‘Content is King’
That’s one of the most well-known digital maxims. Your website’s content is arguably more important than the graphic design or the functionality of it. Yet it’s almost always the most overlooked aspect of the website development process. It’s fun to pick designs, colours and fonts and all the nice-looking aesthetics, but filling a new website with content is often an afterthought.
That’s partly understandable. It’s fun going to B&Q and Ikea to choose new wallpaper and furniture – but then it’s boring having to come home and actually put it all together. But it’s a real shame to create a lovely new room – only to fill it to the ceiling with a load of junk that doesn’t match it.
What is web content?
When we talk about ‘content’ were referring to all the obvious stuff you see on a website – the words, images, buttons, sidebars, calls-to-action, pull-quotes, videos, photo galleries, maps etc as well as the metadata that you input into the CMS which isn’t visible to viewers of the page.
How to create web content
Writing content takes time and effort. To do it properly you usually need to first write it and then edit it. The famous Mark Twain quote comes to mind – “I didn’t have time to write a short letter – so I wrote a long one instead.”
Copying and pasting is quick and easy. Too easy and too tempting! Why waste time reinventing the wheel when you’ve already got some copy that describes who your charity is and what you do? You can simply Ctrl+C it from that funding application or your Annual Report – and then Ctrl+V it into a Word document or your new website’s CMS.
Don’t create web content by repurposing existing written content! Not your most important web content anyway. It’s lazy. What works in one format and for one audience, doesn’t necessarily work in another format for a totally different audience. That’s why copying and pasting paragraphs of text from a funding application is such a bad idea.
A bad analogy
Good copy is like clothing: the context is all-important. I might wear a T-shirt and flip-flops on holiday in August, but I wouldn’t repurpose those clothes for doing the school run in December. You need to choose your clothes to suit the environment they’ll be worn in. It’s the same with your words – they need to be chosen to suit the particular context they’re used in.
Step away from Microsoft Word.
That’s my advice, at least initially. The clue to the problem is in its name – it’s predominantly a text tool, not a visual one. You sit there staring at a blank document and instinctively start typing. And there’s no limit to the number of words you type (or paste in!).
Often paragraphs of text alone aren’t the most appropriate or engaging type of content. But MS Word doesn’t have an easy way of adding in some rotating testimonials, or an image gallery, or a video, or ‘boxes’ of other content. On a ‘Get Involved’ page for example, you might well want a ‘Fundraise’, a ‘Donate’, an ‘Events’ etc box. Those choices are pretty self-explanatory. A nice image and a title to click on are all you need. There’s no fluff text required.
Personally I like pen and paper – especially for section homepages like About Us, What We Do, Get Involved etc. It’s easy to sketch in all sorts of non-text content ideas. Anecdotally, I find that the iPhone photos of hand-sketched page layouts which clients send me are far more useful than Word documents filled with just reams of text.
A basic template for charity web content
Here’s what I’d use. It’s not necessary for every single web page, but it’s useful for the most important ones.
Page Title: (Should be as short as it can be, whilst still making sense to your audience. Avoid acronyms and sector-jargon.
Summary: (Even if you’re not actually using this on the site, it’s a good exercise for focusing your attention. Can you summarise the most important message(s) of this page in one sentence?
Call to Action: (What do you want people to do next? That’s easier if you’re on a Get Involved page, but even on an informational page there might be an opportunity to funnel visitors into some of your most engaging content (e.g. Impact or ‘case studies’ pages) which might then convert them into becoming supporters.
Paragraph Text: Remember to keep it concise as people will most likely ‘scan’ it, not read it word-for-word. Break it up into sub-headings where possible. As a rough guide, aim for no more than 3 sentences per paragraph, and no more than 3 paragraphs per section or subsection.
Image(s): (What would be a good image that would support the content. If you don’t have one, can you source one in the future?). Don’t paste it into the document here, just list the folder location and filename of the image. Remember to add ‘alt text’ for each one – important for accessibility and for SEO.
Non-paragraph text content: (What other ways are there to get this page’s message across)? Examples might include:
- Testimonial quote
- Featured statistic or fact to break up the content in a visually interesting way
- Image gallery or carousel
- FAQ content
- Boxed content which displays child pages or Calls to Action in a visually prominent way
Keep it brief
As you should hopefully already know, the maxim for writing for the web is to keep it concise. People don’t ‘read’ web pages, they ‘scan’ them. So signposting your visitor with sub-headings and pullquotes will help to keep them on your page and make it easier for them to find something relevant for them.
I’ve said it elsewhere but I’ll repeat it here – I think your charity’s Twitter bio is a much better source of good web copy than your 60 page Annual Report. It’s a better mindset to adopt: How do we sum up what we do when we don’t have the luxury of an endless text document to waffle on in.
I wouldn’t advocate limiting yourself to an arbitrary character or word limit for each page, but every word and every sentence on it should be there because it’s adding real value. No freeloaders should be tolerated.
Write for your audience
When creating your web content it’s really important to adopt an audience-centric approach rather than a charity-centric one.
- Assumes a lot of knowledge about the charity and its work
- Uses a lot of sector-language and charity-speak that a funder or fellow charity professional might understand
- Serves as a repository of information about the charity – what do we want to tell the world about our charity
- Is often structured to mirror the way the charity is structured. Each team/dept often gets their own section of the site to populate and maintain, and there’s little cross-pollination between these silos
- Written by tappers, not listeners (see bullet point 6)
- Sends out monthly email newsletters about what the charity has been doing. (Read this if you’re still doing that)
- Content is based on what the audience wants to hear, rather than ‘what do we want to tell them’
- Uses language that’s appropriate to their audience (commonly the main audience is the general public or non-specialist, but not always) and the content isn’t predicated on them already having an understanding of the charity and the context of its work.
- Is structured in a way that makes most sense to the user – so although you may have separate teams so cater for regular donors, campaigners and event organisers – you’re aware that your supporters might be one or all of these and they don’t put those arbitrary labels on themselves.
- Written for listeners, not tappers.
- Sends out segmented emails to people according to what the person is interested in or might want to do
Ditch MS Word: 7 charity website content creation tips Click To Tweet
Charity web content creation tips
- Don’t copy and paste text from somewhere else to use on your important pages – you’re better than that. Your visitors deserve better than that!
- Don’t rely on MS Word as a tool for creating your web content – it’s way too skewed towards words rather than visual elements. Pen and paper are better for sketching layouts.
- Keep your web copy concise. No more than 3 sentences per paragraph, no more than 3 paragraphs before starting a new section or subsection.
- What’s the Call-to-Action? You should know where you want the reader to go next.
- Avoid using sector buzzwords and ‘fluff text’
- Think visually – paragraphs of text alone can be boring and too easy to skim over. What else could you add to the page to help get across its message in a more interesting and engaging way?
- Write everything with your audience’s perspective front of mind. Ask yourself ‘what are our audience looking for?, rather than ‘what do we want to tell the world about ourselves?’.