For an upcoming podcast project, Canoe Media Services CEO Beth Lawton sat down with Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting to discuss best practices for writing website content. The following is notes from their conversation:
Ray: When approaching a new website, what are some good suggestions for getting organized to write your content?
Beth: You should have an idea of what you want the structure of your website to be, in terms of menu items and pages. Creating an outline of what goes on the home page, what goes on the ‘about us’ page, what your 5 top service areas or products are — those should probably have their own pages. If you start with that outline, you can fill in the pages from there, but working toward having a general sense of what information goes on what pages is key.
It also helps to ask yourself, “What do I want people to do when they get to this page? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Share your website content with their friends?” Write with the goal of every page in mind because it will help make your website content more effective in terms of getting people to do what you want them to do.
And lastly, I always ask business owners, “What are the 10 questions that you get from customers most often? What are those questions that you feel like you answer for someone every single week. Those can be great jumping off points for web pages or blog entries, and it can ultimately make your life easier when you can say to a customer, “I have great information about that on my website. I’ll send you a link to that page.”
Ray: Should you write your website content yourself? Should you hire a writer?
Beth: It depends on so many factors. I have clients who write all the time, and I have clients who haven’t written anything substantial since college. It really depends on whether you get writers’ block and whether you like writing.
Regardless, remember even Pulitzer Prize winning writers have editors. It’s so important to get someone else to read through your website and make sure it’s understandable, that it’s free of grammatical errors, that it’s clear — particularly in some industries, you can get used to using industry jargon that might not make sense to a new customer. Regardless of whether you write for yourself, you at least need an editor.
Ray: What are the pitfalls you see website publishers make when launching a small business website?
Beth: Writing too much, really, or trying to fit too much on the homepage. There are a number of studies that track people’s eye movements as they read on a screen — and those studies have shown that people tend to scan. When they find something that catches their eye, they stop and read. That means you have to make sure you’re using visual cues to draw people to the important parts, whether that’s using headers or other design elements.
The other thing is tone — I worked on a website redesign for a financial company, and their old website was really all about themselves and how great they were. With the new website, we flipped that and changed the entire tenor of the website from bragging about themselves to bragging about how they help their clients. It switched from saying, “We do this…” to saying, “We help you, customer, achieve your goals by helping you.” So definitely keep your audience in mind when writing, as well.
Ray: What other collateral needs to be written alongside the website copy?
Beth: You want your other, offline and online marketing materials to match the tone and flow of the website, so if you do have brochures, flyers, handouts or articles, you’ll want to give those a refresh at the same time as the website.
In addition, launching a new website is a great excuse to get into video — and that does require some writing, as well, in terms of having a video script and storyboard. Many experts have said that people like doing business with people they know, like and trust — and video is a great way to make that connection with people through your website.
Ray: What should you plan for when it comes to your website growing? Blog? Resources? Podcast? Etc.?
Beth: Set up an editorial calendar. No matter whether you’re doing resource pages, blog posts, press releases, podcasts, you should write down deadlines and assign responsibilities to your team to keep the website updated. Otherwise, it’s one of those things that falls to the bottom of your to-do list and it never gets done. Your website should be a living document and an active sales center for your business, so it needs to stay fresh and updated.