Episode 1: Content
Content is the biggest underestimation for almost every website I’ve ever worked on. I’ve seen sites sit completely finished aside from content for months and months. I’ve seen clients get frustrated as it turns into a chore in which they’d rather do quarterly taxes to avoid. I’ve seen projects stall and ultimately get abandoned and its all because of content.
What is Content and Why Does This Matter?
Content, put simply, is the photos, words, and other material on your website. Content is your voice. Content is your sell. Content is every word on your website that goes into telling the story of your business. This includes logos, images, bios, histories, product data, product descriptions, etc.. Content is also your ongoing contribution online.
Wait.. What? Contribution you say? Yes. I said it. To make a website viable, you need to constantly be adding content. A static, unchanging website will rank lower for any SEO(search engine optimization) keyword as opposed to the exact same site that is adding content. Updating your site with new content at a minimum of weekly, or at the bare minimum bi-weekly, will add depth to your site and bolster your credibility as an expert in your field. (I’ll cover ongoing content more later in a future episode.) Surprisingly, the need for ongoing content to be created is a fact often overlooked when websites are being built and can add frustration and lead to unfulfilled expectations after the site launch.
Typically, unless you hire content developers, the client must provide the content. As a developer, I don’t know enough about a client’s legal practice, or dental practice, or fitness studio, or art studio to write their history. That is something that MUST come from the client. And, regardless of whether a client has yet begun the process of building a website or not, starting on the content now will only help every single aspect of your site design and development. Having your data assembled before talking to a developer/designer for building a site will allow them to:
- accurately understand the scope of the site
- intimately understand the concept of the business
- design the site to the tone/voice of the content
- develop the site more closely to the client’s update needs and capacity to interact with the site
Typical Content Types and Helpful Guidelines
Every business is different in terms of what information is the most pertinent to convey to a client. This can range from service listings to product descriptions, intake forms to legal opinions, lead capturing to a mobile app knowledge base, and so on and so forth. Regardless of your business niche, I’ve found several pieces of content are fairly consistent across the board that should be readily available.
- Bios/About You/The Team – Talking about yourself can be hard, but you gotta sell yourself somehow. Your team as well. This helps humanize you and establishing trust with your clients. 300 words max and a decent headshot.
- About the Business/Business History – This can often be rolled into a bio as your journey to the place you are. Other times it can be helpful to show growth, longevity, and establish yourself as a stable business. As well, this may be a place to talk about core values, mission statement and any other business objectives. 300 words min and images always help.
- Service Listings/Product Descriptions – Regardless of if you are a service industry or e-commerce, having what you want people to pay you money for on your site is necessary. Not only a simple bulleted list of services, but a richer content experience would be to write a brief description (2-3 sentences) of each service. For products, image(s), variations, prices etc.
- Formal Policies – These include return policies, payment guidelines, scheduling instructions, terms and conditions, guarantees, legal disclaimers, sizing guides, etc.
- Basic Business Info – Contact information, hours of operation, address, phone numbers, fax numbers, site email address, etc.
- Opening Description – Depending on the design and the site needs, this may not be necessary. However, creating a opening description that succinctly states what your business is, explains your business goals, and gives a catchphrase or sentiment that exemplifies the character of your business will stick with the visitor and shape their experience. 50 words max.
- Prices – This is not always necessary for websites, especially if you want people to contact you for a quote and engage with a potential client in person. However, whatever your choice, decide and provide if you want it on your site.
How to Make Your Developer Happy
When you first decide to build a site, you will undoubtedly begin talking with a designer/developer. Providing the basic typical types of content listed above very early on will help them understand your end vision. This, simply put, provides a great deal of clarification on the scope of the site and the needs of your business. When a client is clear about what they need, it becomes very easy to meet and exceed those expectations. Below are just a few simple tips that may seem common sense, but good to see all in the same place:
- Images – Images for a site should be large. The developer/designer can make them smaller, but not bigger. If you don’t have images, pay for some professional shots. Provide a size that is bigger than your monitor – you never know where it will end up getting used.
- Content Delivery – Ask your developer what the best format is to deliver the content. My preference is google docs because it can be shared and all parties have access to them. Regardless, ask and be consistent.
- Print Ready – If you provide text content, make sure you’ve proofread it and it is in its final form, not the first draft that hasn’t been looked at by a second set of eyes. Getting content that I end up inputting into a site and formatting for semantic relevance and adjusting layout is fun and all, but I should only have to input your content once. What you give a developer should be ready to be seen by the world and should have your seal of approval on it.
- Variations – Be open to updating your content based on the best practices integrated into your site. Being highly consistent about service listings, for example, may include 100 words of description, scheduling availability, price range, and an image. Be prepared to provide this for ALL the service listings equally. When the site is being designed, be open about what you already have, what you don’t have, and listen to what is suggested.
- Deadlines – I always provide a timeline for my clients. Surprise… I often have more than one client. Timelines help me manage delivery expectations and meet deadlines. When a timeline is suggested, scrutinize it and then agree upon it. When it comes to content, be ready before a deadline to provide the content. Often times there will be some clarification needed, but the majority of the content should arrive on time. If not, then expect your site to be delayed.
Website Tips for Small Businesses is a series designed to help small businesses save money and take the mystique out of building a website. Many small businesses miss the low hanging fruit and either end up spending too much money, time, effort, or frustration for a bad solution that does very little to help their business.