Thursday, August 25, 2005

How to Write a Great Website:

Part III Content is King!

So far, we’ve been talking all about the main page. How to draw them in to your site. How you keep them there, however, is more based on your sub pages! That’s where you have the opportunity to really shine. You can provide good useful and valuable information. This is one area where you can compete against the huge retailers. Do they answer product questions? Do they give advice on how to actually use the products? Nope. They just sell ‘em.

Try it. Go to a big retail store. Find someone in a vest and ask them about a feature of a product. 9 times out of ten, what will they say?

“Um… Sorry… I don’t know much about those…”

As a small retailer, you’re in an excellent position to really draw in the customer because you know about your products. You can answer questions. You can help them actually USE the products instead of just HAVE them.

To do that, you have to look past the products.

You have to take stock of the products that you have on your site, and look past the hardware to the experience they represent. Let’s do a couple of case studies.

Let’s say your site is selling cookware and kitchen utensils. Pots, pans, that sort of thing. Look beyond the gear on your site and ask what is the experience the gear brings. What would you use them for? What kind of information would be useful to that audience? Let’s brainstorm:

1. Since these things are used for cooking, how about including some recipes on the site?
2. Articles on how to use spices to their best advantage.
3. Articles on meal planning and nutrition.
4. How to organize a kitchen to most optimal.

Notice that this information is not more marketing hype, but is actually usable and pertinent. That doesn’t mean it can’t be promotional. If you write about using spices, why not include some spices for your customers to order?

A constant rotation of good, informative content can bring visitors back to the site. They want to know what’s new, too, don’t they? And not just the visitors, but the search engine spiders will return more often as well. Each time they find a difference in your site, you’re red flagged for a quicker return. Some of the busier blogs get spidered daily! Make your site a living, growing destination, rather than a static bump on the information superhighway.

OK, you know that you need content. So, how do you write it?

First, realize that writing content is different that writing a main page or a product description. In this case you’re not trying so hard to convince, but rather to inform or instruct. The inverted pyramid we talked about before usually doesn’t work here. A more logic-based structure is better.

If you’re giving instructions, a step-by-step order is simple enough. What do I do first, then what do I do next, then what do I do after that? I don’t recommend assuming any level of understanding in your reader. It’s better to explain something and make sure they understand rather than to assume it.

After a first draft, have someone else look it over. Not just for proofreading, but for logic, too. Do they understand how to do it, now that they’ve read your article? What parts were unclear? Rewrite. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time!

Writing can be very difficult. It also gets easier as you do it more and more. So, as you keep adding new content and keep updating your main page, it’ll constantly improve and move your business forward!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How to Write a Great Website: Part II Inverting Your Pyramids

Last week, we talked about how to come up with concepts to write about when making a commercial website. We talked about features, and playing “So What?” to discover the benefits derived out of those features.

Sometimes, though, it can be tough to organize your thoughts. You’ve got all these concepts and ideas to write about, and maybe you’ve even written a first draft. But it doesn’t seem to flow. It doesn’t grab you right away.

Let’s take a lesson from journalists.

Try an experiment: Get a newspaper, and read it from first page to the last, but only read the first two or three paragraphs of each article. When you’re all done, you might be surprised to realize that you still have a really good idea of what’s going on in your world. Why is that? You didn’t read very much of the paper… Why would you know what’s happening?

It’s all because of how newspapers are written. See, editors know two things: One: They know how most of us read papers. We skim them, then when an article grabs us, we read more. Two: They know that when the articles are getting compiled, they don’t always know how much space they’ll have. They might have to trim an article. But to do that, they want to shorten it, but not rewrite it.

Both of those issues are solved by having their reporters use what’s called “The Inverted Pyramid Format”. This is something they teach in journalism school from the first day.

Imagine that you could whoosh over to Egypt, lift up one of the great pyramids and flip it over on its point. THAT’d be something to write about, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, if you could, you would notice that suddenly the really heavy stuff is now on top, and the pointy little details are at the bottom.

That’s how journalists structure their articles. All of the important information is at the top of the article. The things that you need to know, like who, what, when, where, how. Gradually, the information becomes less and less critical, until all that’s left at the tag end of the article is the points.

This makes it very easy for an editor. First of all, that’s how people read newspapers, right? Important stuff first! Also, if the article needs to be trimmed, the editor can just cut off the last couple of paragraphs of the text. No need to spend time rewriting and restructuring.

So, why should we care about this? Well, web readers are very similar to newsreaders. We tend to skim, and look for things that grab our attention right at the top. We want to know right away at the main page what the site is all about. No mysteries, here, bub, or I’m off to someone else’s site!

How do you do it? Once you’ve brainstormed your ideas using “So What” or whatever method you want to use, ask yourself which ideas and concepts are the most critical for your audience to know? Those go to the top. And fill them with powerful search terms, too, so the search engines grab a hold of them and pull you to the top when someone searches for your topic.

With good ideas, and good organization and flow, your main page will pull them in and draw them deeper, into the catalog pages or the content pages. That’s what we’ll tackle next time.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

How to Write a Great Website: Part I So What?

Make no mistakes about it. You can hear all you want about how cool and visual the web is. You can talk about all the interactivity, and the multi-media. You can talk about podcasting and streaming video.

The web is still a text-driven medium.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but how can you tell what order they’re in? What will draw a customer in and get him excited about your product? What will catch a person’s attention and make her feel welcomed and comfortable? Pictures help, but pictures alone, without words, lack clarity and purpose.

