A website is a curated set of information that informs, educates, and advises its visitors. So why wouldn’t anyone want to keep it up to date?
Let’s look at how search engines ‘see’ a website
Search engines, otherwise known as ‘spiders’ (apologies to the arachnophobes, but the obvious connection between the ‘web’ and ‘spiders’ was clearly too hard to resist in the early days), are continuously trawling through the ever-growing volume of web pages, currently estimated to be around 1.9 billion, reading and digesting every word on every page and following every link.
When a search engine ‘crawls’ the world wide web, it not only indexes all the content (indexing is downloading the content to its server to add to its database), it is actively reading and understanding it with relentless consistency and accuracy — better than most humans do! — so it’s important your content is of high enough quality to be of value.
What is ‘high enough quality’ content?
This is more about the value the content has to its readers, so quality may seem like an odd choice of word. However, if the content serves to inform, educate, or instruct its readers, it’s human nature to individually consider it to be good or high quality. Quality should always be your goal.
High quality content leaves the reader with something they didn’t have before. That’s why your content shouldn’t be salesy or overly self-promoting because they don’t really learn anything from that (unless it’s a sales brochure, of course), as it could quickly put people off from reading further.
Rather than simply telling people what they can buy from you (like a simple product list), try explaining how they will directly benefit from having it/owning it/using it.
Aside from any intelligent, insightful, thought-provoking content created to engage people, websites typically incorporate the same main types of content:
- Company/Informative: about us, history, what we do, why we do it, who we are, and so on.
- Product/Service: descriptions, features, benefits, pricing, ordering, delivery, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), and so on.
- Contact: where we are, how to find us, when we’re available, how to get in touch, and so on.
Most [small] business owners tend to ignore this type of content. They see little value in it, they see it as unnecessary waffle that takes time to put together and has no obvious impact on increasing sales.
Wrong. It’s a mistake to think like that.
People buy from people. Few of us would fail to be swayed by a warm and engaging salesperson when they’ve been so helpful and kind to us. Granted, your visitors/customers don’t see a real human when they’re on your website, but you can still humanise your business for them by being real and honest.
Look at these snippets taken from the Mission Statement of a £10 billion global company:
If it matters to you, then it matters to us. We’re warm, inclusive and down to earth. We care about our customers, and each other.
We look for unexpected ways to delight. We love connecting with people. We believe thoughtful little touches add up to a big difference.
We’re honest, decent and straight-talking. We stick up for what’s right — and hold our hands up if we get it wrong.
Cheesy, aren’t they? Are they? Actually, they feel like really genuine statements that were thoughtfully created by real people. You can choose not to believe them if you like, but imagine how nice it would be to deal with this company if this ethos filters all the way down to every member of staff?
Think about why you do what you do, and what it means to you. If it’s a family business or has an interesting history, explain that. If it’s important to you that customers are more than people handing over money, explain that too. Use the stories to connect with people.
It’s hard to write about products and services repeatedly in an interesting and engaging way, but it’s worth the effort. Anything is better than a two-word description that tells the reader nothing of any use, other than what it is.
Put yourself in the shoes of the individual who sees your website, products and services for the first time. Work out what you would need to know that would help you make the purchase. Think of the questions they may ask and answer those questions before they ask them. Describe features and benefits — don’t just list them.
Explain the ordering and delivery process so the buyer knows what to expect and isn’t left wondering. You may not be able to match Amazon’s industry benchmark for delivery standards, but take cues from how they manage customers’ expectations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are more important now than they have ever been. Google uses the FAQs it finds on websites to create its own content, which it displays, for free, above the organic search listing in search results.
It’s really important to understand this process and why it is such a powerful feature that is often overlooked. I have written an article on this specific subject to help you understand how you can take advantage of FAQs:
or How to get pushed to the top of the search results for freemedium.com
Make it as easy as possible for people to find you, to visit you (if appropriate) and to contact you. This doesn’t mean being available 24/7, but it does mean making it clear when you are available for them, how they can contact you and what they can expect from you when they do.
If you have premises customers can visit, it’s all too easy to drop-in a Google map on your website. Web-developers love them. It’s smart, but it’s also quite impersonal. By all means, add the map, but add photos of the building or shop and a description of how to get to it, so when your customers are trying to find you, they know exactly what to look for.
What’s the point of all this extra content?
All content, other than that which you manually exclude, will be indexed by Google, so the more informative and descriptive you are about your business, your people and your products and services, the more Google has to work with. Think of it as free advertising. Get over yourself and get on with it.
The real content that will keep customers and Google engaged: BLOG POSTS/ARTICLES
Blogging strikes fear into the heart of a great many people — especially business owners. But why?
Well, it’s either because they claim not to have the time (priority issue/lazy), or because they don’t feel they have anything to write about (wake-up call needed) or are good enough to write it themselves (ego needs a slap).
That’s ok, really, but none of the above should prevent you from writing content for your website; for your business.
If you are the business owner and the business exists because of something you know, or something specific you do (or have done) that continues to be of great value to others, write about what you know.
Whether you’re a car mechanic, hairdresser, chef, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, it’s the things you’re good at and how you’ve helped others and/or solved their problems, changed their lives, that is pure gold.
Your customers (clients, patients, buyers, prospects) will unwittingly provide a valuable basis for content too because they ask questions; all the time. Think about your customers’ needs, the questions they ask and the responses you give — often repeatedly. Refer to the point above about FAQs.
