Kinds of Content
The heart and soul of any website is its content: provided the layout doesn't hurt the visitor's eyes and the site isn't filled with browser-crashing scripts, it is the content that makes or breaks the site. This makes it extremely important to be conscious of what sort of content is on your website, what it means for the visitor, how it should be presented and what you should add, so as to serve your purposes best.
The Six Types of Content
This is any and all content specifically pertaining to your website, something else that's on your website, the management of the website, etc. Thus, a page with recent updates on the site is sitely content; a page with information about the webmaster is sitely content; and FAQs, Contact Us, Link to Us and other such common sections are all sitely content.
The crucial thing about sitely content is that a website containing nothing but sitely content is completely worthless. People have no reason to be interested in sitely content unless they've already developed an interest in the website on its own terms: why would you want to read information about a website that contains nothing but information about itself? Think of sitely content as being kind of like the website's instruction booklet: it's definitely nice to have, and if something important is missing from it that can be a significant problem, but all it actually does is go with content that is more inherently compelling.
Thus, sitely content cannot stand on its own. Nobody cares about how to contact you or the history of the site or recent updates on it until there is other content on it that makes it interesting. If you're starting a website, you can make some basic sitely sections, but you need to move on to creating other content with more intrinsic worth before you make the site public; it won't be any use to anyone when it's just a collection of sitely content.
Interactive content is any facilities your site provides for visitors to communicate or share something with other visitors of the site. This includes guestbooks, shoutboxes, forums, oekakis, polls, contests and any features allowing visitors to submit content to the site.
People love interactive content when it's there. It makes the visitor feel more involved and invested in the site to actually be part of it in some way or another. However, like sitely content, it has a hard time standing on its own. After all, nobody can take part in the interactivity if there are no people who visit the site, and if there's nobody taking part in the interactivity, the interactive content isn't worth much. This is the reason why stand-alone forums almost always fail: they're pure interactive content, and because nobody has any reason to want to register at a random stand-alone forum with almost no members, nobody will register and hence it will continue to have almost no members. You can give your forum a major unique feature (e.g. a large forum RPG or a very compelling collaborative project) to attract people and make them truly feel that this is a unique place on the Internet, but just having a general Pokémon forum without giving people any reason to go to it over all the thousands of other such forums out there is pretty much always hopeless.
So, like with sitely content, you shouldn't really bother with interactive content until your site has other, proper content on it already. Start off with something like a shoutbox or a guestbook, just to allow some way for visitors to interact, and stick with that until you have enough regular visitors to really call for a forum or something of the like. Oekakis don't become worth it until you have a fairly substantial following of artists specifically. And so on for other interactive features, especially contests and the like. Seeing a boatload of interactive features on a site that doesn't have the visitor base to support them just calls awkward attention to how empty it is; it gives a kind of chirping-crickets feel to it all.
(It's not an error that nothing gets highlighted when you click this one - I don't have any journalistic content. But if you've clicked one of the other headings and the yellow is hurting your eyes, this is a handy way to bring the menu back to normal.)
Journalistic content is news or other regular reports on recent happenings or developments. Specifically, while a section about what's new on the website is sitely content, news about the outside world - on Pokémon websites, usually news about upcoming games, anime episodes, etc. - are journalistic content. Note that detailed, thoughtful articles about things that merely happen to be recent at the time of their creation do not count as journalistic content here; this extends only to regular reports specifically on what's new at the time of writing.
What journalistic content does for your site is to give people incentive to visit it regularly to keep up with the news. However, they are relatively unlikely to find your journalistic content through a search engine, as its main purpose tends to be providing people with news, i.e. things they haven't heard about yet and therefore wouldn't know to search for. Furthermore, its main value is in its being new, so you must keep it up-to-date in order for it to even maintain its current value - old journalistic content is worth almost nothing at all, no matter how many hours of your life you wasted on it when you were doing it. And people will tend to read journalistic content the way they read a newspaper - skim the headlines, read the bits that sound interesting to them, skip the rest, and then leave.
