In Web Design

Web-Content Conundrum

By Jerry Bader (c) 2008

The Web consumes content like a teenager at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Lots and lots of content makes you more search engine friendly, helps establish your knowledge and expertise, explains in detail what you offer, and justifies that offer with all the explanations, statistics, and rationale you can muster. The problem is no one reads it.

Well that’s not exactly true: some people read every scrap of information on your site; they just happen to be the tire-kickers, the people looking for ways to get stuff they don’t have to pay for, or they’re competitors looking for ways to copy what you do, or worse find something wrong. This is definitely a dilemma that needs to be addressed.

The Answer Lies In The Questions

The answer is obviously not to eliminate all the good stuff you’ve worked so hard to create, or to bury it where no one will ever see it. When it comes to Web-content ask yourself:

  1. Is our content meaningful and relevant, or is it just hype and bunkum?
  2. Is our content understandable by our audience, or is it so inarticulate that people just give up, even when they are desperate to find out what you have to say?
  3. Does our content hold our audience’s attention? Does it just explain, or does it engage, excite, and entertain while at the same time persuade on both a rationale and emotional level?
  4. Is our content so intimidating and technical that it leads to more confusion and questions than answers?
  5. Is our most important content buried in volumes of extraneous information or advertising copy, making it difficult to access and understand?

If any of these questions describe the text-based information on your website, then perhaps you need to find a way to make that important information more useful to your clients, not just search engines spiders.

When it comes to website content there are five things you need to keep in mind in order to make that content meaningful: Relevance, Clarity, Effectiveness, Memorability, and Personality.

Relevance: The Appropriateness of The Material

The material on your website has to be relevant, it is good for search engine indexing and it is good for establishing your expertise and trustworthiness, a quality that is an absolute necessity in a Web-based business environment, but exactly what constitutes relevant content?

In order for content to be relevant it must serve your overall marketing agenda and at the same time it must be useful to your target audience.

If your goal is to generate long-term clients by establishing a relationship with your website visitors then that relationship has to be symbiotic, that is, it must benefit both you and the your prospective clients. There are far too many websites around that are based on the P.T. Barnum principle that everyone is a sucker and can be conned. At the other end of the spectrum there are also way too many sites that are nothing more than catalogs, a kind of, here it is, take it or leave it approach. Then there are the sites that provide pages and pages of specifications and features that confuse more than clarify. And finally there are the websites that are nothing more than business cards or display ads, an approach that says to the visitor that you are too cheap, too lazy, or too unimaginative to bother creating an appropriate marketing website.

The fact that search engines seek out relevant content is merely a positive by-product of good content, it is not the ultimate marketing objective, which should be to open up a communication with your audience and start a productive and profitable relationship.

Clarity: The Ability To Be Understood

Is there anything more important than being understood? I assume you have a website because you want to promote and expand your business, but if visitors do not understand who you are, what you do, and why they should pay you to provide them with a product or service, then exactly what are you doing?

Being understood sounds like a simple thing, but it is not. Ask yourself, to whom am I trying to communicate? Is it a search engine robot or a real person? If your main concern is the ever changing search engine indexing machinery then you risk the danger of not being completely understood by the people who visit your website.

There is a certain comfort in dealing with the illusion of certainty that speaks to the mechanics of search engine optimization: all you have to do is follow the rules and you’ll be successful. The problem is the game is fixed and the rules keep changing, and more importantly it’s the wrong audience. Any order you ever generated was from a real person and if real people don’t understand your marketing message, then all that traffic to your site is wasted.

Effectiveness: The Ability to Serve Your Marketing Objectives

Being clear and to the point is important but it doesn’t necessarily make your site effective. Dragnet’s Sergeant Friday may have wanted, ‘just the facts, nothing but the facts’ but in the real world people need more.

People are busy and they do not want to waste their time on things that have no meaning for them, and that is the key. Things become meaningful when they engage while they enlighten, educate while they entertain, and persuade while they present. People spend hours upon hours on the Web doing things that could be considered a waste of time and non productive, so the idea that people will not invest their time on your website is just plain wrong. If they won’t spend the time, then they aren’t really interested or your presentation stinks.

What makes the Web such a powerful marketing tool is its multimedia capability, the opportuníty to communicate using text, images, motion graphics, video, and sound (audio) design. And of all these delivery options the two most effective communication techniques are video and sound (audio) design.

Memorability: The Ability To Stick In Your Audience’s Minds

Clarity and effectiveness are vital but if people don’t remember who you are, all your hard work will be lost. Maybe you’ve convinced your audience that your way is the answer, but if they don’t remember it was you that told them, then you’ve wasted the opportuníty.

There are lots of sites around that expect instant response. They present their material and expect you to press a button and give them money. It’s not that this can’t happen, but it certainly is not what usually happens.

How many times have you wished you could remember that website that had that thing that you didn’t need then but you need now? Not every potential customer is ready to buy right away, and if they forget who you are, someone else will benefit from your effort.

Let’s put it another way, sales is like sex, while marketing is like a seduction. If you’re not prepared to invest in romancing your audience, they’ll immediately forget you exist and the sale will go to the business that gets remembered.

In order to create that memory, your website has to be an experience, an experience that resonates and entertains by delivering your marketing message with style and flair, using real human beings, analogy, and the classic story format in a professionally executed performance.

Personality: The Ability To Distinguish You From The Competition

Every business has a personality, an image, an identity that is the sum total of every experience anyone who has ever had contact with your company has ever had. Success online and offline depends on how well you manage that personality.

Your website is part of your public face and in many cases it is your only public face. Your business is not what you sell and it is not you, it is a separate and distinct entity that needs to be treated like a precocious child in need of care and feeding, and development.

Personality starts with a point-of-view and an attitude strong enough to make an impact. And the more mundane your offering, the more important it is to make a statement. Victoria’s Secret has little trouble grabbing people’s attention, but if it’s sandpaper you sell, you better try harder. We especially see this identity crisis with distributors, whose own personality often gets sublimated to the major brands they carry.

Perhaps you remember the J. Peterman character from the old Seinfeld television show. The character was played by, actor and voice-over specialist, John O’Hurley, who is nothing like the real J. Peterman. But the characterization was so strong, and so memorable, that O’Hurley was able to single-handedly rescue the company from financial trouble.

If you’re looking to create a Web-personality as effective as John O’Hurley’s J. Peterman, you should consider adding a video or audio host to your Web-presentation, one that engages your audience’s attention and captures their collective imagination.

A Final Thought

At the end of the day there is one thing about websites that should guide you in your decisions as to what you present and how, and that is simply, websites are for people not search engines. If the people coming to your website don’t hear what you have to say, understand what you’re offering, and remember who you are, then your website isn’t doing what it needs to do for your business.

About The Author

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.

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