A web content matrix can be an immensely useful in tracking your content. Before you create one, you need to decide what information you are going to record on it. Having too much information will make the document unwieldy and time-consuming, perhaps leading to its abandonment. Having too little information can lead to the excel content matrix not fulfilling its potential.
So how do you know what to include?
Creating a web content matrix
You need to make some decisions before you start.
- How long is the website going to exist for? A typical website may last 3 years before being rebuilt.
- What information will be useful for you to have in that time period before the website gets rebuilt? Some information will change regularly and some will be static (such as URLS). Having these all in one place can save you a lot of time.
- Who is going to use it? If this is just for one person (yourself) then you can be quite flexible (e.g. “I know that information is a little old but I don’t need to spend time updating it right now”). If it will be used by multiple people then it needs to be clear what is on it and how accurate it is.
Having a lot of information (such as photo URLs used) that change a lot make the content matrix very difficult to maintain, and you may be better off leaving them out.
The Cycle Ireland Content Matrix
I have 100 routes on the cycleireland.ie site, with 200+ pages, so I wanted all of the information that I would regularly refer to in one place. I used the following columns in my content matrix:
- Route ID
- Short name (used on the app)
- Main image
- Video URL
- GPX filename
- Long name (used on the site)
- Directions page URL
- Type (linear or loop)
- Status (on the free or paid app)
- Central co-ordinate (used by the app)
- Number of photos in gallery
- Word count
- Start town
- Finish town
- Published date
This matrix gave an an overview of the site in a number of important ways. A couple of columns – number of photos and word count – were not updated when changed but still gave a rough overview. If I needed accurate figures for these I could update them at any time. Others, such as rating, occasionally changed and the matrix was updated in tandem. The most important thing is that I understood what was accurate and what was estimated, which is easy to show in a spreadsheet, however you choose to do it.
What about large sites?
This web content matrix was for a small site. If you have a much larger one you need to decide for yourself what is important and how deep to go. Nobody else can make that decision for you. It is a good idea as you are starting off to quickly create a simple matrix and then add to it as you find yourself requiring information.
In this way you don’t need to make a huge blind commitment that you may later regret.
I have been working on a retail site and the issue of how to label the Buy button cam e up. Different possibilities have different connotations:
- Buy – blunt
- Add to cart – impersonal
- Purchase – too formal
- Buy now – too bossy
To complicate matters the site is not traditional in that it sells high-ticket items that people are unlikely to buy more than one of. That makes the concept of a virtual shopping basket less appropriate than it might be on other sites.
I wanted to check out the labelling that big retailers use to get a pointer on this.
- Wiggle – add to basket
- Asos – add to bag
- Amazon – add to basket
- Fashionphile – add to bag
- Chain reaction Cycles – add to basket
- Yoogis closet – add to shopping bag
- Harvey Norman – add to cart
- Pixmania – add to basket
We have 4 “Add to basket”, 2 “Add to bag”, 1 “Ad to cart” and 1 “Add to shopping bag”.
I want my terminology to be consistent with what people are use to, so I will use the phrase “Add to…” on the button. But add to what? I don’t want to use “bag,” as handbags are what the site primarily sells. If they were one of twenty product types it would be ok, but they are the primary one. So that’s out. That leaves “basket”or “cart”.
I think “basket” is the less harsh and more modern of the two, so that’s the one to go for. We can test it at a later point if we don’t like the conversion rates.
In recent times there has been an increase in website footers that are packed with links that take you all over the site. They have so many links that it becomes very difficult to actually find the one that you want.
You can have 40, 50 links or even more across several columns. Some people don’t recognize when they reach the point of diminishing returns. The footer is not a dump. It is a place to show miscellaneous but necessary links. The exact links to show will depend on the type of site that you run.
As a rule, if the link would only be required by a specific type of user (as opposed to general users), it is a good candidate for the footer.
Keep it simple. Combine pages where it makes sense. If you do have a lot of links, keep the names of them as short as possible to save your users’ time while they scan the footer looking for the one that they want.
