Building a Content Rich WebsiteBy Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian
What makes a Website attractive to a visitor? The content it provides, of course.
You might run a wonderful advertising campaign; develop viral marketing tools and attractive affiliate programs. But unless your Website is rich in content, the traffic spikes that result from your efforts will only be transient. Content that is useful, valuable, informative, educational or just plain entertaining can attract and retain an audience better than anything else.
Anyone can create a content-rich Website by following a few key points:
Â· Be disciplined
Â· Update your site regularly
Â· Know how to create content, or where to find it
Discipline and Commitment
To create your content-rich Website, you need tunnel vision and a laser sharp focus. In a word; self discipline. It’s easy to waste hours, even days, clicking your way from one site to another. Don’t let yourself be distracted: limit your online content explorations only to Websites and resources that are directly connected to your site’s subject.
Discipline also extends to content creation. Successful writers do not wait for inspiration before beginning their work. Instead, they develop a regular writing schedule, and they stick to it. Wether they feel like it or not, they sit down at a desk and write.
You too must develop a schedule to add content to your Website, and follow it. Nike has the right idea – ‘Just Do It’!
Regular Updates to your Website
Nothing is deader than an untended Website.
Regularly updating or modifying your Website’s content gives you an edge over the competition. People will keep returning to your site if they notice something new to see, learn from or enjoy each time.
Creating Your Content
You know best – or should – what your audience wants. It then becomes an easy task to decide about which types of content will best serve their needs and how to go about finding or creating it. Here are some suggestions:
Â· Feature articles
Â· News clips or stories
Â· Art galleries
Â· Aggregating the best content
Â· Interactive features – polls, feedback, discussion groups, forums, chat
Editorials are the opinion of a perceived ‘expert’ in the field– (either you or a guest contributor). And they make good content, because they invite reader response, either endorsing or opposing the writer. This can make for lively debate. Give your readers an avenue to make their views known – by including a bulletin board or guest book on your site. People will return back to your site, at least to read other responses to their comments. And you can use this feedback from your audience by incorporating it into a follow up article in the future!
Full-length Feature Articles
A feature article is the most common – and one of the best – forms of content.
Depending on the nature of your site, the articles may be long or brief, formal or chatty, technical or entertaining.
Here are some tips:
Â· Articles shouldn’t be too long. While there aren’t any rules, it is perhaps safe to keep feature articles below 1200 words. If they are longer, convert them into multi-part features.
Â· Articles should be relevant to the topic of your Website.
Â· They should educate, entertain or inform. Try and limit the message of each piece to one or two new ideas.
Â· Don’t simply rehash an article you’ve read elsewhere. By publishing something that hasn’t been already featured elsewhere, you enhance the value and credibility of your site.
There are several ways to get original content.
– Write your own features. This assumes you write reasonably well. If you can’t, or don’t have the time or inclination then getting someone to write articles for you has benefits to both you and the author.
You could offer to:
a.) Pay guest authors for their work or
b.) Exchange articles with their Website in return. Your Website visitors benefit by providing them with another point of view. A fringe benefit is that you might hook some new regular visitors from your guest author’s site!
c.) Exclusivity. If someone else writes for you, make sure the same article won’t be submitted to dozens of other Websites and newsletters. Publishing exclusive content benefits includes syndication opportunities in other publications, online and off, and reader loyalty.
Reprint articles written by others, but you must always obtain permission. All work, from the moment it is written, is copyright and owned by the author, whether it is marked with a copyright symbol or not. Content is not free. You can, however, make reprints interesting and personalised by putting your own ‘spin’ on the content. Write an introduction to the subject, or comment on the author’s opinions or conclusions.
Take care to avoid ‘editing’ the original article without the author’s permission. Avoid articles that have been reprinted many times before on other Websites and electronic publications.
The News Desk
Your Website can become a source of the latest developments and happenings in areas of interest by providing timely news on topics of interest to your readers.
Create a separate section of your site to deal with industry news. Or you might devote an entire Website to news updates.
