How to Improve Content
In 1996 Bill Gates famously stated “Content is King” and 25 years later he is still right. If you lack great content it’s game over and this is why you need to continually improve website content. Great content generates strong engagement, which is why “Engagement is Queen”. In this article, we will explore some of the basics of content. Let’s start with a true story about content improvement.
Around Y2K, we were contacted by a prospective client that had a website disaster, and they were trying to figure out why. A designer had convinced them that they needed to redesign their website. The designer told them to lose the dated folksy style and replace it with a world-class state-of-the-art, cutting-edge design. They were told they needed the latest e-commerce shopping cart with advanced analytics. They were told that they should play down the phone number because everyone wants to buy online. The comps used in this argument were Apple, Amazon, and many others. The Client bought-in to the vision and agreed with the designers.
They approved a budget they could not afford, but they felt compelled to compete at the next level. Over the next few months following best-practices the designers delivered on their promises. By all measures, this website was a huge improvement. The design was world-class and made their little business look competitive with the biggest players on the web. They were excited to see the launch date coming up and were planning on how to handle all the new growth that would surely follow…
But something else happened instead
The launch date came and went and the site came online, on-time, and on budget. The early results showed increased traffic but the sales dropped and they went into panic mode. They scheduled an emergency meeting with the designers, consultants, and their sales department but nobody could find anything wrong. Everyone they talked to said the new site was better, slicker, and cooler. But still the sales were not there, so they went back to the old design and everything returned to normal levels. They stood there in shock trying to make sense out of what just happened.
This is when our phone rang
We listened to their story, examined the websites, and we agreed with their assessment. The new website was beautiful, slick, and well optimized. After a discussion of things they had already explored, we put a crazy idea on the table. We proposed the insane idea that nobody else had thought of – wait for it – Let’s ask the customers. We called 10 random customers and asked them what they thought of the new website.
They all agreed that the design was much better, very corporate, and made the business look much more professional. However, they LOVED Grace and Greg and the handcrafted products and the personal service they had always gotten. One customer capsulized it perfectly “If I wanted a low price and impersonal service, I would go to Amazon”. What they got from Grace and Greg was a handcrafted piece of art created with love and a very personal level of service.
It turned out that the dated folksy style matched perfectly with the “Want” of the customers. The new site looked like they had lost all of that and had gone all impersonal, professional, and corporate. A few customers thought they had been acquired and were sorry to hear about the change. The customers started to treat their dear friends, Grace, and Greg, just like Amazon, making the sales proposition all about low price – a contest they always lost.
Moral of the Story
Web content quality is relative to the audience’s wants, expectations, and values. Content has to be authentic and perfectly in-sync with the rest of the customer’s experience. Customers will immediately sense when a business is not being authentic and their reaction is rarely good. Grace and Greg are fictional names but the story is true and has happened more than a few times over the years.
Experts Learn from the Real World
At a professional level, you need to evolve and refine your skills to reach maximum engagement. Content is the facts, data, and messages. Engagement is when your data morphs into meaningful information that engages the mind of your visitor. Engagement is difficult to achieve and even more difficult to measure.
I am going to make an audience assumption: since you were attracted to an article on How to Improve Your Content Skills, you already know the basics. Once you get past the foundational basics, it has been my experience that personal growth comes from networking with other professionals that challenge you. This can be internal or external and as you reach higher levels, the mix shifts to be more external.
Networking for Content Professionals
Content Professionals need a trusted network that will give them brutally honest feedback on their work to help them improve website content. The single best source of content improvement is professional peer feedback. A great network will force you to grow up and excel at your craft.
The natural tendency is to look internally but that is a flawed strategy and is the first step in mutually assured failure. Internal staff rarely have agendas that align with the target consumer of your content. This means that you have to reach outside your organization to build your network. The more robust your network the better you will be at delivering spot-on content.
There are many ways for a Content Professional to expand their network and here are some of my favorites:
Toastmasters focuses on live presentation skills and excels as a business networking strategy. The feedback is live and you can learn from your efforts and the other members. I am new to this group and I am beyond impressed. Toastmasters focuses on educating you and making you a better public speaker but the same basic communication concepts apply regardless of the publication form. The huge advantage that Toastmasters has is the live interaction and nothing is better than being able to see the audience reaction to your content and using this feedback to improve website content.
Almost every city has a Chamber of Commerce and I have been an advocate of engaging with Chambers for decades. I was first introduced to Chambers and their community mission in Milwaukee in the late 80s. Just belonging creates almost no value but engaging with the Chamber is of high value. Simply put, you get out what you put in.
All Chambers have Mixer events where they bring their members together and these are great opportunities to test your latest content and messaging. Attend a mixer with a goal of meeting 10 new people each meeting and in short time you will greatly expand professional network.
Industry Trade Groups
Every business has one or more trade groups that they align with. We have belonged to the regional technology trade associate Softec for decades. Both our CEO’s have served as President of Softec. Like all trade associations, they create connections to parts of the community that can be important to your business.
Within the business community, you will find specialized groups like CEO Roundtables that can be invaluable to your marketing networking because C-Level executives are a common strategic target of campaigns. These are a little tricky and you may have to build this through others in your organization. For example, CEO Roundtables require that you be the CEO to be a member, this is a problem if you are not a CEO. If this is the case, you need to convince your CEO to engage with the group and provide mentoring guidance to you.
Ideal Customers or Prospects
This is the toughest to build but the absolute best to have. The key to this is to make sure it’s the ideal customer, not the biggest customer. Many times the biggest customers are not representative of the market and they get special treatment that cannot be replicated at a smaller scale. The challenge is how you make the relationship reciprocal and balanced so the other person receives fair value for their time and effort. Typically, this is done by giving them an incentive like a discount or something of that nature.
How these Sections Connect
We started with a story about a web design disaster and then talk about building your professional network and the connection might not be obvious. If the Client had a strong Customer Network and had reached out to them on how to improve website content, they might have caught this problem before they started the website redesign.
How to improve engagement
Engagement is not a single event; it is a state of being. It flows through three clear steps and good content design will track these:
- The Engaged Reader
- The Returning Visitor
- Hard Conversions
The Engaged Reader is a status earned when the visitor goes beyond the landing page. In our business, we count an engaged reader when they leave the landing page and go to another page to learn more about our business. This is measured simply by Google Analytics recording a second page read during the session. This fires a goal that we import into Google Ads for paid traffic.
The Returning Visitor is commonly an 80/20 rule. Check your data to see if this is true in your business.
- Do returning visitors account for less than 20%?
- Do 80% of your conversions come from returning visitors?
If your business has a relational marketing strategy, odds are that this will be as true in your business, as it is in ours. In our business, we find that 80% of our hard conversions come from returning visitors not new visitors.
Hard Conversions are when the visitor does something the business has decided is of specific business value. In a relationship business like ours and many others, these are lead forms, call requests, calls, and appointments set. We have specific targets for each of these but they rarely happen on the first visit.
To Improve Engagement – you must become one with the Customer
If you have developed your professional network make sure that you reach out to it to test your content to see how you can improve website content. This will both engage them and provide actionable input to improve your content. Over time you will find yourself asking yourself what a specific person in your network would say. When you can answer as they would, then you are truly becoming one with your audience and you are on your way to marketing greatness.
Wrapping this up
Clearly, we could write a book on how to improve website content and this is just a primer. I hope you enjoyed the article and I would like to ask for a favor. Please be part of my Ideal Customer or Prospect Network.