Want to avoid new website disappointment? Think content first

Sonja Jefferson

Content is the very soul of your website. How do you tackle the crucial content part of a new website build and create great content people love? Think content first. Here’s a quick guide and checklist for your project.

how do I create valuable website contentContent matters

“The content of your website is the most important factor in your website’s existence. To be blunt, your content IS your website.” ~ Neil Patel, Kissmetrics

So you’re thinking of a new website. Traditionally the first port of call is a web design/development agency. Makes sense right? Picking the right partner to design and build the site is crucial to the process so that’s obviously a big part of the picture. But if you want your website to work (to draw the right people towards you, to build trust, understanding and to motivate action) then you need to think very hard about the content part of the site too. So how do you approach the oft-forgotten content part of the build?

“Content is the very soul of your website.”

Website projects are notoriously complex. (Read about the common pitfalls here: Why are website projects so hard?). The content part is absolutely key to the success of your new website – content is the very soul of your website – but it’s this bit that’s too often forgotten and neglected at the start of the project.

‘What information will we need where? Who do we really want to attract and what content do they need? What tone are we aiming for? Who will we get to write the copy and create the content, now and in the future? How will we keep it fresh and up to date? How will we go about sharing your content so our new website achieves its goal?’

“If content is an afterthought it’s always going to come back and bite you.”

Yet content is still so often an afterthought. Leave content until the end and it’s always going to come back and bite you – frustratingly long project delays, frayed tempers and ultimately disappointment because you end up a site that doesn’t deliver the expected return. (‘It all looks lovely but the right people aren’t finding the site or taking action when they get there’).

Evidently content matters.

Most likely you’ll have heard much chatter about the importance of content. But information on how to actually approach your content when building a new website is harder to come by. We want to put that right, so here’s a quick guide on how to tackle the troublesome content part of any new website build and create great content people can’t ignore.

So what type of content do you need on your website?

People often talk about content as though it were a thing, a block of words and images that fill a website. However website content is made up for different types of words and information, all with specific jobs to do, which need to be constructed differently if they’re going to work properly.

Here’s a useful distinction for the two different types of content you’ll need to plan for:

  • Static (sales) content – the descriptive copy/information across the site (About Us, About You, Services/How We Help). This copy need clarity and energy – to motivate the right people to take action, to move them to the next stage of relationship with you, to help them ‘buy’ when the time is right. From the short-form copy you choose to write to describe who you are and what you do, to the longer form service descriptions, right down to successful project stories and micro-copy/call to action buttons across the site.
  • Dynamic (marketing) content – the blog articles or podcasts or videos you update regularly and deeper resources such as guides and research too. Your dynamic marketing content comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. (When it comes to your dynamic content we distinguish between stock and flow content. You’ll need a plan for both). The aim is to generate interest, to open up conversations and keep them flowing, to be helpful and/or inspiring to those you serve.

This distinction between static sales content and dynamic marketing content is important but the challenge of writing/creating them is the same. When it comes to your website you’ll need a consistent message and tone of voice to flow throughout and a plan for both.

Six steps to web content nirvana

1. Strategic thinking upfront

Before you dive into website design and build, put some time into thinking about your content strategy. Agree clear goals for the new site. Understand the role a well designed website with the right content can play in the business development process and what you want your new website to DO for you.

Aim high. A good website is a powerful brand awareness, relationship building and service delivery tool. Done right your website should act as a filter as well as a magnet – pulling the right people towards you whilst gently repelling the rest, and so saving you valuable time. See it as core to the delivery of an effective service – an invaluable resource for your customers.

With this in mind think through what you want the website to do for your business and how you’ll get there. What’s the change you want to see? What’s the message you want to get across? Who you are selling to and what action do you want people to take? How will the website achieve this, and how will you measure its success? Set out a job description for the new website – because done right it will act like a member of your team, working 24/7. Be clear where you’re heading.

2. Research to uncover your audience’s real needs

I know you’re keen to get the content writing underway as quickly as possible, but from experience we know that investing in some research to get the message and story clear upfront puts the rest of the website project (and your business) on firm foundations.

Kick off some real research – gather feedback from your team and your customers. Map out the audience for the site and talk to the kind of people who will be using it. This will help you forge a connection through the copy and content your share. The investment you make in research and thinking upfront will make all the difference to the success of the new site (and cut down on rework later too).

“Base your content on research not assumptions.”

A web project that starts without a very clear understanding of the audience and their world quickly degenerates into woolliness: What images do we use? We don’t know, because we don’t know what we’re trying to say. What content do we need? Couldn’t tell you, because we’re not sure what the message is. How should the copy sound? Not entirely sure as we’re not clear on who we’re talking to.

Customer research – simple telephone interviews with a selection of your ideal website users/customers – will help to frame the message and content in a way that connects; to get the tone of voice right – because you’ll know exactly how your ideal customers think and speak, you can talk to them in their language; to get ideas for your blogs and other content that will work to generate leads and increased conversions – because you’ll know what their interests and fears are.

Data-based research into numbers of people interested in your service is very useful, but only give you part of the picture. Knowing your customer inside out through real research will make decision making during the rest of the web project much easier. It takes out the guesswork and gives you focus, for more leads and more conversions.

