Content is the delivery on the implied promise that you make to an interested party who comes to your site, opts-in to your ezine or visits your e-pub (electronic publications), portal or other Internet presence.
The 4 Laws of Good Content
Your content must first and foremost adhere to The 4 Laws of Good Content. For our purposes in this article, your content is defined as the information that you provide to your prospects and customers. In the final analysis it must be:
Law #1 -- Relevant
If the information that you are providing to someone who has taken the time to seek you out is not meaningful to them, or more importantly does not address their need(s), they will leave. The oft-quoted figure is 8 seconds. You have 8 seconds to capture someone’s attention and interest or they’re gone, , never to return! Pretty harsh for sure, but that’s life on the Internet! People (your potential customers) recognize full well that there is an endless supply of information out there, waiting for them to find it.
This aspect of good content has most to do with effectively targeting your prospects and customers. It’s very important that when you set out to do business on the Internet, you do so with a very clear picture of who your “ideal” customers are. Miss this point, develop a muddled focus on your web site, in your ezine or other e-communications, and your potential for doing business successfully on the Internet is pretty close to “0.”
Worse yet is the situation where web surfers end up at a site that appears to have no bearing whatsoever on what they were searching for originally. This type of online duping goes on all the time and has become a serious annoyance. Don’t even consider doing such a thing in an effort to get more web traffic!
The organizations that are characterized by this type of behavior are those that are not proud of what they are doing (porn sites are the classic example) or, those that are trying to flash as many advertising messages at a visitor, in as short a period of time as possible. Don’t waste your time! There are much better methods…
Law #2 – Current
Your information may very well be what your prospects and customers are looking for. However, if it’s outdated it’s as good as yesterday’s news! No one wants to read a newspaper from several days or weeks ago. In their quest for information, your prospects are looking for cutting edge data that will answer their questions and solve their problems. This certainly puts the burden of responsibility squarely on your (the web site owner) shoulders.
This point speaks to a basic misconception that exists with many small business people about the Internet. Simply put, the misconception is that somehow Internet Marketing requires less effort than traditional marketing. To this I respond with the words of Earl Nightengale, famous orator and founder of the Nightengale – Conant publishing company: “You get back what you put out!” This is a simple truth that applies to everything in life including Internet Marketing. Another way to put this is “You get what you pay for.”
Fear not! Information is what the Internet is all about. There is quite literally an unlimited supply of information available online that you can provide to your interested eyeballs (prospects and customers). This will probably require you to change your view about using OPI -- Other Peoples Information, and generally force you to take a less parochial view of the manner in which you service this need for information.
The upshot of this part of the discussion is that in gaining access to “good” content online, you will be presented with the opportunity to think more broadly about your business model. Actually, forced to think more broadly accurately describes the situation that you face. Again I say, fear not! This is opportunity knocking! We’ll touch on this more later.
Law #3 -- Significant
Understand this… There is a very basic law that governs information on the Internet. This law, as viewed from the recipient’s standpoint, is simply this: Information should be free! Break this law at your own risk.
Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that. You must first establish Trust with your audience before you can start asking them to pay for anything. Trust is a byproduct of Value and value is in the eye of the beholder.
If your audience gives your information a positive valuation, you are well on your way to establishing trust. The common currency used for this exchange on the Internet is obviously information. A key variable in this Value + Trust = Customer Loyalty equation is the significance of the information provided.
By significance I do not mean quantity. What I am talking about is the quality of your information. If you can communicate your special value to your audience in a single page, so much the better.
Perhaps you have a one-page matrix, graph or spreadsheet that would be useful to your audience. Great! Let them have it! Don’t be bashful about telling them know this information is theirs to use for FREE! There is a natural inclination (an innate tendency really) within all of us to “return the favor.” By giving away significant information (content) you are tapping into this most basic of all human instincts. Your audience will reciprocate!
Law #4 -- Frequently Updated
Your audience wants to know that you’re “on-top-of-your-game!” After all, they are coming to your web site or opting-in to your ezine to find out more about you, your information or your company, with the eventual and very real possibility of spending some of their hard-earned money on your products and services!
An easy way of demonstrating to your customers that you are indeed on top of your game is by updating your web content frequently. Having done so, you should send an e-message to your opt-in subscribers that “new” information is available on www.yourcompany.com. They will do the rest.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited web sites only to bail out immediately and go to the next one in line when I read this telltale sign at the bottom of the page: “Last Updated -- October 2001.” See Ya! If it took me 8 seconds to get to this point, great, if not I go away with the feeling that I’ve wasted my time.
If you are using such an update notice on any one of the pages in your web site, make sure that you keep it current. If you have no intention or plan to keep your web pages current and updated, remove the update notice immediately. This is essentially preventive maintenance, which is better than the damage control of trying to win-back lost visitors to your web site.
