No, we’re not talking about the “white text on a white page” kind of hidden content – that’s more commonly called hidden text, and isn’t a particularly useful strategy these days. We’re talking about finding web content in companies where such material is scarce. Why go on a content hunt? Search engine marketers often repeat the old movie industry saw, “Content is king”. (While in the movie biz distribution is queen, in the world of SEO inbound links are the main pretender to the throne.) Without content, a website is boring and frustrating for its human visitors and is simply not there for search engines.
In my experience, companies seem to come in two varieties: those that have content, and those that don’t. The latter businesses are the target of this post. In years of working with clients ranging from Fortune 500 firms to one-person ecommerce operations, it’s surprising how many successful firms get through daily life with so little in writing about the company and what it offers.
Working with a new client almost always entails adding more content to their site, since often a major reason for poor traffic on the firm’s existing site is a lack of content that search engines can use to learn about the site, and that will cause the site show up in searches. Occasionally, a client will have a great store of well-organized written material that can be converted to human-friendly and bot-friendly web content. Other times, it seems to be the equivalent of what accountants call a “shoebox job”, where a client brings in a box stuffed with tattered receipts and says, “Do my taxes!” And sometimes the client seems to have no content at all. No sales brochures, no product flyers, no press releases, nothing…
Since sites depend on content for search engine traffic, and human visitors expect to find some depth and information on a web site, what’s a site creator to do? It’s essential to find the “hidden” content within a company. Even companies that DO have an assortment of marketing materials that can be adapted to web use may have much more hidden content that can be used to expand their web presence.
What are some of the places we’ve found “hidden content” for clients? Here are a few:
Sales Materials. Usually this content isn’t hidden, it’s what the site owner brings into the conference room to be put on the site. For existing sites, it’s often what’s already out there. Nevertheless, it’s worth exploring this area in some detail. Often, there may be less commonly used brochures or flyers that aren’t “pretty” and that the client forgot to mention. If the firm has salespeople, find out what they carry into meetings with their customers – they may have developed their own informal sales materials, or supplement their “official” literature with third party information.
Conference Presentations. Just about every industry has conferences, and companies usually try to present at these meetings to keep their profile visible. Often, there may be PowerPoint presentations or even detailed talking scripts that can be adapted to Web use.
Company History. Often, to mark an anniversary or other event, companies will prepare information about the origins and growth of the firm. This may be buried in a file somewhere if years have passed since it was created, but if it exists it belongs in the “About” section.
Supplier Information. Companies in the reselling business often don’t have much information of their own but instead rely on supplier literature, product descriptions, etc. Supplier information is a great source of content for the Web – it’s often voluminous and professionally written. It’s important, though, to be aware of any restrictions on using the material (often contained in a supplier agreement) and also to avoid using the material in a way that looks like content that is duplicated on other web sites.
Government Data. This can work in two ways. First, many companies are required to create various documents and reports to comply with the law. Examples are SEC-mandated financial filings (10-Q, etc.), material safety data sheets (MSDS), etc. These are generally public data, and it may be a user benefit to include them on the website. While they may not be great search engine fodder or even compelling reading for the average visitor, special visitors like shareholders and customers may find them convenient additions to the website. In addition to company-generated content, there may be public domain government data that is highly relevant to the site’s topic. The U.S. government publishes all kinds of material – standards, how-to information, consumer guides, regulations… some of this might fit well into the theme of a website. Be cautious, though, that any material used is, in fact, public domain and hasn’t been replicated many times on the web already. Place this content only if there’s a benefit to the site’s human visitors.
Correspondence. One client I encountered had little formal material but did locate a multi-page letter that had been written to a potential customer. This letter laid out both the company background and key selling points. Obviously, a single communication is likely to produce only a page or two of web content (and will require heavy editing, too), but sometimes that’s the only place where some kinds of content can be found. (Even internal correspondence can be mined, e.g., a memo from engineering to sales comparing two products or explaining a complex technical point. Sometimes, one has a great start for a Frequently Asked Questions section from this kind of material.
When All Else Fails… Obviously, content can be custom written for the web site. The raw material can come from interviews with key people, random scraps of information not usable by themselves, etc. But this is a slow and costly process, even though just about every site will have some content written from scratch. Consider user-generated content to supplement the content that can be found within a company.
- Advice/FAQ: set up an area where visitors can ask questions by completing a form. A company rep can respond to questions of general interest on the site. This is very useful for site visitors, and will attract search traffic as the number of answered questions grows.
- Blogs: an executive or technical expert blog lets a company person create relevant new content without technical intervention, and has the added benefit of letting users create additional content with their comments.
- Forums: a forum can be a powerful tool for letting a site’s visitors generate content, although it may not be an appropriate tool for every site.
What interesting kinds of “hidden content” have you found when expanding a web site?