If you've been contemplating running an e-commerce site for a while now, of if you've already gone ahead and taken the plunge, you ought to know that your content is by far the most important part of your site. Given this rather obvious fact, it's surprising how many site owners are under-investing in their content.
Why content matters
In the purest sense, content includes both the text and images that display on your page. In most contexts, however, it is usually a term that refers only to the text portion of your pages. It's the part that people actually read. In industrial terms, this portion is called “copy”. Everyone just calls it content to stop people getting confused because that word “copy” has too many negative associations attached to it.
The content (or copy) is of great importance because it is firstly the most likely thing that brings users to your site. Search engines use copy to make decisions about what type of content you are providing, social media links use copy to attract visitors because they can perceive some value from whatever is shown about the site in the social media space, and ads use copy in a highly condensed form to attract visitors based on just a single line of text.
Copy is also important because it keeps people engaged after they arrive at your site. Even if the main reason you've pulled this user to your site is because you want them to watch a video presentation, you'll need some effective copy on the page to push the user towards watching the video. You have to make them want to watch it.
Needless to say, if your copy sucks, your website, even though it's been built with one of those top notch website builders, is likely to suck also. That's not a good place to be.
Always make your content (copy, images, and video) as professional as your budget allows
Don't under-spend. Don't assume that just because there are a dozen other sites just like yours that
you can get away with a sloppy second-rate presentation. First impressions are of the utmost importance when it comes to business, and if you want to get the best results, you have to present a completely professional appearance right from the start.
This means you invest in:
• Professional quality original content, created by a professional writing and editing service
• Professional quality images (stock images are usually OK to use, but originals are better)
• Professionally made video or audio (stock can be used, but original is far better)
You may not have a really huge budget for your website spend, but you should spend what you can. Don't hold back on this vital component because it will show. If your text is riddled with poor grammar and spelling, if your images look like they were made by Mr Magoo, and your video looks like it was made by Mr Bean, you're really going to have problems convincing potential customers that they should trust you.
Test your content before you release it
An often overlooked necessity is the important step of testing your content before releasing it onto the internet. You need to make sure that it contains no errors (copy editing), that it is effective in making a connection with the audience (user testing), that it doesn't breach any copyrights (legal assurance), and that it looks fine on a wide variety of devices (cross-platform testing).
If you don't perform these necessary tests before you release your content, you could find that you have problems later. It's usually easier and less expensive to fix problems before you release the content than after.
Give some thought to accessibility
It's not just that you're legally required to make your site as accessible as you possibly can, but by ignoring users with disabilities, you could be losing a potential 20% of your market, and possibly even more. It doesn't really take a lot of extra time and effort to build in accessibility features, and if you do think it is too much work, you can always hire an accessibility expert to take care of the job for you.
If you have an international audience, consider investing in professional translation
Many website owners rely on Google Translate to automatically translate their pages for speakers of other languages, but the reality is that Google Translate can not yet come within spitting distance of a professional translation. Google Translate is an automated system, so it doesn't understand anything other than very literal contexts and it often makes mistakes.
For example, when using the verb “can”, Google will usually put the noun instead, creating a very different meaning in most other languages. In the worst scenarios, Google Translate can even put out highly offensive translations of your content and not every user is smart enough to understand that it is the fault of the automatic translation and not your own words.
Most translation services will only work in two or three languages at most, so be prepared to work with many different agencies, forking out money for each one. It's worth it, because being multilingual opens up a much larger marketplace for you.
At a minimum you should invest in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese. It's definitely worth investing in as many languages as you can afford to cover, giving special attention to the languages of regions where your products are likely to make good sales.
Of course if you are only selling within a very narrow geographic area and you don't have an international audience, there's not much point in spending extra money on translations. It would be better in that case to put more of your money towards upgrading the class of your content or on your marketing efforts.
Write for people, not search engines
The SEO industry is the worst thing to ever happen to the Web. It has created an environment where you simply can't be sure if the page you're about to view will be worth the effort of visiting, because it may simply have been created as a vehicle for holding keywords. Nothing is more annoying than reading a page that has obviously been seeded with keywords, written with more focus on getting a good search rank than providing quality information to the user. In the end, this will always cost you. It's not a good way to do business.
While it may sound difficult and expensive to put a quality content strategy in place, it actually can be simple and inexpensive as long as you plan properly, and be prepared from the start to work with talented professionals who know what they are doing. If you can commit to this kind of action, you should see more positive results than if you went the other way.
Feature image curtsey of Richard W. Wingard III