It's launch day for your organisation's new website. The project has largely been running well - there've been a few hitches, but then, what project doesn't have a few here and there?
You flick the switch - figuratively speaking (more likely someone makes a few mouse clicks and possibly types a few commands into a keyboard) - and voilà! Your new site is live! It's bigger, brighter, and better; it loads faster, it works on mobile, it has a beautiful new design, an intuitive new navigation hierarchy and a custom search engine to help your customers easily find what they're looking for. Sounds great, doesn't it?
Well... there's a reasonable chance that there's something missing from your new site. Something you didn't look at or consider during the course of the project. It's important - in fact it's key - but you'd be surprised at how often it goes unchecked.
I'm talking about content. Content with a capital C. Your site's reason for being. Its drawcard. The good stuff people come to it to get.
"What do you mean?" you say. "Of course our site has content!"
Sure, I'll bet it does, but the thing is: how much have you really thought about it? When you launched your new site, which you wanted to be 'fresh' and 'up-to-date' and 'responsive', did you think about the content? Did you consider giving it the same overhaul that was given to the visual design or the hardware hosting the site?
Unfortunately, content often gets missed out on these projects. I think that often it's just taken as a given – we have content, therefore we're okay. Heck, we have LOTS of content, which means we're even better than okay.
The five second rule
Here’s a simple test to help you see how well your content is working. Take any content page on your website, and show it to a complete stranger – someone unfamiliar with the site. Show it to them for five seconds, then take it away, and ask them what the main point of the page was. What's the main message it's getting across? If they can't answer your question, or answer incorrectly, there's a problem. If a web page cannot convey its message within five seconds, it's not working hard enough.
What makes good content?
Well, to start with, less is more (usually). Op-ed pieces such as blog posts and editorials, or the most in-depth of news articles, can often get away with being longer form. This is usually because they're written in a way that is more engaging, using stronger narrative, and contain lots of valuable information or insights that the reader is keen to discover. But, generally speaking, your run-of-the-mill content page doesn't actually have a big story to tell; in fact, its goal is to convey relatively discrete pieces of information, so it needs to be kept concise.
How do I achieve this?
Think of it like a newspaper article; use headlines that catch attention (though hopefully ones that are less sensationalist than most newspapers!), and start by summarising the key point, the salient message. Ideally, set up your style sheets and your templates so that this information is in a larger font and pulled through to search results. This will really help bring people into the page and decide to look at it.
Your content is not for reading
In the last paragraph I said 'look at it' rather than 'read it' because in my opinion that's a more accurate description of what people do. Most people skim content rather than thoroughly read everything on the page. They are looking for headings and keywords that might indicate where to find that little nugget of information they are after – the factoid that influences their opinion on what they need to do next in the wider context of what they are doing. So use headings, lots of them. A paragraph on the web typically only needs to be two or three sentences long – dealing with only one subject – and it's not wrong to have a new heading every paragraph or two.
Keep it Short (and) Simple. Use Plain English. Avoid jargon. If you really want to flex your literary muscle and write longer pieces, consider setting up a blog for your site – a place where you can really dive deep into specific subjects, weigh up the pros and cons, and give more advice to your readers.
This becomes all the more important when we start considering issues such as mobile browsing, or some of the emerging technologies such as smart TVs. As I said in a recent blog post, your customers aren't (just) using computers any more, and even though I was making a different point with that article, the sentiment remains the same: making sure your content works across whatever channel it gets consumed through, and has been designed to be consumed easily by the reader, is paramount. Flash, glossy, shiny and responsive websites are nothing if the content has not been crafted with the same attention to detail.
Perhaps one of the most important things to consider is that content is never finished. Unlike a book where you draft it, edit it, publish it and then leave it be, on the web we tend to keep re-editing and re-publishing constantly, maybe doing a complete re-write every 12 to 24 months (or even more frequently, depending on the nature of the content). And just as important as the content itself are the people you have researching, writing, editing and publishing it. A solid editorial workflow is important for ensuring your content is rigorous and valid, but also concise and published in a timely manner.
Do it. Now!
There are plenty of resources around the web for undertaking a content makeover, setting up and fine-tuning your workflow, and even optimising your content for search engine results (SEO). Intergen can of course help you in this area, too – with everything from auditing your current content inventory and publishing workflows to putting new systems and processes in place, and training your teams in how to write and produce the best content for your target audiences. (Oh - and we do awesome design and all that great stuff with technology you've probably heard about, too.) We really are a one-stop shop, so if you need some help in this area or even just want to talk to us and hear what we have to say, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
It’s well worth taking the time to get your content right at the outset, rather than as an afterthought. Have a good look around the web for inspiration, make note of what works and what doesn’t, and make sure you're doing content right. At the end of the day, content is what your customers come to your website to get, and- happy, informed customers are well worth the investment.