So, you've decided to have a professional website designed. That's great! There's no better way to educate other people on everything you have to offer, be it products, services, or something else entirely. You've made the decision to get online, and you've found someone to help you with the technical aspects of creating a website. Now what?
This is the point where many of us start to have real trouble. We have all been to other people's websites and have seen different ways to organize them, but if you have never actually considered what information to put on your site and where that information comes from, the task might seem a bit daunting.
Fortunately, it's not as hard as it looks. If you consider the advice I have to offer carefully, and think about each point as it relates to your business or organization, you'll be well on your way to delivering quality content to your web designer for publication.
For the sake of argument, we're going to assume that you have an existing business and you want to create a website to promote your products and services to the general public. While the goals and methods for organizations and other groups may be different, the basic principals I'm about to share should still apply.
First and foremost, your website must have a purpose. Most small businesses want to promote their business, and that's a good start. You can list all your products, discuss all your services, and provide all your contact information. However, I would encourage you to be a little more focused and to create a mission for your website. Perhaps you would like to establish the fact that you are an "expert" in your field and make a potential visitor more comfortable in proceeding through the sales process. So, more than simply stating that you offer that service, you need to establish that you know what you're talking about.
It's probably a good idea to think about your website as an extension of your sales force. Your site needs to persuade visitors that your service or product is the one they need. As such, the language and structure of the site needs to have an appropriate tone and flow. (This is just as true for organizations, as many of you would like donations, grants, new members, etc.)
Once you have a good idea of what the purpose of your site is, next think about what information will support that purpose. A list of services is nice, but it's better to describe each service in as much detail as you can. You should provide information on who you are, why they should give you their business, what your qualifications are, etc. Depending on the nature of you and your business, this might be a profile of you, the owner, or it might be a page describing industry awards and large clients you've worked for. Regardless, it's a useful tool in establishing your credibility within your industry, and one that should be kept up to date as your expertise and clientele change.
Don't be afraid to get feedback from your web designer when it comes to organizing the information on your website. He or she should have a lot of experience creating websites for businesses, and will have a good understanding of how to arrange text and pages in a way that make sense to your potential visitors.
When you're ready, write down the basic names of the pages for your site. Most websites have a Home page, an About Us page, a Products and a Services page, and a Contact Us. Other pages might include a Blog, an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), Pricing, Testimonials, Clients and so on. If you have a lot of information that would fall under one of those pages, don't hesitate to divide up that information into multiple pages. For instance, if you offer quite a few services, you might create a page under Services for each one that way you can elaborate as much as you need to.
Part of your plan should also include what kinds of content you're going to add to the site going forward. It might just be a blog, or you might need more specialized systems in place for Case Studies, Articles, White Papers, Downloads, Portfolios and more. Discuss your needs with your web designer and make sure that they're indicated in your outline list of pages.
Now that you have a rough idea of what the website needs to say, it's time to get to work creating that text. Whenever possible, you or someone knowledgeable and trusted in your business should be writing for your business. Don't rely on your web designer or someone else to create your About Us page content.
Start by putting together anything you've already written. These are commonly in the form of brochures, business cards, white papers, articles, business plans and presentations. Spread them out on a table if you have to and take note of those elements that you like and would want online. Maybe you wrote a presentation for a funding group a while back and have a great opening paragraph that summarizes your business. Maybe you've got some pictures of your offices and staff. Whatever you've got that can be used, get it all together in one place for easy reference.
Other sources might include past emails and letters. Don't hesitate to dig into past communications to clients. I'm sure you've had to write in detail, on more than one occasion, what it is exactly that you do, and what issues you can solve for someone. Use that!
Next, start to logically put different pieces of information together. For instance, if you have several documents that explain and promote some of your services, those should go together. Your business card and perhaps some other pieces might be in a Contact pile.
Let's say, for example, you want to create your Services page or pages. You've got a brochure and business card that has established a list of services you provide, and you've got a couple of documents that elaborate on a few of the services mentioned.
It's important at this point to put your ideas into a single place and get them organized. Some people work best writing on legal pads or notebooks, but because websites are an electronic medium, I strongly recommend using your computer and a word processing program from this stage forward. You're going to want to provide your web designer with your completed content, and nothing works better than an emailed Word or Pages document.
So, open a new document on your computer and call it Services. Begin by listing all of your services. If you have some general information about the services you provide, include that as well. Next, outline each service and describe it in as much detail as possible. Draw from your existing sources whenever possible to save time and brain cells. If you have the original electronic files, say from a presentation, copy and paste into the Services document. Try to avoid referencing other materials (i.e. "use the second slide from my 'October' presentation here") as the instructions can be confusing and, more importantly, you won't have a clear idea yourself of how the information will flow until you see it on your website.
Repeat this process for every page of your site that requires text. Make sure you think about each and every page, even your contact page. Your web designer can help you, of course, but you want that individual focused on building your site and making it beautiful and functional. What your website says is ultimately your responsibility.
For the various content systems, like your blog or FAQ, I recommend working on writing up at least a couple of initial entries. If you can provide a comprehensive set of FAQs, that's great, but you should have the ability to log into your new website, once it's finished, and add new content any time you need to. So, you shouldn't feel as though you need to have every FAQ and article written in advance. Use these systems as a device to regularly update your site and as content that you can then share to social networks.
Clearly, most business owners are not going to have so much already written that nothing new needs to be created. It's likely that, as you assemble all these materials and identify what is going to go on what page, there will be gaps. Once you've plugged in everything you can from your old material, it's time to start writing fresh information.
I understand that this will be a time-consuming process for many, but I guarantee you that it is well worth it. Taking the time to talk, at length, about who you are and what problems you can solve for me is priceless information that will help you sell over and over again.
Also, for nearly every client I've ever worked with, this writing process always seemed a lot harder than it actually was for them. I know that many of us think that we don't like to write, or don't know what to say. But, the fact is, you've been talking about your business and what you can do for people since the day you started your business. All you need to do now is put down on paper some of the things you've been saying for years.
It may be helpful to think about your website and your content as a conversation. Instead of trying to write like it's a formal research paper, write as though you were talking to a potential client on the phone. Put yourself in your customer's shoes and address their issues and concerns in a natural way. Your text will flow better, and you will convey a much more personal and effective idea of who you are.
Once you have all your new page documents created, email them or review them with your web designer. Make sure he or she understands not only what you've written but what you're trying to accomplish. Then, together, you'll be able to create a website that not only reflects your business, but helps promote it very effectively.
Construction image courtesy of PhotoMimir, Flickr.