Your homepage web content is most likely the most important web content on your site. Naturally it is the part of the site that you should spend the most time on. A good exercise is to determine the calls of action that you most want to direct users to, such as:
- buy a product
- contact you with questions/complains
- sign up to a mailing list
- follow you on facebook/twitter/pinterest
- read your content
Once you have written them down, put them in the order of most to least important. Now take the first one. That is what should be the first thing on your homepage. All the others must fit around it, whether in navigation bars, sidebars, headers, footers or in a different part of the main content area.
Too often homepages look like a junkyard, with every possible action to be found there, and complete confusion as to where you intended journey through the site is meant to be.
Look at your homepage and see if you can simplify it. Make the most important thing that visitors can do clear to both them and to you. Other things should be findable and placed where people would expect them to be.
You may end up with something very different and very fresh.
A lack of knowledge or skill in proofing will kill the credibility of your website faster than almost anything else. Everybody has different levels of proficiency but it is important to be self-aware and to understand your own.
They are two separate issues. Your knowledge of grammar is important in the writing stage. If you don’t have the basics nailed down you are seriously limiting your potential as a web content writer or strategist – it is a key business skill. There are plenty of books available on the topic, such as Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.
If you are weak in this area you should set aside some time regularly to improve your skills.
This is a pretty good way to save spave on your site when you have only one set of contact details. It is particularly useful when you have a long homepage. Your contact details should be on your footer without your visitor having to click in to another page, but if you have a lot of blogposts on your homepage you don’t want them to have to scroll all the way down to view them.
Contact / About
Ok, my name is James and I work at company.com. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I best write that?
That’s it. That’s how you write an email address. Post done.
But wait, how do people mess it up?
“But I’m a photographer/artist/retailer” – It doesn’t matter. You should never use sliders according to this fascinating post on sliders on Yoast.com.
It is very easy to think that there are exceptions, but if you truly believe that, you should test out your beliefs. I like the points made in the post about sliders diluting the focus of a site.
Read the post in the link. If you couldn’t have a slider, what would you replace it with? Why?
Then why not test that out and see where you get?
I follow on from my last post with a few more ideas on creating an appropriate content tone for your online writing.
Know what you want to say
Everything that you write must be in service of a point, whether that is to educate or persuade. Know where you must end up before you start. Sketch an outline before you start and it will be easier to stay on track.
Illustrate with stories
Instead of writing about what customers want, illustrate it with a story or two. Just make sure that the stories have something compelling to them. “John was a first-time customer who bought X product and was happy with it.” isn’t much of a story. There needs to be a twist or a reveal. “John bought X from us and returned 2 months later to buy the same for his wife – he said X had been invaluable to him during the coldest December in a generation when his family got snowed in for three days.” gives the reader a lot more information.
Call to action
Whatever it is, whether it’s a purchase or an email signup, carefully lead up to it and don’t be shy about doing so. You are writing for a reason and this is it.
Content tone needs to be crafted
It is not something that happens on its own or is a byproduct of writing. You need to craft it and practice it in order to get it right. Don’t neglect it.
As you can outsource virtually any part of the web development process, so it is with freelance web content. This can be a really good idea if you do it right – let’s look at the pros and cons:
Pros of freelance web content:
- You get access to a level of experience that you may not otherwise be able to afford
- You can get talent even if the role is not a full-time or permanent one e. g. for a microsite.
- You can be flexible and try things out without committing to the cost of a full-time member of staff.
- You can get a fresh perspective on the site – if you get someone good to do this it can save you a lot of money.
- You need to efficiently plan your content to be sure that everything will go smoothly.
Cons of freelance web content:
- The freelance content writer does not cultivate the familiarity with your business that a full-time content producer/manager would have. They won’t know your products or customers in absolute detail.
- An in-house content producer may (not always) offer a greater likelihood of imposing a consistent voice on the site.
- They are always available, even if that is only in theory.
- You can train them more easily in the needs of the business.
- Physical proximity to your team/business/products can be an advantage.
Freelance web content checklist
Define your site’s tone of voice – this should not be longer than a couple of paragraphs. Link to three or four examples on your site that best exhibit this voice. This will be the introduction for any writer to your site.
Write a biography of your customers/users. Outline their issues, what they are looking for, why they choose you, how they find you, what they complain about. Keep this short and to the point.