Content is King
As Bill Gates famously said in 1996 at the dawn of the internet revolution, “content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”
Almost two decades later, his predication rings true. Winning websites have quality content that is compelling enough to grab and hold readers’ attention.
As the Communications & Content Manager for Americans for the Arts, my role is to do just that – I identify, create, and distribute valuable messaging and stories from each of our programs to attract, acquire, and engage Americans for the Arts’ constituents.
Content improvement is a constant job – as soon as you make it through one section of the website, it’s time to tackle the next. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for creating quality website content - or the sometimes-more-difficult process of working with others to create quality web content - but here are some tips and general rules that worked well for our staff.
When creating quality content for your website, it should be:
- Clear - Written content should be concise and informative. Break up text with lists and graphics, avoid busy layouts, and use links to cross-promote content on other pages. Menus need to be simple to follow and tailored to your audiences’ primary interests. Content should match the title of the page to allow for strong search functionality.
- Consistent - The tone and style of writing should be consistent from page to page on your site. Depending on your organization’s overall style, you may want to take a more or less formal tone. Writing in the first person, for example, will be perceived as more personal than writing in the third person. One isn’t better than the other, but you should decide which works for your audience and stick with it. The same principals apply to layout, headers, fonts, etc. on different pages. You can be creative and experiment with different looks in different sections, but the general look and feel of your website should remain the same throughout. (Our Website Coordinator, Josh Jenkins, expands on consistency more here.)
- Engaging - Visitors want to find what they’re looking for immediately, and they often want some control over how they interact with that information. Pull the reader into your content with declarative headlines, and speak directly to what they want to know. Interactivity is a key aspect of crafting engaging content for today’s audience - providing a clear path will get visitors to the content; content they can interact with will keep them there. Whether it’s an Instagram feed displaying your organization’s latest photos, links to other relevant sections of your website, infographics they can view and manipulate, or videos they can watch – interactive and visual content will keep your viewers engaged and exploring your site. (Raheem, our Website Associate, and I discuss the types of multimedia content that can be used to keep your website appealing and exciting later in this blog salon.)
- Original - There is nothing wrong with sharing reputable, quality content from other organizations and individuals. In fact, this is exactly what you should be doing on your social media platforms. Sharing is a huge part of what we all do online everyday – everything from viral videos to personal photos.Your organization’s website and blog, however, should be a place to share original ideas created by people that viewers will come to consider experts - your staff. If content generated by another website is valuable to your audience, link to it on your website or blog with an original description or summary - don’t copy it verbatim.
Not only will you build loyalty from your viewers if you provide original content of value, but you will also be rewarded by search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo that utilize algorithms to promote websites that provide high-quality, timely, original content. These algorithms also help search engines weed out websites with low quality content. If you directly copy content from other websites, your site is likely to be displayed lower in search engine rankings because they’ll consider it plagiarism.
Now that you know the basics content rules - what’s the best process for getting staff to write great content, and getting that content on to the website?
First, they will need to understand what “great content” means for your organization. Find inspiration from other organizations that are creating the type of engaging, creative, and informative content you want your organization to create.
Then, take some of your current content and help staff think about how to improve how it is presented. See if the few basic changes we mentioned can make it more easily digestible.
Now that your staff is on the same page, make a realistic plan for improvement that includes the schedule and due dates upfront and allows for multiple rounds of revisions. Don’t try to tackle all of your content, but instead divide your content into three options: migrate as-is, revise/improve, or create anew. (Raheem Dawdou, Website Associate, expands on the details of collaborating with staff on this process later in this blog salon!)
Once content is submitted, a small team (or, in some cases, one lucky person) who understands the overall vision and tone for the website should edit the content for consistency. Each piece of content will then move on to your web team (or external web contractor) for addition to your website.
Writing and creating quality content for a website sounds like a lot of work – is it worth it?
With all the tools and online platforms available to share information with your constituents quickly and interactively, you might wonder why it’s important to have a website. Are Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter feeds, Snapchat accounts, e-newsletters, and other communication vehicles (that may seem less time intensive than a website) enough for your organization?
The answer is no - they aren’t enough, and YES – a winning website is worth the effort. While a comprehensive communications and marketing plan will include many of these other visibility tools, a website that effectively communicates your organization’s mission, activities, resources, and other information is still the strongest and most robust tool in your belt.
It’s the hub for your content and your organization’s brand – the place where your organization’s information, news, stories, sign-up forms, archives, and everything else permanently lives. Rebeccah Murtagh provides a more thorough analysis of this point on searchenginewatch.com in her post “6 Reasons the Website (vs. Social Media) Should Be the Ultimate Destination for the Brand.”
You can send a great story via e-newsletter to a list of your constituents and share it on every social media platform you utilize, but that story will begin and end for your readers the moment it’s sent out.
You have great content and information to share with the world – remember that your website is the home base for content that can be shared via other platforms like emails and social media, bringing people back to your website where the story (and your organization) is accessible forever.