WRITING FOR THE WEB —HOW TO CREATE GREAT CONTENT PIECES THAT FLY
Writing for the web what should a person be considering?
Creating good content isn’t as easy as people like to think, it takes thought and intelligence and an awareness of all the factors that make content stand out. In this piece we’ll take a look at the topic of writing for the web and the best practice you should use. We’ll think about what we’ll do before, during and after producing and our content and learn how a few simple disciplines can help improve the work that we produce.
So you want to create something for your niche?
It’s important to understand the factors that influence performance as without them, it’s difficult to appreciate the various nuances that come together to make up the whole.
We need to give people readable content that they’ll like; content that they might be inclined to share, content that they’ll want to click on when they see it appear in the search results.
Understanding the reasons for these will help us.
It’s pointless writing content that has a very limited audience or is devoid of aspects that’ll make it noteworthy. We need to create content that seeks to inspire, excite, inform, encourage, create and motivate.
From a technology perspective, we need to make sure that our content will be favourable towards the search engine algorithms too so that it is returned for the keyword phrases and queries that we’d like to see it appear for in Google or Bing.
The performance of a page in search is often influenced by four categories of on-site factors, offsite factors, keyword and competitor research.
On-site factors relate to most of the things that happen on the web server which we or our team can control directly. Things like website structure and architecture (navigation, site speed, crawl-ability, content mark-up, page urls, domain name, hosting etc.)
Off-site factors relate to site authority — links citations and variety, and to a lesser degree social signals from social media. The more of these link signals that sites have, the better they tend to perform amongst competing sites in their respective query space.
Keyword research is an important part of the content creation process as we need to consider what it is that people search for and the volumes in which they do so. It’s pointless writing a piece that has no keyword phrase or aspiration in mind. We need to think of our intended audience and give them what they need in a way that helps support our business aims and growth by looking at key phrases that have search volume.
Competitor Research is also vital in understanding our niche and what our competing brands and services are doing in the space.
The content that we write and the page URL’s we create will be largely based on our product or service knowledge and what we learn in our research phase.
The Pre Writing Phase
So, you are about to write or edit an amazing piece of content that you’ll get 1000’s of social shares, links back to the website and visitors that’ll convert to sales.
What should you be doing, what kind of thinking mode do you need to have, in order to be the most effective that you can? We’ll need to think about how others are doing things and ask how we can do it all better. We’ll need to think about who it will be who helps float our content and take notes on what works and what doesn’t. We’ll need to source images and ensure that they are well optimised and fit for purpose and to help us, we’ll need to use the search engine to find things out.
Keyword and Competitor Research
Whilst much of the initial keyword research may have already been undertaken, it’s a very good idea to take a quick look at what it is you have been tasked to write about, as it will help solidify the need and give you a broader understanding of who’s already succeeding and why.
Using Social Media
Conduct a Twitter search and make note of who’s tweeting in the space.
Consider the installation of chrome plugins like list builder and Klout to help build your Twitter network and to identify potential influencers in the space. Look at other tools like Peer Index and Kred too.
Use a tool like http://analytics.followthehashtag.com/ and take note of who’s talking about your topic in that space, they could be great advocates post publish point.
If you have other tools that work for you, use those instead or in conjunction.
Look at LinkedIn and see if there are any stand out brands or people and take a note of who they are.
Check out Pinterest and Instagram, weigh up whether your content could cater to these audiences too.
Not every piece can, but if it’s particularly visual, it might have a good home on Pinterest but if it’s more about charts and numbers then perhaps not.
Use #hash tags to supplement any products or content you share. In the example of a gift shop sign selling wedding signs, then hash tag the image with #wedding #weddinggifts #weddingideas and related words.
The same applies for images or pages that you share on Twitter.
It’s super important to get people onside and make them aware of what it is you do.
Don’t assume it’s as obvious as you think it is.
If you are producing excellent useful content then people who have interest in the space will want to share your stuff within their networks.
Set aside some time in identifying who these people are and follow them on social media just after you publish.
Image Selection and Naming
The best content pieces are a mix of text and imagery. Images are important to both content and search as they help break up big chunks of text and make a piece more visually attractive too. We’ve all heard the story of a picture and it painting 1000 words…
It’s best to have original images but if you can’t source one locally then use an image bank to find one. Be sure that your image is optimised for the web.
Keep it to a decent file size, optimise it for the web. Not everyone has superfast broadband and many of your visitors will be reading the content from a mobile device with a limited rendering or download speed. Keep these factors in mind with your use and selection.
When selecting your images think about the topic you are writing and aim for at least one or two directly related images that can be used to increase image content relevancy for your target phrase.
In addition to social media, Google image search is a great source of traffic. Name your images in ways that are likely to help in this regard. Using wedding-sign.png is infinitely better than image_43294.png.
