Writing content-first websites will save you a lot of headaches, especially when it comes to time and resources. Letting design take precedence is inefficient and can cost more money than letting content drive the process.
Developing a website without a content-first approach is like buying materials to build a house without a blueprint. You don’t know if the materials will fit or if you’ll have all the necessary supplies. Similarly, if you design a website before creating the content, you must force content to fit the design.
Forcing content is never a good idea. It doesn’t allow you to think about your business goals, website strategy and content plan. You’ll miss crucial opportunities for engagement and drive people away with a poor user experience. They’ll struggle to navigate your site, and when they don’t find the content they’re seeking, they’ll go somewhere else for it.
Content-first website production lets content drive the design. Ready to learn how to do it? Let’s dive in!
Step 1: Know Your Audience
Before you write one word of content, you must know who your audience is, what their pain points are, what drives them, what they want from your site and how they consume content. This foundational information is key to writing a content-first website that people will engage with. It also affects the type of content you’ll create and why you’ll create it.
- Who is your target audience? Are they prospects? Existing customers? Job seekers? What industries and companies do they represent? What positions are they in and what are their budgets? Are they decision-makers? What’s their education level? Where are they located?
- What are their pain points? Pain points are challenges, frustrations and problems that customers face and want to solve. They aren’t the same for all audiences, so you must personalize your content for specific audience problems rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
- What drives your audience? Once you’ve identified each group’s pain points, you must figure out what moves and motivates them. Original, actionable content that speaks to their goals, interests, points of view and needs will help you reach them in a way that generalized content can’t do.
- What do they want from your site? Do they want thought leadership from your subject experts? Do they want access to your product catalog? Do job candidates want to learn about your company’s culture? Becoming the go-to source for content hinges on you delivering high-quality, relevant insights and information on an ongoing basis.
- How do they consume content? Do they listen to podcasts? Do they prefer video? Blog posts? Different formats appeal to different audiences. If you’re targeting more than one audience, it’s a good idea to provide content in multiple formats.
Step 2: Set Content Goals
If you don’t know what you want to accomplish, writing your content-first website will be a struggle. Be intentional about content direction and decisions by setting goals upfront. Content goals should tie back to your business and marketing goals, as well as your audiences’ needs and interests.
Developing a website “because we need one” or because your competitors are doing X, Y and Z won’t give you the engagement – or results – you’re looking for. Do you want to enter a new market? Do you want to have deeper conversations with current customers? Do you want to attract and retain top talent? Do you want to humanize your brand?
Let’s say you’re a container manufacturer that has a solid footing with industrial customers, but you want to expand in consumer markets. While your current site focuses on industrial products and solutions, you recognize the need for content that addresses the consumer base you’re trying to attract.
In this case, your goal is to segment your new site for the two groups and provide targeted, quality content for each one. Every piece of content you create should reflect this goal. Your business will be positioned to succeed when you develop a road map and stick with it.
Step 3: Research Competitors’ Sites
Check out what your competitors are doing to get a feel for content trends and topics in your industry. Do they feature blown-out customer success stories? Do they have original and relevant thought leadership articles? How do they approach their recruitment sections?
Make a list of what you like about their sites and consider whether you want to take a similar or different approach when writing your content-first website. The goal isn’t to copy them. Instead, see what appeals to you, identify if it fits with your business and content goals and decide if you can improve upon what they’re doing.
Their sites may inspire new content ideas or different angles on topics that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. You may even identify opportunities for content that your competitors aren’t providing and that would help you stand out when writing your content-first site. Even if you don’t pursue these topics now, they may come in handy in the future.
Step 4: Review Favorite Sites
Revisit some of your favorite sites and think about why you like them. They don’t need to be in your industry to be relevant. Maybe you appreciate how they package and personalize content. Could you approach your content this way or put your own twist on it? Are there commonalities in the sites you enjoy?
While this step isn’t as important as reviewing your competitors’ sites, it’s a great tool for flexing your creative muscles and helping you bring your content-first site to life. You never know what may come of it!
Step 5: Consider Content Types
Use your research from the previous steps to make a list of the kinds of content that might work well for your site. Examples include:
- Blog posts
- Charts, tables and graphics
- Customer success stories
- Customer testimonials
- Employee stories
- Interactive content
- Job openings
- Leadership and employee profiles
- News and events
- Product catalogs
- White papers
It’s better to have a little content that’s professional, educational and relevant and solves your customers’ problems or helps them in some way than a lot of poorly executed content. No matter which categories you choose, be sure to put your best foot forward when writing your content-first website.
Step 6: Create a Site Map
Before you start writing content, you’ll need to plan the basic structure for your site – a site map. This will show what content you’ll include and how it will all fit together. You can use a site map generator such as Slickplan, GlooMaps or WriteMaps to build one. If you’re updating an existing site, review your analytics to help you figure out which pages you’ll need and how to prioritize them.
