What I’ve Learnt from Writing Website Content

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time writing content for websites. I’ve also spent a lot of time proofreading and rewriting content for websites. Let me tell you, I have learned a huge amount from this exercise. I have learnt what makes good content, what makes mediocre content and what makes, well, bad content.

It should be so simple: you have a product or service and your website presents it to prospective clients. Right? I mean, that’s what websites are for – to attract new business, not repel it. Unfortunately, some company websites do just that. They make obvious glaring mistakes in structure, content and in the overall feeling visitors get from their website.

Did I just say ‘feeling’? Yes, I did, for as much as business is about profit it is mostly about feeling. We all know and accept this intuitively. Think about it.

I remember when I lived in London. Every morning when I walked from the Tube station to my office building, I passed half a dozen coffee shops. I always stopped at the same one. Why? Was it because their coffee was the best among the bunch? Perhaps. Was it because their line-ups were the shortest? Not likely, because if people weren’t clamouring to get their coffee, it couldn’t have been that good.

The truth is that particular coffee shop had something about it that made me feel good. Customers, me included, are happy to put up with long lines to drink adequate coffee if they feel good while doing it.

So, when you set up your website and write content for it remember this. You want to be the coffee shop that everyone stops at on their way to work. How can you do that? Let me help.

TOO MUCH IS TOO MUCH

Last week I was writing website content for an auditing/business consulting company. As always, the client provided me with a map of their website, company information, needs and wants, and finally a list of competitor websites that will help me further understand a sometimes broadly specified subject. In this case, I had four, very well-known company websites open on my browser.

Within researching the first few terms, I found myself doing an end user survey for one of the  websites. I was so glad they asked. What did I tell them? “Your website is unnavigable! I cannot find the information I want.”

Now this was one of the most well-known companies in the world. Unless you live in a cave in the Himalayas, you will have heard of them, but it didn’t prevent them from falling into an obvious website content writing trap. They had too much to say and they decided to say it all on their website. This made it content heavy, confusing and not able to tell me anything at all!

A website is a means to explain to potential customers what you do. Save the industry articles, white papers and sales pitches for when you have them on the phone or email, or right in front of you. Good content will lure a customer in, but once there, it shouldn’t beat them about the head with unsolicited information. Which leads me to my next tip…

STUCK IN A WEBSITE WARP

I told the online survey for the company that their website was unnavigable. What I meant was that, it was not organised intuitively so I couldn’t find the information I wanted. You can write some of the best content in the world but if no one can find it then it is pointless.

A website should be logically laid out for the end user, not for the company’s ego. It needs to have clear, understandable pages and tabs that lead to relative information.

A really good example is a restaurant website because it should only have a small number of pages. Take a moment and think of what they might be. You guessed it: Home, Menu, and Reservations.

The Home page will tell diners about the restaurant. The Menu page will, ah, yeah, have the menu on it. The Reservations page will allow visitors to make a reservation through an online portal and have basic contact information such as telephone, email, along with opening hours, and location. It could also have a small amount of information about hiring out the restaurant for private parties or any upcoming events that the restaurant is hosting.

You might not have a restaurant but with this example you can see that less is more. This website has the bare minimum of pages and those pages contain only relevant and useful information – nothing else.

When a website has a large amount of pages containing large amounts of content, it actually fails to deliver what it intends, which I imagine is no-stone-left-unturned approach to brand awareness.  Like I said above, save it.

Scale it back because website visitors who have a confusing or difficult experience are building up negative associations with your brand, as I did with the world-class auditing company.

I might not need a SOX audit right now, but when I do you can bet that I will not be calling the folks at…right no name calling.

GIVE ME WHAT I WANT

Now that visitors can easily navigate your site, only give them the information that they want. How should you do this? You can follow my favourite rule for this and just about anything else, the Who, What, Where, Why and How rule. So,

1) Who are you?

2) What do you do?

3) Where do you do it?

4) Why do you do it?

5) How do you do it?

Keeping with our restaurant website example, these questions are simply answered. Let’s pretend that I own a restaurant and answer these questions as follows:

1) The Northern Italian Kitchen.

