(Re)Writing Quality Web Content
Here's the scenario:
You’re a web content editor. But your website content isn’t working. You’ve got to do something about it. You have already reformulated the “About Us” page. You have decluttered the homepage with a mighty, virtual red pen. You spend your days writing blog posts and taking names. But your website is not performing the way you know it should.
Here are some tips you can follow to find out what might help make your content better:
Forget About SEO
This seems counter-intuitive, and maybe it is. But I’m asking you to just put SEO aside, at least for a few minutes. Forget about all those keywords you have been strategically planting within your content. Instead, think about building a relationship with your site visitor. Stop trying to impress a search engine, and start trying to impress your real human readers.
In order to get the traffic and engagement you’re looking for, you need quality content. Content that people actually want to read. You may have a great search rank in Google or Bing, but if your content doesn’t do what your site visitors expect it to do, they won’t stick around long enough for that to matter. The best part is that search engines take the quality of content into consideration. So having good content that people will actually read will bring good SEO along with it. So how can you make your content better?
Re-evaluate Your Audience
It’s something I always tell people whether they are writing poetry or a web page about the history of tax law: you have to know who you are writing to. Who is reading your content? And you have to figure this out before you even start. To use the above example, your site visitors certainly won’t be interested in your page about tax law if they know you are strictly a divorce attorney.
What kind of language does your audience use? Typical website audiences speak plain English. If your readers don’t know that transmogrify means transform, you probably shouldn't use the word.
Go back and read through the content on your site. Really think about whether or not the writing is geared toward your audience. If it isn’t, it might be easiest to start from scratch. At least in bits and pieces. Your content will be more effective if you write it with a specific audience in mind rather than try to tailor existing content to an audience.
What is Your Audience Looking For?
People go to your website because they have questions they think your website will answer. Your job as a content editor is to predict what those questions are and provide answers to them. For example, if your company sells staplers online, you’ll want to give visitors all the information they might need to make the decision to buy: How many pages can it staple at once? What colors are available? How much does it cost? How long will shipping take? What do other people think about this stapler? Do you sell other staplers they might be interested in?
The first thing a visitor might want to know is why they should buy a stapler specifically from you. What makes you an authority on staplers? Luckily for them, you’ve given them a link to your “About” section right on your landing page. Do you see where this is going?
Can Your Audience Find It?
Some websites are cluttered with so many answers to so many questions that visitors get tired of digging to find what they are looking for. So not only must you answer as many questions as you can, but you must also make the answers easy to find.
When you’re browsing the web in your personal time, pay attention to sites that are easy to navigate. Especially sites that are similar to yours. What do they all have in common? Where do they all keep certain features? Which sites place content better than others? Which sites are you encouraged to keep reading, and which sites do you immediately navigate away from?
Researching other sites is a great way to see what works and what doesn’t. It might even give you some new ideas to try.
Establish Your Voice
This is something I never really gave much thought until recently, but it goes hand in hand with knowing your audience. I touched on it briefly above, but I think it deserves a bit more screen time.
Once you know your audience and the kinds of words they use, you have to apply that to your brand. That might mean going as far as tailoring your average word and sentence lengths. Especially if your website is trying to sell something, a good average sentence length is only about 8 words. Short, punctual sentences drive the sale. Shorter words are best, too. For example, if I were trying to pare down my word length in this post, I might change “Short, punctual sentences drive the sale.” to “Short, quick sentences drive the sale.” It still gets the same basic point across, and it eliminates a word that some people might not know.
Another thing to consider when establishing your voice is to keep it consistent. Generally speaking, everyone likes consistency. It’s practically an instinct. People like to be able to predict how you are going to talk to them. Think of it like this. You have a friend named Mike. He has always talked to you at an 11th grade level. One day, he just starts talking to you like you are five years old. You never could have predicted that, and it just frankly rustles your jimmies. You don’t want your website content to fluctuate like this either. Keep your voice the same throughout each web page. Your site visitors will thank you for it.
There are hundreds of millions of websites out there right now. And there could be thousands that deal with the same things as yours. Every website can’t all be at the top of the organic search results list in every search engine. So how do you compete with millions of others and come out on top? One key is to stand out. Do something that no one else is doing. A lot of websites gain traction by being a little brash or rough around the edges in their use of language. I’m not saying you should go out and try to offend everybody’s grandma, but depending on the goal of your website, this could work for you.
But there are other ways to stand out, too. Use aesthetically pleasing designs and thoughtful organization. If people actually enjoy looking at your site, they are more likely to stick around longer and return again after they leave. They may even bring their friends. It doesn’t have to be about theming and coding. It can be as simple as using your white space better or enlarging your text to make it easier to read. These techniques are used to draw eyes to the important information. People don’t want to read any more than they have to (in fact, I’m surprised you have read this far). So when you cut back on unnecessary words and use more white space, people are more likely to read the important information that will answer their questions most quickly.
Proofread and Edit
When you finish writing your new content, go back and look for mistakes. To many people, mistakes in spelling and grammar are signs of a sloppy and unprofessional organization. Even if your products are solid and deals too good to pass up, a misspelled word can turn many potential customers away. Whether your goal is to sell products, or just to get people to read your blog, spelling and grammar conventions could make all the difference.
There are a few strategies you can use to help make sure your content is as error-free as can be. For instance, let someone else be in charge of proofreading. Especially if you have been staring at your own work for a while, it’s easy to gloss over mistakes that would jump out at other readers almost as fast as the website loads.
Another strategy is to step back from the content for a day or two. Getting a break from reading and re-reading can sometimes be all you need to look at it fresh and see the mistakes you weren’t seeing before.
One last strategy, and this is probably the one I favor the most, is to read your content out loud. It may seem silly—especially if you have other people around when you do it—but a little embarrassment during this stage can save you from worse embarrassment later after the content you’ve written has been published online for everyone to see. Reading out loud slows down the reading process and helps you catch spelling mistakes and typos that you might miss when reading silently.
Key points to take away:
- Write for your visitors before search engines
- Determine your audience
- Make sure everything you write answers a question
- Make the answers easy to find
- Write content that your audience can understand
- Use a consistent voice that reflects your brand
- Stand out from the crowd
- Proofread your writing