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BACK TO BASICS: Writing Great Web Site Content (for Users and Spiders)

by Paula Allen, October 16, 2009

Content is what the Web is all about. To attract visitors and impress search engine spiders, your Web site needs good text content and plenty of it. That's why we placed content at the foundation of our SEO Hierarchy of Needs. Building a strong foundation takes work. To make your content development goals a little bit easier, we've put together these tips for writing good content that can help you create text that's both readable and rankable for your Web site.

Write for Relevance

For search engine optimization purposes, you want your Web site organized in such a way that search engines can tell what subject(s) it's about. Each page needs to be focused on a particular topic to boost that page's relevance for a related search query. Search engines look for repeated words and phrases on the page, called keywords, to figure out the page's theme.

Doing keyword research is essential for identifying which keywords you should use; with that list in hand, you can strategically place them in:

  • Page Title tags
  • Meta tags
  • Headings (particularly the <h1>, but possibly also <h2>, <h3>, etc.)
  • Body text
  • ALT attributes of images
  • Anchor text of links (both on the page and inbound)
  • URLs and file names

Be careful not to overdo it and "stuff" keywords unnaturally into the text, or the search engines might consider it spam and block you entirely. Keep your writing sounding natural for readers, while still giving spiders the repetition they look for. (Tip: To find the right balance, run your page through a free tool like the Single Page Analyzer to make sure your keywords and keyword density are what you want.) As you write, don't forget to use synonyms and related words along with your keywords, since these help clarify your subject to the search engines.

To establish subject relevance, the more text you have on the page, the better ... at least as far as search engines go. You want to show them you have expertise enough to satisfy a searcher's needs. To do that, count on having several hundred words per page (450 minimum is a good estimate) for a landing page, and more on supporting pages. The exact amount your site will need to be competitive depends; you want to meet or exceed what is "natural" among Web pages that currently rank for your desired keyword. If most of the top-10 sites have 1000 words on their landing page plus 20 or more supporting pages linked from them, you might have a lot of writing to do!

Write for a Purpose

First and foremost, make your writing useful. The Internet was built on this information-sharing model, and it's still the best way to establish trust and relevance in the eyes of users and search engines. So inform, explain, describe, demonstrate and teach.

When thinking of article subjects, don't overlook the basics. What seems obvious to you may be a complete revelation to your Web site guest. After all, you are the expert and you work with this stuff every day. What are the basic concepts you take for granted that form the foundation of what your site is about? These are worth writing content about.

Include informative text for various levels of readers, from basic to advanced. Offer something for every type of site visitor within your targeted demographic (more on that in a second).

Write for the Web

People read on screen differently than they read on paper. Online, people want to scan the information quickly and pick out the important points. If you construct a Web page like a term paper filled with big words, small type and huge paragraphs, you're likely to send your site visitors running toward the Back button. So write with a style and format that can engage a potential customer, not impress an English professor.

Improve your text's readability with these tips for online writing mechanics:

  • Break up your text into small chunks rather than long paragraphs. This also goes for sentences — short statements are easier to read than long, complicated sentences.
  • Use bullets and subheadings to put signposts down the page for a reader to follow. Bullets are particularly effective to organize a list of items visually. Structure your information using bold subheadings. They help break up your text and keep the reader moving from point to point.
  • Allow for margins and "white" space so that the eye doesn't have to move very far reading from left to right. Narrow columns are easier to read than wide ones. Some air space around paragraph text also helps.
  • Choose fonts and background colors carefully to make your pages readable. Use fonts most people have installed already, and put body text in a sans-serif font like Arial or Verdana. Studies have proven that reverse copy (light words on a dark background) is much harder to read than dark text on a light background, so avoid that for large blocks of text. Black text on a white background really does provide the highest readability, so try to put your color elements on the page in other ways.
  • Check your spelling and grammar because you want to leave a good impression on your reader. Use a spelling checker and/or have someone proofread the text before you publish it online. Please.

Write for Your Audience

Many Web site owners make the mistake of thinking that the entire online population of Earth is their audience. After all, it's the World Wide Web, right? Well, wrong. A vague and non-targeted marketing approach might bring you traffic, but it won't bring you people who are truly interested in what your site offers.

Whom do you want your Web site to reach? This is worth some serious thought and research. Look at your current customer list and try to spot demographic or interest commonalities. Do you see similarities in age, gender, education, occupation? How about interests? Define as much specific information as you can about your target audience.

Armed with this information you can customize your writing and Web site for them. You can vary the reading level — word difficulty, number of syllables, sentence length — to be appropriate for your audience. (Tip: The Single Page Analyzer can also analyze your text's reading level.)

Word choice is another area to tailor. Be careful using acronyms, since visitors may not be familiar with them and you also could be missing a golden keyword opportunity by abbreviating an important term — mix it up. And use appropriate vocabulary (slang, no slang, expressions, etc.) to make your desired Web site audience feel right at home.

Write ... Just Write

Original content is what you need, and lots of it. Unless you're a major news site or something similar, you won't rank for text pulled from other sites. Create pages that are unique, informative and original, or hire someone to do it for you. And don't ever stop.

To maintain your site's competitiveness you must consistently add new pages of content. Consider setting up a blog on your Web site where you can regularly post new articles in a relaxed and easy format. Look for ways to allow user-generated content such as product reviews, article comments, etc. Plan ahead, and build out your Web site with additional supporting pages of increasing detail.

There are lots of ways to keep your Web site fresh. The hard part is doing it. But as you consistently build your Web site content, your subject relevance will grow. Your effort will be rewarded with higher Web site rankings and more satisfied, relevant, site users.

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