Content is king for many reasons but principally because content helps satisfy your visitors’ information needs, driving conversion, and it enables search engines to include your webpages in SERPs for relevant keywords and phrases.

So why do many web owners fail to keep their websites fresh and leave old content hanging around waiting to be put out to pasture? The common theme I’ve picked up on is that web teams struggle to know what content to produce and how to prove that the time invested has an ROI, so it becomes their bete-noire.

This blog tackles the first dilemma and sets out simple rules that will help structure the creation of relevant content.

Produce content that is relevant to your visitors

 Don’t put anything on the site that doesn’t address a need or help in the conversion process. Content should be helpful and satisfy one or more of the following criteria:

  • It answers a question that enables visitors to make informed decisions.
  • It helps visitors progress in their buying cycle.
  • It directly influences conversion.
  • It is informative and educational and will increase the likelihood of a return visit.
  • It adds value to visitors.

Don’t just add content to beef up search engines results. If people don’t read it and/or the pages have a high bounce rate, you’ll simply slip down the SERPs anyway.

A good way to identify what new content to produce is to ask your visitors, which can be done via online surveys (pop-up, pop-under) or quick polls. Also, use your email program to crowd source ideas from opt-in customers.

Example: French chateau wedding website. The owner of a French cheateau wedding website wanted to produce more content to increase the range of keywords driving traffic.

  • The problem: basic research showed that many people in the UK are worried that the language barrier will make their dream chateau wedding a logistical nightmare.
  • The solution: produce a new webpage promoting the bi-lingual wedding planner service with quick links to the enquiry and booking forms as well as images of the chateau.
  • The result: 50% increase in web enquiries in the first month.

Target trending keywords and phrases

 Once you know the subject of your content, it’s relatively easy to select a hot list of keywords around which to optimise. These will help define the textual content as well as page title and meta description.

Google’s free keyword analyser will run a search on keyword combinations and show you what has the greatest search activity (advanced options will pinpoint specific geographics).

It’s important to define your priority, do you want SERPs domination or to pick your battlegrounds? This is the brand equation and pitches your business where it can be most competitive. If you’re a global behemoth it is likely the brand guardians will demand dominance in SERPs which means picking the highest volume, most competitive terms.

However, most SMEs need to handpick keyword combinations that are trending but that don’t have the highest traffic and competition.

This targets a smaller potential visitor base but makes it easier to push the content higher in SERPs as competition for these terms is generally quieter and less aggressive. A sensible content strategy is to target the middle volume keywords, stabilise optimisation so presence in SERPs is consistent, then more focus onto the more demanding keywords.

Please note that the more competitive the terms and the more established the competition (longstanding domains, quality backlinks etc), then content on its own is only part of the SEO solution – you will need to use other SEO techniques such as link building and content propagation via social media to increase your content visibility.

Write for the customer

 You have your subject and the keyword list from which to optimise. Now you need to produce content that appeals to your customers:

  1. Define what questions the content will need to answer.
  2. Decide what the most important pieces of information are.
  3. Decide how each of your chosen keywords/phrases will fit with the information.
  4. Write the content according to the tone of your brand.
  5. Take five then come back and read the content from the perspective of a customer.
  6. Get someone else to read it and get their feedback.
  7. Amend the content until it reads well, answers the questions from step one and has included all the keywords in your hit list.

The best barometer of success is the level of engagement the content gets once live. Make sure it is tagged so your analytics can tell you how it contributes to KPIs. Why not ask your opt-in customer base for feedback or contact your brand advocates if you have identified them.

Embrace content variety

Flat text pages are ok but text on its own doesn’t necessarily appeal to all visitors. Research (and analytics data) shows that a percentage of website visitors seek interactive content such as video and some respond better to alluring images with snappy calls to action.

PDFs

 If you have lots of product data or information, enable visitors to download and digest at their leisure. PDFs are a search engine friendly option and can also help increase search results if housed on a separate SEO friendly URL.

However, if the PDF is saved as a graphic file, search engines can’t read the body text. Basically, if you can’t copy & paste the text from the PDF into Word and read it then the search engines can’t either.

SWF

 Google’s 2009 update showed that textual content in SWF files could be indexed e.g. flash buttons, menus. Almost any text a visitor can see in flash files can be indexed and generate search results. URLs contained in SWF files can also be discovered and the links followed.

In October 2010 the Google/Adobe partnership announced that indexing had improved for websites using javascript to embed SWF content as well as improving the indexing of video content.

Whilst not perfect it means that if you lean towards flash to make your website more interactive/immersive, your site can still be visible.

Tech solutions like 10CMS enable people without SWF programming skills to rapidly create flash content from templates and embed hotspots to enable click through on individual content components. Retailers like Heels are using this on the homepage to reduce the click path.

Let search engines find the content

 The first port of call is to ensure your sitemaps are set-up to automatically include fresh content. A script should be set-up on the server to add new URLs once published so that when Google comes back to check the XML sitemap, it can find the content. Google supports multiple XML sitemap formats so use all that are relevant.

Whilst not every website has an html sitemap nowadays, it’s still a useful addition and should be maintained to include all relevant content.

Make sure that every URL create is search engine friendly. Strip out any dynamic parameters or meaningless codes and stick to words that are relevant to the content. Use your keyword hitlist to help write the URL. Yes it’s obvious but it’s still being missed.

For example: Acme retailer produces new blog about latest women’s Italian fashion trends.

  • Non-optimised blog URL: www.acme.com/blog/12112010.html
  • Optimised blog URL: www.acme.com/blog/womens-italian-fashion-trends


Allow visitors to use the content how they want

 Google’s 2009 Caffeine update experimented with real time content and improving how fresh content is indexed. Real time search is also a constant source of fun, with Twitter updates creeping into SERPs.

Web users are increasingly using social channels to share information, so give your visitors the tools to do this with your content. Free tools like Add This enable social bookmarking which increases the reach of content. The more content you get into the social web, the greater the chance the search engines will find external links back to your website and register some buzz around your brand.

The key is to let loose the shackles and understand that customers will use your content how they want, so you need to interact on their terms. Use your own social media profiles to push content to willing listeners and encourage them to share across their networks.

And don’t forget the analytics

 I’ve not covered the need to track the effect of content on website KPIs, not out of laziness but because it demands proper attention and not a cursory glance. Analytics and optimisation specialists are better placed to comment in detail and I would recommend subscribing to Avinash Kaushik’s blog Accam’s Razor which has gems of advice and links to cool (sometimes free) tracking tools.

So there’s my brain dump for the day. I’ve been doing a lot of guest blogging recently and constantly have to make myself think as the potential visitor because it’s easy to fall into the comfort zone of indulging your inner Shakespeare.

If you take nothing else away, just try to understand who is consuming your content and focus on addressing their needs (implicit and explicit); the rest usually falls into place naturally. And stay awake for announcements from the search engines, they like to keep us on our toes.

Happy content producing…