ss_blog_claim=73b1cd073bba6e6518705e046b696b7d Create good content for your Web site

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Create good content for your Web site

what makes good content? Who decides it’s good content? What are the standards for good content? Are there metrics we can use to determine which content is good or not-good? Optimizing minds want to know. And we’re tired of vague, obscure, generic answers.

So, in the interest of getting the vague, obscure, generic answers out of the way, let’s start with a few definitions:

Good Content - Metaphor. Canned expression. Used in lieu of clear-and-specific descriptions of the kind of content that works, usually because different markets require different content.

Weak Content - Valuative appellation. Content is weak if no one wants to read or link to it. In the search optimization community, most people assume content is weak if it attracts few or no links. Reality Check: A LOT of good content never attracts links because it’s embedded with other good content OR because it’s embedded with lots of BAD content.

Bad Content - Metaphor. Rarely used expression. This is what “good content” is not. Call it wrong content, inappropriate content, badly written content, uninteresting content, or skimpy content.

Information - What people want. I’ve spent the last ten years trying to get business site operators and SEOs to pick up a clue in this game. If you give people information, they give you power. Everyone just wants users to come to their sites and click on ads or fill out forms. That’s not what visitors want (in the vast majority of queries).

Opinion - What most people substitute for information. Nonetheless, many searchers want to find other people’s opinions on products, services, places to go, things to do, and other people.

Article - A source of information. Provided in the right context, it may very well be good content that people enjoy reading. If it is well-written, it may even attract links.

Blog post - A primary source of opinion or information. Blog posts are the Web’s equivalent of newspapers’ traditional op(inion)-ed(itorial) pieces. Blog posts can be long and boring, long and interesting, short and boring, or short and interesting. It’s easier to get links for blog posts than for articles because spammers will link out to other blogs to mask their spam posts and because many people will substitute link lists for real content.

Real Content - Something that requires effort. Real content is not a list of links — unless you’re creating a really useful list of links. Lee Odden’s Big List is a useful list of links. Your average SEO blogger’s daily list of links is a waste of time.

Okay, here are some actually helpful suggestions about how to create good content by type of site.
Typical Business Brochure site

Most SEOs hate the business brochure site. In the old days, these types of sites were literally copied from those tri-fold brochures you could pick up in the waiting rooms of most companies’ corporate offices — the little glossy handouts that included a few generic pictures with ambiguous language that told you Company X was a leader in its field, pioneering new strategies for its non-descript industry, cherishing the founders’ vision, blah, blah, blah, etc.

Business Brochure Web sites number in the millions. A lot of them are created by the business owners themselves or by whichever office workers got saddled with having to create a Web page for the company. Some SEO firms used to turn these things out almost by the handful. Let’s face it, if a company gives you their brochure, you can almost plan the site in your sleep.

And sleep is what the visitors will do if they bother to click through to the site. But here are a few things you can add to a Business Brochure site to make it more interesting:

1. Company history - if well-written and combined with pictures, company histories can be very popular
2. Humorous product/service announcements - Complement a marketing campaign with an obvious April Fools’ announcement, a funny cartoon, or even a funny video clip
3. Fact sheets by product name or part number - People search for this information and if you leave it to the spammers and Javascript ad magnates to provide the information, searchers will go elsewhere to find it.
4. Did you know… information pieces - Provide people with fun facts about the historical impact products and services or organizations have had on life. Even Teddy Roosevelt used artifacts that were manufactured by companies still in business today. There is history behind every pen, tire, and screwdriver.
5. Event updates - Even if your company only participates in one annual event, document it before it happens and after it happens.
6. How-to guides and tutorials - You’d better believe someone out there is going to tell people how to use your products or service on the Web. You should, too.
7. Staff profiles - In a company with high turnover this may not be a good idea, but if your employees have been on the job for five years or longer, reward them with some visibility. Show potential customers the human side of your business. And update the profiles once a year.
8. Corporate press releases - If the company issues press releases, make sure they are included on the site.

e-Commerce Sites

There are some formulas that have become well-established in the e-Commerce Web industry: product descriptions, product reviews, customer rating gizmos, and lots of user-generated content in the form of blogs and forums.

You know, if it worked for Amazon, that must be why they are the biggest online retailing site on the Web. Which means that people expect that stuff from Amazon.

