Your content marketing strategy screams out for web content. Your website needs it, your social plan needs it and your emails could do with something more than just another samey sales message.
Making sure you have great content across all channels is imperative and great optimised (SEO) text is the foundation of this. Video, VR and audio may be the flavour of the moment but they will be difficult to find without the right text promoting them. Whatever content you produce, you need to make sure it’s fit for purpose.
The World Wide Web is filled with billions of pages of content, but only a very small percentage of them are read. An even small number are read in large volumes. This is because not all content is created equal, and if your web content isn’t fit for purpose, your message isn’t going to go anywhere.
But writing for the web, requiring search engine optimisation needn’t be a mystery or a magical dark art. By following our guidance (and our top 10 tips to improve web writing) you can give your content a much-needed edge in a crowded market.
How to make your web content work
Content acts as a gateway to your business, your ideas and your credentials. But posting bloated, poorly thought out or error-ridden content isn’t going to do you any favours.
Web content that keeps both readers and search engine bots happy is a little more technical than content designed for print. However, it still has the same purpose – it must offer value.
At its simplest, web content must be findable, valuable and shareable to make it an online success and to help you we’ve distilled the key points into Dialogue’s 10 easy ways to improve your web writing. Let’s start at number 1:
1) Make it worthwhile
This isn’t a guide for dummies but I’m going to say it anyway. There MUST be a point to your content. In this article on Luxury Daily, Mark Coronna from Minneapolis-based Chief Outsiders explains that effective digital content is vital to help you gain the edge above competitors. He presents a content checklist:
There is a consistent set of criteria that I use to evaluate content effectiveness. These criteria are useful in designing, authoring and evaluating nearly all forms of content. The criteria are:
- Intrusive: Will it get readers’ attention?
- Believable: Are the claims made both clear and reasonable?
- Credible: Does it contain facts and third-party endorsements or awards?
- Customer-centric: Does it stress benefits, applications or features?
- Memorable: Will readers be able to associate the offer with the brand or company?
- Actionable: Does the content inspire readers to take action?
This content checklist can be used for all forms of content, such as Web site pages, social media posts, ads, articles, e-books, sales collateral and email campaigns.
A piece of content that has value gives the reader something. It could make them laugh, contain useful information or advice, or maybe it has entertainment value. Content that gives the reader an action point or a next step is also valuable.
For this to work, you need to know your audience. What are they looking for? What do they want to know? It’s also helpful to identify any gaps in the knowledge provided on the web. If you’re the only one to answer a burning question, your content is going to be a hit.
2) Crafty keywords
The second of our 10 top tips concerns keywords, something beloved of SEO professionals everywhere. Keywords are absolutely necessary in web content, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
Keywords or phrases should form the spine of your content, not the flesh. Let them fall into your content naturally and make the most of them in headings, subheadings and descriptions. But don’t overuse them. Overloading your content with keywords will be punished by search engines as well as readers.
But how do you pin them down in the first place?
A good place to start is to think about what you would search for. After all, you are meant to be the expert in your field. A little bit of keyword research goes a long way to highlight the relevant terms in your industry and business.
Failing this, there are some handy tools to help. Google Adwords and Google Trends are helpful free tools. You can also try Answer The Public and Serpstat to uncover the weird and wonderful things searched for on the web. (Who knew so many people wanted to know who would win a fight between a cheese toastie and a taco?)
3) Super structure
Web readers tend to read ‘on the go’ and therefore scan articles. According to the Statistic Brain Institute, our attention spans are hovering at just 8.25 seconds, so web articles need to grab attention quickly and easily.
Before you start scribbling away, think about your layout. To make it scannable, the web content needs to be broken down into subheadings. Bulleted lists, images, tables and infographics can also help.
Subheadings should be H2 headings in HTML (good for bots) and should try to contain a keyword.
4) Hot headline
Number four of our top 10 tips concerns headlines (your H1 heading). Writing a witty headline or including a pun is certainly fun, but it probably won’t attract readers who aren’t already on your site. Why? Because your article needs to make sense when taken out of context.
Including a keyword in your headline is a must. Essentially, your headline must act as a label for the article so that readers know what it will be about.
However, this doesn’t mean your headline should be bland. Remember, it still has to stand out among all the other articles that appear on the search engine results page.
Adding an action or an emotion can boost your headline’s credentials, as can using a ‘power’ word such as ‘best’ or ‘top’. A handy way to test the strength of your headline is to use a free online tool such as Coschedule’s headline analyser.
5) Make web content evergreen
If you’re writing about a current event, this point won’t apply. However, content that isn’t based on current affairs can add more value if it’s evergreen.
Try to avoid saying things that date the content, such as ‘this year’, or cracking jokes about present-day things. Giving your article longevity will keep it on search results pages and you could continue to get hits for years rather than days.
6) Succinct sentences
Another key tip for web writing is to keep sentences short. Print editors may weep over my stumpy sentences, but readers won’t be sharing the tissues.
Short sentences make an article even easier to scan, and faster to read. This boosts its readability and aids understanding. What’s not to like? Besides, some research suggests we only read 20% of words on a web page anyway, so why craft elegant, long sentences if readers are just going to skip over them?
At this point, you may make the logical leap to thinking that a shorter length article will be better than a long one. You’re right – but also wrong.
It all depends on the value. You’re still reading this, aren’t you? That’s because I’m still being interesting. Provided an article has high quality, interesting information, it can be as long as necessary. If you get this right, your article is likely to have longer reading times, more keywords and better engagement.
However, if you run out of things to say at 500 words – leave it. Readers won’t appreciate an article that draws out its points unnecessarily.
7) Punchy paragraphs
In web writing there’s nothing wrong with having a one-sentence paragraph. This is because it makes an article easier to scan. It can also add emphasis to key points.
8) Simple punctuation
Short sentences are aided by simple punctuation. It’s best to keep brackets, hyphens and semi-colons to a minimum as they rarely add to understanding.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to the wise words of Kurt Vonnegat instead:
“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
And there you have it.
9) Leading links
Search engines like links. So do readers. But they need to be finely balanced, just like keywords.
Linking to other relevant pages on your website can keep the reader engaged and offer them yet more value. Having a few links to other websites can also upgrade your article and give it greater authority. Simply instruct the link to open to a new page so that the reader doesn’t lose sight of your original article.
10) Check, check and check your web content
This is another tip straight out of the dummies’ guide. Once written, check your work thoroughly or get someone to give it a tough critique. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can put readers off and make your article look sloppy.
Cut out any ‘fluffy’ sentences that don’t add value and check that it’s easy to read and understand. It’s also worth doing a quick count of your keywords to make sure you’ve made the best use of them.
HOWEVER, if you really, really need to get the content up ASAP, go ahead and post it. The great thing about a web page is that you can change it any time. Once it’s up, you can go through it and give it the proofing it deserves.
Final web content tips
Last but not least, think about any extra features you can add. Images, videos and audio files can make your article more attractive. Putting relevant keywords into their alt tags and meta descriptions will also boost your SEO potential. If you want to find out more, keep an eye out for a future blog post on this very issue.