An exciting, interactive website is a growing must for businesses in an online age. Entrepreneurs share their successes, failures and tips on creating content
Businesses hope their websites will attract customers and drive their sales forward. They invest in design and branding and even optimise their HTML for search. Yet, unless they invest in a steady stream of high-quality content, they may struggle to grow their website traffic. But writing for the web is not as easy as it looks and it can be a time-consuming and thankless task. Entrepreneurs who want successful websites need to create a content strategy, think about the editorial process and make sure they have people with the right skills for the job.
Define your role
The world is full of unfulfilled writers, determined to show off their flair for words. Business journalists, such as yours truly, can testify to that. We’ve spent many an hour re-writing and editing the poorly constructed prose of CEOs and managing directors, whom no-one else had the courage to correct. Just because you think you have a book inside of you, it doesn’t mean you’re a born writer. But that’s not to say entrepreneurs shouldn’t be involved in content creation. On the contrary, they should be sharing their knowledge and expertise with their clients and networks. The key is to know your limits, take advice and, if a post is particularly long, ask someone to edit it.
James Watt is the co-founder of craft beer and pub business BrewDog. The company’s busy and interactive website is a core part of its marketing strategy. Watt is actively involved in its creation, but he allows his media team to manage it. “We have a small, in-house team who manage the creation of the majority of the content, but gain ideas and inspiration from across the company,” says Watt. “From brewers to bar managers, and even our own community; everyone has something to say about craft beer.”
Staff should also be encouraged to get involved, as should your customer base. The BrewDog website facilitates a two-way conversation which boosts traffic and informs company strategy. “We have a very engaged craft beer army, who always share their thoughts and feedback via our website and our social media channels,” says Watt. “It is a hugely useful asset to be able to tap into. For example, when we are searching for new bar sites, we always turn to our community for suggestions. We are still a relatively small company, and having that network of craft beer fans on the ground recommending awesome new locations is pretty amazing.”
The BrewDog example is that of a business enjoying itself, an enjoyment which has become infectious, affecting staff and customers alike. Watt says it’s more about showing off your personality and less about carefully constructed design. “You need to ensure that your personality and passion shines through. An all-singing, all-dancing website means nothing if it doesn’t communicate what you and your business stands for,” he says. “Think about how your community will use your website and make that user experience as organic and enjoyable as possible.”
Not all businesses can have the exuberance of a craft beer company, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be engaging and useful when creating content. David Bird, director at Online Mortgage Advisor, says he and his colleagues just aim to be helpful when creating content. “We are not salesy at all,” says Bird. “We’d prefer to let our expertise shine through in a particular subject from the content we write. The pages on our website are designed to contain useful information to help potential borrowers who are struggling. We don’t necessarily write to get the best traffic volumes, or to sell the most advertising.”
Optimise with care
There’s a lot of rubbish written about search engine optimisation (SEO), and more than a few businesses have fallen foul of Google by using prescribed against techniques. Bird says his business fell into this trap in the early days. “We paid this outsourcer guy based in India to ‘SEO’ our website on the promise of number one rankings. I’m sure most small businesses and new websites have been approached with spam emails offering a similar thing,” he says. “We had some truly amazing results for a couple of months and then got completely penalised, pretty much disappearing from the results overnight.”
Indeed, the best way to approach SEO is to generate a solid base of organic search rankings, gained via the creation of relevant content and naturally earned links from followers and users. It’s an approach that Bird now recommends. “Having learned from that mistake, we now take care of all of our own marketing and content,” he says. “We try not to be too attached to the immediate outcome something might have on our search engine rankings.”
Don’t forget social media
A company’s website should be fully integrated with its social media channels. But similar to the advice on SEO, entrepreneurs should be wary of ‘social media gurus’ and definitely avoid quick fixes. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are, at heart, designed to be intuitive and user friendly – there are no golden rules, except to post relevant content on a regular basis. Some entrepreneurs do outsource this side of things but the most successful are those who stay close to the action.
Damian Clarkson, managing director of catering company The London Kitchen, says: “We work with a company called SocialSuperstore, who manage all our content. The team of two there have been working with my business for over four years, so they really get what I’m trying to achieve. My staff send photos while they are at events and the guys from SocialSuperstore post them across all our social media channels almost as the events are happening. They produce at least one blog article a week and send out a monthly newsletter via email, Facebook and Twitter.”
However, Clarkson also says it’s important that your media team understand the nature of your business and industry before posting content for the world to see. “They are very careful to post only the best images, as well as making sure we only post things that have been signed off by clients,” he says. “We cater for a lot of society events and fashion events where privacy is a priority. They know I’m a stickler for attention to detail, so they triple check spelling on everything.”