by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
Content is king to visitors and search engine spiders. That's why content should never be an afterthought - just something to fill in the white space between images and flashy multimedia presentations. Our tips for writing good content will help you create content that attracts visitors and turns them into customers.
Think Before You Write
Teachers know what they're doing when they require that students turn in a term paper outline well before the finished paper is due. An outline forces you to research the topic, select the most important points, and order them effectively. You have to plan what to say before you begin writing.
Imagine this assignment: "Write 500 words on why Happy Puppy Organic Dog Food is the best." You have to do research to accomplish three major tasks:
- Highlight the benefits of Happy Puppy.
- Explain how it differs from other foods.
- Persuade dog owners to buy it.
An outline keeps you focused because it imposes structure and discipline. Don't write without one!
Use Informal, Active Language
The outline may be a school remnant, but forget the writing style you used for term papers. You know, where boring isn't just expected - it's rewarded. Many people with excellent verbal communication skills have a writing style that's downright painful to read.
Their budding writing ability was sabotaged at an early age when teachers forced them to write in "term paper style" where:
- Big words are better words.
- Long, complex sentences are preferred over shorter, direct statements.
- Use of the passive voice is encouraged.
Although government agencies and attorneys seem to favor this style, how many people enjoy reading their publications?
Keep your language friendly, informal, and jargon free. You're trying to communicate with potential customers, not show off your vocabulary skills.
Be Careful With Humor
Informal language doesn't mean you're free to pepper your copy with jokes and pop culture references. From slapstick to puns to satire, a sense of what's funny (and what's not) varies between individuals and cultures. Your funny one-liner may confuse some visitors and offend others.
Ford Motor Company had to deal with such a situation when a "humorous" commercial created as a demo by their advertising agency got released on the Internet. The short clip showed a computer-generated (but quite real looking) cat getting decapitated by a car's sunroof. Ford didn't authorize the clip's creation and the advertising agency never meant to release it, but good intentions didn't mollify outraged animal lovers who didn't consider it to be at all funny.
This is an extreme example and Ford probably won't lose any customers over it. But consider how a single bad joke would hurt your business if it drove away even a small percentage of your online customers.
Make Your Content Informative
Put yourself in the reader's position. What would you want to know about the product or service you're selling? Nobody enjoys this sort of overt sales pitch:
Simply the BEST dog food on the market!!!!
Dogs LOVE it!!!!
Order your bag TODAY!!!!
It's not hard to write, but it doesn't give any real information either. People can read stuff like that anywhere. Refer to our "Make Your Site Informative" article for more information about creating good, useful content.
It's ok to reprint (with permission, of course) articles that have appeared elsewhere on the Web and in print. That's a great - usually free - way to add more depth and value to your site. Just remember that unique content is what makes your site a valuable resource on the Web.
Know When To Discuss Features And Benefits
Features and benefits - do you know the difference?
Feature: HTML Toolbox scans your page for HTML coding errors.
Benefit: Eliminate coding errors that can break pages in some browsers!
Normally, the product or service introductory information stresses the benefits. Customers want to know what the product can do for them before they worry about how. But never try to sell based on benefits alone.
Comparison-shopping is one of visitors' favorite Web activities and they're often looking for more product information than sites provide. Customers want detailed information about the features and options offered. Always include clear, attractive photos of your product.
Use the benefits to entice visitors to learn more. When they go deeper into the site, start selling the features.
You're writing for humans, not just search engine spiders!
Keywords are important and you should pay close attention when Page Primer calculates your keyword density score. But spiders and analysis tools can't tell you whether the content looks or sounds good to humans.
How soon do you get tired of the phrase "organic dog food" in this example?
"Our organic dog food is of far higher quality than competing brands of organic dog food. We use only the best ingredients in Happy Puppy Organic Dog Food. Dogs all over the country enjoy gourmet dining from a bag of Happy Puppy Organic Dog Food. Try a bag of this premium organic dog food today!"
Instead of rote repetition, use other optimization techniques recommended by Search Engine Power Pack and some from previous Webmaster Tips newsletters:
Proofread And Spell Check!
I know from previous unpleasant experiences just how important it is to use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation! Understand though, that it's extremely hard to proofread your own work. Appeal to a friend or colleague for help. Ideally, they'll find those typos before visitors do and give you valuable feedback about your content.
If you have to go it alone though, try these methods:
- Use your word processor's grammar and spell check - but don't rely on that function completely. Sometimes you've spelled a word correctly, but it's just the wrong word!
- Avoid the dreaded "Top 10 Spelling Errors". This article lists some of the top spelling errors you see online.
- Proofread using a printed copy. This is often a lot easier than proofreading from a computer screen.
Never Post Your First Draft
Even if you think it's wonderful, a masterpiece, and can't imagine changing a single word, never post your first draft! Take as much time as you need to create the first draft (using your outline, naturally) and then set it aside for a day or two.
You may be surprised to discover that the terrific article you wrote on Monday looks absolutely dreadful when you review it on Wednesday. Always be prepared to write, revise, rewrite, and revise again. Each time you revisit the copy, you have an opportunity to make it better, tighten the language, eliminate extraneous information, and sharpen your important points.
Writing anything takes time, effort, and patience. Writing copy for your Web site is no different. And it's vitally important. Good Web site copy makes a site easier to promote to both search engines and customers.
Pictures are pretty, but content is king.