The Supremacy of Content
Perhaps at the edge of your town, a shopping mall sits dormant. Anchor stores, once bustling with activity, remain empty. A few shops struggle on--a drugstore like one you can find on any corner, a locally-owned gift shop that sells balloons and overpriced knickknacks, and a discount shoe store. Inside the empty hallways, stale air hangs above plywood covering a shut-down fountain. What was once a place to go now has little to offer, and shoppers with better places to go and other things to do pass by the dying mall.
On the Web, this same merciless economy prevails at an accelerated pace and enlarged scale. Because a Web browser allows a customer to access any site at any time, your Web site must offer some excellent reasons to visit, or you'll not gain an audience or even be noticed at all. On the Web, the reasons for users to visit your site are your content. This article gives an affiliate ideas for brainstorming, choosing, implementing, and evaluating content.
Brainstorming Possible Content
Because the content of a Web site is the substance that draws and keeps an audience, the composition of your content should follow directly from your stated Web site purpose and audience. As a first step, you can prepare a set of content features that relate to your audience's activities, interests, and concerns. For example, a site about a school science fair might list rules of the fair, the location and details about the upcoming events, statements by judges, and descriptions of past winning projects. Think about your audience and purpose, and list content that helps the audience accomplish that purpose.
Next, you'll find that your content will evolve based on the type of site you have and the niche that you carve out on the Web. Whether your Web site is a one-person operation or part of a large corporation, whether it is geared toward informing or entertaining will drive the type of content you provide. To come up with more ideas for your Web site's content, you can look at your site in light of its type, potential media functions, and unique "hooks" that attract users.
The type of your Web site sets up expectations in your audience. For example, some Web site types include retail storefront, Web directory, news portal, travel site, radio show, book support, educational course, restaurant reviews, blog, celebrity fan site, or small company site. You can visit other sites similar to yours and see what they offer. Of course, you do not want to merely duplicate what you find at other sites, but you'll also not want to fall short of audience expectations for content on your type of Web site. For example, your examination of science fair sites may turn up multimedia presentations, discussion forums for participants, or extensive online magazines with articles contributed by the participants.
Another way to come up with content ideas for your site is to look at the media functions you could potentially provide for your audience. Online activities often revolve around information, communication, and interaction. Information content ideas include features such as: annotated lists of related links, product reviews, online magazines or newsletters, a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) List, and other kinds of descriptive Web pages. Communication content connects your users to you or to each other and might include things like: a web log (blog), Web discussion forum, chat, mailing list, contact information, community directory, or news feed. Interactive content engages your user in give-and-take activities such as: games, Java applets, interactive multimedia, and shopping. A list of potential content in these areas of information, communication, and interaction can help you form a long-term plan for adding content to your site.
While all media functions may not make sense for your site, be willing to stretch your offerings a bit. For example, while a brick-and-mortar storefront usually provides no way for its customers to be in contact with each other, an online storefront can serve as a meeting place for people who are passionate about the same hobbies or pursuits. Providing an online forum or community resource directory at your site might enhance your user's experience and encourage more frequent visits. Even if your site is an online storefront, you can consider developing it as more than just a place to buy products. Create content that draws a user to visit your site as opposed to directly going to the merchant or another related Web site.
Another way to generate content ideas is to take note of the technology and cultural trends that circulate on the Internet. Cycles of hype and buzzwords have been a staple in the Internet industry for decades, and the rapid rise and continued popularity of the Web has given birth to a variety of fads. For example, the popular web logs are simply a recycling of technology and practices that are at least a decade old. But the use of a blog has been very trendy for the past few years. A blog on your site might be a good way to communicate with your users. While using buzzwords and trendy terms can give a sense of currency, you'll want to handle these carefully. You don't want to insult your audience or look foolish by using a term or practice incorrectly. Look at different sites that use blogs, for example, and see if this type of communication structure makes sense for your users. For general Internet user trends, you might even look at online sites such as buzz.yahoo.com to see what kinds of content people seek.
