Last Updated May 2, 2007 7:16 PM EDT
If the content of your Web site is not read by the people you want to reach, then your Web site has failed! Once you've identified your target audience and what you want to tell them, there are a number of processes and tools that you can use to develop and publish content that will effectively communicate your message to the right people. Keep in mind that the web is far more interactive than publishing in traditional media and offers many ways to keep readers engaged.
Studies indicate that people consider much web content to be poor quality. No wonder, given that many of the billions of documents on the web are hard to find, out of date, or badly written. As a result, people have become more conservative in using the web, going to fewer sites to find what they want.
Editing web material involves a trade-off between high-quality content and the time and expense required to achieve it. Publishing high-quality content becomes economically viable only if enough readers are willing to pay more for quality content or if offering high quality will entice more readers to buy a product or service from you. Your approach to web material should begin with this calculation: high-quality content versus the time and cost to produce it.
Note that a minimum level of editing is required of all Web sites, to ensure that content is correct and concise.
Yes, content management software is available, but there is a trade-off here, too. If you are publishing a great deal of content, using an HTML approach with basic software may lead to bottlenecks. Content management software will make this process much faster and more manageable, but there will be significant setup costs.
Before authorizing anyone in your organization to create web content, all employees should know they're expected to:
- Write original material for your site rather than using material written for other purposes. Content written with the web in mind is much more likely to be read. If your employees are expected to create content regularly, make sure they understand what's expected and that they are compensated appropriately.
- Create web content using the same software, to ensure technical consistency and avoid confusion.
- Follow a style guide, glossary, and other such guides you develop for content creators, so the material on your Web site is correct, consistent, and easy to read.
- Obey policies and procedures you establish to ensure that you do not use copyrighted material on your Web site without the appropriate permission.
- Freelance Writers. It may be cost-effective to hire freelance writers to create web content. You will need to establish a freelance budget, determine who at your organization has the authority to hire freelancers, and set hiring criteria. Remember that freelancers will need help learning about your organization and developing web content to meet your needs.
- Partnership and Purchase. Although you may be able to purchase web content, such as news or trends, from industry sources, remember that too much purchased content can make your site appear generic rather than original and individual. It may be possible for you to partner with another organization to develop and share content, although this approach usually works best in a traditional publishing setting.
- Online Community Activities. You may obtain web content from online chats, discussion boards, and other online activities, which can also develop loyalty and a sense of community among site visitors. Such activities need nurturing—you can't simply set up a chat room and wait for visitors to fill it with vibrant content. You must also ensure that your site observes copyright and libel restrictions and that visitors use moderation in their comments.
Editing is an often neglected step in preparing content for the web. Three editing functions need to be considered:
- Editing content awaiting publication. You must 1) edit metadata, the information such as date of publication, key words, and author name that will ensure the Web site can easily be found through search engines; 2) edit web content for quality and style, ensuring that the content is well written, reflects the message you want to send, and doesn't raise any legal red flags; and 3) edit web content for factual accuracy and correctness in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Reviewing content already published. You need to ensure that everything on your Web site is up-to-date and remains accurate. If you're running information about an event, for example, you should ensure that it's deleted from your site after the event takes place.
- Correcting published content for legal or other reasons. Nobody's perfect, and content that has factual or legal problems will always sneak through—from minor problems such as misspelling someone's name to serious issues such as factual inaccuracies or potentially libelous material. You must check frequently for such problems and act quickly to correct them when you find them.
Studies show that most people are not sure exactly what content they want from a Web site, so a well-organized home page, with good navigation and search facilities and punchy content, can be a tremendous help to your site visitors. Make sure your Web site home page is up-to-date, lively, and relevant to your target audience.
Other ways to publish content:
- Automatically: as a result of the metadata, the content is automatically placed within its classification on the Internet. The heading and summary may be placed on your Web site home page for a defined period of time.
- By editorial decision: the Web site editor may decide to write special content for the home page or group different articles to focus on a particular subject.
- By subscription-based publishing: a selection of content may be delivered regularly by e-mail or other means to a group of subscribers.
Whatever the means, the objective is to publish content in the most attractive manner possible, so as to ensure that the maximum number of people read it.
Web content is not about technology but about people. Unfortunately, technical people often see content as a commodity and don't understand that people must want to read it. A creative editor with an understanding of the audience should be in charge of the content management process. Remember, content drives commerce on the web. Content is about communication and marketing. Without it, a Web site runs dry.
People who are expected to create content must understand what is expected of them, and they must be appropriately compensated and recognized for what they do. If they are not, the content will suffer.
Too often, Web sites become dumping grounds for content because organizations do not recognize the detrimental effect of a poorly edited Web site. Make sure your web content has at least cursory editing for accuracy and readability.
Knowing how to choose and use metadata is crucial to your Web site being found by your target audience through search engines. Make sure the content is classified properly, key words are used appropriately, and headings and summaries are descriptive.
Hackos, JoAnn T.
Clickz Internet Marketing Solutions: www.clickz.com