Web designers and developers suffer from no lack of information on how to navigate the finer points of Dreamweaver, XML, and online video. But what about the poor editorial or marketing content developer? Where do you go when you need help planning a sound strategy for what to include in a Web site – and where it should go?
Planning your content stategy ahead of time will help you:
1. Use your Web site to meet business objectives
2. Develop a site that meets your users’ needs and keep them coming back
3. Create a consistent – and consistently engaging site
4. Ensure that content can be managed and updated
Designing your online content strategy requires a serious mix of left- and right-brained activities:
Align your site with your business objectives
A Web site succeeds to the extent that its content helps your business or organization achieve its larger goals. For help aligning your site and your business, try the following tool.
Walk in your users’ shoes
For a site to be successful, you must target it to a specific audience and design it to solve your visitors’ needs. You can guess what they want, ask them what they want, or do a “task analysis” -- a much more rigorous approach to learning how they do the tasks associated with your site and what they really need.
Download a list of questions that you can use yourself, or that you can ask your project team if you have that luxury.
Plan methodically - and use the research data
A step-by-step process is helpful for building a comprehensive strategy, now that you’re sure of your objectives.
not only offers such a step-by-step planning process, but also does a good job explaining what usability is and how to achieve it. You can download research-based guidelines for planning everything from page layout and navigation to multimedia and widgets.
Make your home page work for you
A home page should be simple and compelling. It should also reinforce your brand. (What brand, you say? That’s a topic for different guide!) And your home page should serve as an intuitive map for the rest of your site. What it shouldn’t do is try to be all things to all people.
TechSoup offers useful instruction on the difference between mature and immature home pages, with a particularly helpful visual comparison between two such pages.
Who will write your content?
This is so obvious I’m almost embarrassed to write it – but you have to take into account your staffing resources when you decide how much content you’ll put on your site and how frequently you’ll update it. Users and search engines love original content, but it can be onerous, expensive, or both to produce.
If you need to update material frequently, you can get new content regularly and affordably from article distribution services like FeedZilla, ArticleDashboard.com, Reprint Content and thePhantomWriters.com. Need help producing original content? Go to MediaBistro or JournalismJobs.com to post an ad or search for writers. Find copywriters at guru.com.
Make your original content do double-duty
Publish your content for free to distribution services and it will wind up in other people’s e-zines and Web sites – creating traffic and links to your site, both of which improve your site’s ranking in search engines. The most sensible way to distribute your content is through an RSS feed, which will allow your users to access the content updates they want from your site.
There are many services that will help you with your RSS strategy, including FeedZilla and PressFeed.
Take pity on the reader
Understand how readers read on the Web. It’s not news, but it’s worth repeating: most visitors scan, they don’t read. And they read in an F-shaped pattern: most visitors will read across the top, across the middle, and then down your left-hand column. Many will never scroll “below the fold.” So put your most important content on the top left of the page, and keep everything short.
Read Jakob Neilsen’s famous eye-tracking study results at Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox.
Sure, the great thing about Web sites is that you can measure their use. But are you measuring the right things? One way to judge your content strategy is whether or not your actions will create outcomes that you want and that you can measure.
For help creating measurable outcomes, download WebSideStory’s free ebook. For help doing the measurements, try ClickTracks or OpenTracker.
Start a conversation
Like the idea of a social network – where your users can identify themselves and interact with one another – but don’t know where to begin? Try this free service, which allows you to set up your own social network quickly and easily. It won’t appear on your site, but you can create prominent links to it and brand it as your own.
Ning.com. What a great idea!
- Make it easy for your visitors to do what you want them to do. If you want them to subscribe to a newsletter, for instance, invite them on every page and make it easy to sign up.
- Frequency is important when you want to persuade visitors to take action. If you want to collect their email addresses and you’re running a contest to do so, give them several opportunities to enter the contest.
- Trust is critical on the Web. Make sure you’re giving your visitors useful or entertaining information, not just a sales pitch.