Where is the great web content? That's the question I asked in last week's column after sifting through the sorry array of stories from the content provider my organization pays to churn out supposedly enticing copy. All too often it seems we settle for bland, generic information or rehashed newswire copy.
Want to spice up the content on your site? Here's a secret you probably already knew: The best copy comes from you, the organization posting the site. It's just not that hard to generate great copy. In fact, with a little imagination, you can have a site chock full of "sticky, great reads" without shelling out to a hit-or-miss content provider. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Columns from "Guest Experts"
- Invite experts to write for a "Q and A" section or, better yet, a regular column. I'm not talking the snippet reviews you see submitted to Amazon or Travelocity (which are penned on a first-name basis to protect the hypercritical). I'm talking thoughtful pieces written by those respected in their fields. Don't think you can get a guest columnist? You'd be surprised. Folks of any ego dimension like to see their names and pictures on the big WWW. Be sure to let guest columnists respond to feedback they receive. Chances are they'll love the "fan mail." Check out www.EntreWorld.org, a site recommended to me by a reader of last week's column. It's full of guest editorials by successful entrepreneurs.
Employees or In-house Experts
- I love The Gallup Organization's site. It features interesting information from in-house experts in market research. They don't just sell their wares on the site; they teach you to become more savvy in market research (with the intent that you'll become a more informed client). And what's really nice is that the experts come from the organization, proving that you'll be working with really smart people if you do business with Gallup.
Here's another idea: Consider having an employee explain what he or she does for the organization or how a problem was solved through a great team effort. This "real people/real challenges" approach will dramatically humanize your product or service.
Case Studies and Testimonials
- Let a satisfied client describe his or her problem and how your organization saved the day. Allow readers to email the person providing the testimonial so everyone is assured the situation really happened. For a little boost in your employee-relations efforts, include the employee heroes who worked on the project and let them tell how they helped make the project successful.
Find a "Local Angle" on a Current News Story
- Does your company manufacture swimming pools for future Olympians? Do you have an exercise tip for would-be track-and-field stars? Olympic tie-ins could be great topics for your site right now. Finding a local tie-in is an old strategy of public relations professionals seeking news attention. Try it for your web site, and you may find yourself turning a web article into a press release if the item seems exceptionally newsworthy. But watch out: A press release should never take the same form as web site content (or vice versa). You'll want to tweak both to suit their unique purposes.
Countdown to a New Product
- If you're launching a new product, describe one new feature or benefit of the product every day in the week before it debuts. You can build excitement and relay all the superlatives over a few days rather than going into overhype on launch day.
- If your site is for a French restaurant, offer a travelogue of a day in Paris. If your site is for a temporary help service, offer tips from human resources professionals. Invite the staff for a little brainstorming on future web site articles. After all, how many times can you write about parking and hours of operation?
Don't think you have the time, inclination, or talent to generate original content yourself? In upcoming pieces, I'll discuss how to hire and work with a freelance writer or, better yet, how to hire inhouse marketing people who can actually write decent copy.
In the twenty-plus years that I've been hiring marketing people, I've insisted that great marketers online or offline must possess outstanding writing abilities. These skills are also often overlooked when we hire our web site staff. Pity. Without decent writers you run the risk of a dry-as-the-Mojave web site or shelling out a lot of money for run-of-the-mill, prepackaged content. Believe me, these aren't the sites that hear the clicks of return visitors.
P.S. Thanks, everyone, for all the useful comments in response to last week's column. I love the fresh ideas. Clearly, great content is being spun by many ClickZ readers.
Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.