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Concrete Content – The Foundation for a Professional Website

By Andrea Harris
Posted Thursday, December 9, 2004

No one comes to your site to ooh and ah over your pretty graphics. They come to your site because they want something. And that something is the content.

Deciding what content to put on your website is one of the most important, yet most overlooked aspects of creating a site. Let’s face it; no one comes to your site to ooh and ah over your pretty graphics. They come to your site because they want something. And that something is the content.

Think about how your website fits into your overall marketing plan. Is it a source of leads? Do you expect people to find you on search engines? Or is the website more of an online portfolio where people check out your work to help them make a decision? Perhaps you want to keep your options open and assume the site will be used both as a lead generator and as a reinforcement of your offline marketing activities. Think about what your customers’ expectations are going to be in either case and ensure the site delivers the content they want.

The Home Page

Let’s look at your home page first. What’s THE most important item to have on your home page? This is usually the most overlooked item. It’s a statement of what your business does. And I don’t mean some marketing mush written by a committee that had eight members to placate. I’m talking about a clear, concise statement that lets someone understand what your business is in an instant. Whether it’s your tagline or the first paragraph of your text, it should be a no-brainer.

Because this item is so important, let’s look at a few and see which ones tell YOU what the business does.

“Business-to-business proofreading in about an hour” (Clear, short - this says it all) “…your one stop shop for systemic, innovative, customized support to help you achieve your business goals while meeting the needs of your shareholders, customers and employees.” (It sounds as though about 12 people contributed to this description, and they still don’t’ say what they DO.) “Business Changing Ideas” (This could mean anything. There’s no other explanation on the site, but it happens to be an ad agency.)

The Top-Level Pages

Your top level pages are the pages that link off the home page. Some of these can link off to lower-level pages when there’s a lot of content.

There are certain basic top-level pages that pretty much every business needs to have. For the purposes of this article, we’ll name them: About, Products & Services, Customers, and Contact. Depending on what kind of business you’re in, you may need additional top-level pages (like Alliances, Ordering, etc.), but we’ll just talk about the basic ones for now.

About – a professional-looking website can disguise the sleaziest of businesses. Web users are becoming more savvy, so they look to the About section to do their research on you. They want to know who the people are behind your organization. Are they real? What are their credentials? Can they be trusted?

The About section is an important place to prove your credibility. Here’s an example. I just switched email list management vendors. The original vendor says this “The management team has a solid track record in the Internet industry, having built and sold one Internet company (xxxxxxx) and running xxxxx.com, an award-winning web site which helps small businesses get started and grow. They also serve on the advisory boards of several emerging companies.” This is a start, but it’s not enough. They never say who the people are or where they are located. The vendor I switched to has a page with blurbs about each member of the management team as well as their board of directors. I see names of real companies in their backgrounds, names I recognize and admire. I feel a lot more comfortable using their service.

In addition to presenting the management team, the About section often also holds the press releases, company history, and other background information. Including a photo in this section goes a long way to prove that there’s a real person behind the website.

Products & Services –this might be just Products, just Services, or you might even have separate pages if you offer both. This is where you make it very clear what you offer, and provide benefits and features. This is often where site visitors go first after arriving at your home page. They want to see if you offer what they want. Then they go to About to see you’re someone they want to do business with. Depending on what you sell, you might have a lot of pages that link off this page.

Customers – a great way to prove your credibility is to show that other established companies have bought your services. It removes some of the risk for the prospect and shows that others value your offerings. While listing customers is good, including testimonials is even better. No one wants to hear you blow your own horn, but they will listen when someone else blows it. My former employer had an entire department devoted to creating and promoting customer success stories. It’s one of the most powerful forms of marketing and shouldn’t be ignored.

Testimonial quotes almost always have to be heavily edited to maximize their impact. The most well-intentioned customer can give a quote that rambles and never gets to the point. A good writer can help you collect and edit customer quotes if you don’t want to do it yourself. Many customers will actually ask you to write the quote and let them review it.

Don’t be shy about asking for quotes. Satisfied customers are always happy to share their positive experiences. It can provide a little marketing boost for them, too. My own clients enjoy the added bonus of getting a hotlink to their site from the quote – you can do this too.

Contact – this is pretty basic, but it bears mentioning here. You always want to make it easy for people to contact you, whether by email or phone. And remember your fax number, because current customers may use the Web to look it up. Including your physical location here is a way to establish credibility (although those of us with home-based businesses don’t always want to divulge that information.) Directions to your office are a must if customers come to you.

Depending on your business, there are other top-level categories for content that you may need. Just beware of falling into the trap of creating too many categories that will clutter up your Website and confuse your customers.

Examples of Work/Portfolio – if you’re in a business like mine (writing, e-newsletter and Website creation) it’s critical that you show examples of your work. My portfolio page gets more hits than any other, except the home page.

Alliances/Affiliates – it’s not uncommon for a small business to partner with other businesses to provide complete solutions for their customers. This section is where you can list them and describe what they offer. See how The Sales Alliance handles it at (http://www.thesalesalliance.com/alliances.shtml).

Approach – if the way you work with customers is a key selling point or differentiator, it may make sense to include it here. The Strategic Offsites Group is an example of a company that wanted to explain their approach: (http://www.strategicoffsites.com/approach.html).
Articles/Resources – whether you’re posting articles that you have written, or are linking to others’ helpful articles, you can add a section that brings them to your customers’ attention.

Careers – naturally, if you’re hiring, your Website is a great place to advertise positions. I’ve seen a lot of small-company Websites, however, that include Careers sections when they obviously have no intention of hiring anybody. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t fool me into thinking they are bigger than they really are.

Events –will you be speaking at conferences or setting up a booth at a trade show? Keep your Website current with any upcoming events but please, remember to remove the information when the event has passed.

Many of these sections, such as Approach and Events, can easily be categorized under the About section. You might want to also promote upcoming events right on the home page.

Determining what content should go on your website is an important step, and one you need to take right from the start. Your next step with the content is to g(ather and write it, which is the basis for a whole other article. One quick hint though: don’t post whatever is in your printed literature, word-for-word. Print and Web are different media, and each has different requirements.

About the Author
Andrea Harris, publisher of The Minerva Minute and owner of Minerva Solutions, Inc. helps businesses achieve professional, effective online and printed marketing communications. She previously worked at Compaq Computer (now Hewlett Packard), where she managed Web marketing for the server division. Contact Andrea or sign up for her email list at (http://www.minerva-inc.com).