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According to Forrester Research, these are the factors driving repeat visitors to their favorite Web sites:
  • High-quality content: 75%
  • Ease of use: 66%
  • Quick to download: 58%
  • Updated frequently: 54%
  • Coupons and incentives: 14%
  • Favorite brands: 13%
  • Cutting-edge technology: 12%
  • Games: 12%
  • Purchasing capabilities: 11%
  • Customizable content: 10%
  • Chat and BBS: 10%
  • Other: 6%

What is absolutely the most important task your company's Web site must accomplish? If your answer to this question sounds something like, "to promote our business, products, or services"...think again!

Sales, marketing, and PR are laudable and important functions of a business Web site. However, none of these can possibly take place unless a site manages to attract traffic -- particularly repeat visitors. Therefore, the first task of any Web site should be to give the target audience an excellent reason to visit, and to keep them coming back. Everything else you want your site to accomplish will follow from that.

Web users are an infinitely diverse group, but they generally have two things in common:

* They want - and expect to find - content that reflects their interests, needs, and perspectives. (Sites that are little more than online ads or brochures rarely fit the bill.)

* If they don't find what they consider to be good content on your site, they'll leave pretty quickly and probably won't ever come back.

A brand-new study from Forrester Research Inc. (one of the big names in new-media research) confirms this observation. Forrester recently polled 8,600 Web-using households and discovered why these people keep returning to their favorite Web sites. As the results below indicate, content is - by a long shot - the strongest "draw."

The good news is that virtually any business, large or small, can produce great content. There is a catch, however: great content never pops out of thin air. It requires advance planning, adequate resources, and regular attention.

Fortunately, developing an effective content strategy for your site is a pretty straightforward process. If you carefully consider the following questions, in order, you'll be well on your way:

1. Why does your business need a Web site at all, and who are your most important online audiences? (Address these issues in the most specific terms possible.)

2. What topics (such as home furnishings, personal finance, or llama trekking), types of information (such as news briefs, "how-to" advice, detailed product information, or humor), or interactive services (searchable databases, discussion groups, specialized calculators, etc.) probably would most interest or appeal to your target audiences?

3. What are your main business or other goals for your site? (For instance, direct sales, marketing, customer support, lead generation, etc.)

4. Given all of the above, what types of Web content could your business offer that first would attract and engage your target audience... but that also would happen to advance your goals for the site? (This ordering of priorities is key - too many Web content strategies fail because site owners get this part backwards!)

5. Realistically, what resources (your time, your staff's time, or money for outside contractors) can you devote to content for your site - not just at the beginning of the project, but on an ongoing basis?

Don't attempt to slam through these questions in five minutes. Take several days or even longer to think them over. Confer with your coworkers or colleagues. Try viewing your Web site as a publishing project with a marketing angle, rather than as a straight marketing or sales tool. Most importantly, talk to members of your target audience, as well as to experienced Web content developers

The end result of this process should be a clear, feasible, and simple content plan. Here's how this could work for a small company that manufactures specialty light fixtures:

After carefully considering Web content strategies that would help expand its sales nationwide, this manufacturer decides to focus on offering two main categories of content on its upgraded Web site: A searchable, up-to-date catalog of its products (complete with photos and full spec sheets), as well as a monthly "design tip" featured on the site's home page.

Each design tip is a short original article, about 300 to 500 words long, written by a professional writer on contract to the lighting company. Every month, this writer interviews one of a small pool of interior and lighting designers about an intriguing (but not too wide-ranging) aspect of lighting design or fixture selection for homes or offices. Most tips are illustrated with a photo or sketch supplied by the designer. All tips are archived on site.

This design tip series definitely is not intended to advertise the site owner. In fact the plan is that these tips should not directly promote any specific vendor - including the site's owner.

This content strategy offers the lighting manufacturer several benefits:

* The in-depth online catalog appeals to people who already know about this company and want more information.

* The design tips attract a wide range of people interested in lighting and design issues, many of whom are potential customers.

* Offering practical, non-promotional articles positions the company's site as a valuable resource, not just another "online brochure." This encourages links from other sites and even media coverage, both of which are crucial ways to introduce new users to your site.

Of course, the strategy of offering regular articles is not ideal for every company's site. However, it can work well for many sites.

A powerful way to increase the effectiveness of your site's content is to update or expand it. How often should you do this? Right now, most "conventional wisdom" holds that sites should strive to update their content daily, or at least weekly. However, the reality is that sustaining such frequency requires significant resources. Most small companies find daily or even weekly content updates unsupportable.

Usually a site is better off focusing on content quality rather than frequency. Well-chosen and thoughtfully presented biweekly or monthly updates are far more valuable to readers than slapped-together daily or weekly updates. Even a great "static" resource that rarely is updated or expanded (like an issue backgrounder, or an explanation of an interesting manufacturing or business process) can be a good "draw" for your site. The point is to do the best you can with the resources you have available.

In order for your site to be effective in any sense, people must want to visit it repeatedly, even regularly. Content can achieve this to an extent that "slick" or "cool" design, or the latest Java applet, never will. Keep this in mind when you're assessing your Web site resources and goals for the year. Spend your money, time, and energy where they will deliver the most benefit for your business.

Examples of content strategies that small businesses can use

-- Mastercard International: Credit Building Blocks (student advice)  

-- Peachin & Peachin Travel: Monthly adventure newsletter 

-- Boerner Inc., makers of the "McGruff" Safe Kids Identification Kit: Safe Kids Internet Tips  

-- Tyson Foods: "Full Plate Chef" (chicken recipes and cooking info)  

-- Partner Engineering: Explanation of their manufacturing process


For further details on how you can have a "sticky site" please contact us.

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