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Writing for the Web

By Jim Schakenbach

Here's a shocker: Talk to any dozen corporate executives about what makes a good website and more often than not you'll hear about eye-catching graphics, sexy animation, sophisticated page layouts, easy navigation. You'll hear about everything except what's really important: words.

That's right. What makes the World Wide Web spin? Content. Not video. Not audio. Not vaguely futuristic, edgy graphics. Words make the Web go round. So how come no one really talks about the text that goes into every website? Because it's not sexy. Conventional wisdom says words are dull and hard to come by. Text is a grind to write and no one wants to think about it, much less do it. But guess what? Words are what give your site value, searchability, stickiness and everything else that is good and noble. If you want to edge out your competition, gain the coveted higher ground in search engines, and generally boost the relevance of your site, I'm going to let you in on a few secrets:

Add pages.
Have you ever noticed those sites with interminable scrolling pages? Miles of text unrolling into an endless scroll. It seems like page after page of solid data. Surprise! It's just ONE page, and that makes a mighty small target for search engines. The smart thing to do is break up those big scrolls into individual pages along logical lines -- separate out, say, products from customer service, company backgrounder from news, and so on. Just this simple fix will fatten your site from one page to perhaps a dozen without adding any new content.

Pay attention to headlines.
Here's another mistake you see all the time: a lame, nebulous headline such as "tomorrow's technology today." Let's say your company makes oscillators for wireless communications; a much better headline would be "Oscillators for tomorrow's wireless applications." Now, that may not be the most creative headline, but here's the magic - you just went from a headline that's worthless in a search to one that will generate solid leads from searchers looking for oscillators or anything about wireless applications. Headlines featuring keywords hold the greatest value because search engines figure that if a keyword or phrase is in a headline, that page is going to have the most content for that term.

Supercharge your text.
Now, go a step further and make sure your text -- called body copy -- contains as many of important words and phrases as possible without making it sound weird. Again, the more key words that pop up in context on a page, the more valuable it is -- and the higher it ranks -- compared to a page of similar content, but with fewer keywords in the copy.

Work your keywords.
Remember the pages you added earlier? That now enables you to spread the wealth of keywords around. Instead of one long page, you now have a number of pages, each ready to receive pertinent keywords that will work in conjunction with the page contents to achieve better searchability. Lazy people just copy one set of keywords and plop it onto every page. That's a costly mistake. The fewer and less varied the keywords on your site, the worse your site will do in searches. Make sure your keywords are pertinent to the page they're on -- search engines value pages with relevant keywords and content more than pages with words that are seemingly unrelated.

Archive, archive, archive.
Does your webmaster like to take down documents when they're "old"? If so, run down the hall and stop them right now. Just because that white paper, PowerPoint presentation, or technical article is months old doesn't mean it's lost its value. People search the Web for information, and if the presentation you gave last month at the annual industry conference contained interesting, relevant information but is no longer appropriate for the immediacy of home page prominence, move it into an archives section or resources page. Keyword it, make it searchable, and you'll be surprised how many people actually click on it. The more content on your site the better.

Beware of designers.
While that is certainly not meant to be a blanket indictment of web designers in general, it is intended to be a word of caution concerning designers bent on design for design's sake. Those who have an over-fondness for things graphical, such as fancy phototype that's rendered as a graphic image. To the casual viewer it may look like words, but to a search engine it's just another image and not searchable. Web designers will often choose flash and sex appeal over solid content -- after all, they're designers, not copywriters. As we know,words aren't sexy. But like the slow, solid draft horse out in the field, they're what get the job done.

Be strong in the face of animation and large photos that take up inordinate amounts of space on a web page -- they are the enemy of search engines and, like cotton candy, may taste great,but offer little nutritional value. If you want to build a strong, healthy site, you need to bulk up on real content, and that's words. That's not to say your site shouldn't be sophisticated and attractive -- it should. Just be sure you balance an eye-catching, visually creative site with solid, valuable content to attract more viewers, more often.

Make it easy to refresh.
Once you have your site filled up with great content, make sure it's easy to refresh without having to get your site designer to rebuild your pages. Then update your content as often as possible so it stays relevant and valuable. The more often you do it, the less of a chore it is. Post those press releases and product announcements. Promote your new hires and business wins. A little goes a long way. Pay attention to the words, not just the graphics or how the site navigates. Remember, content is king. Ignore it at your own peril.

Jim can be reached through our contact page.


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