Creating content for your website

typewriter in the garbage

One of the biggest stumbling blocks when building a website can be its most important feature—the content. While the designer/developer’s job is to design and program the site, the client must gather and create the content. Here are a few notes to help get started. Additionally, I’ve included how I prefer to receive content.

Write your copy first!

Ninety-nine percent of the time, most of your content will consist of text. What does that mean? Focus on your text first! Without copy for your website, you have no website.

When writing the text for your website, remember to keep it brief and to-the-point. Research show that most users read websites somewhat like newspapers—they scan for bits of information.

How to deliver? A simple Microsoft Word document will do just fine. You get extra points if you reference your photo names within its associated copy. (Note that I said reference and not include—see below.)

Photographs

If text is the star of your content, photographs play a major supporting role. Nothing dresses up a page better than a great image. Whether you take your own photographs or hire a photographer (or even hire an illustrator), it is helpful if you at least narrow down your image selection so that it won’t take hours to scour through hundreds of pictures. Name your photos something useful as well. For example, “board_members.jpg” is much more helpful than “DSC_011258.JPG” for obvious reasons.

Please also note that it is preferable to have the photos in JPEG or TIFF format and not embedded in a word processor document. If you would like to indicate placement of images within your text document, simply include the photo file name.

How to deliver? I prefer a CD or DVD with a common sense folder structure. What do I mean? Put your company history photos in a folder called “Company History” and your product photos in a folder called “Products”—that is what I mean. Also remember to name your photos something human-friendly!

Other media: video and audio

In the right applications, video and audio can be great compliments to your primary content. You must remember that, like your text, video and audio must be brief and bite-size. If you have a 20-minute video that you’re dying to get online, you should probably consider breaking it up into at least four- or five-minute chunks.

How to deliver? CD or DVD is definitely the way to go. Regarding formats, video is preferable in either MPEG, WMV, or QuickTime. Those same formats are acceptable for audio with the addition of MP3.

Databases

Personnel directories, real estate listings, and even product catalogs all are typically database-driven. Your website needs will usually tell us whether or not a database will be helpful, or you may have an existing database that needs to be included.

How to deliver? Unless your database is really complex, it is normally best to simply export your tables to either a Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access file. If you are creating your database from scratch, we probably need to discuss how to best set up the rows and columns so that importing will be problem-free.

Use a website outline as your checklist

The first thing I do for every new site (or redesign) is create an outline of the content and structure. This serves as a road map for both myself and the client. For me, it helps in planning the interface. For the client, it serves as a checklist for content—each list item represents a page, and that page needs content. Most outlines look something like this:

  1. Home
  2. About Us
    1. Mission Statement
    2. Company History
    3. Staff
  3. Products
    1. Super Widgets
    2. Super Duper Widgets
  4. Contact Us
    1. Phone and Address
    2. Request Information

Go create some content!

See? The process is not quite so frightening if you just take the time to get organized. Remember that your content is why users will come to your site and hopefully return, so take its creation seriously. Map out your plan and stick to it!

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