2) Serve Northern Italian food.

3) In London, UK.

4) Because we love making, serving and eating Northern Italian food.

5) Using the freshest ingredients and traditional culinary processes of Northern Italy.

See? Your mouth is already watering after only 32 words. Can you imagine what you would do after 3200 words? Probably pick up the phone and make a reservation for The Northern Italian Kitchen. Too bad it doesn’t exist…

AND SOLVE MY PROBLEM

If we write content around these five questions on a platform that is simply laid out, then we are delivering visitors a rewarding experience. Rewarding? Yes, rewarding.

Visitors need to get something out of visiting your site. They are already there for a reason. They have plugged certain keywords into a search engine and been rewarded with the link to your website. So now you can solve their problem and make them feel better doing it.

For instance, if I have plugged ‘emergency dog grooming’ into a search engine it is most likely because I need emergency dog grooming. I don’t want to sit there scrolling through pages and pages of content telling me how great your dog grooming skills are. As I smell my dog who had just had a fight with a skunk, I just want the goods: location, price, contact information.

The first website who solves my problem is going to get my business. Think like an end user with a problem, be it a smelly dog or a craving for Northern Italian cuisine, and you have easily won new business.

It’s so simple. Your website content should only deliver the product information visitors need in an accessible way that speaks to the reason they are there in the first place. Badly organised content, an excess of content, meaningless content are all ways to turn prospective clients off. While I am at it there are a few more things that repel prospective customers:

1) Flowery language that is not concise. I recently rewrote a website where the previous content writer had obviously sat down with a dictionary on the desk. For instance, instead of saying:

“Using our newly patented odour eliminating solution, we will lift the scent from your ill-perfumed dog.”

Just say:

“We have a number of highly effective shampoos and cleansers that will take care of the strongest pet odours.”

You could also just say:

“We have a tub of tomato juice out back that will fix your skunk-fighting dog so that you can take him home without wanting to pass out.”

Anyhow you get the picture. Use professional, concise language that visitors will understand and relate to.

2) Roads to nowhere: Do not have tabs for pages that do not deliver any information! This is extremely annoying to visitors, because when they click on something they expect the promised content to be delivered. If you click on a tab to find yourself back on the Home page or facing a blank screen, it leaves you feeling disappointed. OK, not hugely like if your dog got into a fight with a skunk, but your brain still registers a feeling of being let down by the site and therefore by the company. Are they honestly going to want to do business with you?

Further, it makes you appear sloppy and lacking in attention to detail. If you do not have content for a page then do not publish it. Even if your site is still in the construction stage it needs to have at least one perfect page of content or content explaining that it is still under construction and suppling visitors with contact information.

3) Perfection is the key: I guess I should be happy people put up websites full of errors because it supplies me with some good projects, but as a visitor to a site, it just turns me off completely. Now, I totally understand how this is done because I am not perfect myself and I have inadvertently posted content with errors in it. However, this should be avoided at all costs!

If a client sees mistakes in your content, then they are going to steer clear of your company because it just makes them think you are amateurs who do not cross your T’s and dot your I’s. No one wants to trust their dog to a dog groomer whose website is full of mistakes! Trust me on that…

I’m sure I could write a book on this subject, but hopefully the above has given you some food (Northern Italian?) for thought when it comes to creating or rehauling your company website. Even taking these observations into consideration will put you ahead of many of your competitors and make your online presence worthwhile.

P.S. No, I did not make an error by ignoring the need for keywords in website content. If you follow the above advice you will organically create SEO friendly website content. After that you can read my next post which will cover the important subject of keywords that will help your website rank on the first pages of a search query for businesses such as yours.

A book by its cover…

Setting up this business has made me reflect on my entire working life; every job, every boss, every co-worker, every task I have ever encountered. Of course, this trip down memory lane included the very visceral memory of my first job: working in a butcher shop. Yes, at 15 years-old, I worked every Saturday as a shop girl at a local butcher shop; cutting up, preparing and serving meat. It sounds so glamorous; I know, but what it lacked in glamour, it made up for in life lessons. Continue reading A book by its cover…