The quality and amount of content are major factors in the success of a site, because it's the content -- text, photos, and illustrations -- that helps customers determine whether they wantto do business with that company.
People visit Web sites for many reasons, but the quality and the depth of the content are the primary reasons people go to a company's Web site.
Customers want to find out -- whether through product descriptions at a consumer site or extensive product information at a business-to-business site -- how products can satisfy their needs.
The quality and amount of content are major factors in the success of a site, because it's the content -- text, photos, and illustrations -- that helps customers determine whether they want to do business with that company.
Can you imagine any commerce site being successful without describing the products it sells? Obviously not. Yet many sites have extremely limited product information; that leads to apprehension, because customers don't know if the product meets their needs or not.
Visitors are not interested merely in detailed product descriptions. They also want information about how people like themselves have used products successfully.
Here are several reasons why the quality and quantity of content have so much influence on the success of a site.
Content Builds Relationships
Many purchase decisions are "considered decisions"; they are made over time as the customer weighs the alternatives before making a purchase. During the sales cycle, it's important to continually provide additional content.
Some sites do this by continually providing new material, such as case studies and white papers. Another approach is to store the number of visits in the person's data profile then display new links to content each time the person returns to the site. This is especially effective when an email campaign of messages is triggered by the number of visits to the site.
However new content is presented to returning visitors, the benefits become clear as the total number of sessions per person increases with the growth of the content.
Content Reduces Apprehension
Customers always want to feel good about the purchases they make. So any lingering questions about a product that go unanswered reduce the chances that customers will buy that product.
As they understand how they can use a product, and how it will help them, their anxiety about making the purchase is reduced.
So: The more questions you can answer, the more likely you will make the sale.
Content Creates Differentiation
You probably sell products that have a unique combination of features that make your products different from the competition's. However, if your product descriptions are similar to those on other sites, customers can't tell how you're products are different from -- or better than -- the competition's.
You can drive home your competitive advantages by making sure there is sufficient content on your site that appeals to people most likely to buy your products.
In other words, content should be meaningful to your potential customers. It should help readers solve problems, accomplish tasks, and, of course, help improve their lives.
A Content Case in Point
An example of how content differentiates two major competitors is the home-improvement market. The Home Depot and Lowe's are similar in many respects: Both have large warehouse stores; both sell everything from lumber to kitchen appliances; and both have good prices. But when it comes to their Web sites, there is a significant difference.
The Home Depot home page leads off with products it wants to sell, but the top of the Lowe's home page links to educational articles about how to use the products it sells.
In other words, the Lowe's Web site is both a commerce site and an information resource.
While Lowe's has a little less than half the revenue of Home Depot, the Lowe's Web site receives about 85 percent as much traffic as Home Depot. If the amount of traffic to both Web sites is any indicator of future growth, it looks like Lowe's is building a successful Web presence.
Every successful company has a continuous flow of new products and has new uses for existing products. Marketers can leverage such innovation to improve a company's competitive position by continually expanding descriptive content about every aspect of its products.
The Content Management Challenge
Quickly creating Web pages that combine high-quality graphic design with compelling text requires exceptional teamwork and coordination. Combine that with the technology challenge of tailoring content based on profile data, and it becomes clear that new tools and production techniques are needed.
Several vendors have developed content-management products that separate the design function from the authoring tasks. These content-management products combine the text and graphics to automatically create Web pages and promotional email messages.
Today's content-management tools help marketers take control of the workflow process of authoring, editing, approving, and scheduling content. This makes it easy for marketers to create the steady stream of content. But, more important, adding in-depth content to a site helps customers learn more about a company's products and feel more comfortable making a purchase.
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Cliff Allen is President of Coravue, a company that provides content management software and application service provider (ASP) hosting for Web and email. Allen is coauthor of three books about Internet marketing, including the "One-to-One Web Marketing, Second Edition" (John Wiley & Sons, 2001).
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