Writing effective content for websites

Without much ado, here’s how I do it:
Stage: Pre-production
1. Rough brief: List the elements that the new site has to have. Get a sense of the sort of content to be included – for instance, is it a hardcore corporate site or is it more visually driven?
2. Global benchmarking: Visit websites & note the presentation techniques employed by others in the same or similar line of business.

3. Competitors’ analysis: Visit sites of market competitors & make a list of their best & worst practices.

4. Gathering material: Leaf through the brochures, ads, etc. to get a sense of the products & the way in which they are marketed on the ground.

5. Interviews: Speak to people associated with all aspects of the product to get a perspective on what is important, what needs to be showcased upfront, what can be relegated to the background, etc.

Stage: Production
1. Visualization: Make a mental picture of what each page would include. Some pages might be text-heavy (e.g. the ‘About us’ segment) while others could be driven by images, icons, etc. (e.g. Shopping cart, Work samples, Contact us, etc.)

2. Content structure/ sitemap: Create a working set of menu items, titles, etc. to be included. Subheads or a general description of the content of each page to be included where possible.

3. Writing content: Collate all the information available into manageable chunks taking care to ensure that:

  • The text is brief & to-the-point, such that people can get to the point quickly instead of having to concentrate too hard on what they are reading.
  • The first couple of lines introduce the topic to be discussed on that page.
  • Everything is written in ‘active’ voice (e.g. The company creates ABC products for XYZ market), rather than ‘passive’ (e.g. ABC products have been created by the company for the XYZ market).
  • Every page/ paragraph has plenty of opportunities for interaction. If the reader wants to take action such as filling up a form or contacting the company, he or she does not have to look too hard to find a way of doing it.
  • Content for each page is kept brief such that there is no need to keep scrolling. Wherever the content exceeds these limits or where further details are to be introduced, the reader is led to a page linked to the one he/ she is perusing.
  • The text focuses on what the visitor gains, not what is done to ensure he or she gets these benefits. For instance, saying: “This microwave oven saves you time by cooking things within 10 minutes”, is more effective than saying: “Microwave ovens created by us use special microfiller technology that brings down the temperature at which food cooks.”
  • There are plenty of subheads within the text. Running text never works on the Internet. Everything goes into logical subheads so that a reader may simply scan the page to get a gist of what’s being said.
  • Important points within the text are highlighted using bold or italicized fonts.
  • Wherever appropriate, points that belong together are presented in the form of a list.
  • The content does not suffer from ‘writer’s bias’ – the tendency of a writer to use certain words, phrases & a certain style of writing over & over again.
  • Images or diagrams are used instead of words, wherever possible. This breaks the monotony of reading a chunk of text.

Stage: Post-production
1. Editing: After the text doc is ready, the content needs to be edited for language, style & grammar and to avoid repetition of points elsewhere within the site.

2. Hyperlinks: Once it is clear what the content of each page is, relevant items within the text are linked to other segments of the site. Care is taken to ensure that only the right – often, ‘action’ – words are linked. For instance, ‘We offer a 30% discount on some items’. Here, linking the words ‘30% discount’ will make the reader assume that he/ she is being led to a page that has details about the discount, while linking ‘items’ makes the reader think that he will now see a list of the items on which the discount is offered.

3. Editing as per visual orientation: Content has to be aligned to the look & feel of the site. For instance, there may not be enough space for a paragraph that was originally very long, captions may be required for some pictures, the tone of the text may have to be changed based on the animation & graphics used on the site, and more. Also, the content itself has to be rechecked for any spelling, grammar or other errors that may have occurred when the text was being integrated into the site design.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. It does not cover, for instance, the whole thought process that goes into SEO/ SEM activities, the logic by which to write meta tags, titles, descriptions, et al. However, it does lay down the very basic rules by which content for the Internet ought to be created. The rest, as they say, is fodder for another post 🙂

A Recap. Starring: A checklist!

Over 4 months gone and then one fine day, you’re back. Back with still more stray thoughts running unsupervised around your head, with a little more learnt, and a lot more to think of.

It’s hard to tell where the time has gone. All I know is that, last I checked, it was still 2009 and everything in my mind was in the place where I had put it last. Until something came along and shook it all around. But enough talking in puzzles.

First, the hard facts:

  1. I’m co-hosting a corporate party this Friday & just writing it down this way makes me nervous as hell. Wait till I tell you I actually volunteered for this. Guess it had to be done sometime…and sometime just happens to be 4 days away on Friday. This Friday! Yes! I still can’t believe it! Forgive all the superfluous exclamation marks please!
  2. In better news, I seem to have finally found a fitness regime that sticks. It involves waking up a Whole 30 Minutes Early (Hey! It’s 5.40 am so wipe that smirk off your face already!) – and walking briskly around a pretty little garden the authorities have been nice enough to construct in my locality.
  3. With reference to 2 above, I have also found the flipside to a fitness regime. It’s called guilt-free bingeing & it comes in all flavours – from plum to chocolate…even with gajar ka halwa seasoning.
  4. I find myself overwhelmed with work these days. And it’s happening once too often for my liking. But you already knew that, right? What? You mean you didn’t wonder where I was gone for 4 Whole Months?!
  5. Attended half a dozen (extended) family engagement/ wedding events over the past one month. That’s the only way to tag them: events. The Big Fat Indian Wedding didn’t seem quite so big or fat until I saw it up close. And now that I have, I still have rather ‘mixed’ feelings about it. (For those not privileged enough to be my friends in real life, ‘mixed’ is my way of keeping things polite).
  6. I suddenly find myself with a lot of free time on my hands (yes, I know this contradicts 4 above but they are different matters entirely, trust you me). So using all this free time, I am trying to swing my very own website into cyberspace. Built by myself, 100% from scratch. You will hear all about it from the rooftops. Soon. I promise.
  7. I realized – yet again – just how bad it hurts to lose someone you’ve learnt to take for granted. If life is a series of lessons, I had learnt this one already. Really didn’t want to go back to this chapter ever again. But can’t help these things, can we?

…Oh Dang! Just realized that my ‘hard facts’ have taken up more than their fair share of space in this post. Well anyway, with so much catching-up to get done, what’s a girl to do?

So anyway, time to bid adieu again. Shall return with some not-so-hard facts. Soon. I promise. (Did I use that already?! Never mind…)