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"Interactive" is Key When Developing Web Content

By: Dianna Huff

Dianna Huff, owner of DH Communications, specializes in marketing writing for high-tech and industrial companies. Her web site is located at www.marketingwriting.com.

Unlike print material, Web content employs more than just words and pictures. You can include database forms, e-mail links to your sales representatives, video or sound clips, on-line ordering, and downloadable data sheets or product specifications. When developing Web content, keep in mind the following considerations.


No Beginning or End

When you pick up a book, you probably start reading from the beginning, and read through to the end. Not so with the Internet. Because the Internet allows so many points of entry, from search engines, databases, and other Web sites, your visitor can very likely end up deep within your site without having stopped at “Home” first.  Since Web sites don’t have natural beginnings or ends (although we like to think they do), it is up to you to make sure that the information presented on each page or file is easy to read, that it makes sense, and that it is complete. You don’t want your visitor to leave your site out of frustration because he or she has to search around for information.


Internet is Interactive

Clicking the mouse button, filling out forms, downloading files, jumping to another site, all these  actions take place on the Web. When you talk to your Web designer about your site, take into account this interactivity. Nowadays, flat Web pages full of text and little else are boring, and people do expect more.

Depending on your product, you can use audio and video clips, animation, and other technologies to add interest to your site. For example, party DJs can use video clips showing weddings or bar mitzvahs they’ve done. If your company is coming up on a significant anniversary, you can use the Web to showcase your company’s achievements; a short audio clip of your company founder giving a speech can enliven an otherwise ordinary presentation.

Good Web content also saves you and your customer time and money. Without having to make a phone call, FedEx customers can type in their shipment’s tracking number and know instantly where it is or when it was delivered and who signed for it. 1-800-FLOWERS customers can order flower arrangements by occasion, price, and gender.

Give visitors to your site the opportunity to ask you questions and provide feedback with “contact us” buttons. If you have product literature to send out, add “Request more info” buttons and have people fill out a form. If you have a sales force or a number of employees who receive a fair amount of telephone calls, list these people on your Web site with e-mail links so that they can be contacted directly.


Beware Brochure-Ware!

Brochures and other printed materials are designed for a specific purpose—to be held, touched, and read in real time. Such materials really don’t lend themselves to being put on the Web where time is measured in seconds and touch is the glass of the computer monitor. Instead of uploading your product brochure word for word, graphic for graphic (and creating what some have dubbed “brochure-ware”), take advantage of the Web’s interactive opportunities to be more creative with your information. Because you aren’t designing a printed piece where lead-times can be 6 – 8 weeks or more, you can add, update, and remove material instantly—something to consider if you deal in fast-breaking technologies. Give people a reason to read your printed brochure AND your Web site—each should compliment the other, not be exact duplicates.


Web Physiology

And finally, when planning your site, take into account the eye strain that results from reading a computer screen for significant amounts of time. Working on the computer reduces blink rate, drying out the eyes. Scrolling also tires readers since the eye stays fixed while the screen moves. Also be aware that people scan when reading information on-line. Scanning and “creative” text fonts that are hard to read also add to computer fatigue.

To alleviate some of these problems, don’t fill your pages with text. Break up huge chunks of copy with pictures or other types of graphics—making sure they are optimized to load quickly while still retaining the highest resolution possible. Use key words and phrases so that as people scan, they can find what they are looking for quickly.  Make sure your text font is clean and easy to read.

Developing a Web site can be challenging, but it is worthwhile. Find a good Web designer and a professional writer who will ensure your site is clean and error-free, and you will be on your way to maximizing your company’s e-commerce potential!

© Copyright 1999, Dianna Huff

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The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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