Many times in the past I've helped entrepreneurs by building their website, but after the official launch, nothing has changed for them. They didn't fill their website with engaging content to begin with, and they never updated their blog. Their brand new shiny site didn’t attract any attention, because people had no reason to go there.
The owner spent money on something they don't use at all, when in fact that website was supposed to make them more money. It's like buying gorgeous red polkadot shoes that screamed your name, and then they just sit in your closet because you can't seem to find the right occasion to wear them. (I cannot possibly be the only person who has done this.)
Business owners are busy
It's understandable. You need to run your business, serve your clients, respond to phone calls and emails... You don't have the time to think about content!
But you can’t afford not to think about your website content. [Tweet this!]
Without content, your website doesn't have a purpose. There’s no point in having a website with no content, or full of poor quality content that only makes your business look bad.
I’ll be frank.
If you're not going to bother creating useful and engaging content for your visitors, don't waste your time and money on a website.
A website that fails to interest your potential clients and provide them with the kind of information they need is no better than not having a website at all.
I'm a designer and I make a living from this work, but I would rather have you reconsider hiring me, than feel guilty because I sold you something you don't need.
After seeing my clients’ websites gathering dust because they weren’t cared for, I’ve felt partly responsible for it. I hadn't offered my clients help and guidance. I thought that by making the website design and infrastructure, I'm doing enough – that content is not my job.
I've realized later that even though creating the content for my clients is not my job, I could offer them a lot more value if I showed them how to create it – and that’s why now, my website design service package for brand new websites includes content strategy consulting.
But even if you’re not ready to hire me to help you out, I don’t want to leave you hanging. If you’re planning a new website, here’s what you need to do.
Create content before you hire a web designer
You need to start working on your website content prior to having your site design finished. At best, you’ll come to your designer with your content ready. At worst, you should start creating your content as soon as you hire a web designer, so you can send them the content they need when they need it (personally, I refuse to start working on the website until the content is delivered).
The benefits to having your content prepared before the design phase are many:
- Your website will be designed with the actual content in mind, so it will look better
- Your website will be ready to launch immediately after your designer (and/or developer) finishes their part of the job
- You’ll sit and think through your content carefully (instead of rushing it just to have your site “done”) which will result in better quality of your content
- You'll avoid having to ask your designer to make changes to your website later, which saves you time and money
But the content planning and creation process is the same whether you’re hiring a designer, or doing it yourself.
How to plan your website content
Each page on your website requires text, and in some cases images or multimedia. Gathering this content is your responsibility, unless you’ve arranged with your designer that they’ll create the visual content for you. Some designers may include a budget for stock imagery in their quote, but ask them to be sure.
These are the types of content you need to think about when planning your website:
- General information pages (About us, FAQ...)
- Product or service specific pages
- Timely content (articles, videos...)
- Microcopy (success messages, button captions...)
I'll explain each of them in more detail.
General information pages
Every business is different and unique, but there are some standard practices that have been used on the web for ages – not because people are too lazy to think of something original, but because they work. Here are the essential pages your website probably needs.
Often (but not always), the homepage is the first page your visitors see. Its main purpose is to help your visitors identify whether your website is relevant for them.
If your website visitors already know you from elsewhere (printed promotional materials, social media, in-person networking), your website should be consistent with what they have already seen, so they get a sense of familiarity immediately. We do this largely through design, but content also plays an important role.
It may be easier to create content for the homepage after other main pages are already done. That way, you can repurpose snippets of text from other pages.
The about page is one of the most viewed pages of the website. Your potential clients are interested in seeing who's behind the website, in order to judge how trustworthy you are, and how relevant your work is to them.
If you're a sole business owner or an independent artist, it's expected that you include your own biography. If your business, organization or music band is made up from a team of people, then you need to write a company biography.
Include a photo of yourself and/or your team members on your about page. People need to be reassured they’re working with real, living, breathing human beings.
A contact page should list your preferred way for people to contact you, contact info such as an email address and phone number, working hours, physical address (and a map) and typical response time. (If you own a digital business and work internationally, then working hours and a physical address are not necessary.) If you have different departments within your organization (customer support, sales, advertising etc.) also list contact information specific to those departments, so your prospects and clients can immediately reach the person who will be able to help them.
Contact page usually includes a contact form that collects data such as the user's full name, email address and message. If you want additional data input fields on your form, let your developer know which ones you need, but bear in mind that the less information you ask for, the more inquiries you'll get.
Frequently asked questions
Everyone gets questions about their work. It’s your choice whether you want to answer them in advance, or wait until people ask you. An FAQ page is recommended for people who get too many inquiries on a regular basis, and want to cut down the amount of emails and calls they receive.
Product or service-specific pages
Depending on whether you sell products or services, you’ll need to create a number of pages that corresponds to the number of products/services you offer. Some business owners may also include a portfolio gallery, case studies, or custom project inquiry form.
Products store page
If you sell products, this is the most important page you want your visitors to see. For a webshop, the homepage may also be the products page. For a smaller business with a few targeted products, your shop will typically be separate from your homepage.