So, you have to write your website. And to that end, I’m launching a three-part series on the processes of writing a great website.

The first part is often the scariest part. Before you type that first word, while you’re staring down that blank screen, you’ll need to figure out what you want to say. Often, that’s what hangs people up the most. They struggle not to put words on the page, but to find the thoughts to put into words. Once the thoughts and ideas are there, the words themselves tend to flow pretty naturally.

So, a great place to begin coming up with ideas is your product(s). That’s what you want to communicate, right? That’s what you want to sell! To write about your products, you’ll need to know what their features and benefits are.

A feature is some basic, inherent quality that a product has. It’s blue. It stands three and a half feet tall. It’s compatible with both Windows and Mac. There are lots of things like this that describe the products. They’re often called “specs”.

The trouble is, they’re boring. They don’t capture the attention or the imagination. They don’t show why I, the customer, should care! That’s what the benefits do. They talk about what the product is going to do for me, how it will make my life better.

Sometimes, benefits are obvious, sometimes not. In either case, there’s a way to draw them out. It’s a brainstorming game called, “So What?” Imagine yourself as an annoying little 6-year-old brat. You’ll start the game by picking a product, and then a feature of the product, then the brat joins in. Here’s how it works.

Your Adult Self: I’ll start with this Left Handed Wind Shifter. The feature is that it’s made for left-handed people.
The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: Well, that means that left-handed people can use it.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: Well, they can shift the wind, now, without having to get a right-handed person to do it for them.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So, they have more control over their environment.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So, they can get more accomplished without the wind getting in the way.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So they’re more productive

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So their life is happier!

We went through a string of basic benefits, until we finally arrived at the “Ah Hah!” benefit: Life is happier. And as we played the game, we wrote the benefit ideas down. We’re forming a list of the benefits.

The Left-Handed Wind Shifter has other features, too. You can play “So What” with each of those benefits. What about your other products? What about the Right-Handed Rain Repeller”? It has features and benefits, too…

The more you play the game, the longer your list of benefits grows, and so, you have more things to write about. More things to write about, means easier writing. Look over your long list of benefits and see which ones repeat, or which ones stand out. Assemble these concepts into sentences and paragraphs, and there’s your first draft for the main page.

Only a first draft!? What changes should we make?

That’s next time!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hub and Spokes

Several years ago, a colleague of mine taught me a very powerful promotional strategy that I’ve been slowly implementing over time. It almost happened subconsciously, as I wasn’t fully aware that I was utilizing it. But a few weeks ago, as I was doing a presentation, I mentioned this approach and taught it to those that were in attendance. And I started using my own music website as an example. I suddenly realized that I had been implementing this very powerful strategy all along.

It’s called “Hub and Spokes”. Imagine a bicycle wheel: There is a central hub, and a lot of spokes that draw inward to it from an outer ring. The hub represents your main website. The spokes are links from related websites that you run and maintain, each pointing inward to the central hub, as well as forming an interconnected wheel of links to each other.

Let’s take a look at my “wheelie network”:

In the center, there’s my main music website, It’s where I sell my CD’s, promote my performances, communicate with fans, build my mailing list, and share my new songs. That’s the focus of my web business. The hub.

In the wheel, I’ve got This is where I promote myself as a music business mentor, much like my efforts as an Internet business mentor. That site links to my main site.

There’s my blogs, at, where I comment on Utah and religious popular culture (a large part of my musical audience), and here at Sohoman (where I comment on business trends and promotional methods). While the Sohoman blog isn’t really thematically relevant, I still include it because people still click from it to my main site. It is linked, and it does draw traffic. is another wheel site. It’s a place for my audience to find songs and sample other artists, as well as my own tunes.

Now, these are all the sites that I’ve built and I maintain. In addition to that, I’ve also got some pages set up on websites that are hosted by other people. These are usually grouped thematically, but not always. They do, however, always point back to my main home page.

The Internet Underground Music Archive hosts some of my music files, and information about me as an artist, with links back to my site. My IUMA page is: All of my songs are available through a system called “weedshare” and are hosted on a number of pages, including You can find me at, and as a CD reviewer at

One of the best spokes sites I’ve been able to find is in the big personal hosting site called My profile there is found at There, I can network and make new friends, I can build a fanbase for my music, I can share my music files, and I can link back to my main hub.

All of these form a wheel of related and integrated sites and pages that all point, spoke-like, back to the central hub website. Why is this helpful? This is a lot of work, isn’t it?

Well, in the first place, this creates a network of places where people can find me. Instead of being one lone site in a vast ocean of websites, now, there are a handful of places through which people can come to me. More entry points = more traffic.

And, since they are all relevant sites, hosted separately from my main page, and link back to my main site, they all contribute to the overall link popularity and search engine ranking of my hub. The search engines don’t know that I own many of these sites, and frankly, they don’t care.

So, how can you do the same thing? Now here’s where the creativity has to come in. To fully implement this program, you need to think of ideas for additional, related, and relevant websites. Find free hosting sources, and create them. Get them listed on the search engines. Get them interlinked with each other, and with other sites. Link them all to the main hub site. Find sites that other people own that will allow you to claim a spot, like MySpace. Always keep in mind the principle of identifying your audience, and putting your advertising (or your spokes sites) where they are.

This is also something that builds over the long term. I didn’t just go out and set up all these sites in a week. They all have to be created and grown in their own time, often one at a time. Gradually, the “empire” builds and the traffic increases.

And the wheels turn!