A common sense approach to web content strategy

This article is about taking a common sense approach to content strategy. The example I’m using here happens to be a website for a tree cutting service, but this approach will work for a wide range of small businesses.

We start by considering what a potential customer would want to learn by visiting the website, and build the content around those needs. This approach is sometimes referred to as user-centered design, but the focus of this article is on practical, common sense ideas that might be useful to a small business owner.

So, let’s say you own a tree cutting service and you’re ready to hire a designer and build your website. What kind of content will you need to put on the site?

Geography

First things first: Trees get cut down in real space, not in cyberspace and not by mail order. This tells you right away that you’ll most likely be focusing your marketing efforts on some particular geographic area. Maybe it’s the metro Atlanta area. Maybe it’s anywhere within 100 miles of Youngstown, Ohio.

Yes, there might be exceptions to that assumption. It could be that you do some highly specialized type of tree removal that makes it feasible for you to travel long distances to solve these very specific problems.

Either way, the implications for your website are the same: You need to communicate where you are willing to cut down trees. If you only serve the greater Youngstown area and I live in Florida, there’s not much point in me checking out your prices or in you trying to sell me on your services. On the other hand, if you are willing to take your show on the road, you certainly want to let people know that.

So, for this kind of site, your content needs to communicate the geographical area you work in. This will not only help potential customers know whether you can help them, it will also be good for your search engine optimization (more about that later).

What type of work do you do?

Do you cut down large trees or prune small ones? Can you handle precariously placed limbs that could easily fall on someone’s house if not done correctly?

The answers to these questions are obvious to you, but they need to be made clear to the potential customer via your website. Most people looking up a tree cutting service will have a particular problem in mind, and they’ll be scanning your site quickly to find out whether you can solve it. They also, of course, won’t be an expert in the field of tree cutting, so it’s helpful to steer clear of jargon as much as possible in explaining the kind of work you do.

How much do you charge?

Many service providers don’t like to put prices on their websites. There’s a good reason for that: it’s hard to make estimates until you know the scope of the job. However, because a lot of websites don’t list prices, you can often gain an advantage over the competition by at least giving a ballpark figure of what you might charge.

If you have any special deals for cutting multiple trees, be sure to mention that as well. Maybe you charge X dollars for cutting down the 1st tree, but once you have your crew and equipment on site you can cut more trees without incurring a lot of extra expense — so the 3rd and 4th tree don’t cost as much. If that’s the case, let the customer know. It could make a big difference.

Got any good photos?

If not, get some and put them on your site. Some services run into difficulty on the web because they can’t demonstrate much about what they do through photos. A person who routinely climbs 60 foot trees with a chainsaw and drop limbs safely to the ground should not have that problem.

Besides the fact that the work makes for compelling photos, there is a more practical reason to include these photos. Suppose I have a particular limb that’s endangering my house, and I’m trying to evaluate who I should trust to handle it. If I see a photo of you or your crew skillfully cutting a similar limb hanging over someone else’s house, that’s going to mean something concrete to me.

You might even want to consider including videos of this type of thing.

How do you do estimates?

We talked about ballpark pricing, and it’s usually not feasible to get specific on what a job will cost before evaluating it on site. For that reason, estimates are often the starting point for service jobs like tree cutting.

Your website should discuss how your estimate process works. Will you come to my house for free and assess the situation or is there a $75 fee for that? If there is a fee, does it count toward the payment of my bill if I end up hiring you?

This is common sense stuff, but it’s always surprising how many websites don’t make these things clear. This leaves the potential customer wondering whether to bother calling and the next thing you know he/she has bounced to another site to see how the next tree cutter does things.

Blogging and Search Engine Optimization

I wouldn’t consider a blog to be an essential part of a tree-cutting website, but if it’s something you are inclined to do, it can help drive some traffic your way.

A tree-cutting service blog might include advice about how to deal with common (or not-so-common) tree problems or general information about various types of trees and how to maintain them as a homeowner. What you’d be doing with this type of blog is providing a valuable resource to people that are dealing with issues in your field.

It’s important to know that running a blog takes time, and you won’t always see a direct return on this investment. After all, someone in Minnesota might read your article about stump grinding, but that doesn’t mean they are going to be able to hire you to do work if you’re in Louisiana.

What you probably will get with a blog, however, is better search engine optimization (SEO). If you have a lot of articles about tree cutting, then your site will be rich with keywords people search for, like “tree” and “cutting.” This will give you a good chance to show up high in the results when people search for those keywords.

Even if you can’t get your SEO to the point that you show up near the top on a general search for tree cutting, references on your site to the city/state you work in (scattered through the text and in appropriate places like page footers) will give you a great shot at ranking very high in the results when someone types in something like tree cutting Youngstown.

This is important, because the person who types that search string is likely to be someone in Youngstown who needs to hire someone to cut a tree.

Contact information

Even though SEO can be important, it would be a mistake to think that search engines are the only way people can find you. Tree cutting, as we have discussed, is a line of work that usually plays out locally, so making people aware of your service can be done through yellow pages ads, specialty items like refrigerator magnets, or handing out your business card when you get a chance. The obvious key here is to make sure any specialty items have your website address printed on them.

Whatever you use to get people to your website, once they hit the site, they should be able to find out everything they want to know about your business and easily get in touch with you.

An email address or contact form should always be included on any website, but you should also include the best number to reach you by phone. If you have an office with a receptionist or the like, that’s great. If, on the other hand, your main phone contact is a cell phone that you carry around in the truck and on jobs, go ahead and list that number.

The goal is to make it as easy as possible for a potential customer to reach you.

In fact, that idea can be generalized as the goal to keep in mind across your entire website design. Someone has a problem. You have the ability to solve that problem. Your website must make it as easy as possible for the two of you to connect and get the problem solved.

This stuff is mostly common sense, but it’s easy to get distracted along the way. Stay focused on what you really need to communicate and the content will follow.

2 Comments on A common sense approach to web content strategy

  1. Paris Vega says:

    I’m enjoying the blog. Good job of turning a client project into an informative post.

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