Affiliate link farms have tried all sorts of gimmicks like price comparison, randomly generated text, contracted articles, and everything that Amazon does.

So what makes an e-Commerce site engaging to the consumer?

1. Start with presentation - Although your pages need to be easy on the eyes, they should not follow the leader. Copying what made other people successful sends the subtle message of “I don’t have a clue how to market” to your visitors. Find a unique page design. Update it every 1-2 years.
2. Use unique boilerplate text - With a large enough inventory you’ll reuse a small number of descriptive expressions many times. Your competitors will, too. Make sure your descriptive expressions don’t show up on 100 other sites.
3. Make a fuss - Too few retail sites actually dwell on any specific product or product category. Your Web site is not equivalent to a store filled with aisles of shelves and merchandise. Think of that store as if the merchandise could speak and sell itself. “Psst! Hey, buddy! I’m a GREAT tool set available for a heavily discounted price this week only! BUY ME!”
4. Create or commission unique how-to articles, fact sheets, did-you-know pages, and other information providing-content.
5. Sponsor an event and pitch the event from your site. Sponsor LOTS of events. Co-brand merchandise if you can.
6. If you sponsor events, issue press releases. Put the press releases on your site.
7. Create a “thoughtful editorial” section and REGULARLY post articles that deal with consumer-oriented issues relevant to your inventory: safety, health, liability, product upgrades, customer service, warranty follow-through, recall procedures, class action lawsuits, etc. Blogs are perfect for this kind of content. You can emphasize positive, negative, or a mixture of consumer viewpoints.

There is always something different you can do. Most of your competitors will take the position of, “I don’t have time to do something different”. You can be like them or you can be a leader. It’s your choice.
Corporate Web site

The Corporate Web site is what Business Brochure sites should be. Corporate sites could be called Professional Business Site. You don’t have to be a corporation to look like a corporation. I once called a vending machine provider, thinking he was one of the biggest companies in the city, because his Web site looked more professional than the real corporate players’. It was just a guy who outsourced everything through contractors.

If your company doesn’t have a Corporate Web site, don’t let the fact you’re not a corporation fool you. You’re killing yourself by not creating a Web site that makes you look like a real business that people can actually do business with. You need to provide information about the company first and you second. You need to make sure people understand where they can find you, how they can do business with you, and what your business is about.

After you get the basics covered, you should have a pretty informative and very boring corporate Web site. Don’t make the mistake of dressing it up with Flash, AJAX, or heavy graphics. Good Corporate Content needs to be conservative on the front page and gimmicky deeper in.

But here is how you can make a corporate site exciting and interesting to visitors:

1. Profile the company founders - Interview them, or profile them if they are deceased, so that people see they are not stuffed shirts in a black-and-white photograph. Find out what their passions are and let them roam through the readers’ imaginations.
2. Profile each department or division or subsidiary of the company - Write a story that makes people want to work with or do business with each business unit. The accounting department can be as interesting and exciting as the engineering department if you focus on the people rather than the jobs. Everyone knows accountants work with invoices, payroll, and bank accounts. Everyone knows the engineers get together after work and party. Why do you think engineers are seen as “more fun”?
3. Color papers - Lots of companies have followed the traditional “white paper” route. I’ve been advising people to post white papers on their Web sites for years. Let’s face it: white papers are boring. Color Papers are comic books for business, movies for manufacturing, silly for serious, fun for fettered business copy. If you’re going to put a white paper on your site, make sure it’s interesting, engaging, and multimedia. Leave .PDF behind.
4. Statistics, reports, and searchable numbers - Share data liberally. Some companies pay thousands of dollars for monthly subscriptions to information. Every company has the capacity to compile and share statistics that will interest someone. Every company has access to industry journals, newsletters, and other sources of information that periodically include statistics. Share them on your Web site (provide appropriate attribution).
5. Consumer presentations - Even manufacturing wholesalers have caught on to the business value that providing tours of the factory creates. You can stimulate interest in those factory tours — and the t-shirts and other memorabilia you can sell to visitors — by showing people online all the fun they are missing. Multimedia presentations (yes, you can use Flash) that are marketed to your customers’ customers helps build your retailers and/or agents’ credibility and visibility. Helping your customers attract interested customers is good for your business.
6. Industry resources - Instead of just creating a simple links page, write some feature articles about how your company engages with industry councils, professional associations, business partners, and customers. Show people the human side of your business.
7. Events and News - Corporate Web sites almost HAVE to include press releases, but if your company actually puts on or participates in events you should go a step further and create special feature articles about each event. DO NOT RESORT TO IMAGE GALLERIES. Image galleries are boring. Feature articles are real content. Feature articles should be well-written. Feature articles can be published at any time.