You can of course source imagery from the web generally, but it’s best to avoid this where possible.
If you do, then it’s important to give attribution or to seek permission prior.
Using Search Engines
Search your primary keyword phrase in Google and Bing; take a look at who is and what is ranking for the phrase and take notes:
- Look at the content that is currently winning and ask yourself how you can improve upon what they’ve provided.
- Look at competitor page <titles> and headings and note why they had appeal
- Look at the types of content that are being returned in the search results images, video, text, rich snippets etc
- Are there bloggers or Tweeters appearing in the SERP?
- Is there a structured data result that appears in the Google knowledge graph perhaps?
- Look at the search snippet and note any specific calls to action
Through looking at the SERP (search engine results page) we can gauge what it is that Google likes for the query set and what we will need to do to occupy the positions and raise our visibility.
We’ll also show opportunities for sharing post production (bloggers, Tweeters, related communities)
Pre Post Actions and Takeaways:
- Assess the organic SERP competition.
- Assess PPC competiton and see what people paying for ads are saying
- Ask yourself critical questions around your content plan.
- Look for opportunities within the SERPs and factor these into your content piece.
- Assess the social media space.
- Identify potential advocates for post publishing activities and to gain greater understanding of what’s happening in the keyword space.
- Name images in relevant ways, optimise image sizes, seek permission of copyright owners and give attribution where free or unpaid.
- Separate image file names with hyphens to maximise image search relevance down the line
Thinking About Content Type and Audience
We need to think about the type of content that we are creating and its intended audience. Until we’ve really looked at the former it’s difficult to know exactly, what’s the best way forward.
Sure, we can say that “I want to write a blog post” or “I want to write a press release” or “I want to create a guide” but to do so in the absence of exploring the keyword space first is folly. We need to look at what ranks, what gets shared and try and figure out why. This will help inform our decisions, and focus thought on what kinds of content will work best.
We can loosely categorise content in to a number of camps. I’ve put together a loose grouping of 6 which will give you some food for thought using a topic of gift signs to help illustrate the examples.
Blog type content — Conversational, topical, aimed at a specific aspect of what we do or personality/innovation/event/niche type thing. Content that has personality with a distinct user voice that encourages user engagement via comments or social sharing perhaps.
News type content — Some content is often newsy, directly informative, and not overtly sales like in tone — a piece announcing an acquisition or investment perhaps. Industry specific, breaking news type stuff
Core content piece — this will be product specific content. Highly targeted at a specific aspect of what we do or the product we have. This wedding gift signs page is one such top level example that we’d need to improve upon and create a new product item for perhaps, we’d expand upon what is being presented, look at creating a new search friendly URL and talk about the different wedding signs at hand.
Guide piece — A piece of content that adds context to the general proposition. What it is, what it does, how it works, what are its benefits. “10 Top Signs For Loved Ones” might be a good example for our sign company, giving inspiration for people looking to get a loved one a gift.
Infographic — Infographics are a great way of getting shares and creating conversations. They are a visual mix of data and text and when done correctly, can garner huge attention.
Maybe this gift company could look at sales and best sellers and see what the data is saying. Is there a story to be told? What kinds of words are people entering into their personalised signs section for example.
Thought leadership — Most people like direction and look up to authorities for guidance and leadership. This presents great opportunities in what is a fun feel good space. They might talk about ethical sourcing of materials perhaps, enviro friendly aspects of what they do for example and talk about lesser alternatives like plastics and less bio degradable products perhaps
Understanding The Target Audience
It’s of course critical that we know and understand our audience. Who it is we are seeking to communicate with and why. Sometimes, we might wish to talk to our Twitter audience. We know what they want and know what gets them excited. Other times, we might be reaching out to a different constituency, the general press, the trade, the creative community or simply prospective consumers.
If we know who were are targeting, we can better shape the delivery of what we say by using language and imagery that resonates.
Simple Marketing and Promotion Writing Ideas
So, what else could this gift sign company be doing?
How could we help them succeed?
Controversy — We could be getting a little guerrilla and shaking the tree of an established mind-set that we believe is no longer relevant and challenge otherwise accepted traditions of thought and doing things. We might create a little controversy and stimulate debate as a result.
Piggy Backing — We might be mindful of an upcoming industry event that we’ll be looking to ride the coat tails of or draw awareness to our value add. A big craft fair, a regional exhibition perhaps, piggy backing anticipated search volumes, using prior knowledge or trend tools. We can use social media to use the awareness in the space, using hashtags on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.
News and Events Cycles — We might have knowledge of a general news cycle that again, we believe we can add to and perhaps occupy a news place in Google news through proactively creating content that’ll be a good fit for lazy journalists.
By knowing who we are aiming at and adjusting our message to suit we can help increase the likelihood that our content will be well received; be it a blog or a guide or a new product or a news piece or some fantastic thought leadership white-paper; through thinking about who it is we are talking to we can better deliver on our goals.
