December 2, 2012
Content is King! Now that we have that out of the way, I will set about explaining what I think content means, why it’s so important, and how to ensure your website content bears the stamp of royalty. Feel free to disagree, contest, or add to the definition…
The role of search engines is to deliver the best quality, most relevant websites in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). As searchers, that’s exactly what we want too…
2012 Webscape Changes
The year of 2012 has ushered in the greatest changes in search relevancy ranking algorithms since Google’s establishment. These changes have wreaked havoc across the webscape, punishing sites that had hitherto been dominant. The changes have been twofold:
1. on quality of content – Panda
2. on links schemes aimed at subverting search rankings – Penguin
At the same time, Google has rewritten almost every Webmaster Guideline in an effort to ensure that we all have an understanding of what to do, and what not to do. They have explained in greater detail than ever before what they want from you as a content producer, and what will almost certainly get you demoted.
How Write & Create Good Web Content
Good content may be categorized by multiple affirmative adjectives, which could include – engaging, informative, entertaining, unique, personal, amusing, educational, authoritative, persuasive and, above all – original.
Don’t cheat or steal… No copying, plagiarism, duplication, scraping or other nefarious shortcuts! The moment you copy other people’s efforts you are (at best) immediately second best!
What is Web Content?
Well, it’s not just what you “see” on any given page. The concept of good content must extend to the entire website, all its descriptive elements, and many of its functional aspects, including;
* Pages: headings, paragraphs, images, image alt text, anchor text & hyperlink titles
* Posts, Categories & Tags: ditto
* Navigation: link text, hyperlink titles
* URLs: file names on all pages, posts, categories, tags and images
* Business Brand: be unequivocal about WHO you are
* Location: if you serve a specific locality, be explicit about WHERE you are
* Spelling & Grammar: spell check and proofread
* Broken Links, 404 Errors:
* Call to Action: guide your visitors down the right path, don’t make them guess
Basically, good content encompasses each and every area and element that search engines uses to classify and categorize your website. There are many content quality signals that search engines use, so the more ticks you get in the credit column, the better off you are! Conversely, every failure to fix an issue is a tick in the debit column!
Copywriting & Web Content
Web copywriters don’t copy web content, and nor should you! Real copywriters create pages populated with original and authoritative material, personally written in their own style, specifically for the purpose of the page. The web page copy is aimed at a predetermined audience, written to inform, persuade and encourage the reader to take a pre-determined action or path.
Check Your Copywriting Efforts
Whether you write your own web page content or not:
* DO use your spell checker on all new pages!
* Get someone else to proofread pages for both grammar and punctuation errors!
“You never get a second chance to create a first impression!”
Understand Your Genre
Each genre presents challenges, some more so, than others. Try to identify information voids, and fill them with useful content. There is much online advice on the concept of presenting yourself as a helpful expert in your field.
When it comes to preparing web page content, its also much easier to present yourself as an expert if you provide professional services, or if you are a tradesman etc. You can write insightful articles on your profession, or helpful DIY tricks and tips.
For an e-commerce website, selling manufacturer’s product lines, it’s much harder but certainly not impossible to create unique and original content. Just bear in mind that most of your competition will use the supplied product information verbatim! Therefore, simply by rewriting the default Product Descriptions, you immediately distinguish yourself as being out of the ordinary, different and worthy of reward.
For a bed and breakfast business competing on a local and regional level, you can achieve prominence by providing pages filled with interesting snippets of information on the local and regional sites of interest, attractions and activities in your area. Write it in a different manner and style to the currently dominant competing pages, add interesting images and links for additional information.
Every step you take to rise above the pack will be rewarded, because most website owners simply don’t make the effort.
Brand Your Website
One positive and demonstrable impact of Google’s efforts in 2012 is the promotion of your original Brand over and above the other websites that may list it in their content. A very good example is the Bed & Breakfast genre, where the plethora of B&B Directories and Book sites previously dominated top rankings for any relevant search.
Now, if you search for a specific business by its Brand Name, and the site is properly branded, that business will show in first place in the SERPs!
To achieve that, you must follow the Webmaster Guidelines on use of the Title tag:
* maximum of 65 characters including spaces
* Accurate but brief outline of page content
* Brand / business name at the end
By way of example: Luxury Bed & Breakfast Accommodation – Wanaka NZ | Maple Lodge
Were you to do a search for “Maple Lodge Wanaka” on Google.co.nz, you would see that the Maple Lodge website does indeed appear in first position. That’s no accident – optimization of the website content, correct brand application and attention to details in a recent website redesign has helped.
Local is as Local Does
If you are a “local” business, you should ensure that your whereabouts is clear and unequivocal across your website!
* Add your street address in the footer, Contact Us page and in your Location Map page
* Take control of the Google Local Search listing for your business
Give Google the information it needs to associate your business with a correct geographic placement, and you will benefit from that.
By taking control of any existing Google Local Search listing for your business, or adding a new one, you can add a great deal of additional helpful descriptive information to that listing. This includes:
* Branding: business name
* Address: correct street address
* Photos: you can load multiple business-related images
* Description: brief outline of what you do, don’t repeat name, brand, or category
* Categories: list the appropriate categories of business activities
* Opening Hours:
* Website, Phone, Fax, Email
Every piece of information accumulates to paint a more detailed picture of where you fit within the overall scheme of things.
The Credibility Factors
Domain Ownership: does the Domain Registrant name match the business name? It should… Google is a Domain Registrar and has access to a lot of background information about your website.
Business Address: provide a physical address if you have an office or shop, otherwise at least provide a postal address. Not having one precludes your site from inclusion in many web directories.
Business Contact Details: provide as many forms of contact as possible – contact form, email address, phone, fax, mobile, Skype address etc.
Testimonials: where real clients have made genuine compliments about your work, share those with potential clients with as much detail as you can. Conversely, don’t invent testimonials – fake ones have the stench of insincerity about them!
Terms & Conditions: prevent conflicts before they happen by explaining how you deal with various issues; payments, refunds, delivery, returns, warranties etc.
404 Error Handling: check for 404 page not found errors and eliminate them via redirects to an alternative page / image. Make sure your site displays a custom 404 error page containing at least a full menu and preferably a site map so that you can keep the visitor on-site and help them find what they were looking for.
Robots.txt: a crucial file that all search engines look for. Not having a robots.txt file generates unnecessary 404 errors.
Sitemap: all search engines look for an XML-formatted sitemap, which should contain a full list of your website’s important content – pages, posts etc. Visitors may also look for an HTML sitemap as a quick way to see what information is available and how it is arranged. This default Table of Contents becomes more important the larger the site grows.
Ben Kemp, a search engine optimization consultant since 1997, is a specialist in website redesign, and a veteran of 25-plus years of experience in the IT industry.