Content is king on the Web. Users visit our sites, and return for subsequent visits, when we offer content that is useful, unique, and of high quality. Too often, however, content gets added to websites, our own and client projects alike, whose time of relevance or usefulness has long since passed.
In some cases, this content is added as a holdover from a previous site. During a redesign process, a current website’s content is often used as a springboard for the new site, and existing content is carried over without a careful review as to whether it is still necessary. Other times, content is added because similar sites, such as those of our competitors or peers, feature the same type of content. Once again, little or no thought is given to whether this content is necessary or even useful. It is a reactive approach of “my competition is doing it, so it must be necessary.”
Quite a bit of attention has been paid lately to content strategy for the web and to rethinking, and in many cases streamlining, the content we add to websites to better optimize for multi-screen and multi-device experiences. In this article, we will take a look at a handful of typical website pages, all of which I am still regularly asked to add to the websites of my clients, to offer alternatives and examples of how they can be rethought and improved.
In looking at the analytics for the many websites that the company I work with manages, one of the least visited pages on any of those sites is always the “testimonials” page. Amazingly, despite the fact that no one seems to want to actually visit these pages, this type of content is one that I am asked to add tomany client projects.
The typical testimonials page is made up of a series of glowing quotes from satisfied customers who want to sing the praises of the company or product in question. Realistically,I’m not sure if this format was ever actually useful, since, unlike online reviews that can at least offer a balanced look at consumer’s opinions, a company’s testimonials page will only be populated with the highest praises for that company since the company itself controls what goes there and what does not. In many cases, you have to question whether those quotes are even legitimate and I have certainly heard of companies writing their own testimonials for inclusion on this page.
This lack of legitimacy is the main reason why so few people find value in typical testimonials pages – but there is a way to use feedback from your customers or clients in a much more relevant and powerful way.
Instead of a typical testimonials page, write Success Stories or Case Studies that detail a particular project – including the challenges you faced, the solution you deployed, and your reasons for doing so. You can then include a quote from the satisfied customer and that testimonial will have more depth since it will reinforce the success story, instead of trying to stand on its own. You can look to how the accounting software company, FreeAgent, handles their case studies and related quotes from clients as an example of how to do this well. They even include a photo of the customer, further reinforcing the fact that this is a real person and not a quote fabricated by the company’s marketing department.
Another twist you can consider on the typical testimonials page is to replace that list of quotes with video testimonials. You could take a similar approach as mentioned previously and tie a video testimonial into a case study or you could do something similar to what MailChimp has done on their site and forgo the typical approach of a customer testimonial quote altogether. Instead, MailChimp uses videos to tell stories of customers who use their product. While the stories “aren’t about MailChimp”, they are presented so expertly, and the subject matter is so compelling, that you get so much more, and really appreciate the relationship this company must have with their customer, than you would by reading a straightforward customer quote.
LetterFrom The President
The head of a company, whether they are the President, CEO, Owner, Chairman, or some other lofty title, is undoubtedly an important part of that organization, but is a “letter” from them something that your audience wants to read?
Adding “A Letter From The President” on a website is a holdover from the way that annual reports and investor communications are often presented. In those cases, a letter from the leader of the company may be relevant, but that same letter is far less useful for the average website visitor. Many times, adding this content is a case of ego. The CEO is important, so his words must be important too, right? Well, if your website audience doesn’t need or want that information, then how important can it really be?
Now, this type of content can have a place on a website, but it’s time to rethink where that place is. You can look at the website for Bradford Soapworks as an example of what not to do. On their site, the letter from the chairman is the very first thing you are presented with on the homepage. This prominent placement positions this content as the most important information on the entire site, but is it really?
As an alternative to this, you can look to what GE has done. They do have a message from their Chairman and CEO, but it is presented deep inside the site, as part of the company’s Leadership pages. Instead of putting this content up front on their homepage, the use that prime website real estate to tell stories of the people that work for GE and the impact they are having on their communities and, in some cases, on the world.
Instead of putting your leadership front and center on your website, trying placing the other people of the company, those who work with your customers on a daily basis, in that place. By telling their stories or giving them some time to shine, you promote the successful foundation they have helped to build for your company, the services they offer to your audience, and you put a real and approachable face on your organization by giving your company a much more human-centric approach.
Frequently Asked Questions pages can be a helpful addition to a website, yet they are so rarely done right. Most times, the questions that are answered on these pages are not questions that customers are actually asking – they are questions the company wishes they would ask. Instead of the FAQ page being a resource that users can visit to find an answer to a likely question they have, these pages become the domain of marketing and are populated with answers directed at driving sales, not at helping users.
