When you’re designing a website there’s no need to redesign the wheel along with it. For almost any job there will be material already available that you can use, even if it needs a bit of sprucing up, and that will both save you time and ensure that the content is appropriate for the client. So how do you go about sourcing that material?
Any existing company will have some materials, whether electronic or on paper, that they’ve already put out into the world. It’s the easiest stuff to get hold of, so start with that.
First of all, check out the existing website if they have one. However shoddy, neglected or out of date it is, there may be content there that you can use. Is there a description of the company that could be updated? Are there logos and photos that still fit the image the company is going for? Is there written information for customers that could be salvaged if someone just repaired the grammar and took out the worst jargon?
Brochures and other print publications are another great source. People take great pride in assembling glossy brochures, and only the most technologically illiterate of companies won’t have the digital materials that went into making them. Did they get some professional photos taken of their products and staff? Are their pitches for their services that highlight the unique selling points?
The same goes for adverts. Some will be cheap and simple, but others may have usable images, and if customers have seen them before they could help with brand identity.
Sources around the office
The material a company has in house can be as useful as the stuff they’ve put out into the world.
First comes the basic information. Contact details for the company. Prices and product lists. How long services take to provide. Perhaps a list of staff and who they are.
Some companies will have internal publications, whether they’re a quarterly newsletter or a poster on the wall telling you who the managers are. These may provide information that can humanise the company, as well as lend credibility and help to sell their services. Telling customers that the managing director has twenty years experience in the industry will give them faith in his skills. Telling them that he plays for the local cricket team and volunteers for Greenpeace will make them like him, building the all important emotional connection. Don’t get carried away, but don’t be afraid to use this in the appropriate part of the site.
If there are video or audio clips these might spice the site up. Are there snippets of radio adverts, or videos of staff explaining the services they offer? It will help to break up the words and pictures.
And lastly, look in the inbox. Ask for letters and emails from customers providing testimony about the company’s services. Nothing says reliable like the feedback of real people. Just make sure that you contact the customers and ask their permissions before putting their quotes up on the site.
Ask for a little more
People like to talk about their lives. That applies to their work just as much as to their kids or their holiday in Tenerife. So if the clients are willing, get members of staff to write a little about their job, and about the company. This can provide different perspectives for no extra work on your part, and ideas about what the website should cover. It will also help you see how everything fits together.
Just be careful to manage expectations. Make clear that you’re not going to be incorporating these statements directly into the website. You don’t want is to leave some of your customers disappointed because you didn’t publish Jim from accounting’s masterpiece on the pleasures of spreadsheets.
Judging what to use
Not all the existing material will be any good, so beware the urge to use it just because it’s there.
Look at the quality of the materials you have. Is a picture good enough resolution to look right on a webpage? Are the product descriptions actually informative? Is the ‘about us’ page salvageable, or is it such a mess of unclear message and poor punctuation that you’re better off starting from scratch?
Quality is not the only criteria here. If you have a good brief from your clients, and have taken the time to conduct a client survey, then you will know the messages and tone they want to get across. If existing materials don’t fit this then they aren’t fit for purpose, however beautiful the pictures or slickly written the text.
So don’t do more work than you need to. Look for existing materials, both published and internal. Check that they’re fit for the task at hand. Save yourself some unnecessary work.