What do you need for website content?
This is something that comes up all of the time with clients who need to provide content for a new website and are faced with deciding what to write. That would seem to be a good enough reason for me to take the time to write an article about just that subject, but that is not why I decided to write. No, the question that really needs answering is...What is a great web design?
If you are thinking, "Hey! That's the web designers Job!" then you are correct and can skip to Part #2 (still should read part #1 though).
But....If you thought, "Yes, I need to know that so I can make sure everything is just the way I want it on my new website." Part #1 is for you.
I bet you thought this was going to be a writing primer, and you would get all kinds of tips to writing that 400 word 'About Us' page. It sort of is, but first things first...
Part #1 - Know your Audience
Why do you care who your audience is? It's not so much who they are as individuals, as a professional web developer, I am interested as to where they come from!
Think right now about your new site, and picture the user there at their computer as they see your site for the first time. What will they see that tells them everything about you? Now that is not where I begin. No, the question you need to start with is, "where will they come from?". Why? Well, first thing is, you won't get everything about your business on the home page (though I have seen some who try). The primary reason you need to know where they come from, is so you can understand the user's expectations, and how your site should handle them.
Fact of the matter is, website users will come from two general places:
Source 1 - Someone will visit your page only if directed there by search.
This typically means, people will search for a service or product or related terms for your industry. If your site has content that relates to your target customers need and you have that content indexed by search engines (Google) then you have qualified their interest in what you offer. It should be no surprise then, when a user gets to a page on your site, and sees that the subject of interest (either in text or images or a combination) appear just as they expected when they typed in the search. This is not easy to hit with 100% accuracy.
Source 2 - They will be directed by a link, ad, or recommendation.
This means that somewhere information will be provided that convinces users of the potential value of your website to meet their need(s). In other words, they will already know there is a site where they can source a "worlds most powerful blender". Again, no surprise when they are reassured they are at the right place by a picture of something generally pleasing (not descriptive), and given at most, two or three simple choices to make. this does not mean there cant be 1000 menu items with 6 layers of drop-downs and sub-menus. This does mean there should be a very carefully chosen, few points for the user to first focus on.
What will not happen - The mistake is the thought that someone will randomly type in yourwebsite.com and then try to figure out what the site is.
Realistically, the majority of users already know what they will be looking for before they ever hit your site. They won't care what kind of gradient is in the background, if the fonts are all consistent with the branding, or if there is a cool picture in the header. Nope, they won't even be impressed if the logo is a 300 pixel high animated gif. There are some who will want more info and will immediately go for the 'about' to look at your business a little closer and possibly get some more details. Overall, the goal is to deliver a stress free intuitive experience for the user that has been directed to your site by either option 1 or 2 of the above, presents an impression consistent with the information that brought them to your site.
Common mistakes that a pro should never make (AKA Things you should never ask a pro web designer to do).
Any use of "click here" - This is the sure sign of an amateur website. There is no replacement for a well placed inviting button that says, "Push me and I'll do what you want."
Arrows! - I would hope any pro web designer can get someones attention without arrows. Page focus should be determined by page layout. Period!
Make all the fonts match. - Matching is good for socks and Dueling pistols. Fonts can carry emotion. They can suggest that something is "fun" or "serious" or "important". They can also direct focus, and are tools used in website layout. I have never heard a case of someone visiting a website and feeling disconnected from the brand identity because the font did not match a sales brochure from last year. I have seen visitors land on sites with hard-to-read fonts and become annoyed.
Descriptive images - Of course you need to tell about your product or service and images can do that well, but, we don't want to get confused between descriptive images and design images. Design images are images that are part of the overall look and feel of the site. You may sell Organic Banannas, in Ohio, but it may send the right message to have a palm tree incorporated into your pages graphic content. Clients can often make the mistake of trying to be literal with elements that don't need to be. The overall look and feel can reach emotion, provide comfort, or confidence or even send the message that portrays a certain edginess. this of course, depends on the product or service, but a good designer knows how to address your site user on a "feelings" level.
Part #2 - Explain your Business
Feature / Benefits
Basic sales involves two aspects; Features and Benefits. First, let me tell you one thing. No one cares about your features! Second, many copywriters never even mention their benefits.
So if you sell Organic Bananas in Ohio, you may say that because it is a feature of your business...
"We sell Organic Mangoes in Ohio!"
But don't stop there! The only reason you mention the feature is so you can offer the prospective customer the benefit.
See the example below and how it's better to have a benefit too!
"Organic Mangoes here in Ohio - The fresh taste of the Tropics!"
...or even just the benefit if you dare!
"Bringing you the fresh taste of the Tropics!"
Make sure to keep the benefits in mind when you write copy about your business and even it's people. Give readers a reason to see you as different and better that competitors. That brings up our second point of focus....Differentiation.
The only way a prospect can decide to do business with you is if they decide not to do business with someone else. That sounds obvious right? Yes, but the important part is how that prospect makes that decision. At a basic level they need to differentiate you from everyone else. This means that there is some benefit that you provide that no one else provides. First response by an inexperienced marketer is PRICE! "We must be cheaper!". This is the argument that says a big box store will ruin the business of a local merchant because they have a cost advantage. But cost is only one factor. If it were that important, companies like Mercedes would not be able to sell cars because Ford would have the cost advantage. The local steakhouse would be run out by Denny's. No, Price is not the only differentiating factor, nor is it even the most important. YOU will define the most important differentiating factor for your business.
So you may be the "Service Leader for...", or the "Most Knowledgeable Resource on...", it could also mean that you are easier to do business with than anyone else (Think of companies with friendly return or refund policies). You may provide a better quality of product or service than anyone else, or in the end you may be the one that is least expensive.
Regardless of your business focus, if you don't make it clear to your audience, and tell them exactly WHAT differentiates your business and HOW it is you are different, you may provide some information about your company, but you will not influence anyone to do business with you, and that will be a costly mistake.