NB: Customer research doesn’t have to take too long – it only adds a few weeks to the process and makes all the difference to the result.

3. Content plan and careful audit

Based on your vision and research make a plan for content you want on the new site. Remember that distinction between static and dynamic content and include both in your plan. A high level wireframe for the content will do for now. (We often use Artefact Cards in the first instance, to help clients with their content thinking).

website content plan

And then, unless you’re a start up, audit your current site. Force yourself take a look hard look at what you’ve got now and how it’s working (even if you hate your old site!):

  • List out all the content on the site and use a mix of analytics and feedback to see what works now.
  • What stays? What do you want to ditch? What’s missing?
  • What new or reworked content needs to be word perfect for launch?
  • How much change is needed now or further down the line?
  • What new content needs to be created against your plan?

Agree a budget and resource plan for the content creation, for website launch and beyond.

NB: your website is an ongoing project so have a think about how to keep the content fresh, adding new insights and helpful resources as you go.

4. Expert help with the content thinking and writing

If you haven’t been involved in a website build before it’s easy to woefully under-estimate the scale of the content challenge. Designing, writing and creating content takes time and skill, and in my experience, communications and marketing teams rarely have the time to do this alongside their already-overstretched day jobs.

There’s a real art to producing great web copy and content. Unless you have expert skills in-house I’d always hire a professional to help with this work. You don’t just need a copywriter, you need someone that can help you with the strategic thinking too – someone who understands how marketing with content works, who’ll help you build the right content platform, not just fill in boxes with text. With the right help, you’ll save precious time and project delays and get a far better result too. A well written website will get your message across with clarity and emotion in the fewest number of words. There’s consistency and energy in tone. And more of the right action as a result. Good writing shows.

“Good writing shows.”

Words have different jobs to do in different parts of a website. Different writing skills are needed to make these words work. You might not need a different writer to help you write the various sections, but whoever does the writing needs an understanding of the way websites work, and of the role valuable content plays in attracting the reader and keeping her happy.

Understand what you want the words to do, and hire the right people to write them for you. (Read: Copywriter or content writer? Which one does your website project need?)

5. Content and web design working hand-in-hand

The words on a page and the design of the page are inextricably linked. You can’t do either of them properly in isolation. (If you leave content till last the best you can hope for is filler text.) The best web agencies understand this and partner accordingly. They see the value in thinking content first, and recommend clients to work this way too. The most successful projects we’ve worked on have seen content teams and web design/development teams working in close collaboration, iteratively, side by side. We work brilliantly together so make the most of a productive creative partnership!

Tools like Gather Content help content and web teams work together, designing the site build around real content, not the dreaded Lorem Ipsum dummy text! (Read: How Lorem Ipsum makes your web project fail).

6. Skill up your team for the future

Although getting a new website launched is definitely worth celebrating, in many ways it’s just the start of the process. The content part of your website is never finished. New blogs, guides and other helpful resources will enrich your website, making it more useful and more findable. So you’ll want to keep adding to it to keep it fresh, and to widen your reach.

Consider how you’re going to manage the post launch content challenge. Do you need to employ a content writer? Possibly. Outsourced writers and editors can help you keep the content flowing.

Skill up your own team? A good plan. Your own team (especially the people working most closely with customers) is likely to provide the best content ideas. Teaching the team to turn those ideas into engaging content will give your blog a living, breathing authenticity that is hard to replicate with outsourced writers.

Face into the challenge and think content first

“Design the content around your customers and the website around your content.”

There’s a lot to do, and it can be hard to know where to start. Getting crystal clear on who you want the website to talk to is a good first step. And going through an initial audit of your current website to see how far it is from hitting the mark can give you a good idea of the scope of your content challenge. How much of your current content is right for your ideal client? Does your home page copy tell a good, clear and compelling story that will draw your ideal client in? Are your services pages written with your ideal client’s challenges in mind? Does your About Us page demonstrate your values – can the reader see why you do what do you?

Don’t just dive into visual design; think content first. Design the content around your customers and the website around your content.

Shuttle content up to the top of your website project to do list to get ahead of the game and set your new site up for success. Face up to the challenge, and get the help you need.

Content planning checklist for your new website project

Is your website project on track when it comes to the content? Here’s a quick checklist to help you identify any gaps.

Action to complete

 

 Yes/No

 

1. Do you have a written content strategy for the new website, with a shared vision and goals?
2. Are you clear on the brand message you want to convey through the new site?
3. Have you identified the audiences for your site and conducted real research to understand their world and what they need?
4. Do you have a prioritised content plan for the new site, including static (sales) content and dynamic (marketing) content?
5. Are you approaching the design of the website content first?
6. Have you audited your current website to see what you have and what works now?
7. Have you set sufficient budget aside for the content part of the website build?
8. Do you have skilled resource available for content thinking and writing?
9. Does your website design/development team understand the content challenge? Will they work content first?
10. Will your web design/development team and content team work in close collaboration to build the site?
11. Have you made a plan for regularly updating the content after launch, with resource identified and training for your internal team?
12. Have you set meaningful measures to see what’s working and how to improve the content over time?

The very best of luck with your website build. I really hope this helps.

Sonja

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