Anyone who has ever dabbled in writing knows that inspiration can come from unlikely sources, and strange bedfellows can make potent creative combinations. When you think of website content, your mind is easily locked into modern times — the rich splendour of the digital world — but it pays to cast your mind back to the classics, because the greatest lessons are timeless.
Enter Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the renowned novelist, journalist, and prophetic visionary whose ruminations on personal and political themes cemented a legacy as one of the greatest writers to ever pick up a quill. Cast a keen eye over his insights and you’ll soon pick up some remarkably actionable tips. Let’s take a look at some of them:
Look ahead to a better future
“To live without hope is to cease to live.” We might forever be trapped in the present, but our minds gallop ahead, always focused on what’s coming next — on how the disappointments of today can be supplanted by the rewards of tomorrow.
When you’re writing content for your website, remember the people you’re hoping to read it. What kind of future do they hope for? What frustrations linger with them? Couple this with the ultimate goal of your website and you’ll know what tone you need to strike.
If your website is a political blog, for instance, then you’ll want to adhere closely to the values you share with your readers as you look ahead. How can you overcome the obstacles that hold a better world at bay? But if your website is an ecommerce store, then you’ll simply want to make sales, and the vision you’re providing must be of a future enriched by your product.
Strive for maximum accessibility
“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” Whatever you have to say through your website, you’re unlikely to view the content production process as akin to lecturing — there’s a far better chance that you’ll want to build a relationship with your audience. And if you want people to feel comfortable reaching out to you, you’ll need to make that first step easy.
To do this, you’ll need to keep a measured and welcoming tone (coming across as standoffish will greatly hurt your efforts) and treat the reader as a treasured friend. It isn’t enough to have a comment section and hope that visitors will use it: if you add social media links and demonstrate a sincere interest in what people have to say, they won’t fear weighing in on a topic.
This also matters when you want to turn a first-time visitor into a newsletter subscriber. That first hurdle is the biggest to overcome, so make it as appealing and pain-free as possible. When an ecommerce site requires a buyer to create an account before they can place an order, it fails to achieve that level of accessibility.
Offer clarity and transparency
“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Bewilderment is a great word to capture the feeling of arriving at a website that purports to concern a particular topic but proceeds to make everything decidedly unclear. Writing copy for the web isn’t easy — it needs to be succinct.
If you want to keep your readers happy, and leave them inclined to return to your website, you need to avoid making assumptions about what they know. Something may be completely obvious to you, but if it isn’t obvious to your readers then its absence will be sorely felt.
Transparency is also a big deal. Be honest about what your website is for, what you hope to achieve with it, and what you want from your readers. Do you hope to build an income stream from donations (either directly or through a platform such as Patreon)? If so, don’t leave it unsaid. People can’t help you if they don’t know you need help.
Polish your visual presentation
“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” This is just as true for websites. Needing to work across various platforms of wildly-differing sizes, websites can’t rely heavily on text content alone — certainly not if they have any hope of standing out.
So however good your writing may be, you must support it with excellent formatting, framing, styles, and visual accompaniments (such as featured images). The general aesthetic of your site needs to draw people in, hinting at the tone and topic without being too heavy-handed. Think about the colours and shapes typically associated with your field of choice.
Commit particularly strongly to polishing your landing page — whichever pages you intend people to arrive at first. The first impression will matter more than anything that follows it. Try aggregating existing written content and condensing it into a downloadable file: this will help you make a landing page offer optimally compelling.
The possibilities of the online world may be very new in the grand scheme of things, but even the most sophisticated content is underpinned by truisms that date back as far as human civilization. Dostoyevsky was skilled at seeing into human nature, and the better you can tailor your content to suit your audience, the more it will achieve.