- What pages you’ll need and their hierarchy of importance – meaning, the order in which they’ll appear
- The purpose of each page
- How visitors will navigate to each page
If you’re not sure where to start, look at your competitors’ sites and other sites that you like to see how they organized their content. The structure should be intuitive and easy to navigate. For example, in the Slickplan sample above, the content flows logically from left to right and down under each main content block.
Site maps can be simple like this sample, extremely complex with multiple layers of navigation and subnavigation or somewhere in between. In all of these scenarios, the goal is to create a content-first site that provides the best possible user experience. If visitors don’t understand how and where to find information, they’ll leave your site quickly.
Step 7: Audit Your Site Content
Do you have content you can repurpose, or will you be starting from scratch? You may be able to incorporate evergreen content into new pages. To help with this step, look at your site analytics to see what pages people spend the most time on. You might even be able to take a fresh spin on a popular article, case study or blog post to attract new traffic.
Reusing content and packaging it differently can help you make the most of a tight budget. Just remember that quality trumps quantity and that the content must line up with your business and site goals, and audience needs. In addition, be sure that any content you repurpose is on brand. All content should be consistent in voice, tone and personality.
Step 8: Perform SEO Research
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps your target audiences find your content by improving your site’s visibility in search engines. While you could perform basic SEO research on your own, you’ll probably want to rely on a specialist. It’s technical and time-consuming work that can be tricky, particularly if you’re in a niche business or a crowded market with significant competition.
A specialist will audit your existing site to see what keywords and long-tail keyword phrases are driving traffic to it. This step assumes that you set up analytics for your current site when you launched it. An SEO specialist will also research popular words and phrases tied to user intent (what problems are they trying to solve?) that are relevant for your business and industry and make recommendations about how to incorporate them when writing your content-first site.
Step 9: Plan Your Content
Planning provides you with a road map to get to your destination. The same goes for creating content for a website. Referring back to your site map and all of your research up to this point, determine:
- The content you’ll repurpose, how you’ll reuse it and where
- The new content you’ll create, how you’ll use it and where
- The key elements that will be on each page by creating wireframes – a visual guide for the layout
- Who will create, edit and proofread content
- Whether you’ll rely on internal resources or seek help from a content-first agency
- Who will oversee and approve content
- Content deadlines
- Whether you’ll use original or stock photography
- The graphics and supporting visuals you’ll need
- Where content will live as you’re building your site. Slickplan and similar tools allow you to gather and stage content before you’re ready to post it to a development site.
- Who will upload content to the development site
Step 10: Write the Content
Written content that’s targeted to your audiences’ needs and provides value is vital to your website’s success. Follow these tips to increase engagement:
- Make the content about your prospects and customers. How do you help solve their problems and address their needs? Tell the story of how your customers benefit from using your products and services. Frame all of your content around what’s in it for them. How will your products and services change their situations? How will things improve for them? What happens if they don’t act?
- Speak directly to your audiences. Using the pronouns “you” and “your” is more effective than using first-person pronouns like “we,” “our” and “us.”
- Answer your audiences’ questions. If they don’t find answers easily, they might visit your competitors’ sites. You can answer questions throughout the site, create an FAQ page or use a combination of both. The key is to make the answers easy to find.
- Put your most compelling information at the top of each page. Don’t bury the good stuff.
- Avoid a wall of words. Write your content-first site for short attention spans and mobile devices. Make the content scannable with bullet points, callouts, charts, graphs, images, etc.
- Write for humans. Be conversational but professional. Vary sentence length but keep most sentences short.
- Be consistent in personality, tone and voice. Your messaging should be consistent across all of your marketing initiatives, including your website. This is how people recognize your brand.
- Use SEO keywords where they fit naturally. Incorporate keywords throughout your copy but don’t force it. Stuffing your content can negatively affect your ability to rank in search.
- Don’t use jargon and buzzwords. They don’t impress anyone. Instead, they drive people away.
- Use a strong call to action (CTA) on each page. Drive your audiences to act by telling them what you want them to do and how. For example, do you want them to contact your company? Register for a demo? Download an e-book?
Step 11: Add, Update and Promote Content
Fresh content and updates keep people coming back for more and improve your site’s visibility in search. Whether you add new blog posts, case studies, employee features or other content, make sure you keep your business and site goals in mind, as well as your audiences’ needs. When possible, keep it timeless to avoid looking outdated.
Be sure to promote new content via email and social media to increase traffic to your site and get eyes on the content you worked so hard to create. You can also encourage people to visit other pages on your site by including links to relevant and related content.
Planning and writing a content-first website often takes more time than companies think it will. Plan well ahead and build flexibility into your schedule to accommodate all of the moving parts and potential hiccups. You will encounter them, so it’s best to prepare now for such a big project.
How do you approach website content? Do you have a content-first mindset? Let us know in the comments below.