Archive for May, 2012
Thursday, May 24th, 2012
Opinions vary considerably regarding the “perfect” length for website content. You know, that magical number of words which will guarantee the search engines will love your content, indexing it promptly and moving it up quickly in the rankings. The most recent comments out there seem to go with the idea that either 500 or 1000 words will get you noticed , but experts believe the “ideal” length of a web article is anywhere from 400 to 1200 words, depending on your subject matter. EzineArticles.com believes that 400-750 words are the “ideal” number to shoot for, with keywords judiciously placed every 75-100 words. While there really is no magic number there are several factors to consider when writing your web content in regards to the length.
Keeping it Short and Concise
First, always remember when writing for the web that web users scan and seldom read anything word-for-word. In fact, studies show that nearly 80% of all web readers scan a page quickly, deciding within ten seconds or less whether to continue reading or exit and look for a more informative article. With this fact uppermost in your mind, organize your page content in the most logical manner to make it easier to scan. Also, with ease of scanning in mind, keep your sentences and paragraphs much shorter than you would for a print source, concentrating one main idea in each paragraph. No matter what you are writing, ask yourself what your user will gain from taking the time to read your article. Is there something you want them to do after reading the article, or what purpose does the article hope to accomplish? Your headings are of utmost importance—they must entice the reader by immediately communicating the content of the
Earn the Trust of Your Readers
Back in the early days of the web anyone who had a .com domain and a pretty website were automatically considered trustworthy, and the web owners were required to put little effort into showing why they are the best solution to the user’s problems. Today, blogging is much more about building relationships with visitors meaning the author must let readers know there is a real person behind the content. If you are working on your own site, include an “About” page and make it clearly visible.
A picture is a nice touch to give readers the sense that they are not dealing with a phantom site rather there is a real person behind the service or product. If you are writing for others, you might suggest they include an “About” page which makes them approachable to their clients or readers. Make the leap to social media; Facebook and Twitter can bring lots of benefits to your site if they are utilized properly. Another great way to build trust with your readers is to always answer questions and e-mails promptly and possibly even to offer regular question and answer sessions—in other words offer your services for free every now and then to get and keep loyal visitors.
Remember the Mechanics of Reading from a Computer Screen
Reading from a computer screen or handheld device is at least 25% slower than reading from a paper source. You want your content to be digested and understood quickly and the best way to accomplish this is through the overall structure of your content. Always place the most important information—the primary fact you want your visitors to take away—near the top. Once you’ve written your content, go back and edit ruthlessly, omitting any unnecessary words to create a lean, highly informative article. The truth is, the exact word count is much less important than how those words are used, so make sure every single word counts.
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
The old adage goes that if something is worth saying, then it’s worth saying again and perhaps nowhere is this so true as in web content. Most experts believe that you have less than ten seconds to grab your reader’s attention and persuade them to remain on your page and continue reading. Our lives are so incredibly busy that the typical web user is looking for something very specific when they type in their web query. They need help or advice and they need it quickly. If they scan your article and don’t immediately see the answer to their pressing question they will hit the back button in an instant. So assuming your headline is stellar and your paragraph headings are crisp and engaging enough to convince your reader to keep reading, then what would be the purpose of a summary at the end of your article?
Because web readers scan rather than reading, it’s always a possibility that no matter how carefully you crafted your first paragraph, the point you meant to get across was somehow lost. The summary of your article is your last opportunity to fully convey the message you want to send. If you are issuing a call to action, the summary is your last ditch effort to get your readers to take the first step. If you have written an article which is primarily for information, your summary gives you the platform to succinctly sum it up, leaving your readers with a positive final impression.
How to Write the Perfect Summary
Once you have crafted your article with short sentences and paragraphs and front-loaded information and have reached a natural ending, try summing it all up in a few short sentences or a bulleted list. First write an overall statement about the article then follow that with two to three sentences summarizing the primary focal points of the article. Your ending sentence should give your readers a very clear understanding of the point you meant to convey and should never be vague rather should get right to the point.
In your summarization remember why you wrote the article in the first place and write in a direct manner as if you were speaking to your audience. Many writers believe the summary paragraph could have worked just as well as the introduction paragraph except it ties up any possible loose ends and develops naturally from the article. If at all possible, the summary should also inject a little surprise for your readers by ending with the perfect quotation or a statement that is just a bit startling. In other words, although you don’t want to add anything that is too new in your summary you can include some sort of surprising twist.