There are many ways of presenting news:
Â· as a feature article
Â· As short news clips, with a link to the full story
Â· As news stories, where each item is explained at length
Whichever way you choose to present the news, make sure to stamp it with your own personality. Make it interesting, personal, chatty, fun, unique, or all of these – with your style of writing, or by adding your point of view.
As with feature articles, news clips should be
Â· Useful to your reader
Â· Timely. Remember, old news is no news!
There are many resources out there to help you find news stories to feature. You could:
Â· Subscribe to eZines on your topic
Â· Sign up for news delivery services that send updates periodically by email
Â· Register to receive press releases on your topic
Â· Actively hunt for newsy items during your Web surfing
Â· Read newspapers, magazines and books on your subject
Â· Attend conferences, workshops or seminars and write about your impressions
The Content Aggregator
By making your Website the ultimate content resource on issues related to your topic, you would attract and retain a loyal audience. Your site will become a destination for anyone seeking information on your subject.
As an expert on your topic, you can evaluate sites and other resources (eZines, directories, books, offline publications) for the best, and then list them along with your rating and opinions.
The Art Gallery
Text is not the only form of content. Sound, music, pictures, photographs, video clips – and soon maybe smell and dreams (!) – can be attractions on a Website.
If you are a professional photographer, you could create a display of your snaps. If you are a music group, you might offer some of your creations for download. Amateur moviemakers can use the Internet as their low-cost global distribution channel.
As broadband connectivity becomes more widely accessible, we might soon see the majority of Websites converting to such interactive and dynamic content models.
Use your Website to recommend the *best* products and services to your visitors – books, websites, music, movies, artwork, web designers, restaurants, anything. You, the expert, tell them what is good and what isn’t.
Share something that will be of interest and benefit to them. If you read a great book, or surf into a wonderful Website, then tell your visitors about it. Reviews help build credibility and trust for your site.
How to write a review?
Here are some tips:
Â· Provide contact/ordering information for those who want to know more.
Â· Be relevant. Limit your reviews to the topic and subject of your site
Â· Be selective. Set high standards for the products you review. Be analytical. Tell your reader specifically what is good or bad about the thing you review, and why.
Â· Don’t go overboard. Restrain your impulse to offer extremes of praise and criticism.
Â· Offer Recommendations. At the end, say what you think about it. Is it good? Or bad? Should your reader buy the product, visit the Website, order the service? Tell them.
What should you review?
Anything – as long as it is relevant to the topic of your site, and is likely to have interest for your reader. Here are some ideas:
Â· Books: There are bound to be many books on your topic. Review good ones, and even bad ones. If an author/publisher sends you a book to review, write about it.
Â· Websites: If you have a favourite Website, or run across one that is useful, entertaining or informative, review it. Your readers will love you for this – they might never have found it on their own!
Â· Products and services can also be grist for your mill. Just remember to stay within the guidelines – relevant and useful to your reader.
Â· Has your company done something new and innovative?
Â· Have you developed an improved version of your product?
Â· Are you privy to insider information in your industry?
Â· Do you follow the rumours and gossip in your field?
Â· Do you track swings and developments closely?
If you do, announce them on your Website. People love to feel informed and up with the latest gossip and happenings.
An interview with an expert in your field or a famous person makes exciting, valuable content. And it is easy to conduct an interview via email or over the telephone.
Choose an expert or guest you think will be of interest to your readers. Learn more about your expert – special interests, experience, achievements, status in field, etc. This allows you to create pertinent questions.
Decide upon a topic for the interview. Prepare a set of questions you’d like to ask. Then contact your guest with an interview request.
Most people would be happy to participate in your interview. For those who seem hesitant, mentioning the exposure they would get from being on your Website is enough to get them to agree!
Send a copy of your questions to the guest by email, make a phone call or even arrange a face-to-face meeting. Once you have your copy, make editorial changes so that it reads well. This might mean re-arranging the questions so that there is a smooth flow of thoughts. And by intelligently interspersing additional queries and comments, you can make it appear as if the interview was carried out in person and make it more interesting to read!
