I was recently struck by the fact that the top-ranking web pages on Google are consistently much better written than the vast majority of what is read on the web.
Of course, that shouldn't be a surprise, considering how often officials at Google proclaim the importance of good content. Yet traditional SEO wisdom has little to say about good writing.
Does Google, the world's wealthiest media company, really ignore traditional standards of quality in the publishing world? Does Google, like so many website owners, really get so caught up in the process of the algorithm that it misses the whole point? Apparently not. Most common on-page website content success features
Whatever the technical mechanism, Google is doing a pretty good job of identifying websites with good content and rewarding them with high rankings.
I looked at Google's top five pages for the five most searched-on keywords, as identified by WordTracker on 27 June 2005. Typically, the top five pages receive an overwhelming majority of the traffic delivered by Google.
The web pages that contained written content (a small but significant portion were image galleries) all shared the following features:
- Updating: Frequent updating of content, at least once every few weeks, and more often, once a week or more.
- Spelling and grammar: Few or no errors. No page had more than three misspelled words or four grammatical errors. Note: spelling and grammar errors were identified by using Microsoft Word's check feature, and then ruling out words marked as mis-spellings that are either proper names or new words that are simply not in the dictionary. Does Google use SpellCheck? Keep in mind that no one really does know what the 100 factors in Google's algorithm are. But whether the mechanism is SpellCheck or a better shot at link popularity thanks to great credibility, or something else entirely, the results remain the same.
- Paragraphs: Primarily brief (1-4 sentences). Few or no long blocks of text.
- Lists: Both bulleted and numbered form a large part of the text.
- Sentence length: Mostly brief (10 words or fewer). Medium-length and long sentences are sprinkled throughout the text rather than clumped together.
- Contextual relevance: Text contains numerous terms related to the keyword, as well as stem variations of the keyword.
SEO bugbears and sacred cows
A hard look at the results shows that, practically speaking, a number of SEO bugbears and sacred cows may matter less to ranking than good content:
- PageRank: The median PageRank was 4. One page had a PageRank of 0. Of course, this might simply be yet another demonstration that the little PageRank number you get in your browser window is not what Google's algo is using. But if you're one of those people who attaches an overriding value to that little number, this is food for thought.
- Frames: The top two web pages listed for the most searched-on keyword employ frames. Frames may still be a bad web design idea from a usability standpoint, and they may ruin your search engine rankings if your site's linking system depends on them. But there are worse ways you could shoot yourself in the foot.
- Links: Most of the web pages contained ten or more links; many contained over 30, in defiance of the SEO bugbears about ‘link popularity bleeding’. Moreover, nearly all the pages contained a significant number of non-relevant links. On many pages, non-relevant links out-numbered relevant ones.
- Originality: A significant number of pages contained content copied from other websites. In all cases, the content was professionally written content apparently distributed on a free-reprint basis. Note that the reprint content did not consist of content feeds. However, no website consisted solely of free-reprint content. There was always at least a significant portion of original content, usually the majority of the page.
Make sure a professional writer, or at least someone who can tell good writing from bad, is creating your site's content. Most visitors simply hit the back button when confronted with the unpalatable text, so the increased traffic is just wasted bandwidth.
If you write your own content, make sure that it passes through the hands of a skilled copywriter before going online.
Update your content often. It's important both to add new pages and update existing pages. If you can't afford original content, use free-reprint content.
Distribute your content to other websites on a free-reprint basis. This will help your website get links in exchange for the right to publish the content. It will also help spread your message and enhance your visibility. Fears of a ‘duplicate content penalty’ for free-reprint content (as opposed to duplication of content within a single website) are unjustified.
In short, if you have a mature website that's already indexed and getting traffic, you should make sure most of your investment is devoted to content. This seems to be preferable to graphic design, old-school search-engine optimisation, or linking campaigns.
This article was written by Joel Walsh. Joel's archive of web business articles is at the website of his business, UpMarket Content, a website content provider.
