A challenge faced by many businesses when it comes to developing their first website (or even redeveloping an existing site) is what to say and communicate – or in other words – what content should the site include and how should it be structured.
There are no rules
The first thing to understand is whilst there are recommendations based on what has worked before, and what consumers ideally want (in terms of their information needs), there are no definitive rules. Indeed, quite a few businesses have succeeded by being disruptive – although these businesses have tended to be of the more avant-garde variety.
A website’s content should be defined by the marketing objectives of the business (and of its website), its brand awareness within the target market, the complexity/simplicity of its product or service offering, as well as other factors.
Also, when developing a content outline, businesses need to be aware of the multiple audiences their website needs to communicate effectively with. These audiences can be split broadly down into three simple segments:
- existing customers:
visitors to the site who are familiar with the business, its brand, and its products and services. These visitors are probably looking for more in-depth information about specific aspects of a particular product or service
- potential customers:
these visitors are not necessarily familiar with the business, and thus have a different information requirement than existing customers. For example, they may require more basic information about the business and its services as well as more "hygiene" information in order to decide whether to trust the business or not
- search engines:
whilst search engines are getting better at indexing sites and understanding them, they're not perfect yet. To a large extent search engines are dependent on the content of a website being structured appropriately, and using the likely terms (and unlikely ones - long-tailed search phrases) in that content that people will be searching for.
Content ideally needs to be structured to accommodate each of those audiences collectively – not separately. By that we mean that on each page of the website, the content is appropriate for each of the above audiences i.e. it's not too complex to confuse potential customers, not too simple to annoy existing customers and structured such that search engines can make sense of it and index it correctly.
We’ve split our content recommendations into three areas - the basics, validation, and legal. These are very much the bare bones of a website and can be used as a foundation to build out a more complex site.
Content - basics
Here we are covering an introduction to the business, a description of the products and services being offered, and a means of initiating some form of engagement with the visitor through a contact page.
Form based to make it easy for customers to contact and engage.
Service focussed page (one page per product) - benefits and features.
Product focussed page (one page per product) - benefits and features.
The Home Page
Concise introduction to the business and core proposition. Needs to promote engagement with the viewer.
- #1 - home page:
the main landing page of the site, containing an introduction to the business, the product /service offerings (benefits, not features – although depends on the market), and a strong call(s) to action (which should be to engage with the website – not to try and sell directly - very few businesses can successfully sell to new customers from a single touch)
- #2 & #3 - product/services page(s):
specific pages detailing the product or service the business offers. Our strongest recommendation here is to be as granular as possible (i.e. if the business has five products - have five pages detailing those products) – this helps search engines understand the page – and makes the page easier to digest. Don't be afraid of having multiple pages about the same product as this can be a very effective way of targeting different audience's information needs (i.e. a basic product page providing a general introduction to the product, linked to a more advanced/technical product page detailing all the complex detail)
- #4 - contact page:
usually in the form of a form – a page to encourage visitors to engage/contact the business. Whilst it goes without saying that each page should have contact details on them (email/telephone number), a simple form can be less intimidating to a new client and potentially encourage them to contact you.
This is fairly obvious stuff, and as such – should be fairly standard for any site.
Content - Validation
The majority of businesses do not have strong brand awareness, and many will be trying to use the web in order to generate new business from new clients (i.e. as a business generation tool – as opposed to a business support tool).
But what many businesses fail to realise is that for a visitor to their website (who hasn’t had prior experience of the business) their business is a completely unknown quantity. Therefore the business needs to do its best to demonstrate that:
- they are an actual real business – not a spoof or fraudulent site
- they have expertise/experience in the products or services that they are offering
- they have the capability to deliver their product or service
- that they are professional.
This is "validation"/"hygiene" - content designed to build trust in the business (not necessarily its products and services). The best way of achieving the above – in terms of content (there are other ways – for example professional memberships/associations and the like) - is by having pages similar to the following:
To demonstrate that the business does have a physical presence.
Case Studies / Testimonials
Pseudo third-party verification of your services & products
To highlight the expertise of people within the business.
A page to demonstrate that the business can do what it says it can do - history, experience, capability and successes.
- #5 - about us:
a page that describes the business, its capabilities, successes, and recent history – a page which demonstrates that the business has the professional capability to do business with
- #6 - key personnel:
especially relevant if the business is dependent on the professional expertise of the business – and this type of content reinforces perceptions that the business is real
- #7 - testimonials/case studies:
great for a number of reasons – and can really help sales. In this context, they provide independent third-party verification of the business (or at least the perception of) – which is one of the reasons why review websites play such an important role nowadays
- #8 - location:
to demonstrate that the business has a real physical presence – even if the business is an online business, visitors want to know that it exists in the real world and that worse comes to worst they have somewhere to go, the use of a landline telephone number is recommended for the same reason (note for limited companies in the UK, it is a legal requirement to provide the registered address of the business).
Social media is also hugely beneficial for validation/hygiene - as it gives a potential customer third-party insight into the business.
Content - legal
Often overlooked by many businesses is that a website has the legal equivalence of any other marketing material that a business may generate. As such there are legal requirements for content – especially if the business is a limited company – which should be on a business’s website.
Terms & Conditions
Reccommended to limit the potential liability of inadvertantly providing wrong information.
A legal requirement if your website, in anyway, records or captures personal information.
if a website collects data from visitors (by the way of contact forms/purchases and the like), there is a requirement under Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) to stipulate what happens with that data – where it is stored and whether it is going to be used for marketing purposes and the like
- #10 - terms and conditions:
not a necessity, but a recommendation. A T&C page is designed to limit the potential liability of providing inaccurate information on your website
- #11 - cookie information:
Additionally, for a Limited Company, the site needs to prominently display details and information about the business. Specifically the company's registered name, address, and registration number, as well as any aliases used by the business. Ideally, this should be included on each and every page in the footer section.
This isn’t necessarily required, or for that matter recommended content – it’s a couple of suggestions to make you structure your content better, and to make it work harder for you. Both in terms of “stickiness” (having visitors revisit your site) and search engine results.
whilst certain avant-garde websites like to use one-page layouts (which are incidentally great for the mobile user experience) we would recommend the opposite. Specifically, try to structure your content so that there is one subject per page. Two benefits of this – it allows for greater detail for the subject to be communicated, and secondly, it helps search engines index the page more accurately. So for example, if you have ten products – have ten pages – a product a page.
- value added content:
visitors (and search engines for that matter) are looking for relevant and appropriate content. Give it to them. Unless you have stylistic, editorial, or structural reasons not to, give your visitors some added value content – in some cases, there is no need – but for many others, you can distinguish yourself from all those that can’t be bothered by going the extra mile. Examples of adding value include:
how to use the product or service in question (for example supermarket chains distribute recipes)
- history/background information:
of the service or product (some people are interested)
if appropriate reviews/performance ratings of the product or service (widely used by PC sellers)
if it doesn’t conflict with your business – don’t be afraid to recommend other providers' products or services – it will actually help build trust in your brand
leverage your existing content using social media (primarily Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn – and depending on the sector – other social networks like Pinterest) (this is where your “giving” (see above point) comes into its own). Also, create positive feedback loops – where you publish your social feeds on your own website which helps make your site more sticky and helps with SEO (do it properly though – so that such feeds are capable of being read by a search engine).
The above should give any type of business an idea of what type of content they should have on their website. Although remember - these are recommendations - they may not suit all types of businesses. Different businesses in different markets with different types of customers will all have different communication needs.