The Professional Consultant Site

I hate looking at SEO Web sites. They all look the same. If you’re a firm, you tell people you’re a firm. If you’re a consultant, you tell people you’re a consultant. You write white papers about basic search engine optimization. You offer a few basic on-page SEO tips. You have a page listing your SEO services.

Boring, boring, boring. Yeah, orange is boring too — maybe I’ll update my own consulting Web site one day.

But this problem goes well beyond what the SEO industry does. I’ve looked at house inspector Web sites, general contractor Web sites, fuzzy business consultant Web sites, etc. Everyone talks about what they do, what they know, what they offer. A few people talk about how they helped someone, but while that is a great idea, most people have to blur the faces in the photos.

What spiffs up a consultant’s Web site and improves its content is an inventory of feature articles, case studies, and statistical reports that provide depth and detail. You can put all this stuff on a blog but blogs become cluttered with random posts. You may want to consider using a blog as a simple CMS that lets you promote the categories rather than the individual post pages. Get rid of the archives and organize the articles into a tiered structure.

Consultants can build credibility (and search visibility) by providing anecdotes (without dropping names if you must maintain client privacy) as long as the anecdotes are presented as featurettes and not selling points or faux testimonials. Featurettes can be positioned in page margins or they can be the primary copy on a page. Featurettes do not paginate. If you write a featurette it should include at most 400-500 words, all of which are included on a single page. As soon as you break it up into two pages your featurette becomes a feature.

Other things consultants can do:

1. Offer a frequently updated blog - While SEOs are now commonly including blogs on their sites, most don’t seem to be serious about blogging. I suppose that’s a good thing but if you’re only posting to your blog once a month, why are you blogging?
2. Offer reviews of products/services relevant to your industry. As a consultant you probably recommend certain products and/or services. Why? Tell people what you look for, what you like, what you don’t like. Update your reviews once a year (or more often if necessary).
3. Special engagements - Do you speak at conferences, seminars, community events, etc? Put up an events page and let people know when you’ll be appearing in public again.
4. Articles and Citations - Do you publish anywhere else on the Web? Do you publish in print? Let people know when you publish something substantial, or when someone makes special use of your work. This does not include typical forum and blog comments, etc.

Good content is hard to find only because there is so much bad content to sift through. But there is no single formula for creating good content. Just embedding pictures in your promotional copy may make it more interesting, but writing copy that is engaging and incorporating image captions, titles, and ALT= text into your copy strategy is far more effective.

Content needs to be tailored or custom-fitted to the market you’re doing business with, the scope of your page presentation, and your own resources. You should not create copy that does not provide information. You should not include images that don’t convey a message which complements your copy. You should not obscure your visitors’ page experience with intrusive objects and distractions.

Some Web sites are designed to make money off the distracting advertising. Some Web sites are designed to be attractive advertising. You have to learn the difference to create good content.

Good content first and foremost takes care of someone else’s need. Your needs come last. If you’re not putting the visitor first in the pages you create, you’re not creating good copy.
1 Comment on How to create good content for your Web site

By being1 on September 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Just a short tip:
1. Open a forum on your site.
2. Each entry on the forum should be able to be opened in a separate window.
3. Before you answer a question, search Google to see which words you should use in the title of the answer.
4. Never be lazy in answering questions. The longer- the better. If you can use the answer to insert a link to another page (relevant article), that is even better, but never overdo it.
5. Answer FAST to people. When you answer FAST- they answer BACK, and you get more content. If you delay it for “tonight” or for “tomorrow”, they will “delay you” in return and never answer nor acknowledge your reply.

Google picks this up, as if each forum answer is a new “article” with a right topic and a correct article-related as such.

I do this all the time and I do very well because of this. It is an excellent opportunity to dominate many many keyword combination.


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