Browse any webmaster forum or read web tutorials and you will find that nearly all the experts these days recommend that you have lots of good content on your site. Sounds like good advice, doesn't it? But what does it mean?
Simply put, content is the stuff on your site. Good content is useful information or tools that your visitors will find helpful. It means different things to different businesses and the bottom line is that what constitutes "good content" depends on the goal of Below, I've attempted to categorize the different types of content:
Core Site Pages
These are the heart pages of your site, the pages that are the core of why you built a site in the first place. They explain your mission or goals, who you are, and detail the products/services/information available through your site. The best place to start with "good content" is making sure these pages are as complete as possible and answer all of a user's potential questions.
Typical pages that visitors expect to find on a site are:
- About Us
- Contact Us
- Shipping Info/Delivery Area/Locations Served
If you aren't confident in your writing skills, consider hiring a professional copywriter to write or rewrite your pages. A good copywriter can tailor the style and the voice to appeal to your customers. It can make a difference between just getting traffic and getting traffic that converts into sales.
Make your core site pages a priority and ensure that they are easy-to-read, complete, and informative before looking at adding other content.
Complementary pages enhance and expand on your core site pages. These are the information pages that can really make a difference and help set you apart from your competitors. For product sites, you might offer detailed product reviews, extensive "how-to" pages for product usage, special print-friendly detail pages, creative ideas for other uses, customer feedback and testimonials, or help pages that go over and above the standard. For service sites, the complementary pages might deal with how you do what you do, your qualifications, common myths and misperceptions about the service, or do-it-yourself tips for situations where a professional is not needed.
For affiliate or advertising sites, complementary pages are the key element that will set your site apart from the competition. What will attract people to your site instead of the others? Is it a community, more detailed information, news or freebies?
Complementary pages can offer additional information about your company such as how long you've been in business, details of the clients you handle, industry recognition and awards, or even statements of your total commitment to customer service. These pages aren't critical to the operation of your site like the Core Site Pages are, but they help differentiate your site from others in the field and give visitors a reason to choose to do business with you.
People love the real person touch- if you don't believe that, watch a little "reality TV"! People just like to learn about other people. How can you relate that "real people" fascination to your website?
How do people use what you sell? How do your services improve people's lives? A travel service isn't selling a hotel; it's selling fun in the sun or amenities that make your time away from home easier. Accounting software isn't just about the numbers; it's about getting tasks done faster and more accurately with more detail. A sporting goods site isn't just selling fishing gear; it's selling relaxation. When you think about the benefits, about why people want what you sell, it's a lot easier to brainstorm creative content ideas.
A large plastics manufacturer created a section in their site where people could send in amazing stories about how their trashcans had survived falling trees and hurricanes. A baby product site set up a photo gallery where customers could send in their cutest pictures of their baby using the company's products. A men's tie manufacturer invited customers to send in a picture of their ugliest tie along with a few sentences about it- and featured an ugly tie next to each wonderful new tie!
In all the examples above, the "human interest" content reinforces the brand- strong, durable trashcans, products babies' love, ties that look great- while adding a little emotion and interest. By focusing on the people and using the product as a backdrop, you subtly reinforce the credibility of your brand.
Establish credibility and authority by including information that spans your industry. Many webmaster experts will encourage you to write articles about your industry- this is a great idea. Try not to simply parrot back what you've heard and read from others, but add your own opinion to the article. Yes, people are interested in your point of view! Articles can often be submitted to other information sites in your industry, which is a great way to get incoming links to your site.
Other author's industry articles are a great and fast way to build content on your site. If you aren't much of a writer or feel you have nothing to add to the information already published, collect the best articles from your industry and (with permission) reprint them on your site or link to them. While they are not unique content, they can add value to your site if you select them carefully. Don't reprint anything and everything available, be selective and only reprint content that you agree with and is helpful to your visitors. You want people to trust in the information that you are recommending they read.
News feeds related to your industry can be a good idea too. RSS is a way to syndicate your articles for others to pick up and a way for you to integrate headlines from other sites on your own pages.
Both search engines and customers love fresh, updated information. Some people groan at the thought of having to work so hard at adding new content, but it's not as complicated as you think!
