More often than not, websites are launched with little or no thought about content and how it will be produced over time. The if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach to a successful website rarely works.
Companies tend to spend their buck on teeny weeny (or indeed huge) technical improvements to increase conversion rates and visitor numbers. Your site might very well need a technical and/or design fix to increase conversion rate and visitor numbers. However, I will argue that 1) your decisions should be based on your web data. 2) What drives visitors and conversion is more often than not the content you provide.
These two points are theoretically easy to pull off. The challenges are to embed web analytics and content creation into your existing organisation.
Companies usually have an IT department or a development agency to update their sites. What these departments and agencies have in common is typically a clear role and responsibility of maintaining the company’s website from a technical point of view. There is seldom an equivalent team for content creation. Creating content is almost always an additional responsibility for people within your company that already has a full time job doing something else. This tends to foster a knee-jerk reaction to content. Those who shout the loudest or are most persistent get their content onto the website. While this knee-jerk approach will put content on your site, it doesn’t provide a clear and common objective, goals or means of measuring success.
Why can a lack of content and organisation be a problem?
Without great content you are less likely to be found online. SEO as a practice changes over time and SEO today is very different from some of the most common practices from a couple of years ago. Nowadays businesses cannot achieve high ranking without truly standing out. If you want to rank high in search in the long run you need to create an experience so remarkable that people want to share it, recommend it and write about it.
To rank well and have a chance against bigger competitors, your site really (no, really) has to stick out. In the words of SEO maestro Rand Fishkin “[don’t] expect to rank well for pages where you’re not providing an experience dramatically better than everyone else in the top 20 results.”
The ever growing amount of websites means that the competition is getting tougher. To provide an exceptional experience that sticks out, you need to understand what’s working for whom and why. The best way to do this is to drill down into your web data.
What is the way forward?
The solution will to some degree depend on your type of business and organisation. But, there is a solid formula that can be implemented at any type of business. Let’s call it the Organised Data-Driven Content Machine (ODDCM)!
I’ve learned this the hard way. In previous positions I’ve led site builds, intranet re-shuffles, tweaks, technical improvements and even implemented design changes (I’m not a designer!), trying to improve the visitor numbers and please the board. One day however I asked the Big Question. Why do we have a website? It might sound like a silly question but throughout my career clients and I have struggled to give a satisfying answer to this. Sure, everyone needs a website/Intranet/social channel. Without them, people will not know of your existence or where to find information. But the ‘why’ I wanted an answer to was a different ‘why’. What was the purpose of it, why did we as a business have a website? What was our goal? Did we want people to simply visit the site? Leave their contact details? Share our content, read our blog, watch videos?? Constant technical updates and design tweaks didn’t solve any problem because we didn’t know where we were going. We were lacking an overall objective and the processes in place to push it forward.
Organised Data-Driven Content Machine
There are three main areas you need to master if you want to run a successful website. By understanding and focusing on all of those areas you will transform into an organised data driven content machine. I will only cover the surface of each section but will delve deeper into each area in coming blog posts. The areas are 1) behind the site 2) on your site 3) above your site.
Behind your site
This refers to the processes you have in place to manage your site. The responsibility to update a site commonly falls between several different departments or a single webmaster. The teams and individuals involved usually all have different visions and business needs from the site. The consequences of this is either a site with zillion web pages covering everything any potential target audience could ever imagine. Or, it will produce a site that is nothing more than an interactive company brochure.
By understanding your business goals and how to measure those you can start building an ODDCM. You need an organisation with a clear process in place to deliver a consistent, purpose filled and efficient website. Let’s break that down:
Consistency: Consistency refers to the frequency of updates and the kind of content you publish. Your visitors have expectations in terms of how often you update your site and the kind of content they are likely to find.
Purpose filled: as a business you are likely to have business objectives. An objective is the answers to the question – why do you exist? What are you hoping to accomplish as a business? Your site is a crucial instrument to reach your goals and objectives. A website that doesn’t have a clear role in your business plan is a missed opportunity madness.
