Internet Content: Don’t Give Up

First, I want it known that I did my best to stop eToys from sinking this holiday season. I made sure that on the first night of Hanukkah almost every child on my list had an eToys delivery containing a complicated (and overpriced) box of LEGO toys. And that’s not to mention the Hot Wheels, stuffed animals, software, and BARBIE. paraphernalia I blithely tossed into my virtual shopping cart.

But even as I smugly cruised past all those crowded malls, content in the knowledge that I was not one of the miserable parents enduring bumper-to-bumper shopping carts at Old Economy Is Us, it appears all my clicking had no impact on my friends. Just after the holidays, eToys cut 380 jobs. Warehouse operations in California and North Carolina are ceasing in the next 30 to 60 days; U.K. and other European operations are also winding down. As it appears, another venerable (well, it lasted a few years) dot-com is biting the dust. Happy 2001 to us all.

As one reflects on the fate of eToys and pages through The Standard’s layoff tracker (41,000 employees and counting), it does raise questions about the subject of my columns — Internet content. What will become of Internet content as the bloom drops from the dot-com rose and many old-economy companies start to peel back their investments in Net-related initiatives?

I suspect there will be some fallout this year. There will be those organizations that suddenly cool to expanding web-site endeavors. There’ll be less of a scramble to host the latest in interactivity. And I predict that more and more sites will grow a little more stagnant, comfortable with hoary content that begs to be updated.

Don’t give in. Even in this “cooled state,” the rewards still go to those with the best content, the smart ones, and the innovators. True, your company may not welcome your insistence with open arms, but be persistent. Keep the content pipin’ hot and fresh. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Hire good writers. There’s a bunch of talented folks out there with freshly inked dot-com pink slips. They’re the cool scribes who know their way around a web site, and they can do wonders for sprucing up your content. Go in-house if you can afford it, but try freelancers as well. Work out a fair deal (none of this “You’ll do it for the glory of being published” stuff). Remember, you do get what you pay for.

  2. Don’t load up on purchased content. I’ve given you a lot of information on where to purchase content if you can’t come up with your own. Many organizations use purchased content to ensure they offer current information. That’s fine, but don’t overdo it. Integrate the purchased fare with content that speaks to your organization’s unique positioning. Take a peek at Blue Cross Blue Shield’s nice integration of YellowBrix content for some ideas (look under “National Health Care Issues”).

  3. Stay close to your value proposition. Ask yourself what your organization does best, and have your web site reflect your positioning. If you try to do everything, you will not only confuse visitors, but you’ll start to do several things — and ultimately a lot of things — badly. Look at the Stanford University web site. Frankly, I’d expect something a little meatier from Stanford, but the “OF NOTE” item that introduces the teaching, research, students, etc. pages is a nice touch. Stanford is known for outstanding academics, and each of the “OF NOTE” articles on prominent Stanford programs and scholars works to reinforce the value proposition.

  4. Flout convention. Remember, content has a different attitude on the Internet. It’s a tone that will continue to make Net writing far more interesting than traditional print.

  5. Go for loyalty, not hits. You want repeat visits from loyal visitors, not just one-time looky-loos. It’s been said that you should tailor your first three pages to these valuable customers. So if you’re targeting busy 40-year-old women, skip the flourishes and hi-tech hijinks. And conversely, if you’re seeking teens, do something interesting. The Neutrogena. site is a great “how not”. All the content is on acne prevention, which logically would mean a pitch to teens. However, the site is dull and screams for updating. No self-respecting Britney Spears fan would go near the place.

  6. Update, update. And finally, the most obvious but critical point for us all is the importance of keeping your site updated. Even with the skeleton crews looming in our future, we must all acknowledge that the promise of the Internet is interactivity and immediacy. We simply can’t let dust gather on our sites.

So for 2001 let’s all pledge not to give in to the naysayers who tell us we can’t have a great content-filled site. Keep on pouring on the relevant, timely, and, yes, unconventional content to feed that insatiable hunger for good information out there. We’ll be OK in the year ahead… really.

Related reading