CONTENT: IT’S MORE THAN JUST GOOD WRITING
When most people think of web content, they think of writing. Blogs, articles, web pages, product descriptions, ads, comments, and other written forms of communication make up a huge portion of many websites, so these people aren't wrong in their thinking. Millions of people log on everyday just to read a blog by their favorite writer, or to catch the latest news from local or mainstream media sites.
There's nothing wrong with a site that's full of good writing, either. Plenty of excellent websites are built on the premise of featuring great writing that informs, inspires, or entertains. What many new or would-be site owners don't realize is that there are other important forms of content that should be included in most designs. Visitors to your site want more than just awesome writing nowadays. They also want visual content. Something that complements the writer's story, or that stands alone as a new source of entertainment all on its own.
Here, we'll examine the different forms of online content, why they're important, and how to go about creating them effectively. There is a right and wrong way to go about populating your website, and these differences can impact your site in more ways than you might imagine.
Content type #1: Written
This one is pretty obvious, as we've already discussed the various types of written content found on most websites. It's also obvious because you'd be hard pressed to find any website in existence without at least a few words of content written. Even on sites which are heavily populated with videos or photos, written words are still needed to convey to visitors what those videos and photos are for, and how to use them.
Why writing is important.
Most written content is there for one of several main reasons. It is either used to inform readers of something, to instruct them on how to do something (like on how to use the rest of the site), or to entertain them. In some cases, writing is used to do all three tasks at once.
How to write for the web
There are various writing styles. The appropriate style will be determined by the website, its tone, and the purpose of the content. In general, conversational is best when writing for the web. It's also important to consider that most Americans only read at an 8th grade level, so using easy to digest language is also a must, since you'll want readers to actually understand what it is you're trying to say.
When writing for the web, it's also a good idea to make each page very skimmable. It's estimated that site visitors will only read about 28% of what you write on any given page. To make things easier, it's a good idea to break content up into smaller, more digestible, parts. That means breaking longer paragraphs into various sections so viewers can see which parts they want to read, and which ones they don't find as interesting. You can also break up text by using bulleted lists and subheads to break things up further.
Content Type #2: Design
It can be argued that site design could also be considered a type of content. Certain design elements, such as menus and Flash presentations, are used to inhabit a site. They are also used to help coordinate all other content types. For instance, visitors wouldn't exactly know where to go within a site without menus to lead them in the right direction.
Why design is important
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a site, but the overall design is what people will notice first. If your site looks sloppy, disorganized, or just plain goofy, visitors may not take the time to determine if your other content is worth checking out. In general, first impressions will decide whether a person keeps reading, or whether they click away. For this reason, it's worth it to hire a professional designer in many cases. Trust me. There are plenty of website design faux pas that the lay person isn't aware of. Loading time, navigation, and even color scheme can all help determine how well a site will do once it's found by search engines. Speaking of which... good site navigation can also help with search engine optimization.
How to create a good site design
Even if you don't have real design savvy, there are a few things you should remember when either using templates, a site designing software, or when working with a designer. Keep the look of your site clean and professional. Avoid clutter, flashing buttons, and neon colors. In general, a white background and black text is the way to go. Also, make sure users can find everything on your site without having to dig for hours. Use navigation menus liberally, as well as sub-menus for more complex sites.
Content Type #3: Video
The use of video on the web is not a new concept. Sites like YouTube have based their entire companies on allowing users to create and upload their own videos. But they are good for more than just recording the awesome pranks you play on your roommate while he's in the bathroom. They can also be a great tool for solving consumer problems, reaching new customers, and putting your site on the map.
Why video is important
Videos are often easier to digest than writing. You can get the same point across in less time. It's also a known fact that some people just plain ol’ hate to read. Having videos also allows you to show rather than tell, which is an important aspect for many sites. For instance, you can show someone how to paint a picture of a dog much faster than you could explain it to them.
How to create good videos
The rules for creating good videos are much the same as those for good writing. Don't get too fancy. Be conversational. Speak so that your audience can understand. If you're talking to rocket scientists, then you'll obviously use more complex lingo than someone who's writing for 9th grade students. Just remember to keep your target audience in mind in everything you create.
Videos do have their own unique rules as well. For one, if you're using them to grow a business, make sure they're good quality. You don't have to be Spielberg, but muffled voices and a shaky camera are not going to cut it.
Another rule of thumb: be interesting. What your viewers will find interesting will depend on the type of site you have and who you're talking to, but make sure it's interesting to them. If you're talking to wannabe carpenters, then show them tutorials on how to build furniture or houses. If you're a chef, show them how to make a few of your favorite recipes. Just be relevant, interesting, and real (unless you're creating a new TV show or movie...then you can be fake...in a realistic kind of way).
Content Type #4: Photographs (and graphics)
Still images have been around for over a century, and they are as appealing today as they were then. Good photographs can show the emotions of a particular moment. They can also add a whole new level of validity to articles, blogs, and other forms of content. Add the right photo to any story, and it becomes just a little bit more real.
Why photos are important
Photographs on a web page provide the best of video, but without requiring as much of the viewer's time. You can place them with a story to add more depth, or you can add them to step by step instructions to provide both a written and visual aid.
How to create great pictures
Photos should be relevant to the surrounding content. Or, in the case of a company logo or similar graphic, they should evoke a certain emotion in the viewer, or represent what your company stands for. Good photography, much like good writing, is mostly subjective. What one person fancies, another may hate. At the very least, however, your photos should be clear, high resolution, and not so huge they take 15 minutes to load a single page. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to hire a professional photographer (although that helps, if you can afford it). It just means viewers should be able to clearly see what your picture is. You can also purchase rights to use photos taken by professionals.