Is your business website a winner or a loser? If it’s a winner, you probably already know why. But if it’s a loser, you might be in the dark about why it’s not the killer marketing tool you were hoping for. Poor content is often the culprit.
Website content suffers from six common problems, which I explain below. But I also give you some specific keys for overcoming these familiar pitfalls. By following my advice, you can turn your website into a winner and get a good return on your investment.
PROBLEM # 1: Stale Content
Outdated content destroys credibility. A website goes stale quickly. If your latest press release is dated 2002, readers will be suspicious of everything on your site. And have you checked your external links lately? Without careful maintenance, “link rot” may set in – outdated links that go nowhere. Because the Web is the land of lightning-speed interactivity, people expect up-to-date information and quick responses. But way too often, content grows stale and interaction – answering emails, specifically — happens late or not at all. Frustration soon follows, and visitors never return to your site.
KEY #1: Schedule the Maintenance
First, schedule routine updates to make sure the content is still accurate, and cross-compare every page in your site for consistency in facts, message and tone.
If your site doesn’t tout your latest advances and features, where is your edge? Top-notch sites highlight fresh content, because it brings visitors back and instills confidence in your entire website, and in turn the organization behind it. After you’ve created a schedule for periodic updates, why not emulate the best by creating a “What’s New” section? It gives people a reason to return more often.
PROBLEM #2: Weak Content
Poor content drives people away. No one wants to spend time on a site where all they read is “mission statement” babble or hard-sell advertising. Does the text of your website convey your business message with accuracy? Is it compelling? A Forrester Research survey revealed that 75% of respondents rated the quality of web content as “poor.” Given that statistic, a little effort will go a long way in putting your site at the forefront.
KEY #2: Focus on Informative Content
Chances are, people come to your website searching for some free information or they have a problem at hand. Focus on the benefits of your product or service by providing needed information or even education. That way, your website will earn a reputation as source for useful knowledge – and your expertise will shine through. People are drawn to use businesses that are leaders in their field.
PROBLEM #3: Not Catering to Online Readers
Cater to readers who skim and scan. On the Web, time and attention are in very limited supply. One study by usability guru Jakob Nielsen showed that 79% of online readers always scanned pages, and only 16% read word by word. Another of Nielsen’s discoveries is that people read 25% slower online, so they want to do as little reading as possible. Does your site contain long paragraphs of text that look burdensome to read? Did you cut costs by just pasting your existing brochure into a web page?
KEY #3: Give On-Line Readers What Works for Them
Online readers are impatient. The Web is an information superhighway, and most travelers are speeding down it. Clear “road signs” are crucial and you must exploit all types of signage, no matter how minor they seem. For example, maximize the use headings and subheadings so your readers can zero in quickly on key words. Make sure that different font sizes give clues to the importance of the content.
Because it’s harder to read online, writing styles and formats must be different from those used in print media. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. In fact, traditional paragraphs should be converted to bulleted lists, because they work better for skimming readers. Based on a quick glance, would you be more drawn to read paragraph (A) or (B)?
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PROBLEM #4: Not Driving Readers to Act
Inertia is the enemy. Some websites are just a static series of billboards – they display pages of information, but go no further to maximize business. Those sites ignore three fundamental goals of e-commerce:
1. Attract the maximum number of qualified prospects
2. Convert prospects into clients
3. Convert clients into repeat clients
KEY #4: Drive the Reader Forward
Attracting and converting readers means moving them to act. Readers begin in passive mode at your home page. Launch them into active mode with strategically placed links and buttons. O n your home page and at bottom of each page, ask yourself, “What action do I want to drive the reader toward? And what can I tell him that will get him to perform that action?” Decide exactly where you want to push the reader next. Toward making an appointment? Toward buying from your catalog? These questions should cause you to think about the ultimate goal of having a website in the first place. What goal are you really striving for? If reaching that goal requires several steps on the part of your visitor, make a list of all the steps and create drivers at the bottom of each page in the sequence.
PROBLEM #5: Not Targeting Customer’s Needs
Stand in the customer’s shoes. Have you specifically identified your target customer? A poor website follows your agenda rather than the customer’s. A formal tone is not necessarily ideal for all situations. Here’s an example of the kind of corporate-speak that’s rampant on corporate home pages:
“At Acme Company, we endeavor to become a leading contributor to a more sustainable world. Corporate citizenship focuses on who we are as a company, what we offer in the marketplace, and how we conduct our business. We aspire to be one of the most respected companies in the world.”
Statements like these are not effective, because they don’t speak to the reader’s needs.
KEY #5: Do a Detailed Audience Analysis
You need to profile your target customers and anticipate their needs and questions. What are they looking for? What tone of voice will speak to them most directly? Are they going to be skeptical of corporate jargon?
Let’s see how Acme Company could adopt a tone that speaks more plainly to a person needing to know about the company’s commitment to sustainability:
“At Acme Company, every employee receives a full day of training on our Sustainable Earth policies. This isn’t just paying lip service to sustainability – it’s a big part of our corporate culture. We are aware of the impact we have on the planet, and this awareness shapes how we do business in hundreds of local environments.”
PROBLEM #6: Impersonal Tone
Anonymity is not the goal. No one likes dealing with a faceless company. With a medium as interactive and personal as the Web, content that’s mainly corporate-speak will bore your visitors and keep them passive. Is there anything duller than text that sounds robot-generated?
KEY #6: Reveal Yourself
The Web is a very personal, one-on-one medium, so take advantage of the connections you can make. Your style and approach should show that a real human being is behind the words. Turn up the warmth by offering opportunities to contact you. Reveal names. If your company is small, add biographies and photos of your staff.
Customer Service is more successful with a human touch, too. When answering emails, staff should sign their own names (not the company’s).
And do you have a Feedback page on your website? Ask for feedback, and when people provide it, thank them!