Is your website up to speed? Can you really say that people are using your website to the best their ability? Take this quiz to see if your website passes the stress test. You might be shocked at the result.
_ _1. Does your website follow a logical progression and is it user friendly? Western readers read websites the way they read magazines - left to right, top to bottom. They really like uncluttered copy with paragraphs that are more than 5 to 6 line deep.
_ _2. Is your website readable at 800x660, 1024x768, and at higher resolutions? Because there are so many choices in monitor sizes and resolutions your site should be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of sizes.
_ _ 3. How quickly do your web pages load? Are your images optimized?
The majority of Internet surfers in the U.S. still use a 56K modem. Your website should load at a comfortable speed for impatient surfers to stay for the completed page. A great way to do it is to load really compelling copy quickly while the images load.
_ _4. Is your content up-to-date and relevant to your audience?
If you created your website five years ago and haven't updated the content on your site I'd say you are in need of an overhaul. The idea is to get them coming back for more.
_ _5. Do you have a complete biography on your practice or business?
Your biography should read as a public relations piece. The aim of the copy is to give you credibility. Don't make it into a resume, give it a journalistic feel.
_ _6. Is your domain name relevant to your search terms as well as you business profile? Your domain name should describe your company, product or services.
_ _7. Have you done a search for your appropriate headings lately? Routinely "Google" your headings, and keywords. Do the same at Yahoo, MSN and other sites.
_ _8. Do you have an email marketing program on your website?
The average prospect now makes a decision on the 7th to 12th visit. You need to give them a reason to come back.
_ _9. Are you using Pay Per Click advertising? Are your search criteria and keywords appropriate? Be careful of your choice of keywords and watch your frequency. Check for competitive keywords.
_ _10. Do you sell products on-line? Are you set up to handle e-checks, credit cards and Paypal? Look for new ways to include more shoppers by increasing the convenience factor.
_ _11. Do you have an on-line newsletter subscription program?
Newsletters offer a great way to stay in touch with your market without beating them over the head.
_ _12. Do you send out notices and birthday cards to patients by email?
The number one reason for patient attrition is neglect. The studies show that patients and prospective patients will return to see you if they are reminded of your interest in them as people.
_ _13. Are you able to setup appointments on-line? This is a great convenience for the growing number of online consumers.
_ _14. Do you have multimedia education on your site for people who want to know more about chiropractic? This will bring interested patients and prospective patients back to your website.
_ _15. Do you have back links to your website? Links to your website from other relevant websites increase your ranking in the search engines.
If you weren't able to get a "Yes" 50% of the time, you need to re-evaluate your website and make fundamental changes. For more information on web design, drop me an email.
Once you have created a website you will need to update it on a fairly regular basis. There are countless reasons why updating is significant but the number one reason is to retain the publics appeal in stopping by your website.
There are many reasons that people create websites- to talk about things they're interested in, communicate with family and friends, or to promote businesses that they run. There are literally infinite different websites that can be made. Still, you should aim to retain people's interest in your web site. You may want to keep family and friends abreast of changes in your life, encourage others to start a hobby or other interest, or provide people with goods and services.
People will want to visit your website again if new and useful information is regularly added. There are a number of ways that you can accomplish making updates to your website. To update the pages you can either use a web based website builder or you can use an installation based program…
…It's also vital to plan regular updates to your website. In order to know what you are going to display on your website you need to give it some thought and plan carefully. This can make organizing the information you want to present easier for you. It is always best to construct clear and concise content.
More important for business-minded people is the aspect of updates: they keep customers in the loop with new information regularly so they are motivated to keep coming back to the website. If you are interested in page rankings to help drive traffic towards your site updating content is also very important.
Updates attract the attention of the search engines because the content is being refreshed on the site, that in turn can help to increase the ranking of the site. This is extremely important if you are optimizing the content on your website.
