Sometimes I visit uISV websites which are very minimalist: they have about 5 pages total.  One page about the product, one for ordering, one for support, one about the company, etc.  My website isn’t exactly a monster (probably on the order of 25 pages at the moment), but I have significantly more content than websites organized like this.  And it makes me probably $50 a week, which is not a bad return for writing a few extra pages about elementary school bingo variants.

Why do these free articles and free resources make me $50 a month?  Because they bring in traffic and, more importantly, they bring in my niche on generic search engine terms.  I currently do obscenely well on MSN and Google in terms of organic search traffic, and the overwhelming majority of it is for Long Tail queries which you just won’t get if you don’t have the content to justify it.

For example, I wrote about 200 words on one of my pages about icebreaker bingo.  That content was picked up by 12 searchers in the last seven days and generated 4 downloads.  Four downloads is worth in excess of a dollar to me (at my current CPC prices, about $1.20 actually), and that content keeps paying me a dollar week after week.  (Yeah, minor niggle: if folks never buy, then its not really worth a dollar.  But they do.  I got two sales this week from customers who came in from organic search traffic.)  However, without the search engine being told a couple of times that icebreaker bingo is a use case for Bingo Card Creator, it won’t infer it on its own.  Which is why programs which trounce me on the search engine rankings for generic queries like “Bingo Card Creator” (grr, Google, how long until I can be the #1 result for the name of my company?!) show up exactly nowhere.

Another thing content does is that it performs SEO for keywords you haven’t thought of yet.  In the last 7 days, I got approximately 400 hits and 80 downloads from organic Google and MSN.  The most common search term there was Bingo Card Creator, with approximately 5% of the total queries.  The rest were, in general, a veritable deluge of once-in-a-lifetime queries… the kind that natural English snaps up like hotcakes and all the SEO in the world won’t get you.  You know, queries like “free download word bingo literacy” (sidenote: she evidentally cared a lot more about “word bingo literacy” than “free”) or “dolch preprimer home cards”.  (Quick comparison: I also spent approximately $20 for 260 hits and 50 downloads from AdWords.  Which has not generated a sale yet this week, I think.  D’oh.)

Content also has a nice property called linkability.  Very few people are going to say “Wow, check out this trial demo download” (if they do about your software, mazeltov, you are going to be rich like a king).  However, if you put up, say, a page about how to use bingo to assess reading difficulties, teachers will swap it via email, link it on their blogs, and chat about it around the water cooler.   Which brings in more eyeballs, more PageRank, and more downloads.  Yay, a positive cycle.  Plus you’re providing a service of use to people and thats always a good thing, even if they don’t end up buying from you.

A suggestion, though, since you do want to encourage people to eventually buy from you: aside from the obvious Download Free Trial link that you should have on every page of your website, have the text of your content plug your product wherever it is natural to do so.  If its not natural to do so, maybe you should be writing different content.  I like plugging Bingo Card Creator once early in the text (“If you don’t have a set of bingo cards, you can generate one in seconds with the free trial of Bingo Card Creator”) and then once after the end (“Looking to do something else with sight word bingo?  Why don’t you make yourself some cards with the free trial of Bingo Card Creator”).

So, if you’ve got a website which looks spartan at the moment, consider sprucing it up with some content of use to your target user.  More of them will come visit your page, and hopefully some of them will stick around to see what you have to offer.  (And remember, serving pages is essentially free at the margin.  For the 80% of folks who visit my Dolch sight word lists and leave without viewing another page on my website I pay, well, absolutely nothing.)