Network Utilisation and Strategy
It’s a whole lot easier to get content to fly if you have a cunning plan.
Thinking about how you can leverage your network post content completion is vital to gain traction and momentum.
Have a mini brainstorm in the office “Guys and gals, I’m creating x y z, does anyone have anything to throw in to the mix?”
Marketing Hooks — what will be yours?
This is a great look at the topic which might fire a synapse or two.
We could possibly be looking to massage the ego of a well-known voice in the space, someone with an audience of their own who’ll appreciate the recognition. Someone who has a high profile and who might be willing to talk about their purchase.
We might offer users the ability to tweet or Facebook or Instagram about their recent purchase at checkout perhaps, an easy click to share that enables for the image to be embedded within their social feeds and seen by their networks.
Any action that amplifies the content we create is worth considering. If it raises brand awareness and creates conversations about us and our products then it’s worth doing.
Editing Pre-existing Content
Sometimes, we might need to edit an aged or out of date piece of content that gets lots of traffic already (or doesn’t).
For pages with a lot of traffic, It’s important that we don’t make too many radical changes as if the page is performing well, then we wouldn’t really want to change the page title or the headings too much as to do so could lose us a fair degree of traffic.
On the other hand. we might notice that there are some great opportunities to be had, especially for page that isn’t performing at all, in which case some radical surgery might be required.
Generally, we should check the performance of the page we are seeking to edit using our analytics package. If the traffic is awful, then we have very little to lose and should edit to our hearts content using the knowledge we’ve acquired from our actions further up the page.
In cases where traffic is good we should go ahead with caution. We wouldn’t want to unnecessarily edit a page URL for instance nor would we want to change a page title or core heading (date related aspects excepted)
There may often be cases where traffic is good and engagement is poor. In most cases the reasons should be obvious, in which case edit away and add value.
We might want to add some value (images/rich media/new data) or make subtle edits to copy. In most cases these shouldn’t present many, if any difficulties.
If we change a page URL then we of course need to put in a specific redirect so that the engines and crawlers know the new location. Talk to the tech team or SEO around the need for a 301 redirect.
During Content Creation
Having established what it is we are writing, it’s important that our content piece has a clear page structure with a good mix of related keywords and phrases with our core keyword phrase at the centre of it all.
We’ve thought about layout, message and flow, we’ve sourced our images and have named them appropriately and optimised them for use on the web and we are ready to put it all together.
What are the key structural components of a good piece of content?
Evidence shows that pages that do well in search engines share a number of key characteristics.
- Well thought out page titles <titles>
- Good <meta descriptions> with calls to action that generate decent CTR (click through rates)
- Good headings and hierarchy
- Keywords in the page content
- Visual Breakpoints
- Good navigation
Page Titles <titles>
The page <title> is the most important part of the page. It is the part of the content that will appear in the SERP’s and is used by the search engines as a primary means of establishing what the content is likely to be about.
Getting back to the gift sign company example, if we were creating a content piece that was to target the phrase “Handmade Wedding Signs” then we’d look to make sure that those words were present in our title. Of course, a page title that just said “Handmade Wedding Signs” would look exceedingly bland and would miss out on other opportunities to draw the click and to speak to humans, so we’d look at how we could make that work.
Our keyword and competitor research would have already established that competing pages have various characteristics that we can use too.
For a core content piece we might use the page title of “Buy Quality Handmade Weddings Signs, Environmentally Sourced” which would of course be better than “Handmade Wedding Signs” alone.
For a blog piece we might get a little more conversational and say “5 Little Known Rules for Creating the Perfect Handmade Sign”
People also love “How to’s” and “What” type queries. “How Can I Make the Perfect Custom Sign for less than £20?” or combined “How Can I Make the Perfect Custom Sign for less than £20 — What should I look For”
The variations above would also have a secondary benefit in that they’d target additional search phrases with search volume and use language that relates to what they do.
“Wedding Signs”, “Custom Signs” search query aspirations would all be assisted by the page title “Where Can I Find A Custom Wedding Sign Online — What should I look For?”
The sky is the limit and ultimately it’s bound by your creativity. The central message is that you of course need to include the primary phrase within your page title (as near to the start of the sentence as makes sense) and talk to humans at the same time gaining their attention and getting that all important click.
Try to keep your page titles sub 60 characters in length as Google typically shows just the first 60 or so characters; anything longer than this is truncated. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use titles that are longer but be sure to have your most important messaging and keywords within this limit.
The <Meta name=”description”> tag is important as it is used by Google and Bing to surface a snippet of content in their SERP’s. It sits in the code section of a HTML page.
Meta descriptions are a great opportunity whereby you can reinforce your message and add extra content and calls to action for the page that you are trying to attract that all important click from.