Another dead give-away is a web site visitor counter that hasn’t seen much action in a while! Counters do little to gain visitors confidence and trust—especially when they note that, “YOU are visitor # 246 since Oct 2000.”
Final Notes On “Good Content”
A couple final notes on good Content: First, it is important to strike a reasonable balance between your own company information, news and events and relevant industry related information. So many ezines and web sites on the Net today are nothing more than glorified sales literature. Don’t get caught in this trap. Give your prospects and customers excellent content, always. If you don’t, be assured that your competitors will.
Second, maintaining good content on your Internet Assets (web site, ezine, etc.) doesn’t happen by itself. It requires a concerted effort. As I mentioned earlier, you get back what you put out. Fortunately there are numerous resources at your immediate disposal to assist you with this challenge. The rewards for developing and maintaining a good content plan are great and are waiting for you, just around the corner.
Give ‘em What They Want
In developing your web site, it is important to keep in mind that your web site is essentially a document, or series of documents, that your web visitors will be reading. Understand that this is the expectation that they are coming to your web site with as well.
Recent readability studies prove that the eye is immediately attracted to text, not pictures or graphics on a web site. This may be bad news for web site designers out there who have a penchant for developing very elaborate Flash animations, but it’s good news for you! It saves you the time, trouble and expense of developing such things.
Creativity Killed the Customer
Recently, a web designer (former creative director for an advertising agency) colleague called me up, excited to show me a web site that he had just developed. When I got to his office and saw his “latest masterpiece,” I was a little concerned. He had indeed developed a magnificent dynamic, database driven web site. Unfortunately, at his customer’s request, he had also developed a 2 minute long Flash animation, which was the first thing a web visitor encountered when he went to this particular company’s homepage.
As I stood there watching this spectacular “high-bandwidth” display of color and motion (while my friend basked in the glow of his creation) my only thought was how absolutely annoying this was going to be to just about every single web visitor that came to this particular web site. I was getting annoyed myself.
I did my best to express my concern to my friend, however it was to no avail. In fact, I just went and checked on this particular “spectaculon” and it’s still there. Fortunately, my colleague had the good sense to put a “skip-intro” button on the animation. Hopefully this company’s web visitors will find it quickly! Besides being a time waster, a flash introduction immediately alienates those web visitors still using dial-up connections, and that’s more than 70% of web users in the US today!
Words are the most powerful communication tool known to mankind and the Internet is the great facilitator of this tool! In his somewhat eclectic, yet enlightened book, The Medium Is the Massage (Bantam Books, 1965), Marshall McLuhan stated, “Western history was shaped…by the introduction of the phonetic alphabet, a medium that depends solely on the eye for comprehension…Its use fostered and encouraged the habit of perceiving all environment in visual and spatial terms.” In the words of Yvonne DiVita, Internet author and web content development expert, “Words count! The Right Words Count Double!”
All of the rules of good typography still apply. In this case, the more things change, the more they stay the same. (A quick search on “rules of typography” will produce several sources of information.) Keep this in mind as you develop your web content. As an example, bolded text and subtitles command more attention than pictures or fancy graphics and animations. Other things to think about are, spacing, font size and style… Don’t ignore a large demographic that is flocking to the Internet—baby boomers. Remember that they don’t like small script and they want information up front!
2 Points on Good Web Content
As you develop your web site content there are a couple other basic concepts for you to keep in mind. First, Be Brief! In most cases online, less is more. Don’t say in two paragraphs what you can say in ten words. Second, the contents of your web site should reflect the real and measurable benefits that you provide to your customers. In other words, your copy should be about the unique value you provide to your customers and NOT about your marketing ego! The more you can build on your unique qualities, and their benefit to your customers, the better!
For a while, banner ads were all the rage. Things seem to have cooled-off a bit for banner ads, even though we still see quite a few of them out there. This is understandable since there are two fundamental limitations of banner ads, 1) statistics show that banner ads give you approximately 1 (one) second to convey your message, and 2) the response rate associated with banner ads is abysmal! Generally less than 1%. Some organizations have tried to remedy these problems by developing elaborate animations, flashing, flaming and turning, which in my professional opinion does them more harm than good by aggravating the web site visitor and leaving a negative impression.
Several final notes on the development of your web site: It is a known fact that 70% of Internet users will NOT re-visit a graphically rich web site. This most definitely supports the point made earlier that web site visitors are coming to a site with an expectation of (gathering information, i.e.: reviewing a document.
59% of online shoppers want MORE product information, not less. In addition, web site visitors demand speed and gratification. 40% of Internet users will not tolerate web pages that do not load quickly. The eight-second rule still applies – “Capture my interest in eight seconds or I’m gone!”