There are really only three good reasons to put content on your site. They are:
- Lead Development
That’s it. Content can serve any or all of these purposes, but if it isn’t intentionally created and managed for any of them, it’s wasted.
Search, Leads, or Cash
I’ve probably already confused or annoyed somebody. So to be absolutely clear, let me qualify each.
This is the content you put on your site to be indexed by search engines. This is the content that attracts, informs, and engages prospects. If it’s not indexable, it won’t do any of these things. More on this in a moment.
- Lead Development
This is the content that you’ve created with the stages of the buying cycle in mind that your prospects go through prior to becoming clients or customers. Each stage — research, evaluation, and purchase — comes with its own unique considerations. Without content to address these considerations, you will have no way of locating leads in the buying cycle, scoring them, and properly nurturing them to sale. Content created for this process can be indexable. So, the content you create for SEO/attracting traffic can also do your lead development work. Nice. But lead development content can also be transactional — content you keep behind an info-wall that exchanges access for identification. This is where progressive profiling can really kick into gear (e.g. you put up whitepapers that require filling out a short form to access).
This is content you’ve created to be transactional — content you keep behind a paywall. You might not have any of this content. That’s OK; not many marketers do. But you might have some. You might sell books, events, subscription access to media, etc. The point is, this content is not indexable and it costs money.
Obvious, right? So what’s my point here?
“Hey, why are we building this thing?”
I keep a very close eye on the projects we have in development, and it’s not uncommon for them to temporarily veer off into odd and unstrategic territory during the prototyping phase. This is because we can get so wrapped up in the details that we lose sight of the whole purpose for this thing we are creating. The strategic vision with which we began. When I find myself wanting to ask a client, “Hey, why are we building this thing?” I know we’re in that place.
Here’s a common scenario:
- Client is ready to go full throttle on content marketing. They’ve kept a blog and written a few whitepapers, but there’s never been a real system, nor has content production ever really been that consistent.
- We sort through who they are, what they do, who their audience is, what content profile is the best fit for them — which involves looking at a variety of formats and seeing which are best suited for their message, their audience, and their capabilities.
- We begin sketching out an information architecture to support their content strategy. This involves looking at the formats, seeing how they relate to other content, like products, services, and the like, and considering how they’re interrelated. We tend to end up with some sort of content section containing sub-sections for the various formats (Blogs, Newsletters, Case Studies, Whitepapers, Webinars, etc.) and a means of distributing this content throughout the site using related content widgets and other smart algorithms for keeping things current and relevant. Most people are thrilled with this.
- But then fears set in. It is normal to be concerned that:
- The content plan is too ambitious
- You won’t be able to sustain content production over the long term
- There will be too little content at launch and will take too long to build up in a way that makes full use of the system we’re designing
- That the lack of volume will create a negative first impression
- These fears cause a rethinking of the IA.
- The straightforward structure of the content gets abandoned in favor of something that creates the impression of abundance — like all the content on one page in some default order (usually recency) and some sorting tools. This seems like a good idea until you realize that it requires the user to visually scan a long page in order to figure out what types of content you’re creating, how often you’re creating it, how it’s accessed, what it’s about, etc. That’s a lot of work to do over one list, and it tends to not pass the ten-second test. This is a bad idea.
- The work of transposing existing content into the new site’s formats looks daunting, so the client opts to keep existing PDF content as is and continue creating it that way until they have enough volume to merit doing it differently. This is also a bad idea.
- Some content maintains its info-wall, but at a very low level. The client is afraid that asking for information too frequently will be too much of an obstruction, so they go with a one-form-gets-you-everything approach. This is also a bad idea.
- The client understands that if they successfully create content according to their initial plan over the next year or so, they’ll likely want to redesign their content section and rethink much of its logic. They acknowledge this will be costly, but are willing to deal with that later. This is also a bad idea.
- I think to myself, “Woah, woah, woah. Why are we building this thing?”
Getting Back to Where We Need to Be
Now, we could accept all of this and build a weak site. But it’s usually worth one last impassioned pep talk to get this thing back where it needs to be. And that starts with recalling that if you’re not creating content for SEO, for lead development, or for sale, it has no point. Let me apply that to a few very common scenarios:
- Fear of First Impressions
If the site is well designed, few users are going to even think twice about the volume of content they see. That is, unless they go to the blog and see one “Hello, World!” post. But that is not going to happen. They’ll see a few posts. As long as it’s not nothing, it will be fine. On the other hand, if you have years’ worth of content — just heaps and heaps of it — a well-designed site will make navigating it simple. Either way, volume is not the issue. Structure is. If you’re worried about first impressions, degrading the organization to compensate for what you think is too little content is not going to help. It will create a first impression, though: confusion. Nobody will be thinking about how much content is available. They’ll be thinking about how weird your site is and how much they don’t want to stick around to figure it out.
- The “We’ll-Get-Serious-Later” Approach
It’s very common to launch a new site with a new strategy that has just a little content at the beginning but will have a lot (if all goes according to plan) later. Few sites launch without rethinking their content plan, which in turn changes the volume of content one way or another. But if you think you’re going to wait to launch your site until it has a ton of content, think again. You need the feedback of a living, working site to keep the content machine going. You’re not going to have an easy time of writing on an unlaunched blog for a year. So if you decide to erode the IA in order to make it look more impressive with less content at the outset, you’re just guaranteeing a bunch of work later. You’re going to have to redesign it once that little content has grown to more. But why? Why not just build the thing right today?
- PDFs + All-You-Can-Eat
…equals no point whatsoever and a massive waste of your time. If you’re not going to transactionalize your content (either with info or cash exchange), then at least make it indexable so that you can get some value out of it. Otherwise, why would you sink so much time into creating it in the first place? Don’t write a 10,000-word e-book, keep it as a PDF, and then create a system in which a user can fill out a basic form to access something else — like a whitepaper or a webinar — and then get everything else too, including your 10,000-word e-book. Think about how much free expertise you’ll be giving to email@example.com while he has told you nothing of value about himself? If you’ve invested in content, make sure you get a return on that investment. If you’re uncomfortable about too much info/pay-wall entropy, keep in mind that you don’t need to make everything transactional. Just some if you want to do progressive profiling. But if you’re still uncomfortable, then hold off on the info-wall and at least make that content indexable and get something out of it. But know this: an online PDF library is worthless. Especially if it represents no strategic progress compared with the site you are replacing.
So what do we do?
Build a smart system that you can grow into. When it gets scary, just step back and review. Does your content fit into any or all of these three categories? Does your structure support your strategy? If not, ask yourself, “Hey, why are we building this?” If you can’t answer it, you may be wasting your time and money.
…Ahh, I love a good rant 😉 Thanks for reading. Hope this helped someone…