Ask your staff and support/helpline people to provide their insight into the things they get asked about all the time. Talk to them about the conversations they have with customers and the solutions they give. Ask them for funny, interesting stories too. Write it all down and create two lists; one should be a straightforward set of questions and detailed answers (FAQs), the other should be anything interesting enough to write a blog post (news or article) about.
The latter doesn’t have to be an essay. Each post need only be around 500 words (roughly an A4 page). However, if what you’re writing is good and you’re not waffling, then write as much as you like — just keep it on-subject, relevant and interesting.
You are likely to know your business better than anyone, so content should come relatively easily to you, once you get your brain into gear. When you think about the uniqueness and breadth of your individual knowledge, writing short articles on diverse, but related-to-your-business subjects, sounds like something you could do, doesn’t it?
Still struggling for ideas?
Consider this; if we met at a social or business networking event, I would be likely to ask what you did for a living. You’d tell me you were in business. I may ask what type of business it is and what makes it different from others. I may also ask what’s unique about your products or services, or perhaps why customers should come to you instead of your competitors. I may ask what are your best/most successful products or services. We would have an engaging, interesting conversation and you would very likely have no problem whatsoever clearly explaining the ‘why’ behind all my questions. Correct?
If you can do that face-to-face, that, right there, is the basis of your content for your website/blog/news section.
Where to put your content:
Typically, news and articles will appear in a section of your website generically referred to as the blog. The word ‘blog’ is a portmanteau of ‘web’ and ‘log’. Its use dates back to the 90s and entered the dictionary as a common word in 2003. Our very own Ev Williams is credited with using ‘blog’ as both a noun and a verb, and also for creating the term ‘blogger’ (the one who writes a blog). The rest, as we know, is history.
Regardless of how comfortable, or not, you are with these terms if they’ve never been part of your vocabulary; the fact remains that blog posts/articles are the foundation of content marketing and there really are no rules about what to do or how to do it. There really is no excuse not to — partly because it’s effective and it works, and partly because it’s fundamentally free.
It’s not complicated, it shouldn’t be seen as a burden on your time, and it shouldn’t be a chore. It can be fun to write articles, and doing so turns you into an instant author. Your mother will be proud. Your clients will be impressed. Your bank manager will be delighted and your competitors will curse you for doing it before they did.
Your own website is the perfect location for posting your own content because it’s the easiest way for website visitors to see it.
You can also use LinkedIn and Facebook (if you use Facebook for business), or even Medium, but these should not be your first choice if the content relates specifically to your business, products and services.
Posting your articles to your website (no stamps required) and sharing them through social media is part & parcel of your own content marketing strategy.
How to start writing blog posts/articles:
Once you decide to start writing it’s a good idea to make a plan for each article you plan to write. Think of the structure (the flow of the information), the point you’re trying to get across (its purpose) and the questions someone might ask that the article will endeavour to answer (the goal).
Creating a writing plan also helps you incorporate the all-important keywords and phrases that are searched for online. But focusing on the questions forces you to think of these phrases in advance, and not whilst you’re trying to write the content.
This article, for example, incorporates many key-phrases such as ‘how to get found online’, ‘writing a blog post’, ‘how to start writing a blog post’, ‘content marketing’, ‘marketing strategy’, etc. All of this makes it easier for people to find in Google’s search results.
The structure is relatively simple, and whilst you can be flexible in your approach, it should follow these basic rules:
- Attention: Grab their attention to make them want to read the article
- Insight: The key information that will most likely be of interest to them
- Connect: Trigger an emotion (joy, laughter, surprise, outrage, controversy)
- Promise: What unique/helpful information will this article provide, or what problem will it solve?
- How to: Whatever it is they need to do
- Call to Action: What they should do next, e.g. contact/buy/subscribe, etc.
A rush of ideas will follow
Once you start the thinking/creative process, it’s likely you’ll find lots of new ideas constantly popping into your head, and you won’t know where to start. Try not to get overwhelmed, just begin with a plan to create a small batch of posts, maybe 6–8 (you can’t really publish just one post on your website if you have nothing there already).
Write the posts one at a time in draft form, roughly following the structure above. It’s a good idea to test them out on clients, friends and family for honest feedback, but don’t publish them just yet.
Once completed, you can publish all the posts to your website in one go, but you should, ideally, change the published date of each to make it look as though they were written over a period of weeks — not all at the same time.
If your website is business-critical, then directing people to your blog/news section is really just another way of driving new traffic (visitors) to your website so they can see what else you do.
What if you can’t or really don’t want to write?
Writing isn’t for everyone. It’s a fact and it’s fine. You can outsource the writing, but you must be the creator, the thinker, the ideas person and the driving force behind the posts, or they simply won’t happen.
The speed at which a professional Copywriter writes and the quality of work they produce will easily justify the additional cost. It will also help you get up and running more quickly.
But there is a caveat. Whilst good copywriters are pretty incredible at making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, they cannot magically create content and ideas from nowhere.
Think of it as a collaboration, a partnership, and NOT as a chore you have passed to someone else. You need to be involved.
Also, do not, I repeat — do not — outsource copywriting to online services (such as Fiverr) offering to write posts for next to nothing. You will get a page of words, but the language, terminology, tone and style will bear no relevance to you or your business.
Use a local (native-speaking), professional copywriter that you can engage with and discuss what you need. Someone who will be able to learn about you and your business over time.
Finally, a reminder to not get hung-up believing you have nothing to write about. Writing new, fresh, interesting content will re-engage your customers and bring new people to your website, so enjoy it.
Here are a couple of fabulous quotes to help you:
“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” ~ Stephen King
So, what are you waiting for?