Efficiency: the way you structure your organisation will help or hinder your success online. Do you have clear roles and responsibilities in place? What is the content strategy? Is content creation part of anyone’s job description? What part is your social channels filling in your overall strategy? Is there a shared vision? Do the content creators know what the main business goals are? Do they know for whom they are creating the content? Do they know what the main goal or outcome of their content is or should be? Do they know the company’s main keywords?
Clear roles and responsibilities is a crucial first step to become an ODDCM but you also need to start measuring your goals. If you don’t measure them, you can’t improve! Everyone should know what, when and how they should deliver content but you also need to follow up with your team to make sure your initiatives are moving in the right direction.
On your website
This refers to how easy it is for your visitors to take the actions you want them to. If you have clear goals in place, you will also know what you want your visitors to do once they’re on your website. What are the objectives you want to reach? Look at your website. Is it structured in a way that will allow your visitors to take desired actions? Is it easy to contact you? Does your site provide content to answer question X? Is the content compelling enough for visitors to come back? Do you provide an experience worth sharing and talking about? Should you try A/B testing? Your website should be an instrument in your business plan. In other words, it should help you reach your business objective(s).
By looking at your web data you can tell how successful you are. It will also give you an idea of why you’re not successful and where you are going wrong. By making decisions based on your data you are more likely to implement changes that will actually improve your site rather than changes that simply feels right. You will also get rid of HIPPOs (highest paid person’s opinion)!
Above your website:
We’ve covered what should happen behind your website, the way you organise your company to drive a successful site. We’ve also covered what should happen on your site, the way you structure your site and content to drive your goals. ‘Above your site’ broadly refers to SEO i.e. how your target audience can discover and find your site. The way you promote your business to attract your target audience.
A lot of people tend to think that SEO is the secret sauce that magically drive traffic to your site. I might be shooting myself in the foot by saying it isn’t. But please keep reading. SEOs can do a lot to improve your site in terms of its architecture, code, keyword/key topic research, meta tags etc. However, search engines also look at the content you produce and how often you publish and update it. No secret sauce here, search engines simply look at what they think potential visitors will look for – quality content produced and updated on a regular basis.
Think about it. What are the main websites you visit on a regular basis and why do you visit them? Perhaps the number one reason visitors return to a site is because they know there will be new and fresh content to dig into. The most frequently visited sites all have this in common – they provide a constant flow of quality content.
Data comes into the picture here as well. What kind of content is sticky content on your site? What type of videos are being watched? Which content drives people to sign up to your newsletter? Which blogs are shared most frequently? Which pages does your visitors land on or exit from etc.? By checking your data on a regular basis and feeding it into the content creation process, you will much faster find the right formula for your site. You will also have an organisation in place that is agile enough to adapt to change.
Once your site has been built your business challenge is usually no longer a technical one but related to content and the process you have in place to create it.
I’ve argued that a website should have a clear role in your business plan. This is easier said than done. Marrying the business objectives (board room decision) with how you run your website (IT /marketing decision) is difficult. As digital grows, marketing and IT departments often finds themselves struggling in that they are increasingly dependent of the Board to understand business objectives and goals. Although difficult, it is totally possible and a rewarding task to take on!
Mike McConnell talks about a similar challenge in his great article about the digital transformation at the University of Aberdeen. Their solution was to create a new role. A Digital Communications Officer (DCO). The DCO is responsible for the pressing but typically un-assigned tasks of creating measurable goals, content governance, IA, UX, content strategy, social media strategy and web analytics. In a nutshell, the Digital Communications Officer manages the overall picture of digital communication and marry the business objectives with its digital channels.
Every organisation is different. Tweaks to the ODDCM formula might be necessary for you to get it up and running. No matter how you tweak, twist or turn, the concept and need of a machinery like the one I’ve described should be clear. Let us know if this formula works for you or if you have suggestions in how it can be improved. If you want to know more about becoming an organised data-driven content machinery, don’t hesitate to contact us!