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CREATING CONTENT FOR WEB SITES

In my very first newsletter I wrote an article about content that began: Why do people say “Content is King”? Because alliteration is fun. It wasn’t all that clever then and it hasn’t aged well. Still, I haven’t come up with anything better in three and a half years, so that’ll have to do. The definition of content, like “e-commerce”, “profitability” and most other Internet-related terms, varies from person to person. For the purposes of this article we’ll define content as the stuff people come to see. (Or hear. And one day soon, smell.) If you’re not giving people a compelling reason to visit, they won’t.

How Much Content Do You Need?

Not every site needs hundreds of pages of unique content. Maybe your site is primarily “brochureware”; an electronic pamphlet used solely to entice a visitor into contacting you. If so, a description of your services and hours of operation may be enough.

However, there’s great competition for eyeballs on the Internet that increases with every site that’s launched. As Einstein said, “Content = Weight”. He said some other stuff, too, but nothing as memorable. Many visitors to your site may not otherwise know you, so the content you post may be their only way to gauge your legitimacy. The more content you add to your site, the more weight you give to your implied argument that visitors should use your services, buy your products, or subscribe to your newsletter.

As always, you have to look at your audience to determine why they might visit your site.

How Do I Get Content?

Many of our clients are writers by nature; they already have plenty of articles to repurpose for the Web, or they can choose to create fresh material. If you find yourself in this group, consider yourself lucky. You may be able to turn this desire to write into a monthly column that can be sent out as an email newsletter, as well as posted to your site.

Even if you’re not the world’s greatest writer, people may still be interested in what you have to say if you’ve got knowledge in a particular area. They may overlook poor grammar, bad puns, and self-serving rhetoric to uncover information that could be of use to them. After all, you’re still reading this, right?

Putting Your Visitors to Work For You

There’s another way of creating content if you don’t feel you have the time or the skills to bake something from scratch. Ask your visitors. Below are three levels of visitor-created (or at least inspired) content that you can use to fill your site.

F.A.Q. or Ask the Wizard/Sage/Know-It-All

If you’re just launching a Web site you may choose to include an F.A.Q. (which stands for Frequently Asked Questions). To start, you can come up with a few questions that you think the average visitor might ask, and create your own answers, no matter how self-serving they may be. This content then gets posted to your site.

By adding an online form, or even a simple email link, you can empower your visitors to ask their own questions. Add a disclaimer asking permission to use their questions (with or without their names) and you have a steady stream of fresh content to add to your site or newsletter.

The nice feature of the F.A.Q. or Ask the Wizard is that you don’t need a lot of traffic to start one. It’s the perfect solution for new sites.

Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) a.k.a. Message Boards

If you have enough traffic the BBS may be for you. It is also an important tool for community building. Visitors can post questions and comments at your site that can be viewed publicly. Both you and other visitors can post replies to these comment, thus creating a “thread”. This is a compelling reason for return visits as people will want to see the replies to their post. There is a plethora of different ways to configure the BBS software depending on your needs. You can allow anyone to read or post messages, require them to log in first, or add private forums where only invitees can enter.

Pinnacle Systems Software Solutions uses their BBS to allow users of their special effects software products to ask questions of top Hollywood FX masters and to trade tips and tricks. (http://www.commotionpro.com). Parents and Teachers of Explosive Kids has set up a BBS for these groups to trade experiences and bring this community closer together. (http://www.explosivekids.org). The Center for Development and Learning (CDL) has placed their BBS in their Members Only section, adding value to their paid membership. Not only can educators trade stories of teaching strategies and successes, the CDL also sponsors monthly forums hosted by education specialists like Robert Brooks and Reid Lyon. (http://www.cdl.org).

Chat Rooms

The chat room is not something to be entered into lightly. It requires a large amount of regular traffic to your site. Many clients come to us with requests for chat rooms, but we advise them to crawl before they sprint. Although many people point to AOL’s huge number of chat rooms as an example that chat rooms work, AOL’s dirty little secret is that the popular chat rooms are all adult-oriented. (So I’ve read; I don’t have any first hand experience and you can’t prove that I do.) For an example of what an under-utilized chat room might feel like, walk into an empty room, close the door behind you and start a conversation. A chat room with only one visitor is even worse than an empty one.

The CDL will be opening its own chat room soon and are going about it the right way. Instead of keeping the chat open 24/7, they instead are hosting planned chats at schedule times so parents can pose questions to specialists and get immediate answers. One of the nicest features of chats is the real-time interaction.

Coda

In deciding what type of content you need, ask these questions: How much traffic am I getting or expecting? Does my service or offering lend itself to a community building experience like BBS or chats? Do I have the time to create the content needed? What is my audience looking to me to provide?

Once you consider these questions you can move ahead with the right content creation plan for you.

–Rich Brooks
President, flyte new media

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