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Previously, in this series of posts on corporate website content and its strategic importance to PR and marketing professionals, I have discussed why public relations may be placing too much emphasis on social media instead of corporate website content, and why we need to be better at website public relations.
The strategy driving what content goes on corporate websites needs to fit into the overarching organisational communication strategy, yet so wide-ranging and large can corporate websites be, that they sometimes seem to occupy their own ‘micro-climate’ where a unique approach, arguably, needs to be applied.
In this post, with the insight and assistance of a range of communication professionals – digital, SEO (search engine optimisation), marketing, public relations – I am going to outline a number of strategic and tactical elements to consider when utilising websites as an organisational communication mechanism.
Whilst marketing director Lindy Dragstra says, “Enhancing stakeholder engagement will only work if you have interesting and high quality content for your target audience and they know how to find you”, I believe that there are more fundamental strategic communication issues that must be addressed before you begin thinking about content itself.
Strategic dimensions of website communication
One of the most significant strategic questions organisations need to address in the context of website content is how willing is it to engage in a dialogue with its stakeholders?
- Does it value diverse perspectives, even if those perspectives may not be in line with its own?
- Can it tolerate the multi-voiced world of the web or is it wedded to the notion of single, undeniable corporate voice (i.e. The Edifice Attitude)?
This question is especially important in the context of changes that social media has made to the communication and business operations environment. If engagement is the much heralded behaviour that organisations must display through social media, for instance, how can that same behaviour and recognition of other perspectives not be manifested by social media’s natural sibling, websites?
But hey, there is room for multiple approaches and this dynamic is all still being worked out.
When thinking about website content, copywriter and web content adviser Charles Cuninghame says you need to ask what is the response that you want from your human browsers, whilst website designer and strategist Heidi Cool says that her premise is that, “The site owner has specific goals and their visitors have certain expectations. Content should serve each, be written to appeal to humans first (robots second) and be packaged in a format that supports SEO.”
Website and PR consultant Clint Garwood, similar to Heidi, suggests that, “Although the content itself should be truly organic and represent what visitors need and want, your SEO keyword selections need to be research-driven. Knowing which keywords are searched often isn’t enough to identify if that keyword will drive traffic to a company website. Your keyword research needs to be able to identify which keywords/phrases offer a competitive opportunity for the website where they will be used.”
Other issues of importance to corporate website strategy include:
- What balance does your overarching communication strategy have between mediated (e.g. media relations) and non-mediated (e.g. direct mail) communication?
- What emphasis do you have on generating databases to allow for ongoing (and outgoing), consistent direct communication?
- Does it have the resources (human, as much as financial) to utilise social media tools to any reasonable level and the necessary attitude to manage them?
- Does your organisation see the issues management benefit of websites? For example, monitoring questions and the types of web pages visited not just for potentially divisive or problematic issues that the organisation can proactively address before they turn into a crisis, but for opportunities for content that help create more positive stakeholder relationships?
- How will your organisation determine what content goes on the website? Will it pay attention to the sort of web searches that people undertake? Will it undertake polls? Will it research what pages people prefer visiting on their own and their competitors’ web pages? Will it utilise market research or Google Alerts to get an insight into stakeholder interests and ‘hot topics’?
- Does your organisation have strategic alliances it can leverage through website content that will enhance the organisation’s credibility? What about interviews/testimonials with these alliances?
- What thought leadership platforms does your organisation have and how will you leverage the content generated through these platforms through the varying communication mechanisms at your disposal (e.g. media, speaking engagements, direct communication like e-newsletters, social media)?
Lindy Dragstra raises some valuable points when she says that, “customers and partners are happy to submit content, as this will help them too. It makes your site dynamic and if you make it truly interactive (why not post strings and comments?) there is a reason for people to regularly visit your site.
“But only if the information is of interest to the audience. People tend to neglect information that is too commercial. They don’t want to be bothered by it. But they do want information that inspires them, helps them do their business better, gain new insights etc.”
Heidi Cool has made available a valuable tutorial online called Planning Your Website. It isn’t exactly along the lines of the strategic marketing communication I am really seeking, but it does help scope it out. As Heidi says, “While this doesn’t get into SEO, it does get people thinking about content, which of course is the key to good SEO anyway.”
Content for websites: a delicate dialectic
One of the main challenges for professional communicators is determining what stakeholders/target audiences/customers etc want to hear from your organisation, how this fits in with your organisation’s objectives and producing content that meets the needs of both sides of the fence (when in actual fact, due to the diverse nature of internal and external stakeholders, it is one hell of a tangled fence).
As web strategist Tylar Masters says, you need to, “find out how it feels to be a client”. Clients (or organisational stakeholders) want information on their terms, not on organisational terms. But of course there needs to be a balance and it depends on the nature of the organisation and its overarching communication strategy.
“The audience will feel compelled to reach out to you for more information if you strategically give them the information they need to make a decision about your product/service,” continues Tylar.
Tylar’s approach to what she calls the ‘content writing strategy’ starts with a messaging campaign. “My team interviews key partners and employees, as well as audiences and even competition to achieve this strategy. It’s what drives conversion.” Critical to this is determining what stakeholders actually want, not what organisations think they want or want them to think. It is a delicate dialectic.
Her ultimate upshot? “Very simply put, effective messaging and content is crucial to conversion.”
[Footnote: After three posts on this broad topic and discussions with a number of people, I still feel like something is missing. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am making this harder than it needs to be. There seems to be some strategic map or purpose or insight that I haven’t got hold of. What do you think?]
What can you add to this discussion of the approaches one should take to website communication? Is it a mechanism that is being leveraged enough by professional communicators? Should there be more focus on website communication than is, comparatively, occurring with social media?
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