Write better content for your website
Following on from last week’s post on the subject of website content – how friendly is too friendly?, we thought we would post some useful tips on good content practices. It is commonly held that ‘content is king’, but what should you be focusing on to make sure that that all the hard work you’ve put into creating the perfect copy is repaying your time and effort? If you follow the steps below you will increase the amount of traffic to your website, maintain user interest for a greater period of time and be far more likely to communicate your message effectively.
- Have a clear SEO plan
- Structure your content around the user behaviour
- Start with your summary / conclusion
- Don’t rely on users having read other pages first
- Signpost frequently using informative links
- Cover only one item per paragraph
- Make Headings and sub-headings meaningful
- Write all content from the third OR first person
- If in doubt, leave it out!
A little history lesson …
The internet has been in existence for around 35 years, and a big part of our lives since the 1990s. At the start only computer experts had the knowledge and experience to use it. In the early years, visuals and audio were seen to be far more important than text and little consideration was given to the quality of written content. However, in the late 1990s researchers realised text was actually considered the most important component of web content by audiences. These days, any organisation, big or small, must have consideration for the highly web knowlegeable, time-short audiences if it is serious about engaging with its public.
Modern websites …
Since the 1990s it has become increasingly common and progressively easier for the less IT savvy person to have their own website (and I’m not considering social media profiles like Facebook on which a page can be set up in minutes). With the advent of open source CMS solutions like WordPress and Drupal, both of which use WYSIWYG (WhatYouSeeIsWhatYouGet) editors the non savvy user can even keep their website content up-to-date without any knowledge of HTML, CSS or any other coding techniques.
However, it is not easy to run a successful website.
According to Neilsen (2008) “On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely”. Kent (2008) builds on this by saying that “almost 50% of readers come through a search engine. They don’t come in through a home page and read pages in a particular order.”
We can make some easy decisions as a result of this research …
Have a clear SEO plan
SEO is a huge topic in it’s own right but it is really important to have a basic SEO plan for your website as a minimum. The most basic option is to create a list of the main keywords and phrases that are relevant to your website topic. You should aim to incorporate these key words and phrases throughout the content. It is important to make sure the words and phrases you use are relevant to the website as a whole but also to the particular page for which you are writing.
Structure your content around the user behaviour
Nielsen (2006) conducted some fascinating research tracking the eye movements of a large group of users to see which items on a webpage attract users. The research found conclusively that users read pages in a F-shaped pattern paying most attention to the top and left area of the page. You can use this to your advantage and make sure your important content is at the top of your page, which conveniently leads me into the next point …
Start with your summary / conclusion
During our education most of us are taught to write as follows:
Introduction -> Exploration -> Conclusion
However, in order to write an effective webpage it is really important to start with your page conclusion. By doing this you are conveying your message quickly. Users who read a small percentage of the page will still get the complete message and those seeking further information or some more evidence to support your conclusion will read on.
Don’t rely on users having read other pages first
As we already know from Kent (2008) “almost 50% of readers come through a search engine. They don’t come in through a home page and read pages in a particular order.”
You may have heard the term “bounce rate” before. Bouncing refers to users who hit a page within a website and then leave without viewing any other pages of the same website. You can hugely reduce your bounce rate by using well written text with clear signposting to encourage the user to continue their journey on your website. Sam wrote a nice list of tips for making your site ‘sticky‘ if you want to know more.
Signpost frequently using informative links
Signposting is simply directing the user to other places. Used effectively it can hugely improve the user experience of your website and reduce your bounce rate. Using informative links within your page content is a very important aspect of signposting. No doubt you will have seen links like “click here” and “more information” all over the web which are very ineffective. For example “Erik wrote a really good article on creating your own custom facebook like tab” is far better than “To read Erik’s really good article on creating your own facebook like tab click here.” Using meaningful links also provides more information to search engines when they index your links as well as improving the user experience for those using screen readers to browse your website.
Cover only one item per paragraph
This one is pretty simple but often overlooked. As a user you’re far more likely to skim read a paragraph if you can see it is long and covers multiple topic items.
Make Headings and sub-headings meaningful
The headings on your page show a clear breakdown of the content of each paragraph or section. Make them meaningful to allow the user to easily locate areas of interest and try to build in keywords and phrases from your SEO plan where possible.
Write content from the third OR first person
Be consistent! It shows lack of attention to detail when one area of a page is written from third person perspective and another area is written from the first person perspective. Keep the same perspective when writing to give the user a consistent experience.
If in doubt, leave it out!
Short concise content achieves a lot more than lengthy prose. If you have any doubt about a paragraph or sentence then leave it out.
If you found this post useful please let us know via our comments box below. We’d love to hear any other thoughts on writing great content you might have too.