5 ways to build a website that ‘looks after itself’

Kjell Eldor reflects on the five top ways to keep your website ‘busy’ without it becoming your full-time job … 

I’ve led you here under false pretences … There is of course no such thing as a website that can ‘look after itself’. Engaging websites take time and commitment to keep fresh. However, at Bookswarm we often work with clients who want their finished product to look ‘busy’, with new content gleaming out of the homepage; but who are in fact too busy themselves to create and publish content regularly.

This is to be expected. Without content teams at your disposal to create engaging web-content for you, the art of furnishing a finished website with user- and Google-friendly content often falls on team members who are already very much occupied with the day job.

With that in mind we often work with publishers, authors and organisations to find creative ways to ensure a website delivers users something new each and every time they visit, whilst taking the pain (and time) out of pumping new content into the site on a daily basis.

Here are our top five ways to do just that:

1) Randomising elements of the homepage
Example from the portfolio: The Academy of New Zealand Literature

We recently worked on a project for the newly launched Academy of New Zealand Literature. A key aspect of this ‘magazine-style’ site was to ensure the homepage felt ‘dynamic’ and presented the user with new content every time they landed on the homepage. We achieved this in three ways: first we implemented a rolling quotes section. This either displays quotes from authors or quotes from content within the site, with a link to the cited post. These do not roll, like a carousel, instead they change each time the page loads or is refreshed. The benefit of this approach is quote short is ‘short content’, or a quick win. If you pre-load enough of this your homepage can show something new and  interesting every time.

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Secondly we added a ‘spotlight on’ section. This displays a picture and bio of Academy members. The inclusion of members was part of the brief from the get go, so here we’re reusing existing content in a different way to add value to the homepage. Similarly to the quotes section above, these too change every time the page loads and the site admin can curate who’s in the honour roll. This not only keeps the homepage nice and fresh, but it adds a new mode of discovery for users to interact with. Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 12.54.14Finally we included a ‘comic strip’ section. The client commissioned a load of these upfront. Same rules apply: they change on page load. These are fun and eye-catching. What’s more the client commissioned these all in one go and added them to the site at the same time. Once this work is done, they were free to sit back and let their users enjoy the ever-changing content.

2) Creating post-relationships
Example from the portfolio: Karen Rose Cityscape

Creating post relationships is another great way to keep pages busy, whilst adding a navigational layer to the the site that users love. We did this recently on a book marketing site for the romantic suspense author Karen Rose. This site has relationships between characters, locations and books, allowing it to offer a geographical exploration of the various storylines within the author’s books.

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3) Adding User Generated Content (UGC) features
Example from the portfolio: Cityread London

Another great way to to get your users to add it for you! With an engaging call to action, an interactive element and a simple way for users to share their own content you can add real value to your site. We did this recently for Cityread London.

Cityread London is an annual celebration of literature that aims to bring reading to life for the whole capital. Each April, Cityread asks London’s citizens, workers and visitors to pick up a book – the same book – and read it together. Taking the chosen novel as a starting point, a month-long programme of book groups, film screenings and other events takes place across all 33 London boroughs in libraries, bookshops, museums and other venues.

To inspire users to ‘respond’ to content we added in audio, text and video content and asked users to share their thoughts about it:

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We also had a section of ‘rolling questions’ with a call to action. This asked users to respond to the questions on Facebook, Twitter or directly on the site:

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This created a community feel on the site that was not only in keeping with the Cityread campaign itself, but it meant that the site content ‘looked after itself’ once the site was complete.

(Note: Obviously UGC needs moderation. Each post sat in a ‘approval pen’ and was checked by an admin before being published. So not quite something for nothing!).

4) Pre-loading rich content
Example from the portfolio: Nicos Hadjicostis

Getting your content right early on can go a long way. We recently worked on an author site for Nicos Hadjicostis. The client had a rich achieve of photographs from around the world. We added these to the site, with a light box feature which lets the images pop-up when they are clicked on.

With so much content being added to the site up front, users can spend hours enjoying the stunning photography.

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5) Being (truly) social
Example from the portfolio: Live Fast Lose Weight

If you want noise – social media is a great starting point. We worked on a marketing site for Headline author and Geordie Shore star Charlotte Crosby. This had a competition element. To enter the comp users had to share a picture on social media and use a hashtag.

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We then aggregated all of this social media content into a ‘social media hub’; which kept the site fresh, busy and engaging, and made it very easy for the competition to be managed too.

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