Ending up Well
If you can’t think of any particularly surprising summary sentences then try to circle back to your opening paragraph in your summary. Remember that the best ending ties together all the discoveries presented in your article while remaining concise and snappy. If your article was an informative piece, you might summarize through a bulleted list which quickly details every step of your original article, or if was an article describing a particular product, then you might want to quickly summarize the key points of the product and why your product is better than the competition. In the case of a product you might introduce the element of surprise by offering a free gift for those who order, or in the case of informative articles you could offer a free white paper or newsletter. No matter how you end your article, make sure your summary does justice to your entire piece.
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
Many experts believe the best way of ensuring your web content is interesting and compelling is to write about what you know rather than simply presenting a litany of dry information and facts. The fact is that authors who try to cover an unfamiliar topic without much information to go on will likely present that information in a mediocre or totally unconvincing manner. And since there is little window of opportunity for grabbing your reader’s attention, being unconvincing can result in a user who quickly clicks away to another website.
Writing What You Know—For Others
The problem with writing about what you know is that scores of web writers write for websites which belong to others. This means that on any given day web writers are writing about a slew of subjects they likely know little about and in some cases find the subject so uninteresting that they really don’t want to know that much. Authors take heed—try your best to never, ever approach a subject with that attitude or it is bound to come through in your writing. Just because you may not find the various types of environmentally-friendly paint a particularly compelling subject doesn’t mean you can’t write about it in such a way that will interest your readers.
And how do you do that you may wonder? Well, suppose you could care less whether your paint is environmentally friendly or not, but your readers actually do care? Approach your subject from your reader’s point of view. What would they want to know, what would make them care about this particular subject? Then, once you have those answers find out all you can about the subject until it actually becomes one of the things you know—then you can write about what you know. Writing about what you know does not limit you to writing only about encounters you’ve actually had, products you’ve actually tried or humans or animals you’ve actually met, it simply allows you to build on the foundation of what you know about life and humanity in order to create a compelling story. And after all, isn’t a compelling story the goal of every web writer?
Writing What You Know—For Yourself
If you are not limited to writing what other people pay you to write—not a bad gig, all in all—but are writing for yourself, they you have the opportunity to not only write about what you know but also to write what you want. One of the greatest benefits of having your own website or blog is that you are able to write about a subject which is very near to your heart. Writing for yourself gives you the freedom to use your unique life experiences and share them with your readers.
In some cases you may not know a lot about the subject you decide to write on, however it will likely be a subject which greatly interests you therefore the research is much less tedious than doing research for a subject which holds no interest for you. Aside from what interests you, write about the things that matter to you. If a subject matters deeply to you then you should be able to write about it in such a way that causes it to matter to your readers as well.
Venturing Outside What You Know
The flip side of writing about what you know is that this technique—unless you work hard at learning lots of new things—may never really stretch you as a writer. Writing out of your depth or about subjects you don’t know can actually take you into new and exciting territory if you open your mind to the possibilities. That being said, it is likely that you know lots more about lots more subjects than you even realize and in the end, every single article you write is just waiting to be shaped by your specific knowledge and imagination.
Monday, May 21st, 2012
Most new websites start out with a clear set of goals and objectives. Sometimes along the way while attempting to keep content up to date those objectives can end up lost in the shuffle. If this situation is not corrected both your revenue and your traffic can start to suffer. Most goals can be accomplished if the proper objectives are backing them up—even those goals that are a little vague or have expectations that are a bit too lofty. While it may be easier for you to tie the individual portions of your website to specific objectives, tying your content to a particular objective can be a bit more difficult. What are the typical objectives for website content? First and foremost, search engine optimization is the goal of most content and this does not mean simply scattering the requisite keywords throughout each article. Your content must be relevant to the keywords your users are typing into their query search.
The next typical objective for web content is to collect information about prospective customers and clients. Specific information guides of other valuable forms of content can be offered in exchange for filling out a simple form which provided details about users. You must be very clear about how this data will be used—and how it will not be used. People are hesitant these days to hand out their personal information, so you must be very straightforward about the fact you will only be using this information to send them valuable, free content. You’ve met one of your content objectives if you’ve been able to convince users to allow you to better target them based on their preferences. This allows you to provide more relevant services.
Most everyone who adds content to their site is looking in one way or another to encourage sales of a product or service. The quality of your content should correlate with this objective. You may think that because you are not selling a specific product that this objective doesn’t relate to you, however you are still “selling” yourself as an expert in your field, so in effect selling is always a valid objective. Websites typically introduce, inform, advertise and sell, so one or all of these will become objectives of your content. Most people come to websites looking for specific information, so ensure your content is not too technical to allow those objectives to be met. A business objective of sales means that you can’t simply give a vague indication of your product or service—your content must be strong enough to explain the benefits and convert those casual visitors into loyal customers.