Updating content is usually more important for business or commercial customers or people who are interested in driving traffic to their personal interest pages. You're probably not going to be interested in updating your site's keywords or phrases if its main goal is to serve your friends and family.
However, even personal pages need to be updated on a regular basis. This is to keep friends and family updated on what is happening in your life. Usually, these sites will look a great deal like scrapbooks, and they generally have many pictures. You can also update a calendar of events to let everyone know what is going on with you and your family.
What makes a Website attractive to a visitor? The content it provides, of course.
You might run a wonderful advertising campaign; develop viral marketing tools and attractive affiliate programs. But unless your Website is rich in content, the traffic spikes that result from your efforts will only be transient. Content that is useful, valuable, informative, educational or just plain entertaining can attract and retain an audience better than anything else.
Anyone can create a content-rich Website by following a few key points:
- Be disciplined
- Update your site regularly
- Know how to create content, or where to find it
Discipline and Commitment
To create your content-rich Website, you need tunnel vision and a laser sharp focus. In a word; self discipline. It's easy to waste hours, even days, clicking your way from one site to another. Don't let yourself be distracted: limit your online content explorations only to Websites and resources that are directly connected to your site's subject.
Discipline also extends to content creation. Successful writers do not wait for inspiration before beginning their work. Instead, they develop a regular writing schedule, and they stick to it. Wether they feel like it or not, they sit down at a desk and write.
You too must develop a schedule to add content to your Website, and follow it. Nike has the right idea - 'Just Do It'!
Regular Updates to your Website
Nothing is deader than an untended Website.
Regularly updating or modifying your Website's content gives you an edge over the competition. People will keep returning to your site if they notice something new to see, learn from or enjoy each time.
Creating Your Content
You know best - or should - what your audience wants. It then becomes an easy task to decide about which types of content will best serve their needs and how to go about finding or creating it. Here are some suggestions:
- Feature articles
- News clips or stories
- Art galleries
- Aggregating the best content
- Interactive features - polls, feedback, discussion groups, forums, chat
Editorials are the opinion of a perceived 'expert' in the field-- (either you or a guest contributor). And they make good content, because they invite reader response, either endorsing or opposing the writer. This can make for lively debate. Give your readers an avenue to make their views known - by including a bulletin board or guest book on your site. People will return back to your site, at least to read other responses to their comments. And you can use this feedback from your audience by incorporating it into a follow up article in the future!
Full-length Feature Articles
A feature article is the most common - and one of the best - forms of content.
Depending on the nature of your site, the articles may be long or brief, formal or chatty, technical or entertaining.
Here are some tips:
- Articles shouldn't be too long. While there aren't any rules, it is perhaps safe to keep feature articles below 1200 words. If they are longer, convert them into multi-part features.
- Articles should be relevant to the topic of your Website.
- They should educate, entertain or inform. Try and limit the message of each piece to one or two new ideas.
- Don't simply rehash an article you've read elsewhere. By publishing something that hasn't been already featured elsewhere, you enhance the value and credibility of your site.
- There are several ways to get original content.
Write your own features. This assumes you write reasonably well. If you can't, or don't have the time or inclination then getting someone to write articles for you has benefits to both you and the author.
You could offer to:
- a.) Pay guest authors for their work or
- b.) Exchange articles with their Website in return. Your Website visitors benefit by providing them with another point of view. A fringe benefit is that you might hook some new regular visitors from your guest author's site!
- c.) Exclusivity. If someone else writes for you, make sure the same article won't be submitted to dozens of other Websites and newsletters. Publishing exclusive content benefits includes syndication opportunities in other publications, online and off, and reader loyalty.
Reprint articles written by others, but you must always obtain permission. All work, from the moment it is written, is copyright and owned by the author, whether it is marked with a copyright symbol or not. Content is not free. You can, however, make reprints interesting and personalised by putting your own 'spin' on the content. Write an introduction to the subject, or comment on the author's opinions or conclusions.