Obviously, it is time to rethink this approach to FAQs pages. If we are going to add these pages, they need to be populated with actual questions your customers are asking. Talk to your customer support team and make a list of the most common questions they field during support calls. Take that list and look at your FAQ page. Those should be the questions and answers that populate that page.
The makers of the content management system, ExpressionEngine, do a great job of handling support questions on their Forums. Post a question and you usually get some help, oftentimes from one of the company’s employees, in a very short window of time. In addition to this level of support, they have realized that some of the most common questions can be answered in a Frequently Asked Questions portion of the forum. These entries are extremely helpful and are all geared towards working with the software. There are no sales related questions or answers in this area. Pre-Sales questions are relegated to another section of the forums, ensuring that those questions are answered too, but without forcing them upon users who are working with the product and want answers to their questions without being sold something they have already purchased.
When adding content to FAQs pages, be sure that the questions you are answering are those that your audience areasking, not the ones marketing thinks will help sell more products.
The advent of online maps, GPS systems, and the addition of both of those features to many of the phones we now carry has made finding our business’s physical location easier than ever. Still, you often see detailed step-by-step driving directions added to websites as a holdover from years past. Is this still necessary, or will a simple link to Google Maps be what your visitors will really need these days?
Now, this article is about rethinking web content, not simply replacing it without giving it some time to defend itself and prove its value. In some cases, step-by-step driving directions may still be helpful and necessary, If your business is in a place that is notorious for having poor GPS signals, it may make sense to say that on your site and display those directions just in case. Similarly, if your business is routinely listed with inaccurate GPS directions, adding correct directions on yoursite as an alternative may also prove helpful.
The goal here is to rethink whether or not this content is still relevant. I use my phone’s built in GPS and driving directions to find locations I am looking for. Long gone are my days of printing step-by-step directions off someone’s website and trying to read them as I drive to that location. Your audience, however, may be different than I am and they may have different needs. The point is to rethink whether or not this content is still relevant or useful and to decide from there whether it stays or it goes.
About Us Pages
I don’t think I ever built a website that didn’t have some sort of “about us” page. A company wants to have some information about themselves – such as who they are, what they’ve done, their history, and moreon theirwebsite. This makes sense, but while “about us” content may be necessary, is also a perfect of example of content that is often in need of an overhaul.
The days of cold, impersonal about us pages written in the third person are thankfully waning as more and more organizations begin to infuse a bit of personality into their business and their websites.
Companies like Zappos have led the charge when it comes to adding personality to their websites. In addition to replacing boring, old about us-style content with something fresh and fun, they have also embraced the unique culture of the company and proudly put it out there for all to see. Displaying your company’s culture is a great way to let your website visitors know a bit about your company. In fact, when you really think about it, a company’s internal culture really says a lot about who they are – far more than some “about us” marketing copy does!
The website for Pixar somewhat appropriately tells their story through mostly pictures. The “Life at Pixar” section contains 24 words on the first slide of the presentation with the rest of the content for this sectionbeing purely visual – yet you can a real rich sense of what life at the animation studio is like through this presentation. This approach of using high impact visuals to tell your story is another great example of how a typical “about us” page can be rethought and redesigned.
Personality doesn’t need to be relegated only to “about us” sections of a website, it can take over your entire site and brand. The website for Northfield Savings Bank, with their flying pig logo and their “Flying Pig Tales” videos, have found a way to actually add personality and fun to a banking site. This total infusion of personality instantly sets this bank apart from their competition and it helps brand them as the quirky, fun, local institution that they are.
Personality doesn’t only need to be humorous or fun, however. The delicious looking website for The Fudge House is filled with personality showing the shop’s rich history as a family run business. Through wonderful photos of their process, their products, and their shop - as well smiling photos of the shop’s owners, the company’s warm, friendly personality shines through. Be sure to visit the site’s “shop online” page and add some fudge to the “box” to see the attention to detail they have added with a nice little shopping cart treatment.
Redesigning and Rethinking
These are just a few examples of popular web content, many of which I am sure you have added to numerous client projects in the past, that it is time to rethink - and the redesign process for a website is the perfect time for you to do so.
Just as you are working with a client to redesign their website’s look and feel, user experience, navigation structure, or functionality, so too should you be redesigning and rethinking the content they are presenting to their audience. Content may indeed be king on the Web, but unlike monarchs that rule for life, Web content needs to be reviewed and revisited often to ensure it is still useful, relevant, and fit to rule the kingdom known as your website.