Writing Effective Website Content

The corporate website is an organization’s face to the world and can make or break business development opportunities. Prospects depend on websites to conduct product research, compare vendor offerings, and gather data critical to the decision-making process. Leading companies depend on their websites to communicate key marketing messages quickly and efficiently. But the Web is a unique medium so one must consider many nuances when developing content for websites.

Choices, Choices, Choices

Website visitors have a litany of choices at their disposal when navigating websites and most of these options are not good for corporations looking to make a convincing sales argument. Responding to email and IM, getting distracted by pop-ups, or simply jumping to another website are all likely alternatives to digging deeper into a site for more information. Some of these options are unique to the Web because they are so readily available.

Print readers can turn the page or put the document down but they can’t access competitor information nearly instantaneously. The same is true for TV viewers and radio listeners: they can get distracted, gloss over, or disengage, but these mediums don’t offer the myriad interactive options that the Web does.

What’s a corporate website developer to do? A website must be consistently engaging and present information in a manner that takes Internet user behaviors into consideration every step of the way. We refer to effective website content as being “bite-sized” and “layered”.

The Rule of “3″

Any good salesperson has several versions of an effective pitch in his arsenal, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice. Since one of the primary goals of a corporate website is to serve as a virtual salesperson, the site should take the Rule of 3 into consideration when developing and presenting content.

• 30-Second Pitch. Otherwise known as the Elevator Pitch, this is the barebones summary of an organization’s key value proposition that can be communicated in just a few seconds. For a website, 30 seconds may be a stretch; you may only have 10 – 15 seconds to convince a visitor they need to stay longer.

• 3-Minutes Pitch. Three minutes usually allows for a meaningful explanation of a company’s offerings and how it differentiates from the competition. Bullet-point structure is typically effective in both written and verbal format here.

• 30-Minute Presentation. Thirty minutes allows for a detailed discussion of an organization’s core competencies, compelling examples of its products or services at work, and exactly how it is unique in the marketplace. On a corporate website these arguments often come in the form of white papers, interactive rich media, online presentations, and case studies.

Customers have choices, and when visiting a corporate website they are looking for compelling reasons to do business with that company. By adhering to the Rule of 3, website content can be developed and presented in such a way that visitors are effortlessly exposed to key marketing messages and encouraged to opt-in for the amount of detail they need.

Text Format is Important

Text should be presented in bite-sized morsels that can readily be consumed and absorbed by readers. Studies indicate that website readers are 25% less efficient information consumers compared with print and magazine readers. Text treatments such as bullet points, lists, boldface, italics, and color manipulations should be used appropriately to guide readers to support user-friendliness and get reader to grasp salient points quickly.

When additional information is required from visitors, they should be able to easily find supporting evidence of that organization’s competency. Effective information architecture and text links will do just that. While design certainly plays a role in an effective website, compelling content – both the writing and presentation - is just as important.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (“SEO”) has emerged as a killer application of the Internet. According to some studies, 80% of all website traffic is initiated from one of the top five search engines – Google, MSN, Yahoo!, etc.

Content is one of the most important considerations for search engines in determining where a site ranks among its peers (i.e., the competition). SEO is a discipline of its own but should be a major consideration during the content development process.

Traditional Writing Practices Still Apply

Unique nuances must be considered when writing for the Web, but many traditional writing rules still apply:

• Don’t Rush It. Good writing takes time. Great writing takes a lot of time. Don’t expect anything quality to come from a hurried job.

• Start With an Outline. You learned this in high school English composition class and it remains true today. Develop an outline that results in a coherent presentation of content (this document will be closely related to what website developers call the site “information architecture” or “navigation scheme”) and use that as a guide for writing.

• Get Something Down. First drafts are just a starting point, and are rarely, if ever, ready for public consumption. The actual act of writing helps authors to organize thoughts, dig into issues, and produce meaningful copy. Getting a first draft in place is often the catalyst writers need to get motivated to see the document through completion.

• Use All Available Materials. Gather company print marketing collateral, sales presentations, executive memos, etc., and incorporate them into the website copy. There’s no point to reinventing the wheel, and developing original content is an extraordinarily time-consuming process.

• Use Charts & Visuals Liberally. We’ve all heard it before: “A picture says a thousand words.” The appropriate use of visuals conveys information effectively and makes content more readable for users, thereby making messages more powerful.

• Two Heads are Better Than One. Look at the “Acknowledgements” page of any worthy piece of writing and there are at least several references to people important to the process: editors, researchers, spouses, assistants, etc. Sometimes it includes dozens of individuals. Writing isn’t a solo endeavor. Seek out people around you to brainstorm with and critique your work.

Getting It Done

Developing effective and persuasive website content requires planning, thinking, resources and smarts. Give this critical task the proper attention (or outsource to an expert) and your website will serve as an effective sales tool.