Take care to avoid 'editing' the original article without the author's permission. Avoid articles that have been reprinted many times before on other Websites and electronic publications.
The News Desk
Your Website can become a source of the latest developments and happenings in areas of interest by providing timely news on topics of interest to your readers.
Create a separate section of your site to deal with industry news. Or you might devote an entire Website to news updates.
There are many ways of presenting news:
- as a feature article
- As short news clips, with a link to the full story
- As news stories, where each item is explained at length
Whichever way you choose to present the news, make sure to stamp it with your own personality. Make it interesting, personal, chatty, fun, unique, or all of these - with your style of writing, or by adding your point of view.
As with feature articles, news clips should be
- Useful to your reader
- Timely. Remember, old news is no news!
There are many resources out there to help you find news stories to feature. You could:
- Subscribe to eZines on your topic
- Sign up for news delivery services that send updates periodically by email
- Register to receive press releases on your topic
- Actively hunt for newsy items during your Web surfing
- Read newspapers, magazines and books on your subject
- Attend conferences, workshops or seminars and write about your impressions
The Content Aggregator
By making your Website the ultimate content resource on issues related to your topic, you would attract and retain a loyal audience. Your site will become a destination for anyone seeking information on your subject.
As an expert on your topic, you can evaluate sites and other resources (eZines, directories, books, offline publications) for the best, and then list them along with your rating and opinions.
The Art Gallery
Text is not the only form of content. Sound, music, pictures, photographs, video clips - and soon maybe smell and dreams (!) - can be attractions on a Website.
If you are a professional photographer, you could create a display of your snaps. If you are a music group, you might offer some of your creations for download. Amateur moviemakers can use the Internet as their low-cost global distribution channel.
As broadband connectivity becomes more widely accessible, we might soon see the majority of Websites converting to such interactive and dynamic content models.
Use your Website to recommend the *best* products and services to your visitors - books, websites, music, movies, artwork, web designers, restaurants, anything. You, the expert, tell them what is good and what isn't.
Share something that will be of interest and benefit to them. If you read a great book, or surf into a wonderful Website, then tell your visitors about it. Reviews help build credibility and trust for your site.
How to write a review?
Here are some tips:
- Provide contact/ordering information for those who want to know more.
- Be relevant. Limit your reviews to the topic and subject of your site
- Be selective. Set high standards for the products you review. Be analytical. Tell your reader specifically what is good or bad about the thing you review, and why.
- Don't go overboard. Restrain your impulse to offer extremes of praise and criticism.
- Offer Recommendations. At the end, say what you think about it. Is it good? Or bad? Should your reader buy the product, visit the Website, order the service? Tell them.
What should you review?
Anything - as long as it is relevant to the topic of your site, and is likely to have interest for your reader. Here are some ideas:
- Books: There are bound to be many books on your topic. Review good ones, and even bad ones. If an author/publisher sends you a book to review, write about it.
- Websites: If you have a favourite Website, or run across one that is useful, entertaining or informative, review it. Your readers will love you for this - they might never have found it on their own!
- Products and services can also be grist for your mill. Just remember to stay within the guidelines - relevant and useful to your reader.
- Has your company done something new and innovative?
- Have you developed an improved version of your product?
- Are you privy to insider information in your industry?
- Do you follow the rumours and gossip in your field?
- Do you track swings and developments closely?
If you do, announce them on your Website. People love to feel informed and up with the latest gossip and happenings.
An interview with an expert in your field or a famous person makes exciting, valuable content. And it is easy to conduct an interview via email or over the telephone.
Choose an expert or guest you think will be of interest to your readers. Learn more about your expert - special interests, experience, achievements, status in field, etc. This allows you to create pertinent questions.
Decide upon a topic for the interview. Prepare a set of questions you'd like to ask. Then contact your guest with an interview request.
Most people would be happy to participate in your interview. For those who seem hesitant, mentioning the exposure they would get from being on your Website is enough to get them to agree!