Weblogs or Blogs
Blogs exploded on the scene about a year ago with services like Moveable Type and Blogger making it incredibly easy for anyone to publish on the web. A blog is basically a series of posts that appear by date posted- the oldest ones scroll off to an archive. It's basically an online journal. Setup is minimal and the interface is easy to learn- it's as easy composing a word processing document and hitting save. BAM. you are a web publisher!
Blogs are a hit with people who like to keep an online journal and personal blogs are a huge part of the blogging community. But blogs aren't just for angst-ridden teens and conspiracy theorists; they can help your business too!
Blogs can be integrated seamlessly into your site so that they have the same look and feel. You can use a blog to publish a running event calendar or comment on industry news developments. A blog can be strictly professional, announcing specials, daily interest rates, or new product info or it can be casual and create a "personality" for your company. What can a blog do for your business? Think about what your customers want to know.
Start a newsletter! Ask visitors to sign up for your newsletter (never send unsolicited e-mails) and set up a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly schedule to deliver your newsletter. Then stick with it!
I bought some printer ink online from a vendor that offered me the opportunity to sign up for specials. Every month like clockwork, I get the latest specials in my inbox and it always prompts me to check my supplies before deleting it. If I didn't get that e-mail from them, I would have probably bought the next round from whoever came up in a search!
Your newsletter may be product offerings and specials mixed in with useful product reviews, or it may be a recap of what's going on in your industry. If you aren't a writer, find articles available for reprint in your industry. Make sure the newsletter has some value to the reader. Archive the newsletter on your site for additional content and make the archives available for browsing.
Most web hosts have some sort of mailing list capability, or you can compose and mail your newsletter in Outlook. There are many third-party mailing services that are ideal if you plan for a large list- take a look at Constant Contact.
A forum is an incredible tool for building content and a community. It's not a task to be undertaken lightly; it requires a lot of time and energy and some technical knowledge (or a tech budget!)
If your industry has a need, or your product has a loyal following, a forum is a great tool to build content while drawing like-minded individuals together. A forum is great for market research, technical support, building a fan base, trading ideas and knowledge, and many, many other benefits.
Forums work best when you start off with a core group of people willing to post- no one wants to talk to an empty room! Try to get people from similar business or industry experts to post at your forum. It's exposure for them and helps to build a solid foundation for your information. If you decide to start a forum, be sure to use one that is search-friendly, such as InvisionBoard or phpbb, and set aside a good chunk of time to promote it and administer it.
Feedback & Reviews
Unsolicited feedback is a powerful convincing tool! Let your customers tell other customers why they love you. It's much more compelling than your own claims, if handled well.
There are many ways to handle feedback- the easiest way is to simply set up a form to allow customers to submit their feedback. You can then publish the ones you choose (with permission). There are many scripts and other software solutions that will allow people to review your products or service online. This can be risky if you aren't willing to take the good with the bad! Used well, it's a powerful selling tool.
Often people can be enticed to write a review or testimonial for your site in return for a link back to their site. This helps them with link popularity, but it helps your site as well by showing that a real person wrote that review.
Weblogs or Blogs (again)
Several blog programs come with a "comment" ability built in. This allows general users to create an account and post their comments to your blog. This is something to be careful of as you can get negative comments along with the positive.
Ask The Expert
This is a great idea that I've seen recently. Using forum software, users submit questions and someone at the company answers them. The Q&A are both published on the site for users to read once they are answered in a "knowledge database". This is less time-intensive than a full-blown forum but a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of what customers want to know while still adding content on a regular basis.
I've often heard the argument, "My site doesn't need to be informational, I just sell things." That may be true! There are plenty of sites that are lean and mean and built to sell; they usually rely on things like PPC advertising and offline promotions for traffic. That's a viable business model and it works well.
But if you are interested in building loyalty and interest in your company as well as repeat business and you want to get increased traffic from the "editorial" or free listings (http://www.rightclickwebs.com/seo/seo-analogy.php) in the search engines, you have to offer more to your users. If you create a plan for content that offers value and interest to your customers, you can have a site that is built to sell and drive repeat business.