Last week, I talked about all of the people involved in designing a website that drives business. A number of readers were up in arms because I had failed to include copywriters as key members of the design team.

Mea culpa!

While I was thinking of the design and development efforts needed to create a website that generates business, I should have discussed the critical role copywriting plays in the success or failure of a business website. After all, I am a Chief Content Officer.

Your website is often a potential customer's first experience with your business. Bland content or poorly written copy could mean the difference between that person sticking around and buying, or clicking away to a competitor's site.

So what makes for great content on a website? Two key things:

  • Appeal directly to the interests of your target audience. Run a food shop? Provide great recipes. A travel website? Give entertaining destination recommendations.
  • Encourage customers to take immediate action. In the food shop example, those great recipes should lead visitors to purchase key ingredients from you. And travel recommendations should only be one short click away from a page that lets visitors actually book a trip.

Let's take a look at how four websites use great content to enhance their brands and drive business:

Marriott's On the Move Blog

Hotel sites don’t generally have a great deal of punchy copywriting (how many ways can you describe hotel amenities?), but Chairman and CEO Bill Marriott uses a blog to humanize the company. He writes about his experiences, hotels in different parts of the world and his general business philosophy. At the top of the page there's a button that lets readers find a hotel. In a really nice touch, every post ends with “I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the Move.”

Earlier this week, the 80-year-old Marriott announced that he's stepping down as CEO but will stay involved in the company. Will he continue to write the blog or will the incoming CEO Arne Sorenson take up the task? It will be interesting to see.

Patagonia's The Cleanest Line Blog

The Cleanest Line understands Patagonia’s target audience and serves them well. Recent posts include a story about an octogenarian mountain climber, an account of the ascent of Texas Tower (an imposing-looking climb), music selections to support environmental groups, and news relating to uranium mining.

There is no hard sell here, but it certainly enhances the brand. A simple “Visit Patagonia.com to see what we do,” is enough impetus to drive real business.

Zillow Blog

The real estate site Zillow provides information of real interest to those looking to buy and/or sell homes. To get the highest quality writing, they hire academics and professional writers as guest bloggers.

Zillow’s blog often provides information on issues not even relating to real estate. In a recent blog, they discussed the Ohio Republican Primary and then subtly added information on the housing market in Ohio at the end of the story.

General Motors' Fastlane Blog

The General Motors “Fastlane Blog” captures the imagination of car enthusiasts by writing on topics as varied as auto shows, concept cars, photos of the day, and the business of automobiles. The bloggers include high level executives and employees, which also helps to put a human face on a monolithic company.

The best designed website in the world, one with sophisticated architecture and brilliant coding, will do little for your brand and business unless the site also provides clear messaging and great content. Do not leave it to amateurs! An investment in a great copywriter or copy writing team is not a luxury… it is an absolute necessity.