Send a copy of your questions to the guest by email, make a phone call or even arrange a face-to-face meeting. Once you have your copy, make editorial changes so that it reads well. This might mean re-arranging the questions so that there is a smooth flow of thoughts. And by intelligently interspersing additional queries and comments, you can make it appear as if the interview was carried out in person and make it more interesting to read!
Ask additional questions, or for clarification when necessary. Finally, make sure to get your guest's approval for the final version of the interview. Then go ahead and publish it on your site.
Why should you interact with readers?
- You can establish closer, more personal relationships with visitors
- You can find out about their preferences, likes and dislikes
- You can listen to their complaints and suggestions
- You can request their feedback on your performance
- You can collect valuable demographic data on your audience
AND.... you can get fresh content to use on your site!
All of this allows you to make improvements, additions and enhance the value and utility of your site to visitors. By employing interactive tools, you can generate content to use later. There are many different ways to do this. Here are a few ideas:
Polls and Surveys. Survey your readers. Ask a question. Request a vote on an issue or topic. It could be about
- An article on the site - "Did you find this week's feature helpful?"
- Current events - "Will you vote for the GOP in the next election?"
- A controversial issue - "Do you believe in religion in schools?"
- User preferences - "Would you like to see this site updated daily?"
- Demographic data - "Do you have young children?"
- Be brief. Ask no more than 7 or 8 questions
- Offer choices. Frame the questions to have a YES/NO option
- Provide an incentive to reply. A discount, a freebie, a trial membership
- Make the results available to respondents. Your readers will enjoy hearing about what their peers think and feel about these issues.
- Show that you are acting on the feedback received
Reader feedback is extremely valuable - if you listen to it with a mind open to change and act on it. Criticism can stimulate you to improve standards. Questions and requests can indicate areas where you must provide content that helps your reader. A good feedback loop between Webmaster and site visitor is very valuable.
Make it obvious that you welcome feedback.
- On every page offer a link to let visitors write back with their comments, opinions and suggestions for improvement.
- Provide an email address to write to or use a feedback form
How do you turn feedback into content?
Use your creativity to come up with new ideas. Here are some suggestions:
- Write a feature article that answers the questions your reader asked
- Print out the questions or comments your reader sent in, and answer them. Take care to request their permission before quoting them. Most often they'll agree - especially when you promise them a moment in the spotlight by mentioning their name or Website URL on your site!
- Act upon the suggestions readers make; then write about these changes
While feedback is a one-to-one communication, a discussion group permits many-to-many interaction, since every email sent to the group is distributed to each member.
Here's what you can do:
- Create a discussion group using one of the free or pay-services.
- Announce it on your Website and eZine and invite everyone to participate.
Readers could debate controversial articles and news stories, discuss other issues related to your topic and share their views and opinions with other readers.
The material generated in such lively debate could again be used as the seed to grow content for your site.
An electronic bulletin board is a Website where a visitor can read messages posted by others, and respond by writing another message on the board. This reply is also displayed for others to read, producing a growing list of discussions on related topics.
After a reasonable period of time, the messages under a particular topic can be encapsulated into a feature article or other form of content on your site.
Real-time online chat is a fantastic interactive tool - but with unavoidable limitations. Chat events permit the creation of innovative pieces of content like
- Interviews with participants, especially experts and celebrities
- Discussions on featured topics and issues
- Workshops and seminars for your visitors
Transcripts of chat sessions - edited for continuity and flow of the conversation - make for exciting content.
How do you get Content for your Website?
There are four options:
- Create it yourself
- Invite contributions
- Hire content providers
- Syndicate or licence content from others
Creating Your Own Content
If you have a lot of experience in your speciality, and your writing skills are excellent, content creation will be a simple matter of sitting at your computer and banging away at the keys for a few minutes.
If, however, you aren't wired that way, generating material for your site will feel like having a tooth pulled - without anaesthetic!