Most sites with journalistic content also feature other content to give them more lasting value and search engine hits, but having journalistic content still means making a huge commitment to something that's only going to be skimmed by the majority of users and which with time will inevitably become outdated and useless. This doesn't mean journalistic content is necessarily bad content if you are willing to do that, but I strongly advise you not to attempt journalistic content if that isn't your style - you'll just end up giving up on it and discovering in dismay that all you have to show for all that effort is a bunch of old news that nobody will ever care about again.
Another issue to watch out for with journalistic content is its tendency to be simply redundant. News on smaller Pokémon websites tend to simply repeat the latest things posted on Serebii, Bulbanews or PokéBeach. This isn't very helpful; if all you do is post what they post in different words some time after they've posted it, their news are by definition going to be superior to yours no matter how long and faithfully you keep it up, so why should people bother with going to your site? All this isn't to say you can't include news or your thoughts on the news in your updates as a bonus for people who are there anyway - but to make journalistic content an actual attraction on your site, it needs to do something other than just parrot bigger sites.
Of course, journalistic content isn't limited to just the sorts of general Pokémon news that Serebii et al have. If you were to report well and thoroughly on noteworthy things the big sites never touch on, that's journalistic content that isn't redundant and could be quite valuable to anyone who is interested in the subject you cover, and - provided you're up for it - your site could do great as a result. Do still keep in mind that journalistic content isn't especially good at hooking people in, however; you're best off having other content as well.
Useful content is content that is designed to be of practical value to the visitor. Walkthroughs, guides, resources, tutorials and data collections such as Pokédexes are good examples of content that is primarily useful content.
The best thing about useful content, from a webmaster's point of view, is that it is the stuff Internet searches are made of: when people are in need of information, resources or the like, they're probably going to Google it, and if your site has what they need and comes up in the results, that's a stellar way of getting people to find your site. For instance, I get many visitors every day who are looking for the level a certain Pokémon evolves and find my evolution list, a typical example of pure useful content, through a search engine.
On the other hand, people who are looking for information on something in particular are probably actually doing something else - if they search for the level a certain Pokémon evolves, they most likely just looked up from their game to type in the search and are going back to playing the game once they've found what they're looking for. And as they go back to their game, the odds are good they're just going to close the tab or window that answered their question, unless they first decide it's a useful general-purpose resource and bookmark it for when they need similar information again. Checking for recent updates on the site? Reading other pages? Why would they? They've got a game to play, and they already got what they wanted from you.
That isn't to say it won't happen, of course, but on the whole, useful content isn't very good at keeping people on your site once it's gotten them there. The biggest Pokémon websites combine tons of useful content with ambitious news reporting to get people to keep coming back daily even when they aren't in immediate need of information (see the bit on journalistic content). But for all of that, the actual useful content remains mainly used by people who need that information right now.
As with journalistic content, the most common issue facing budding Pokémon websites that want to focus on useful content is the tendency for bigger sites to already be doing it better. Your useful content is redundant if somebody else has all the information you do, presented roughly the same way, with more supplementary information, and appears higher in the search results - which is unfortunately the case an awful lot of the time. If you want to have good useful content, try to fill some genuine void - either have information the bigger sites don't have for one reason or another or present it in a manner systematically designed to have some advantage over the bigger sites' presentation. It doesn't have to be better for all possible purposes, but some - it's easier to find a particular individual Pokémon's evolution level on its page in a Pokédex than on my evolution list, for instance, but if you're looking for all Pokémon that have evolved by some particular level or you otherwise want to check a lot of Pokémon at once, you're better off with my list, and that gives it a niche to fill. On the other hand, a plaintext list of Pokémon in National Pokédex order does not have a niche to fill, because there are plenty of sites with lists of Pokémon in National Pokédex order that also have sprites of them, numbers in other regional Pokédexes, types, abilities, and links to pages with further information about each Pokémon; the plaintext list has no real utility that the more detailed lists don't.