Goals and objectives with few teeth are those which are simply too vague to implement or are unrealistic. If your goal is that you want your article to be memorable to readers, then that is simply too vague. How do you want it to be memorable—in what specific ways? How do you expect readers to think about the subject after they’ve read your content? Answer those questions and you have measurable objectives. Never create a goal simply as a reaction to a direct competitor. This means that if your closest competitor appears to be bringing in customers right and left, you can’t simply say that you want your content to do the same thing. You have to have a clear understanding of why your competitor’s content works, then find ways to make your own content work.
Goals vs. Objectives
Many people don’t understand the difference between goals and objectives, and, in fact, I’ve used the words somewhat interchangeably. In fact, a goal is the primary expectation and the objectives are the smaller pieces which together will accomplish the goal. In other words, if your goal is to get five hundred visitors each month, then your objectives might be to update your site three times per week with fresh content, to tie your content into Facebook via a contest, or to share your site on Twitter. Work on goals and objectives which are realistic and that you know you can complete and your content will benefit.
Friday, May 18th, 2012
Web writers know the importance of conducting thorough research for their subjects, particularly when they are in unfamiliar territory writing about a subject they have little knowledge of or interest in. While most of us are sure we know all there is to know about research—after all, we have been doing it probably for years—the truth is there is probably something we could all learn about researching our articles. First of all you will need to assess the basic purpose of your research.
While this may seem like a no-brainer, ask yourself if you are looking for only objective facts or if the subject lends itself to subjective opinions and descriptions. The answer to these questions will determine whether a personal home page could be appropriate for your research or if you need a more factual source. Decide where the most credible information for your particular purposes will come from, remembering governmental and university sites tend to offer more factual source material if you are looking for simple facts or statistics.
Don’t Quote Unreliable Sources
How do you determine whether a website is reliable? Even if you are unable to articulate the answer to that question you likely have learned to be fairly discerning when researching articles. One simple way is to look at the URL for a hint about the overall reliability of a given website. The last three letters tell you whether the site you are looking at is a commercial site (.com) a government site (.gov), an organization (.org) or an educational site (.edu). While there are plenty of .com sites which offer factual and reliable sources, it can be difficult sometimes to tell which ones do and which ones don’t. And while an .edu site seems a pretty safe bet, in some instances these sites have the work of students posted which may compromise the overall reliability of the information.
If you notice a personal name within the URL you should definitely look a bit closer to determine its trustworthiness. If you are unable to determine the publisher of the web content, try to find a link to the “About” page to see who is behind the website. This can be important if you were writing an article about the negative effects of genetically modified foods and landed on a Monsanto page. You never want to use information that is obviously biased as a basis for your article. If you find content you believe will be useful in writing your article, determine whether the content is quoting from another source. If so, go to the original source to verify the information since there is nothing to keep people from changing facts to suit themselves.
Final Thoughts on Research
Look for a “last updated” date on the pages you are considering using to ensure the material is current. If you can’t find when it was updated, search diligently for a date of some sort. Many times you may be shocked to find facts which sound relevant and true but were actually written seven, eight, ten or even fifteen years back. Research can be one of the most important parts of writing a successful article which offers quality and value to the reader however to avoid being stuck in research forever you must learn to conduct your research quickly, using an outline to find out what you really need to know. If you write often about a particular subject, it’s a good idea to keep a file on your research material. This can save you untold amounts of time because you don’t have to start from scratch or try to remember complicated statistics every time you revisit the subject. Finally, remember that while the Internet is an invaluable resource, in some cases you should use it sparingly
Thursday, May 17th, 2012
Most writers are aware that when writing for the web they must get their point across in the quickest, most succinct manner if they want to keep their reader on the page. Most web readers scan the content quickly to determine whether they want to keep reading or will click onto another site which has more what they are looking for. In fact, you generally have less than ten seconds in which to grab your reader’s attention and hold onto it for dear life. Your paragraphs must be short and snappy with engaging headlines.
More importantly you must get your primary point across quickly, in the first paragraph. Even if you believe your topic is worthy of a several-hundred page book, you still must figure out how to keep it short and sweet. While adding personality to your article or blog is fine, remember that the main focus is and must remain, the message you want to send to your readers. If you fail to get that message across quickly, it won’t matter how much personality your article has because it will never be read.
What is Your Goal?