Ask additional questions, or for clarification when necessary. Finally, make sure to get your guest’s approval for the final version of the interview. Then go ahead and publish it on your site.
Why should you interact with readers?
Â· You can establish closer, more personal relationships with visitors
Â· You can find out about their preferences, likes and dislikes
Â· You can listen to their complaints and suggestions
Â· You can request their feedback on your performance
Â· You can collect valuable demographic data on your audience
AND…. you can get fresh content to use on your site!
All of this allows you to make improvements, additions and enhance the value and utility of your site to visitors. By employing interactive tools, you can generate content to use later. There are many different ways to do this. Here are a few ideas:
Polls and Surveys
Survey your readers. Ask a question. Request a vote on an issue or topic.
It could be about
Â· An article on the site – "Did you find this week’s feature helpful?"
Â· Current events – "Will you vote for the GOP in the next election?"
Â· A controversial issue – "Do you believe in religion in schools?"
Â· User preferences – "Would you like to see this site updated daily?"
Â· Demographic data – "Do you have young children?"
Â· Be brief. Ask no more than 7 or 8 questions
Â· Offer choices. Frame the questions to have a YES/NO option
Â· Provide an incentive to reply. A discount, a freebie, a trial membership
Â· Make the results available to respondents. Your readers will enjoy hearing about what their peers think and feel about these issues.
Â· Show that you are acting on the feedback received
Reader feedback is extremely valuable – if you listen to it with a mind open to change and act on it. Criticism can stimulate you to improve standards. Questions and requests can indicate areas where you must provide content that helps your reader. A good feedback loop between Webmaster and site visitor is very valuable.
Make it obvious that you welcome feedback.
Â· On every page offer a link to let visitors write back with their comments, opinions and suggestions for improvement.
Â· Provide an email address to write to or use a feedback form
How do you turn feedback into content?
Use your creativity to come up with new ideas. Here are some suggestions:
Â· Write a feature article that answers the questions your reader asked
Â· Print out the questions or comments your reader sent in, and answer them. Take care to request their permission before quoting them. Most often they’ll agree – especially when you promise them a moment in the spotlight by mentioning their name or Website URL on your site!
Â· Act upon the suggestions readers make; then write about these changes
While feedback is a one-to-one communication, a discussion group permits many-to-many interaction, since every email sent to the group is distributed to each member.
Here’s what you can do:
– Create a discussion group using one of the free or pay-services.
– Announce it on your Website and eZine and invite everyone to participate.
Readers could debate controversial articles and news stories, discuss other issues related to your topic and share their views and opinions with other readers.
The material generated in such lively debate could again be used as the seed to grow content for your site.
An electronic bulletin board is a Website where a visitor can read messages posted by others, and respond by writing another message on the board. This reply is also displayed for others to read, producing a growing list of discussions on related topics.
After a reasonable period of time, the messages under a particular topic can be encapsulated into a feature article or other form of content on your site.
Real-time online chat is a fantastic interactive tool – but with unavoidable limitations. Chat events permit the creation of innovative pieces of content like
– Interviews with participants, especially experts and celebrities
– Discussions on featured topics and issues
– Workshops and seminars for your visitors
Transcripts of chat sessions – edited for continuity and flow of the conversation – make for exciting content.
How do you get Content for your Website?
There are four options:
Â· Create it yourself
Â· Invite contributions
Â· Hire content providers
Â· Syndicate or licence content from others
Creating Your Own Content
If you have a lot of experience in your speciality, and your writing skills are excellent, content creation will be a simple matter of sitting at your computer and banging away at the keys for a few minutes.
If, however, you aren’t wired that way, generating material for your site will feel like having a tooth pulled – without anaesthetic!
But don’t despair. There’s something for everyone on the Net :-)
Before you decide to create your own content, here are some things to think about:
Do you have the expertise?
