To state the obvious, useful content is what draws the target audience to a site, and keeps them coming back. It is the force that propels inbound marketing.
Content has always been of paramount importance for media in general. What differentiates the web tools, however, are the possibilities and capabilities these tools have to offer. The user experience on a site is multi-faceted and it may be personalized to a much greater degree.
Traditional media tends to be linear, page by page, from start to end. In contrast, online is fluid and multidirectional, a network of connected pages akin to the biological network of neurons. The pages may contain text interspersed with image, audio or video, and embedded with code and links. The hyperlinks allow the content to flow with the viewers’ thoughts, providing meaningful paths to pages within the site, as well as to pages at other sites.
Securing inbound hyperlinks from influential external sites is a priority for any commercial website. These are the crucial pathways that bring traffic to the site. Moreover, since they are a reflection of the “authority” of a site, the quantity and the quality of inbound links is a key measure for page ranking by search engines like Google. Thus, the site’s potential to secure links is a key barometer for success. And it all boils down to content — a site with useful, noteworthy content will draw attention and attract links.
For instance, the website for Vaseline (Exhibit 13.5) contains considerable information on skin health. So when someone googles for information on skin care, it is not surprising that a page or two from the Vaseline website pop up among the top search results.
Similarly the Tampax website frequently pops up when people search for content on feminine health care. The site offers “tips and advice”, and hosts an “Ask the Expert” service to address users’ questions on their period, tampons, or any other women’s health issues.
A site can serve a wide audience with different requirements. It may serve a customer well, irrespective of whether she is a subject expert or a novice. She controls her on-site journey, and chooses the path she wants to take through the network of pages. She can easily customize her experience, reading into as much detail, or as little detail as she chooses.
She may also have the opportunity to collaborate on a site. As mentioned, internet forums can bring communities together to discuss topics of relevance, raise questions and issues, seek answers, and share interests. These sites become information systems that often serve their communities better than a user manual or guide, or even the company’s support staff.
Sites can also personalize user experiences based on information that the site accumulates about the user (e.g. on-site behaviour, details provided by the system or the user). Personalization customizes the user’s interaction by serving content that is of relevance to her. As the website content grows, this capability improves its usability, increases loyalty and encourages desired behaviour (i.e. conversion, sales).
Sites offer all of the aforementioned possibilities and benefits, yet while there are examples of really well-crafted business sites that resonate with their target audience, the majority of sites do not fully exploit the web’s true potential. They tend largely to be “brochureware” or advertising-centric sites, replicating the company’s printed brochures or TV advertising onto cyberspace, in virtually the same passive state as they existed in conventional media. Customers seeking information or guidance are often confronted with nothing more than sales pitches.
This suggests that there remains considerable scope for improvement as businesses transition from offline to online. As mindsets shift from push to pull, and as they make better use of web tools, businesses will be better placed to exploit the full potential that the web has to offer.
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