The goal of most website articles is to encourage your reader to take some sort of action. You want them to purchase a product, try out your service, or navigate to another one of your webpages. The impatient reader will click the “back” button in the blink of an eye if they don’t see what they are looking for. If you primarily want your reader to try your specific service then you want to tell them immediately what that service is and what it can do for them. If it’s a product your selling, do the same thing—tell your reader immediately what your product is, how it is different from its competitors and how they can get it.
Keeping it Short
Effective web writing is short—at least 50% shorter than its print counterpart. Short words, short sentences short paragraphs—all these together equal short pages. Short words means you avoid using long words your readers may not be familiar with when a short word will get your message across just as clearly. Keep your primary content front loaded—in other words ensure the most important content resides in the upper-left part of the computer screen and that the second-most-important information is at the top of the page. Prominent headings, boldface and other visual cues help your reader to know what you believe to be the most important part of your page.
Don’t Lead up to the Point of Your Story
Although print media spends time leading up to the climax of the story, you don’t have that luxury in web content and must get it out there quickly. Supporting information takes secondary position on your page and it goes downward from there until you reach your summarizing paragraph. On the off chance that your reader actually scanned your entire page and still failed to grasp the main idea, use your last paragraph to quickly summarize the high points. A short bulleted list can have the same effect, wrapping up the primary ideas of your article in a short sound bite.
Remember These Tips:
- Keep it simple
- Keep it short
- Use common words
- One idea per paragraph
- Strive for a lower reading comprehension level that you expect from your readers
- Delete fluff
- Work toward direct, objective text rather than promotional copy
Don’t forget these tips and once you’ve written an article return to it later and ruthlessly edit your words. Look at your work objectively and always be able to answer the question of what your reader will gain by reading your words.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
While the actual content you write must be of the highest quality and must hold the interest of your readers, in order to get them to actually read all the way through you must learn to use compelling images and snappy headlines to “hook” your reader. Images draw readers into the story, helping connect them to your words while the headlines give your readers a quick overview of what your content holds.
The Goal of Your Headlines
Because of the very few seconds a reader spends determining whether they will continue to read your content or will click away to a more informative one, you have little opportunity to make a favorable impression. Without the kind of jazzy headline that turns a casual browser into a solid reader, the remainder of your article might as well be invisible. While a headline’s first job is certainly to grab attention, a truly great headline will also communicate what your entire article is about to your potential readers.
Even better, aside from being attention-grabbing and informative, the very best headline makes a promise of benefit or reward for the reader. In other words, your title says to your reader—“If you take your valuable time and read this article all the way through, I promise you will get the answer to that nagging problem.” Wrapping all of these things into a few small words can seem next to impossible.
Different Types of Headlines
A direct headline goes right to the meat of the story with little attempt at cleverness. This type of headline is most often used for sites which are selling a product. If you have a website which sells homemade vanilla extract, then a direct—and effective—headline could read “Gourmet Vanilla Extract—30% off.” On the other end, the indirect headline is a bit more subtle and is meant to create a question in the minds of the readers which will be answered by the ensuing article. News headlines are used for product announcements or a content scoop.
The headline which may work the best is known as the “How-to” headline and, obviously, starts off with “How to…,” explaining how to in the article. A question headline asks the reader a question they are able to relate to such as “Does Your Husband Ever Fold the Laundry?” Finally, there is the testimonial headline which can be extremely effective as it presents outside proof that what the reader is about to read will be extremely valuable to them.
Using Pictures to Individualize Your Web Content
The human brain will more easily remember images than words, therefore if you include a compelling photo along with an interesting, well-written article, your readers can recall the photo, then the words will also come back to them. A great photo is an excellent way to get your readers to pause at your article, and may even entice them to go ahead and read all the way through. This means the photo must be relevant to your subject and must be persuasive. If you are writing for yourself, then on the days you are feeling less-than creative—or even downright lazy—adding a great photograph can give the illusion of a longer blog.
We all have those days when creativity seems very far away, and in some cases finding the perfect photo to illustrate your blog may even spark your own mind, giving you new ideas for the accompanying article. Photos and images are also really good ways to break up big chunks of text. When readers see a long, unending stream of words, they often click away without even scanning to see if that text answers their question. A well-placed image can draw their eye into the story, making it more likely they will read it through. In the end, both images and headlines can be the most important aspects to your page simply because they convince readers to read your words.
Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
The Internet is an extremely diverse source of information for the millions of users however this diversity can present a challenge to those who write web content in figuring out how to write in order to reach the largest number of readers. In many cases significant portions of the web can end up falling outside the interests or comprehension level of those who land on the site. This can happen when a person who is an automotive mechanic searches for legal information or when a person with a medical background is looking for information on building a rammed earth home.