If you have a smaller number of products, you can list all of them on a single page, and if you have many products, you can sort them by categories.
Product detail pages
Before committing to buying your products, your potential customers want to learn more about the benefits of your offers. They won’t add the product to cart right from the products page (unless they’ve seen it before). This means you need to create a product detail page for each product you sell that lists all the relevant information, price and guarantees.
If you sell services, this is the most important page you want your visitors to see. You might highlight your best services on your homepage, but you also want to have a separate “Services” or “Work With Me” page where you’ll list all your offers.
Service detail pages
Your potential clients need a little more information and reassurance before they commit to buying your services. This means you need a sales page for each service you sell.
Avoid lumping all services together on one page, because that’s not nearly enough room to give a good overview over anything more complex than shoe polishing. You also want to be able to share targeted offers with prospects who might need them, and this is easier if you have a link that points them directly to that offer.
Those of us whose services may be represented visually can benefit from a portfolio. Portfolio typically looks like a gallery, where each thumbnail image leads to a page dedicated to the project. On each project page, you need to present the image(s), relevant information and preferably a call to action that leads to your services pages.
If you provide complex services that make a significant impact on your clients, case studies can demonstrate your expertise to prospects who are still on the fence about hiring you.
If you have a portfolio, you can add case studies to the corresponding project page. If you don’t have a portfolio, you can create a list of articles labeled “Projects” or “Case studies”. If it makes sense for your type of work, include “work in progress” images in your case studies.
Project inquiry page
Project inquiry pages are recommended if you’re a service provider who needs to know more details before you can proceed with drafting a proposal, or scheduling a consulting session with a potential client. Most clients don’t offer this information on their own in their first inquiry, so it’s your job to ask them everything you need to know.
Prepare a list of questions you want to ask your prospects, and give this to the developer who will code your website.
For most business owners, their content marketing strategy includes publishing regular updates on their websites in the form of articles, graphics, videos, or audio. Some industries that are less competitive may get away without this, or with a set number of articles that won’t get updated.
If you decide to publish content regularly in the form of blog, news, podcast, or videos, I recommend to start out with 3-5 posts when you launch, so you’ll also need to prepare this and send to your designer on time, along with the other content.
Not every website requires a blog, but blog is a very powerful content marketing tool that can help you attract and qualify your prospects. Blogging is a commitment, so if you don’t think you can find the time to write a weekly, or at the very least a bi-weekly post, I wouldn’t recommend blogging for you.
If you're just getting started with blogging, check out my post on How to be a remarkable blogger and attract loyal readers.
Some businesses may choose to write news articles instead of blog articles. The difference is that news usually cover events, launches, and other current topics. They take on a more impersonal and objective view on the topic they’re covering. If you visit a lot of events and are constantly “in the know” about what’s going on in your industry, writing news may be for you.
A podcast is a recorded show of one or several people discussing a topic. It can sound like a blog article read out loud, or like an interview (if two or more people are involved). The benefit of podcasts is that people can listen to it on the go. The downside of podcasts is that you won’t get any SEO value out of it, unless you transcribe it into text. Podcasting requires quality audio recording equipment, so take that into account.
If you’re not camera shy, and prefer short bite-sized information instead of long text, video might be for you. Videos, when done right, make us look more trustworthy, because people can get a better impression about us when they can see our face and body. You can start out filming videos on your webcam, and upgrade to better equipment later.
Microcopy are short snippets of text that appear all over the website, especially in calls to action and interactive elements. It’s often overlooked, so it falls on designers and developers to fill the gaps.
Here is a list of different microcopy items you might need:
- Button text on every form (call to action)
- Newsletter opt-in forms text
- Contact form success message
- Contact form error messages
- Comment form success message
- Comment form error messages
- Copyright information in the footer
- Legal disclaimers
- “Follow us on social media” message
- “Read more” links
- Shopping cart process messages
Since these items are typically one short sentence, you can compile them all in a single document that you’ll send to your designer.
Content writing made easy
Once you’ve listed all the pages you need to prepare content for, the best way to keep it organized is to create a separate text document for each page. If you have images or multimedia content, create a new folder for each page, and copy images, videos and audios into it. Then, you can easily ZIP and upload your files to a service like Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive, and share them with your web designer.
The single most important thing you need to have in mind while writing content for your website is that you need to provide clear information for your customers. Catchy marketing copy is not required (although it helps). What is required is answering your client's questions.
The easiest way to go about writing content for your website, whether it's sales pages, about pages or blog posts, is to literally list all the questions your clients might have about you or your services, and start answering them one by one.
If you don’t know what questions your prospects have, ask your existing customers. If you regularly get questions via email or social media, you can use those. If you don't have any existing customers, and no prior questions to rely on, ask a friend that falls into your target audience (and is not a professional in your industry) to help you with this.
I hope this post has helped you identify the content you need to start working on, and that now you have an idea where to start with this demanding project.
If you choose to work with me on your new website, you’ll also get my Website Content Planning Guide which I share exclusively with my clients, that makes writing content as easy as filling in the gaps.
Don’t let your website visitors leave empty handed – having great content will insure they’ll come back again and again.