5 essential questions for winning website content

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Whoop! You’ve finally convinced the senior management team to approve the budget for a new website. Brilliant. The existing one is bad and you can’t wait to be rid of it. You have a vague sitemap in mind and a designer on board. So you’re all ready to start writing the content!

Or are you?

There are 5 essential questions you should be able to answer before you type a word (and they all have the word audience in them).

Who is my audience?

Convincing people to do something is hard. But when you know nothing about them, their preferences or motivations, it's impossible.

So do your homework.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a dedicated audience insight team who can give you all the data you need. OK, you can wake up now. Most of us don't have that luxury.

So talk to the people who know your audience best. The supporter care or customer service team, the sales reps, the account managers. Better still, talk to the audience yourself at an event. Or pick up the phone and ask if they'd be happy to chat (old school I know).

You might have more than one audience. If so, gather as much information as you can on each of them. Be clear about how they differ from each other and what they have in common.

How does my audience talk?

Writing like you talk (as opposed to spouting jargon) is a good start. But people talk in all sorts of ways.

You need to be using the same language as your audience. So they can find your site in the first place and engage with it when they do.

Social media and online forums are a mine of information on how your audience talks. Find out where they hang out and lurk in the shadows with a virtual newspaper and coffee. Make a note of the kinds of words they use and the ones they don’t. What questions are they asking and in what way?

Pop a few key search terms into Google and see how many results they have. The ‘People also ask’ feature is useful too. And check out Google Trends to compare how popular various terms have been recently.

How does my audience use the site?

Unless you’re creating a new site from scratch, you should have analytics for your current site. If you are starting afresh, do you have data from your old site that might help?

What pages are most popular? Which ones keep people reading for the longest? And at what point in their visit are they leaving you?

Take care not to take analytics at face value. Just because people are leaving a page after a short amount of time, doesn’t mean it’s bad. They may have found the info they were after quickly. Which is a good thing!

What does my audience want to know?

Your website isn’t a place to tell the world everything you have to say about your organisation. There’s nothing more boring than someone talking about themselves at length. No one wants to read that stuff.

Your site is an opportunity to be helpful. To answer your audience’s questions, meet their needs, and solve their problems. (While getting them to take action or buy your product/service of course.)

User stories are a great way to figure this out.

Based on the info you’ve collected on each of your audiences, make a list of all the reasons they might visit your site.

For example:

As a teacher

I want to download the charity’s lesson plans

So that I can teach my pupils about the cause

Then make sure everything you write meets these specific needs. If it's not doing a job, scrap it.

(For more examples of user stories and other useful stuff, check out Sarah Richards’ excellent book Content Design. Buy, borrow or steal a copy if you don’t have it already. Your website - and your audience - will thank you.)

What’s the best way to give my audience what it wants?

Once you know what your audience wants, you need to decide the best way to give it to them. Alongside words, would a form, map, graphic or film help? If so, make sure what you write complements these other elements.

Remember, don't use graphics and films because everyone else is. Make sure everything is there for a reason. Be ruthless.

OK, answered all that? Now you’re ready to start writing. Good luck!

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Still need help with the words? Let’s talk.