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.
Paul Kimmage interview with Floyd Landis on NY Velocity.
In 2010 the journalist Paul Kimmage interviewed the former pro cyclist Floyd Landis for a newspaper article. Landis won the 2006 Tour de France before having his title stripped for a doping offence. Coming from a Mennonite background and having been almost completely ostracised from the sport, Landis is an unusual character in comparison to most cyclists.
Kimmage read through the transcript of his 7 hour conversation with Landis and decided there was more to it than he could cover in a single newspaper article. A couple of months later the full, 31,000 word transcript was published on nyvelocity.com, an act which would not have been plausible offline.
The interview quickly gained attention and led directly to multiple lawsuits which divided and galvanised cycling fans. The topic of doping is discussed at length in the interview and revelations would dominate the sport since.
Only online could you publish such a document and see it spread so quickly. It was an inspired and brave decision to do so and shows how not all content decisions can be made by referring to guidelines or usual practice.
Don’t be afraid to take risks with your own content and to test what happens when you do something unexpected.
We love to see outstanding content. xkcd is a “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” by American artist Randall Munroe. It has been one of the most successful webcomics of the past few years. Munroe decided to do something out-of-the-ordinary.
He created “Time” – a 3,099 panel comic that updated one frame every 30 minutes, later hourly. It began with two people building a sandcastle and wondering why the water level is rising so quickly. They go on an obscure and difficult to understand journey where not a lot of note happens.
It was completely impractical for anybody to follow the comic in real-time, and previous panels were not made available on xkcd.com. When the comic was finished, it was left to fans to extract them and compile them into gifs, videos, and interactive pages such as http://geekwagon.net/projects/xkcd1190. The fact that xkcd had a highly successful forum helped greatly.
The comic generated a lot of discussion and publicity for its sheer ambition. There was nothing else like it out there. After some time, Munroe did an interview with Wired explaining that it took place in the Mediterranean Basin 11,000 years in the future, and pointed to various clues to its location within the comic.
xkcd: Time panel 1067
This is anexample of content not created by examining analytics or user needs. A great piece of content was created and it worked. What can you do that’s as ambitious?
Who is Miles Fisher? He is the prototypical actor of the future. Is that too extreme? Ok, let’s try again. He is a talented and successful actor who approached the business from the off with a hardnosed mindset. In this video he talks eloquently about how he exploited the possibilities of online media to carve out a career for himself.
‘Even before I made the first video that really popped off, I was in dialogue with people that were doing it on a bigger level than I was’. He didn’t make something and hope that it went viral, he researched the area intensively, planned his impact and made his first video.
‘We went all out – I took a little bit of a risk, I paid for it out of my own pocket’ – on his first video – he committed to it fully.
‘Be a good consumer – always looking around’. Being a good consumer is almost his first rule of being a good creator of online content.
‘I want to create a very-high production value, very cinematic-type videos that come out less often, so they are kind of an event.’ This is his way of differentiating himself from the surfeit of video blogs which often use webcams and are weekly – he was not content with following the crowd.
‘I put a lot of emphasis on everything I do – I think about not what the marketplace wants right now but where it’s going down the line and what sixth-graders (12-year-olds – LOC) are doing right now. And it’s not so much what they are watching but what they are making is amazing… and it’s only going to get more and more.’
‘Boredom has just evaporated… there are so many things to do now.’
‘Prove over and over again that you are worth people’s time.
Miles Fisher on Youtube:
Miles Fisher: How a Viral Video Star Is Reinventing the Acting Biz
This Must Be The Place (NSFW)
Don’t Let Go
Web content writing requires a lot of discipline. It is natural to write a lot of text on topics that you find interesting, but you must carefully examine whether it is necessary or not.
Are your users used to long articles? Some bloggers never have a word count below 1000 and that’s okay when their readers expect that. If you have an unusually lengthy article, most readers’ natural reaction will be to scan it for the relevant parts.
You must continually remind yourself of website users’ low attention span. They (usually) don’t pay for your content. They don’t feel compelled to give it a chance to impress them. All of their favourite time-wasting sites are a click or two away, constantly calling them.
You don’t want to spend any more time than you need to on the piece that you are writing. You don’t want to spend a lot of time deleting hard work on re-edits. So keep the following points in mind when writing for the web.
- Do I need to say this? If you stop and think, you will sometimes find that you are actually going off on a tangent from your main point. Keep these to a minimum.
