If you’ve done any research into web design, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Content is King.” Everyone bandies it around these days. We’ve used it ourselves. But what does it mean, exactly? At the most basic level, it means no one wants an empty box, no matter how pretty the box is. Your site can look like a million bucks, but if you don’t have effective content, no one will care. Not customers, and certainly not search engines. But what is effective content? And is it really “king,” i.e., does content rule over everything else?
No, it doesn’t. It’s a vital part of a successful website, but if your site has scintillating, eye-catching content wrapped in a dysfunctional design, it will fail. A top-notch site needs both. So why is the phrase “content is king” so popular? We think it’s a case of persuasion by exaggeration. Most web-savvy people know that design matters. Fewer people know that content does–witness the myriad sites all across the web that have poorly-written text, annoying flash animation, or weirdly irrelevant links. So even if content isn’t an absolute monarch, it’s still a crucial component of a successful web strategy.
But getting back to our first question–what is effective content? There isn’t one answer to this, obviously. It’s not just good grammar or nice pictures. Effective content should
- Engage the reader
- Enhance your brand
- Increase search engine rankings and traffic
- Attract links from other relevant sites
- Lead to conversions
Now, we could write a lengthy article on each one of these goals. And at some point, we’ll address them in more detail here on the blog. For now, however, consider this post an introduction to the whole complicated business of content strategy. For starters, let’s unpack those five points.
You engage your readers by giving them what they want. Simple, yes? Ah, but what do they want? They’ve found you, so they must want what you’re selling. You just have to remind them of that fact in a compelling way. Tell a brief story. Set up an interesting scenario. Tell them something they didn’t know. Use a catchy headline. Don’t bore them with long, run-on sentences or peripheral facts on your home or landing page. Don’t talk about you. This is about them.
You enhance your brand by creating content that reflects your values, your mission, and (most of all) the needs of your target audience. Your site should remind your customers what you stand for, what you’ve done in the past, and what you promise to deliver in the future. But how do you do this without talking about you? By using interactive, ongoing features such as blogs and forums, and finding the right tone. If you’re running a small, family-owned business, for example, you don’t want to use a lot of slangy expressions that would appeal to urban hipsters. You want to create a community around your brand. Ideally, customers will come to your site to buy your products, but also to see what’s new and to reconnect with your company.
You increase search engine rankings by writing relevant content with appropriate keywords and metatags. It sounds easy, but it’s not. You want to find a nice balance between awkward, keyword-stuffed prose and SEO-oblivious text. This is where it’s useful to hire a professional. But if you do want to generate your own content, you’ll want to start with a list of keywords, then use them as “seeds” from which you’ll grow your site’s narrative.
You attract links by linking to sites relevant to and influential in your industry, by commenting on industry blogs and taking part in forums, and by building relationships with professionals in and around your business. But mostly, you attract links by having good content–if your site is informative and influential, it will naturally garner links and citations across the web.
And those conversions? If you combine a disciplined content strategy with functional, appealing design, conversions will naturally follow. The key term here is “disciplined”–that’s why we don’t like to think of content as a capricious monarch, doing whatever he/it wants. Content should serve, not rule your site. David Campbell, the founder of Saks Fifth Avenue, once said that “discipline is remembering what you want.” That’s a good thing to keep in mind when generating content. Remember what your content is for. Remember what your website wants. It wants repeat customers. Every word, every picture, every video clip should serve this end. If it doesn’t, get rid of it and find something better.