Developing, Designing, and Implementing Content
All the content you choose to have on your Web site is going to cost you. You'll want to choose it carefully and implement it in a way that is incremental, modular, and usable. Avoid the temptation to implement content to show off the technology itself. While you might be excited about a technology that adds pizzazz to your site, your users may get frustrated by features requiring long download times or special plugins.
Incremental and modular development of content is simply a gradual approach to adding Web pages to your site. The use of hypertext itself is a natural tool to do this, because hypertext allows you to create new links to pages of information that you can add at different times. Of course, some features might require that you add more than one page at a time such as large indexes, directories, or games. But by working to develop, install, and publicize a small section of your site at a time, you can then test user interest before developing more content. This modular development also lets you work on your site in small pieces, so that you can best allocate your resources and energy over time.
As you design your site, mark off spaces on your Web page areas for merchant links. You'll not want to confuse the reader about whether links on your site are merchant links or your own content, so place appropriate labels such as "Advertisement" or "Sponsor" near merchant link sections. You can also have a special section of your site designated as the shopping area or store and label it as such. As you implement Web pages on your site, include related merchant links that match the Web page topics.
Another design technique is to create your Web pages with stable, accessible, static URL's so that a user can bookmark or link to them. This technique recognizes the porous nature of hypertext and is sometimes said to enable "deep linking" on your site. The benefit to your user is that he or she can bookmark a sub-page of your site that may be of high interest, allowing quick access or a link from another site. You might be surprised to see how sub-pages of your site can gain great popularity because of search engines and bookmarks allowing a user to go directly to that Web page of interest.
Your site should also be accessible and usable. You might want to add flair to your site in the form of graphics or multimedia, but this very content might make it difficult or impossible for some users to visit your site. Web site accessibility includes making sure that people with disabilities can use your site. Check with the World Wide Web Consortium at www.w3.org for the Web Accessibility Initiative. Closely related is the idea of usability, in which great attention is paid to making sure that your visitors can use, understand, and access all your content in an efficient manner.
Assessing Content's Return on Investment
Content costs money. It costs money to acquire, design, implement, edit, maintain, promote, and administrate. The technology you use to implement content requires training time and perhaps software acquisitions and upgrades. There might be no precise way to know the return on investment for content in advance of implementing it. But a modular approach can give you a chance to gradually introduce Web page content and allow periods to gauge user acceptance and affiliate income earned.
The bottom line analysis comes down to numbers. You can look at earnings per thousand impressions for merchant links on your site and compare these with the distribution of those links throughout your site and the traffic on these pages from your server logs. It may be difficult to precisely measure the impact of new content on your earnings because you might place the same merchant link on several pages. Other factors such as ongoing traffic to your site and promotion that you might be doing makes it difficult to isolate the impact of new content. You might have a Web page or sets of pages that become a big hit with your users and rise to the top of your Web server logs. This type of popularity gives you opportunities to expand your content for this topic.
Take into account your best understanding of your site to decide on what content to support. After a trial period, the initial Web pages of a whole new section you devised might get little or no user interest. In this case, you might delay further development. Take a zero sum view of your resources, particularly if you have limited resources. If you are developing one content area, you are not doing something else, and you might be missing out on a bigger return on your work.
Aside from the numbers, however, it will be your passion to reach your audience that drives the development of your site. With luck, you'll find great returns on the content that you and your audience care about most.
- Brainstorm ideas for possible content based on your Web site's purpose and audience needs for information, communication, and interaction.
- Soberly evaluate potential content in terms of your ability to produce it at a consistently high level of quality using your resources, skills, and interests; consider the costs of acquiring, developing, editing, designing, promoting, and implementing the content as well as long-term maintenance, editorial, administrative, and opportunity costs.
- Consider implementing any content in a modular, iterative, and incremental fashion so that you can work efficiently and continuously track user interest.
- Design and implement content with attention to accessibility, usability, reliability, and maintainability and that allows for deep linking to any page of your Web site.
- Engage in an ongoing analysis your content's return on investment and decide what content is worth developing and supporting.
Next Article: The Mix of Success
Working as an affiliate depends on balancing many issues in an approach that can best be summed up in one word: mix. A strategy oriented to a mix of technologies, merchant links, audience appeals, and content areas reinforces a pattern that may be inherent to the nature of the Web itself.