- Is it coherent? Have you got enough paragraphs and are you writing the piece in a logical progression? Scribbling down your main points before you begin writing will help you to keep on track.
- Am I using cliches and tautologies? These really slow down the flow of a piece.
- Are my links worded clearly? If you link to a bus timetable it is better to write ‘Dublin – Cork Bus Timetable‘ than ‘here’s a way to get between two cities quickly’. Keep it tight.
Web content writing is all about discipline
You need to know precisely what you want to say before you begin, and then focus on that as you write. Cut out the fat and you should end up with a meaty piece which gives your user exactly what they want.
I have been spending a lot of time on small business websites recently, and the quality of them in general is fairly disappointing. And since there seems to be some confusion over what a small business website should contain, here is a handy checklist:
The small business website checklist
- Photos (outside and inside)
- Opening hours
- Active social feeds
- About the business
- About the owners
Let’s go through each of these one-by-one:
- Name is obvious – I include it here merely to have a complete list
- Photos – As a user, I need an outside photo to see more easily where I am going (particularly true for accommodation) and I need photos of the inside so that I can try and judge the quality of the place.
- Location – I need the exact location. Ensure that is right on your map. Draw a map with nearby landmarks if it makes it clearer where you are (e.g if you are off a main road).
- Opening hours – Don’t make me call up for these. Just don’t. If you have ‘normal’ opening hours you still need to tell me that.
- Services – You cannot put down too much detail about what you do. For example, most bicycle shops can carry out a bicycle service. Not many go to the trouble of detailing exactly what the service entails, along with a pricing for it. This sort of thing really drives home the value that the customer is getting.
- Active social feeds. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Keep these reasonably up-to-date (postings within a week in slow times). If it is too much work for you, focus on fewer outlets and remove links to dead feeds from your site.
- About the business – how long you are going, how you have changed, future plans perhaps – be concise but tell as much of your story as will interest others.
- About the owners – this is a follow-on from the previous point. What drove you to start the business? How do you differentiate yourself from others? Why do you like doing this work? What makes you qualified to do it?
- Testimonials – don’t go overboard with these, just try having two or three. The line of business that you are in will determine how credible they are. Aim for testimonials from people whose identity can be verified.
- Pricing – somehow this seems to get left out of websites. It is absolutely vital that you include this. If your service is bespoke then include examples. But don’t just leave it out or tell people to call you. The internet exists so that people don’t have to call you.
- FAQs – Frequently asked questions should be as extensive as possible while remaining relevant. Put in every question about your business that you can think of.
Get your small business website right and convert prospects to customers quickly and effectively. All of the above apply to you. Put in the work and your rewards will come.
Web Content Planning can be tricky to pin down accurately. Creating a new page can take an hour or a day or more, depending on how well you know the subject and on what exactly you need to do. Here is a method I have been using to finish the content required for the launch of the Cycle Ireland App – a process which has lasted over 6 months.
I mentioned Workflowy as a great project management tool and a way to keep everything in one place. But I found it lacking as a task tracker. For this I will use trusty old Microsoft Excel.
Cycle Ireland is a solution to the problem of navigating Ireland’s backroads by bicycle. We apply the internet to so many aspects of our lives yet there are many areas where we can do so much more. Cycling is one of them.
In 2011 I cycle toured in the US, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, France and Italy, along with doing a few short trips in Ireland. There was no all-encompassing solution for choosing good routes. Decisions were made by picking through google maps and blogs and miscellaneous websites. There are numerous sites with user-generated routes which did not have enough information to be useful.
So I got to thinking – how can this be done better? Specifically, how can this be done better for Ireland? I had bought the url cycleireland.ie a couple of months previously.
The descent to Ashleam Bay near Dooega on Achill Island
A web content job interview usually has a lot of ground to cover – here are 5 questions you should ask any candidate for interview.
When you interview somebody you need to know that they can do the job, that you can work with them, and that they won’t be unhappy in the job. Here are a few questions to help you with the first and last requirements.
What is your site?
This one will weed out any spoofers. You need someone who can plan long term and will see projects through, rather than take the easy route, do things which take little effort and assume nobody notices. If they have a blog with 200+ posts, they understand what a long-term content strategy is, because they have had to learn it. If they posted twice in the last 6 months, things have gone badly wrong. If they discuss why and give reasons which show that they have analysed the situation intelligently, fair enough. But if they have never had their own site/blog, it is more difficult to verify these things.