But don't despair. There's something for everyone on the Net :-)
Before you decide to create your own content, here are some things to think about:
- Do you have the expertise? Are you really an expert? Can you write valuable, reliable, interesting content regularly? Most of your readers won't know much about your topic - indeed that's why they visit your site in the first place! But there will be the occasional expert. You can't fool your readers with pretence. Don't even try to.
- Do you have the skills?
- Can you write well? You might understand General Relativity. But the way you write about it might confuse Einstein himself!
- Do you have the time?
Writing original content of a high quality can be very time consuming. And because a good Website is never finished it is an ongoing thing, day after day, week after week. Can you do it?
If writing your own content isn't for you, there are many people around who will be happy to write for your Website. They do it because it projects them as experts, and gives them exposure and access to your readers. Most often, all that these authors ask in return is a by-line - a short 3 to 5 line description of the author and his/her business at the end of the article. So if you don't want to (or cannot) create your own content, ask others to help.
Include an announcement on your site that articles from other authors are welcome. Then wade through the submissions to choose the best to present to your audience.
Hiring Content Providers
This is the rich man's way out! Pay someone else to create content for you.
Content providers come in different forms.
- Freelance authors are writers-on-contract, who will submit articles on a pay-per-word/article basis.
- Full time writers and content providers are employees who will provide professional-quality material for a regular salary. While this could turn out to be expensive, it might still be cheaper than trying to acquire the skills on your own.
Syndicating or Licensing Content
Syndication is an interesting model to get quality-content from experts at reasonable cost. Content created by an individual or company is displayed on other partner Websites or eZines, in return for a payment (flat fee or percentage of revenue generated) or sometimes even for just exposure on the partner's Website.
Licensing content for a specified period, on payment of a licensing fee, is another option.
You might consider syndicating or licensing content from:
- News services that provide brief updates and news flashes on a variety of topics
- Content aggregators who collate information on a topic from around the Web
- Magazines and Newspapers
- Content-rich niche portal sites
- Other Websites on your topic
Some General Tips For Website Content
Providing highly informative, entertaining and original content is only one part of the success formula.
A Webmaster who imbues their site with a part of their own personality makes their publication unique--and sets it apart from the pack. If a Webmaster can successfully convey to the reader their values, ideals, ambitions and attitudes, your readers come to believe they know you, the Webmaster, personally; they identify with you, trust you, and respect you.
Here are some ideas:
- It's ok to be opinionated or state your point of view
- Always give your reader top priority
- Stick by your values and ethics
- Be emotional, not rigidly logical
If you love what you create on your site, it will show in your work. And your readers will feel it too.
Writing for the Web
Reading online, on a computer screen, differs in many ways from the way people read print publications. Most skim through an article rather than read it line after line.
By breaking up content into small chunks, and by the generous use of white space between them, you can make your WebPages look neat, uncluttered, and readable.
- Use shorter sentences
- Use 'catch' words and phrases
- Avoid long, difficult words with many syllables
- Get to the point right away
- Use sub-titles to set off paragraphs
Spelling and Grammar
Your reader will judge you on many factors. Spelling/grammar is an important one.
Reasonable care to ensure correct spelling and grammar is essential if you are to establish a serious image.
A few mistakes might (and will) slip through the cracks! Your readers will probably accept this. But if it happens very often, you lose credibility.
A formal, impersonal, grammatical style would be ideal for some topics. But a chatty, friendly, write-as-you-talk style will be a perfect fit for others. There aren't any rules - use what works for you.
Be Bold - Experiment
Managing a Website can be an interesting voyage of self-discovery. Be adventurous. Try out new ideas. Imitate models you find interesting. Keep innovating.
And monitor response to each change. Did your readers like it? If they did, keep it. If not, experiment again.
Most sites grow by such trial-and-error methods. The winners are those who identify successful models and develop them, while ruthlessly eliminating any that fail.
An open mind to ideas and suggestions, and a willingness to adapt to change, is perhaps the best skill you can develop as a Webmaster.