With great regularity, we receive inquiries from prospects who want to get started on a shiny new website for their business or organization. And almost without fail, when asked for the purpose/intent of the site and for some of the key content, well, that's when we get the very pregnant pause. Too often, prospects and clients presume that the web designer will not only create the structural container of the website but will fill most of it with content as well. While any good web design firm can refine and augment your page content with a particular focus on making it web-friendly, their job is absolutely not to write your content for you. You are the foremost expert about what you do and are thus in the best position to provide the key content that will promote that. It's not necessary for you to write in Shakespearean prose but you should, at a minimum, be able to drop 5-10 bullet points that explain and promote your business or organization. So let's take a look at some of the key things to consider BEFORE you ask anyone to construct or update your website.
Tip 1: Determine intent and audience
Before you start in on writing a single word of content, you'll need to know in a very definitive way what the primary message of your site is and who the audience is for that message. This can be fairly simple and obvious as in the case of most e-commerce sites which simply exist to sell products/services to eager shoppers and consequently have pages that are replete with product/service information and purchase buttons. But usually, writing content is a brain-stretching excercise that forces you to really think about what it is that you do and why anyone should be remotely interested in it. So ask yourself the questions: "What is the purpose of my website?" and "Who is my key audience?"
Tip 2: Write for your audience
We've all had the experience of buying some outdoor furniture or maybe a barbeque that comes flat-packed and needs a bit of assembly. You unfold the instructions sheet and then attempt to decipher the hieroglyphic gibberish. Now, the engineers who put those instructions together almost certainly think that (a) they did a simply awesome job; and (b) anyone who doesn't immediately understand their beautifully composed handiwork must be some sort of brain-damaged imbecile. This is the standard disconnect between the content author and content reader that you must work very hard to avoid. Don't write your content for yourself; write your content for your audience. For example, you may be enamored with all the features of your product and may feel compelled to go on and on about each of those features. The problem is that your customers only care about what you can do for them and your feature list may only be incidental to that need. Rather than say, "We have the best widget on the market!", say something like, "Our solution will increase both your geographic footprint and market share." The former is typical meaningless word filler (unless you can substantively support the claim that your widget is the most awesome) while the latter plays to your customer's self-interest.
Tip 3: Discard the meaningless drivel
You've seen it: "A breakthrough in innovative thinking!", "We bring the wow!", "The absolute cutting edge in technology!". Yep, it's all crapola. If you don't have hard statistical or comparative facts, don't bother with the hyperbole. Instead, concentrate on how you can help your customer. The caption on Zendesk's home page header video (of an apparently bickering older couple), shows you a simple and effective example:
"Relationships between businesses and their customers can be hard. Zendesk makes it easier."
Notice how Zendesk nicely reiterates the problem that many of their clients and prospects face. That will have resonance for the key audience and, despite not telling you how they'll make things easier, there's going to be much greater interest from the visitor in clicking into the site to find out how Zendesk can help. If for no other reason, you'll be compelled to click the play button on that video header to find out more about that bickering couple (it's very funny).
Tip 4: Start with your meaty conclusion and work back from there
This is called the "Inverted Pyramid Method" and it essentially requires you to build your story with the end as your beginning. Why would you do that? Because it's the web and attention spans are fleeting so you'd better cut to the chase right away. And, if you aren't getting the general theme here, this means explaining to your customer exactly why they should want to work with you. Sure, you can go into the details and features of what you do later but you need to immediately explain your value proposition or you can probably kiss that prospect goodbye. Remember, you have about 5 seconds to get 'em on the hook otherwise they'll be headed elsewhere. Take a look at the header caption on the page for Zoho's Live Chat website plug-in aimed at businesses that want to incorporate live chat support on their website:
"Convert website visitors into customers. Chat with your visitors proactively, engage them effectively and close more deals."
In just two sentences, Zoho has made a compelling business case for the key audience and focused the message entirely on solving the client's need (for live chat in this case). Chances are pretty good that a visitor who belongs to the key audience for this message is going to be working their way into the site to find out more.
Tip 5: Keep it short and sweet
Don't treat your web pages like novels. Cut your words down to the bare essentials because anything more than that is likely to never get read. Take a look at the Zendesk website and notice how few words are ever used in the key presentational pages. That's by design; just give the reader enough information on the key pages to pull them into the body of the site where you can go into a bit more detail.
Tip 6: Be crystal clear
Your website is not the place for vagueness. If you have a call to action, be absolutely crystal clear about what you're offering or why it's in the visitor's best interest to take you up on your call to action. Check out the Microsoft OneDrive webpage that promotes their cloud storage solution:
One place for everything in your life. Easily store and share photos, videos, documents, and more — anywhere, on any device, free. Plus, get 15 GB when you sign up.
This opening statement is immediately followed by "Sign In" and "Sign Up" call to action buttons. What's not to like? You can certainly do more research into the features of their service but, if you have a notion of what OneDrive is already, you can get going right now.
Tip 7: Don't get in the visitor's face
Ever visit a site that pops up a giant ad or call to action over top of the content you were attempting to read? How about sites that auto-launch a video or audio (yep, sound on)? Under no circumstance should you ever contemplate doing anything like this. If you don't like it, your customers won't like it either.