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Engaging Readers with Compelling Web Content

by Derek Smith

If you missed our webinar yesterday with Compendium about creating relevant content, do not fear! The Guide to Content Creation is here.

The inverted pyramid. Who, what, where, when, why and how. These are some of the things my editors harped on back when I was a cub reporter learning the ropes of journalism.

Now I’m having a sense of déjà vu as I think about what it means to create engaging content for a company website. For this post, I’m going to focus on the “how” part of the equation.

Google places great importance on ranking high-quality sites, and content is one thing that really distinguishes the rankings winners from the also-rans.

The first rule in creating great content is to keep your focus on the reader’s experience – not on search engines. Try to get about 250 to 500 words on each page, and 500 to 750 words on key landing pages.

Search engines tend to see pages without much content as less important. Also, beefing up your copy should help you to keep visitors on your site longer. Just remember that the visitor’s experience comes first, so don’t add weak copy just to increase your word count.

So let’s take a bite out of the Apple.

Companies like Apple know how to entice customers with compelling descriptions of new technologies. For example, a page about iPhone 4 describes what makes the phone different from other smartphones. Near the top of the page is a description about FaceTime, the video calling feature that allows iPhone users to chat with two different camera views.
Further down, the page describes other distinguishing features of the new iPhone: a sharper display, multitasking abilities, HD video recording/editing and a better camera. Near the bottom of the page are 25 areas where you can click a link to learn more about things like the App Store, iBooks and Voice Control.

3 best practices for creating readable content:

1. Organize your copy into short segments of a couple of sentences per paragraph. Like the Apple page, use plenty of images and graphics to break up your text; not even the best content will keep many readers if it’s just a full page of black text.

2. Use sub headlines (wrapped in an H2 tag) to set apart different sections of the page. Apple uses interesting, descriptive headings like “FaceTime,” “Retina Display” and “5-Megapixel Camera with LED Flash”.

Website visitors tend to be impatient readers who typically react to a new web page in the following order:
– Look at pictures
– Read headlines, skim sub headlines
– Skim text

3. Grab readers’ attention with an “inverted pyramid” style of writing, that old journalism standard where the most important points come first, followed by less important points and supporting details.

Search engines have gotten increasingly sophisticated when it comes to understanding word relationships. For example, if you have a page all about “bass,” the search engines would use other words like “lure” or “lake” to signal the site is relevant to fishing terms, or would use words like “Fender” and “strings” as a sign the page is relevant for searches relating to guitars.

Fortunately, search engines will tell you which additional phrases they’re looking for on pages related to your targeted keywords. Google features a list of about eight “related searches” at the bottom of the page.

For example, the related searches for HDTV include sony hdtv, hdtv dream home, hdtv reviews, hdtv channel, hdtv deals, hdtv antenna, hdtv sale and hdtv forum. Bing shows similar “related searches” down the left side of the page. We call these additional synonyms “co-occurrence” words because they algorithmically coincide with any given targeted search phrase.

Co-occurrence words have been shown to have a positive correlation with higher rankings, and Slingshot SEO recommends including as many as possible on each page.

As you increase your amount of copy, you tend to have more of these co-occurrence words. A copywriter will typically use several co-occurrence phrases naturally by writing several paragraphs with only the reader in mind.

As a final best practice, make sure the copy on each page is unique to that page. Search engines can overlook small amounts of repetition, but any copy that’s replicated character for character for a sentence or more is often discounted (in egregious cases, it can be penalized).

I’d love to hear what questions you’ve had or what bottlenecks you’ve encountered in getting quality content for your site.

We’ve covered the how question, but we’re far from finished. Read our Guide to Content Creation to learn about the 5 W’s of web copy.

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