, which can seem like a black art to the uninitiated, does not need to be fussy or tricky, according to Blatchford.
“Search engine optimization does not need to be too fussy; just make the text read well,” says Blatchford.
“Include the keywords you’re talking about in the text. If you are selling sofa beds, you should mention sofabeds in your headings and keep using the words in the text. But do it without overweighing the text with your message. Strike a balance.”
Blatchford also suggests spending some time doing keyword searches; find out what your competitors are doing and incorporate those ideas into your own website.
Fortunately, there is not just one way, or just one chance, to get this right. Blatchford advises businesses to take baby steps when developing their website.
“Why not put a few pages up first and find out which keywords turn into customers?” she says.
“Set up Google Analytics to measure who comes to your site and who gets in contact with you.
If developing in the dark it can be a waste of money, so starting small and finding out what works can be a good strategy.”
Frosty idea gets a warm reception
Cathy Gill hated looking at the ugly fence from her kitchen window. She looked around for glass frosting film to cover up the view but found that not many suppliers would sell small amounts to home decorators. That’s when she decided to start up her own business selling frosting film to people like herself.
Now Gill is the owner and operator of Frost & Co, selling laser-cut frosted window film through the website she launched in April 2009. Recognizing that her strength would be supplying small orders
to home decorators, she decided to keep her overheads very low.
“There are companies supplying these products, but they don’t supply small orders economically,” says Gill. “They tend to have huge … commercial clients. I knew that my market would be the smaller home decorators like myself.”
Having absolutely no background in online business, she looked at what her competitors in the UK were doing on their websites before writing the content for the site herself. Gill kept very firmly in mind who her target market was and the tone she wanted to sit with her website.
“Because my target market is DIY home improvers and mums doing a bit of decoration around the house, I didn’t want my website to seem too corporate,” says Gill. “I wanted to get across the message that this is a business with a ‘face’.
“So I wrote the story of how I started the business on the website, so people would know I was a real person who wasn’t going to rip them off.” #