If you truly find something potentially useful that isn't already adequately available on bigger sites, however, go for it. We can never have enough useful concepts covered well on websites.
Many of the concepts covered in my Content-Writing for Dummies section apply especially to useful content. Take a look at it if you haven't already.
Interesting content appeals to our sense of curiosity: it teaches us something we didn't know, calls attention to something we hadn't thought about, or otherwise changes our knowledge and perception of the world. When you waste hours of your life clicking links to information you have no practical use for on websites like Wikipedia, TV Tropes or Cracked, that's interesting content working its magic.
The key difference between factual information presented as useful content and the same information presented as interesting content is that the former strives to get the important information across to somebody who needs it, whereas the latter focuses on the information for its own sake. On my capture mechanics pages, for instance, the catch rate calculator is useful content - you want to know how likely you are to catch this Pokémon, so you plug the values in and get your result - and so is some of the other information, like the catch rates of the different balls. Most of the lengthy, detailed mathematical explanation of how the calculation works is of no practical value to a normal person, however (i.e. someone who just wants to play the game and capture Pokémon effectively). So then why is it there? For math/programming geeks like me who find that stuff fascinating - it's there to (hopefully) be interesting, not useful.
Other interesting content is more subjective, involving speculation, opinions or personal thoughts, but it shares the same defining characteristic of compelling the reader by being interesting rather than necessarily practical or funny. (It can be funny or practical too, but then it's crossing over with entertaining/useful content.) This brings us to the primary downfall of interesting content, which is that not everybody is interested in the same things that interest you, and only a small fraction of those who are interested are interested enough to go actively looking for it without prompting. Interesting content thus tends not to get a lot of search engine hits (unless it's also useful), and if people stumble upon it otherwise, only some of them will actually think it sounds interesting enough to read it.
However, if they do read it and find it interesting, you've really caught their attention, in a way useful content can't. If they see links to other pages that also sound intriguing, they're far more likely to click them than they would be to click useful content. And if they read a few more pages that are all interesting, you've made a lot more lasting impact than a few pages of useful content ever could have. The odds that somebody will tip over and start reading through your entire website just for the hell of it or visiting it regularly skyrocket when they read a page they find genuinely interesting.
So, in other words, interesting content is more likely to inspire people to become fans or loyal visitors than useful content. Interesting content also has the advantage that it takes less to make it nonredundant than useful content, because even if you aren't the first person to make a webpage about whatever, you can still bring new ideas or ways of looking at the subject to the table. And it really doesn't hurt that interesting content is fun to write: it generally stems from the author's own passion for the subject, and writing content about things that interest you is something that's sensibly rather easy to muster some enthusiasm about.
Interesting content is not without some common pitfalls of its own, however. Often attempts at interesting content feel aimless, lacking a visible central point to them, and thus fail to facilitate real interest. This can especially happen with anecdotes and opinions, which need more focus to stand on their own as website content than as casual forum posts: anecdotes should be used to illustrate some specific idea, and opinion pieces need to convincingly argue why your opinion is what it is, rather than just stating it. Meanwhile, interesting content that deals with interesting facts just becomes embarrassing if it gets the facts wrong - useful content can be forgiven for slipping up here and there so long as it serves its general purpose of being helpful, but when the purpose of the page is simply to explain some information in depth, it's rather crucial that it's all correct. And when you're very interested in something rather technical, it can be difficult to step back and explain it to a layperson in an accessible way, where you can't assume any previous knowledge of the subject; you need to take special care with clarity.
All that said, interesting content is my favorite kind of content when done right, and good, well-written interesting content is sure to set your site apart from the masses in the eyes of your visitors.
Entertaining content is entertainment, something that doesn't exactly tell the visitor anything new but merely keeps them pleasantly occupied for some time. This includes fiction, artwork, humour, quizzes, games and so on.