Because of these possibilities, it is always better to present material that is less technical and uses more common, everyday words than to aim for loftier content. In short, if you are not fully aware of the interests of your targeted audience as well as how they will search to find what they need, then you will miss the mark in your content time after time. You must learn to immerse yourself fully in the persona of your targeted visitor then learn to answer the questions that visitor would ask.
Visitor vs. Reader
First of all, there is a difference between a visitor and a reader. Your visitors usually arrive to your content through a search result or from another site which featured a link to your blog or site. Visitors generally arrive with a preconceived notion of what they are looking for. They know what question they need answered and they believe they will find that answer on your site. Visitors have little interest in how trendy your web design is or how much information you’ve managed to cram into each page.
They will scan your pages in mere seconds, and if they don’t see the answer they came for they are gone just as quickly. A reader, on the other hand, returns time and time again because they have learned your site offers them something of value and substance. Readers begin to feel as if they know you—they like your writing style and your subject, and they return because you repeatedly offer them something they want. The reader likely tells others about your site, lingers on your site or blog and actually used all the links you provide in order to delve more deeply into your content.
Pleasing as Many as Possible
While it’s true that you can’t please everyone, your goal is to please as many visitors and readers as you possibly can. Of course you want to keep those readers coming back time after time and telling their friends about your spectacular, high-quality content, but by the same token you want to continuously bring in those visitors and wow them so thoroughly that they become readers. Pleasing your readers, then angling to nab all the visitors you can will become your goal, but how do you do that?
You must learn the characteristics, interests and behaviors of your “average” reader, then use that information reel them in. Ask yourself critical questions regarding your visitors and look closely at incoming and outgoing visitor stats compared to the average amount of time spent reading your content. Determine which keywords bring visitors from the search engine to your content, then ask yourself what that tells you about their interests and whether those interests are high tech or low tech. What would you imagine the age, lifestyle and habits of your “average” visitor to be? When you combine this information with your stats, you can put together a fairly comprehensive overview of who you are writing for. Once you know who you are writing for, your content can become much more targeted and much less vague. When you truly begin meeting the needs of your visitors, the number of readers will begin to increase exponentially.
Monday, May 14th, 2012
While the SEO mantra is “more content,” when that content is “thin,” or light on crucial information and quality, simply adding content just to add content can actually work against you. If you are not quite sure what “thin” content is, consider the following examples:
- Excessively short content, meaning less than 300 words is definitely considered thin. Any webpage with fewer than 300 words which is filled up with pretty or flashy graphics needs some fleshing out in the content department. Whenever possible, strive for at least 500 words per webpage. Should you wonder whether there is such a thing as “too long” where content is concerned, Google’s algorithm is rumored to actually have a cutoff point so to speak where it feels you are running on a bit too long. And yes, content that is too long can nonetheless be thin on substance. Beyond search engine considerations, when you’ve lost the attention of your reader, your content is too long and you should never ramble on simply to add word count to your page.
- Content that fails to get to the point quickly and give the reader the answers they are looking for in the shortest amount of time is definitely thin. In fact, any content which is vague or ambiguous should be ruthlessly cut from your article. Ambiguous content never quite realizes the promise of the jazzy headlines in that you can read the entire article and still not really know what the main idea was. This kind of writing can go in circles or back and forth and its hallmark is a dearth of flowery, high-level words which sound good but leaves the reader scratching his head.
- Thin content in the form of poor spelling or grammar can actually cause you to be penalized by the search engines—yet another reason for endless proofreading prior to publishing. Walk away from your content for at least a few hours, then come back, print out a hard copy, and you may be amazed at the mistakes you can see so clearly that were not visible to you before.
How Do You Know if Your Content is Thin?
If you are not quite sure of how to judge your own content, first take hard look at your bounce rate. Those pages with an excessively high bounce rate could be losing visitors due to thin content. In the same vein, if your content is not engaging enough to keep your visitors reading to the very end, then you will see very short amounts of time on each page. This can also relate to keywords which are failing to target the users you expected them to target.
When people type in a search query they expect to find something very specific. If they land on a page that has nothing to do with what they are searching for, they will leave the page quickly. Of course rate of conversion can also be a good indicator of thin content or content which is vague. Each article should be very clear and direct as far as the intended action of the user. If users are not following through, then the content could be thin.
Thin content can have severe consequences to an otherwise great SEO plan. Low rates of conversion means you are not doing a proper job of informing the search engines that you are an expert in your particular area which may in turn lead them to consider your competition’s sites more relevant. Thin content can be remedied, but you must learn to recognize it then take steps to correct it by fleshing out your articles with highly informative and engaging information.