I recently enjoyed the privilege of attending Blend Interactive's Now What? 2013 conference, created to help website owners answer the question, "We have a website—how do we keep it useful and relevant?"
Maybe it's just because I'm a content strategist (and/or incredibly narcissistic), but as each speaker addressed the above question, I only heard one answer, over and over: content.
I've said it before: your content is what makes your website worth visiting. And it is what will make your website worth returning to.
"Fine," you say. "Content. I have content. Now what?"
My answer? Make it better. Here's how—via the Now What speakers.
Better content means better planning.
Seth Gottleib spoke about the importance of aligning your marketing team with your IT and content creation teams, and noted that we're dreaming big when it comes to web content—but not following through.
It's good to be realistic, especially early on. Be sure that the strategy behind your content is attainable within your budget, and that priorities and expectations are clearly communicated to everyone who will have a hand in the content creation (or revision) process.
Designing a practical and thoughtful plan for your content creation, implementation, marketing, and governance is the first step to better content. And remember, it's never too late to wrangle your existing content into a plan—or content strategy (see what I did there?).
Better content means better copywriting.
We don't talk a lot about web writing because the internet has been around for a while, so shouldn't we know all that stuff already?
No. And because of this assumption, there are a ton of websites out there with truly crappy content. Molly Malsam spoke to this issue, noting that marketing teams are still churning out content for print (notably, the dreaded brochure) into the webspace.
In a nutshell? Focus on your users' needs, not your business'. Improve your link text. Shorten your sentences. Address readers as "you". Remember that most people are just going to skim it anyway. And remind yourself that it's OK.
Better content means better usability.
Cathy McKnight hammered home the point that better usability means a shift in focus from your company to your users/customers. The goal here is to engage (and adapt to) your users.
And how do you do that? Baby steps. Realize that each interaction with a customer—every time a customer visits your website, for instance—is a chance to turn a plain old internet user into a passionate advocate for your brand. Consumers have undeniable power—let them use their power for your brand.
To that end, McKnight noted, content should be customer-focused—both highly usable and useful. Ask: Who are our customers? What do they need to do? How can we help them do it? And then use your web content to deliver and engage.
Better content means better governance.
It's a given, Lisa Welchman noted, that people have trouble managing websites. And conflicted, chaotic content on a company website often indicates conflict and chaos within that company's organization. Scary stuff—but telling.
Once you have content out on your website, it is essential that you govern it. Figure out who owns what, and when they need to update it. Assign responsibilities. Be intentional about managing your website before it gets out of control.
Welchman laid out four steps to content governance: create goals, manage risk, enable collaboration, and work together. You can do it. You just need to be intentional about it.
Better content means devoting the resources to investing in a full content strategy.
Leverage your content's full potential by combining all of those content pieces above into one big delicious content pie. (Or, you know, content strategy, as it's often called.)
Melissa Rach talked about content strategy as more than just a strategy—it must be a long-term vision, a deeply rooted belief system. It must be taken seriously and implemented confidently.
Because times are changing. Businesses are changing. When we talk about web content, we're not talking about brochures or sales tools—we're talking about a conversation. We're talking, as Melissa noted, P2P, not B2B or B2C. We can't stay tied to our old habits or we'll fail. We need web content that is adaptive, flexible, and measurable. We need to invest in content that is better. And only when that happens will we be able to say that our websites are truly successful.