Good entertaining content is pretty good at getting itself linked to by individuals. A remarkably large chunk of my visitors come for my What Pokémon Are You? quiz, for instance, as takers display their results in forum signatures, social networking profiles and so on and others click them. Interesting content can do this too, but usually not to quite the same extent unless it is also entertaining in some manner. Entertaining content is also great at producing fans: if you regularly output quality entertaining content, people are likely to stick around and want more. And adding entertainment value to interesting sections makes them more enjoyable to read and therefore more likely to stick with the visitor. (Making useful content entertaining sometimes works and sometimes doesn't - it can make it less dry, but make sure jokes aren't distracting people from the information you're trying to get across. Remember: delivering the information is the number one priority in useful content.)
All of this comes with one major caveat, however: more than any other type of content, entertaining content requires skill to be any good at all. If you write an article purely intended as humour and the visitor doesn't find it funny, it falls flat on its face - it doesn't entertain them and there's nothing else left to it. The same goes for poor artwork, badly written fiction, bland fake Pokémon, buggy and boring games, and so on. Obviously this is very subjective, and even if one person doesn't like it, it doesn't mean others won't. However, there are some reasonably objective standards in place, and ultimately, if most people aren't entertained, your entertaining content isn't going to do you much good.
It also doesn't really help in this regard that it is extremely difficult to accurately judge one's own skill at anything, making it hard to tell beforehand whether your entertaining content is going to go over well. All you can really do is try and see what kind of response you get. If you can obtain constructive criticism somewhere, do it. Always be willing to improve.
If you want to make entertaining content, though, by all means go for it. It's fun to create either way, and if you manage to make something that generally appeals to people, that's just a bonus.
As I've already touched upon, not all content is strictly one type of content - many pages combine multiple types, being both interesting and entertaining, or both interesting and useful, or even both useful and entertaining, or perhaps entertaining and interactive, or sitely and interesting. These combinations generally combine the respective qualities of the types of content they mix - sites like Cracked and TV Tropes are more addictive than Wikipedia because while they're all interesting enough to make you keep clicking links, the former combine that with entertainment value that makes you enjoy the time you waste on them more. However, they also make the pages more complex: while a page having two distinct areas of appeal means one can compensate if the other is lacking, it also means there is twice as much that can go wrong, and something of a balance has to be struck to make sure everything works harmoniously together.
Some combinations also just work better than others. While it often simply makes sense to combine useful and interesting information about the same thing, and content that is both interesting and entertaining is what people are most likely to love and spread by word of mouth, trying to make useful information entertaining frequently just gets in the way (but not always; apply some judgement), and making useful content interactive (i.e. allowing visitors to submit guides and the like) runs a high risk of leaving you with the job of combing through all the submissions for accuracy, lest you end up with a misinformative mess with your site's name on it. And while sitely updates and outside news (journalistic content) go reasonably well together, trying to combine journalistic content with anything other than sitely content and maybe interactive content will just have that potentially valuable content either get lost in the sands of time or become painfully outdated.
All kinds of content have their purposes and their pitfalls. However, as sitely and interactive content cannot stand on their own, they should be used to go with your site to enhance the experience for a visitor who is already interested in the site for its other content; they don't quite count as content in themselves. Moreover, as journalistic content by definition isn't made to have lasting appeal, it doesn't count for all that much unless it gives especially vital information not found anywhere else. Therefore, I recommend spending most of your effort creating useful, interesting or entertaining content, depending on where your interests, goals and personal strengths lie. As long as you do it well, any of them can work.
When I consider sites for affiliation, I require them to have a sufficient amount of good (i.e. avoiding the common pitfalls named above) interesting, useful and/or entertaining content to make them really feel worth a visit. Good journalistic content can be a bonus, but is generally not enough on its own.
Page last modified January 14 2012 at 05:33 GMT