content writing aha media

As a freelance Web content writer, you would think I would be the first person to say that content is king and agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. And for many sites, I believe this to be true.

Fundamentally, as a Web professional, I know that users come to Web sites to get something; be it a piece of information, an item or a sense of community. Getting there is part of that journey. If a Web site makes it difficult to get there, or cumbersome, or plain annoying, then users will jump way in the other direction to go find that something someplace else.

Recently a friend asked for some help locating a specialist at a hospital. I went to the hospital’s Web site and looked under their button “Find an Expert”. I found a long database driven list of physicians’ names, but only their names (last name first). Because I was looking for a lymphoma expert, I could not feed enough information to the Web site to get a list of lymphoma experts because this Web site DID NOT LIST THEIR DOCTORS according to their specialty.

This is what is known in my profession as stopping the conversation– dead in its tracks. This is how the conversation sounded in my head while I was doing the search for my friend:

Ahava: I need to find a lymphoma expert at Hospital X.
Web site: Here is a list of our experts.
Ahava: Ok, I need to find a lymphoma expert.
Web site: Here is a list of our experts in alphabetical order. They are all doctors.
Ahava: But how do I find the lymphoma experts? Do I have to search through each doctor? Isn’t there a way to ask what kind of specialist each of your experts are?
Web site: No.
Ahava: Well my friend needs a lymphoma expert. And I’m not searching through 84 doctors to find the medical oncologists. Should I go to another hospital?
Web site: This is our list of experts. In alphabetical order, just to make it easier.
Ahava: Ok, I’m going to use search. I’m typing in lymphoma experts.
Web site: Here are a lot of useless pages that will not help you.

Can you imagine if this was an ecommerce site? Let’s say you were looking to buy a pair of pants on line.

User: I wear a size 8. Do these pants come in an 8?
Web site: These pants come in yellow, green and blue.
User: I like green. I need to find a size 8. These pants come in medium and large. Is medium the 8 or large? Where is the sizing chart?
Web site: These are the measurements for large. These are the measurements for small. In a convenient table.

Does anyone honestly think the user will pull out their measuring tape and measure themselves (!) to see if their size 8 is a medium or a large? NO! They are going to a different site to find those pants, or they are not buying from your Web site.

Content is incredibly important. But there are rules:

  1. Display the content in ways that are easily understandable
  2. Anticipate a user’s possible questions
  3. Give them different options on how to arrive at the answers

If you do not follow these rules,you’ve stopped the conversation. It’s like checkmate in chess. Doesn’t matter who’s king- if he’s boxed in, he can’t protect the kingdom.

That’s why content writers who understand the importance of the principles of usability, as well as how users USE the Web, are so critical to the success of a site. These writers or advanced Web profssionals understand how to craft content that will satisfy the user. They are thinking on the two levels necessary to publish great content: what the questions might be and how to display them in the best way to make the sale and win the game.

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