Tech Doctors: Words for the web
What is it that makes websites worth reading? Holly Davis from digital design agency Obergine tells you how to write great online copy, In the second of our new series
Why do you need good content for your website?
Website copy plays a crucial role in informing your visitors, presenting your values and directing people through the site. Critically, if you get it right, it also increases the chances of people finding your website with search engines.
What is good content?
You can build the best-looking website in the world but without good content it’s going to be extremely difficult to optimise website business performance.
Great content directs website visitors around your site and encourages them to delve deeper, exploring the products and services that you have on offer.
How is writing online content different from writing for print?
The most important thing to remember in the online world is that less is nearly always more. Research has proved that people very rarely read every word on a web page; instead, they scan the content, picking out individual words and phrases that apply to what they’re looking for. So keep to the rule of around 15-20 words for sentences and 40 for paragraphs.
The heading is the most important piece of content you’ll write because this is the first thing they’ll read. If it doesn’t grab their attention, they’ll leave.
How do I get my content to flow?
Ensure the first line of each paragraph contains the section’s conclusion, so that users can instantly grasp the idea. That way if users jump to the next paragraph they won’t be missing out on anything.
Use bullet points and embolden important keywords so people can scan over and take the most important ideas without having to read the whole thing.
Use plain English. You are talking to your customers, not the industry, so refrain from using jargon or abbreviations.
Can website copy affect search engine rankings?
In short, yes. There are numerous tips floating around about how to improve your search engine ranking but content remains king. Top tips include:
Add new content regularly: it encourages regular search engine indexing.
Undertake some simple keyword research on your target audience, to ensure that your content is appealing and relevant. Use these keywords in your website wherever reasonable.
Case study: CANBY.CO.UK
Canby is the UK’s leading supplier for reusable bags and the company knows how to write great content for its website. This is why…
The canby.co.uk content uses a simple ‘what, when, why, how’ structure and includes relevant keywords throughout that have been emboldened for easy scanning.
Content is broken down into small chunks of text. Paragraphs are no longer than 40 words and are all clearly separated with relevant sub-headings, images and bullet points which hyperlink to other useful content.
Paragraphs include contextual links with clear calls-to-action, such as ‘Get in touch with Canby’ or ‘Find out what we can do for your business.’
Canby has created content for specific target audiences. For example, there are dedicated pages for different industries such as ‘Bags for Professionals’ and ‘Bags for Charities’: a very useful tactic for attracting specific user groups via search engines.
The tone of the content is witty, friendly and personable: addressing users in the first person: ‘How can we help you?’ And no page has been left un-tweaked. Even the ‘page not found’ page at canby.co.uk/pagenotfound states...
‘Oh dear. The page you’re looking for isn’t here. We might have deleted it. Or moved it. Or perhaps it never existed. Don’t be upset. We live in an imperfect world, and these things happen!’
This content was introduced in June 2011 and since then visits to canby.co.uk from search engines have increased by more than 15%
Page titles and descriptions are search engine ads
All website pages should include a page title and meta description.
A page title is what most search engines display as the link within search results, this is also displayed at the top of the browser which helps users to navigate around your website by showing them what page they are viewing at a glance.
The meta description is a more detailed description of the web page and is used by search engines to help index the website. This is displayed by search engines as the block of text below the link.
These are really important as they act as advertising copy in search engines and encourage people to click on your website.
Look what happens when you search ‘Imbibe’ on Google (see box below left).
The title acts as the call-to-action, while the blurb (or meta description) encourages people to click through. Thus:
Page title <the link>:
Imbibe – Media & Events for UK on-trade drinks professionals
Meta description <snippet description>:
Blogs, articles, news & events to inform, entertain and educate anyone involved with drinks in the hospitality industry.
It is essential that:
- Every page of your website must have a unique page title and description,
- The page title is no more than 68 characters and is tightly aligned with the main heading of your web page,
- The page description is no more than 155 characters, reinforcing your page title,
Keywords used within the page titles, descriptions and content generally are consistent and reference your geographical area. For example when searching for ‘Pubs’ + ‘Oxford’ in Google, The Turf Tavern pub ranks highest because it refers to both the geographical area and the keyword ‘Pub’ in the page title, ie: ‘The Turf Tavern Pub in Oxford, Real Ale Beer in Oxford – Greene King’.
What makes a website exciting?
The best websites contain content that is personable, empathises with the target audience and uses their language. So again, it pays to know your audience.
A good website is a lot more than mere words! Break up text with visual aids by using photos, graphics, videos and Flash to grab readers’ attention. Include links to other parts of your site or other useful websites which complement what you’re talking about or what service you’re providing. This is a great way to direct people around and add value to your site.
Not every bit of content you write will have the desired effect of increasing sales or enquires the first time. To achieve this, you will need to assess your analytics to find out which pages people spend time on and test alternative content to increase engagement. If you haven’t already got analytics in place, look into putting Google Analytics, a free analytics tool in place to help you better measure the return on your investment.
Holly Davis is digital project manager and consultant at Obergine.
Obergine is a web design, digital marketing and branding agency that is passionate about adding value to its clients.
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – March/April 2012