Are you really an expert? Can you write valuable, reliable, interesting content regularly? Most of your readers won’t know much about your topic – indeed that’s why they visit your site in the first place! But there will be the occasional expert. You can’t fool your readers with pretence. Don’t even try to.
Do you have the skills?
Can you write well? You might understand General Relativity. But the way you write about it might confuse Einstein himself!
Do you have the time?
Writing original content of a high quality can be very time consuming. And because a good Website is never finished it is an ongoing thing, day after day, week after week. Can you do it?
If writing your own content isn’t for you, there are many people around who will be happy to write for your Website. They do it because it projects them as experts, and gives them exposure and access to your readers. Most often, all that these authors ask in return is a by-line – a short 3 to 5 line description of the author and his/her business at the end of the article. So if you don’t want to (or cannot) create your own content, ask others to help.
Include an announcement on your site that articles from other authors are welcome. Then wade through the submissions to choose the best to present to your audience.
Hiring Content Providers
This is the rich man’s way out! Pay someone else to create content for you.
Content providers come in different forms.
Â· Freelance authors are writers-on-contract, who will submit articles on a pay-per-word/article basis.
Â· Full time writers and content providers are employees who will provide professional-quality material for a regular salary. While this could turn out to be expensive, it might still be cheaper than trying to acquire the skills on your own.
Syndicating or Licensing Content
Syndication is an interesting model to get quality-content from experts at reasonable cost. Content created by an individual or company is displayed on other partner Websites or eZines, in return for a payment (flat fee or percentage of revenue generated) or sometimes even for just exposure on the partner’s Website.
Licensing content for a specified period, on payment of a licensing fee, is another option.
You might consider syndicating or licensing content from:
Â· News services that provide brief updates and news flashes on a variety of topics
Â· Content aggregators who collate information on a topic from around the Web
Â· Magazines and Newspapers
Â· Content-rich niche portal sites
Â· Other Websites on your topic
Some General Tips For Website Content
Providing highly informative, entertaining and original content is only one part of the success formula.
A Webmaster who imbues their site with a part of their own personality makes their publication unique–and sets it apart from the pack. If a Webmaster can successfully convey to the reader their values, ideals, ambitions and attitudes, your readers come to believe they know you, the Webmaster, personally; they identify with you, trust you, and respect you.
Here are some ideas:
Â· It’s ok to be opinionated or state your point of view
Â· Always give your reader top priority
Â· Stick by your values and ethics
Â· Be emotional, not rigidly logical
If you love what you create on your site, it will show in your work. And your readers will feel it too.
Writing for the Web
Reading online, on a computer screen, differs in many ways from the way people read print publications. Most skim through an article rather than read it line after line.
By breaking up content into small chunks, and by the generous use of white space between them, you can make your WebPages look neat, uncluttered, and readable.
Use shorter sentences
Use ‘catch’ words and phrases
Avoid long, difficult words with many syllables
Get to the point right away
Use sub-titles to set off paragraphs
Spelling and Grammar
Your reader will judge you on many factors. Spelling/grammar is an important one.
Reasonable care to ensure correct spelling and grammar is essential if you are to establish a serious image.
A few mistakes might (and will) slip through the cracks! Your readers will probably accept this. But if it happens very often, you lose credibility.
A formal, impersonal, grammatical style would be ideal for some topics. But a chatty, friendly, write-as-you-talk style will be a perfect fit for others. There aren’t any rules – use what works for you.
Be Bold – Experiment
Managing a Website can be an interesting voyage of self-discovery. Be adventurous. Try out new ideas. Imitate models you find interesting. Keep innovating.
And monitor response to each change. Did your readers like it? If they did, keep it. If not, experiment again.
Most sites grow by such trial-and-error methods. The winners are those who identify successful models and develop them, while ruthlessly eliminating any that fail.
An open mind to ideas and suggestions, and a willingness to adapt to change, is perhaps the best skill you can develop as a Webmaster.