You should seek to add effective context with words that are related to the query space in a way that also talks to human beings.
Meta descriptions should be around 160 characters most but can be longer. Anything over 160 is truncated and will not be displayed.
Be sure to think about how you’d like your message to appear in the SERP’s and be mindful that the meta description will often be the search engines first port of call when adding supplemental information about a page.
Page Headings <H#>
Similar to books, good web pages have good structure and are headed up by relevant headings and subheadings.
HTML hierarchy dictates that headings are number 1–6 typically with <h1> being the largest and most important.
Heading tags are an opportunity to arrange your content in a way that is logical and readable to your user. They’ll help break up the content and make sense of what it is you are communicating.
The <h1> tag should be the first heading on the page and should only appear once. Typically, it often closely mirrors the page <title> which when you think of it, makes sense from a user readability perspective.
Additional subheadings <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> should be used throughout the document as appropriate, in a clear hierarchy.
Note: You don’t have to use all of those headings. Pages rank well in absence of H1’s or through a mix of different headings to0. Structures like H1, H2, H3, H3,H3 H4, H2, H2, H2 are often used too and don’t appear to negatively impact performance to a large extent. The takeaway is, that logical structured headings are a good habit to get in to and help signify important aspects of the document or places within it.
Do’s and don’ts for headings and subheadings
- Resist the temptation to keyword stuff your target phrase in to every subheading that you use. If you do, then your piece will read poorly and will possibly be marked downed as keyword stuffy!
- Ensure that your primary keyword phrase appears in your <h1> heading
- If it makes sense, then use it in your first <h2> subheading too and subsequent or latter subheadings, but don’t over do it.
- Look for opportunities to use keyword variations — If your content piece is targeting Birthday Signs then be creative and think of variants that you can blend in to your subheadings “70th Birthday Wooden Signs” perhaps, or “Birthday Gift Ideas and Inspiration” or “Examples of Our Most Popular Wooden Birthday Signs” all of these titles are related and the search engines will get that too. Through adding variance and semantic relationships in your copy, you’ll help elevate relevance and increase readability.
- Don’t over use headings either. No point having a subheading for every sentence or paragraph.
When writing your copy, try to ensure that you make mention of your primary target phrase in the first or second sentence that you use. Make it stand out so the reader recognises the core message early into the piece consider the use of or tags where appropriate.
Search engines are relatively dumb so we need to give them as many clues as we can. Page titles, Meta descriptions, headings and content mark-up are ways in which we can do this.
That said, they are getting smarter so we need to be mindful that we don’t overdo things and resist the urge to keyword stuff. Keyword stuffing will damage our ability to rank and switch our readers off so it’s important to bear that in mind and not overdo the keyword phrase thing!
When writing, we should look to use related phrases and words where we can. We want to be on the lookout for easy related ranking opportunities and send out that strong message that our content is thematically related to our niche and contains strong word correlations throughout.
Our ultimate aim site wide is to be recognised as THE authority on our topic so through using words that have semantic relationships we help ourselves achieve this. Antonyms, synonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms, meronyms will all help, use them with gusto!
The most important factor of course is to write for humans.
We can have the most amazing rankings in the world, but if our content reads like crap and people hit and run or fail to engage then we will fall at the first hurdle and will see our rankings go backwards.
Do’s and Don’ts for Content Copy
- Do not keyword stuff — write for humans, your core keyword phrase shouldn’t appear more than 5–6% of the time typically, but this will vary across niches and isn’t set in stone.
- Do use variations of your target key phrase, think of related words you can include, think semantically.
- In most cases, try to keep your web documents to a decent readable length.
- Don’t consign yourself to TL;DR hell. Try to keep your blog posts to less than 1500 words. No one wants to read a long piece of content unless it’s really useful and merits their time. If it’s going to be long, then try and engage people along the way,
- Different types of content such as comprehensive “how to guides” and “white papers” may well be longer of course, simply because people are expecting highly detailed specific information.
- There’s a great piece on content length generally here https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-ideal-length-of-everything-online-according-to-science
Internal Link Reinforcement
One of the ways in which we can help ourselves is to continually reference our most important content pieces. We can do this by linking to such pieces as we create new content. If we are writing about topic x y or z and happen to use the term gift signs, then it makes sense to hyperlink that phrase and point it to the page that we would like to rank.
Less is often more of course, so we don’t want to overdo things. Who wants to read a document of a zillion hyperlinks!? If it makes sense, then do it. If you look back over your finished article and see some way of weaving in an internal link opportunity then do so.
Vary Your Anchor Texts
Try to add some variance to your internal links too. A page that targets birthday signs would also benefit from being linked to with variations of anchor text (the words contained in the hyperlink).
So, if we used the term birthday in our piece, then we might hyperlink that to our birthday signs page.
The same would apply for related variants. Birthday | signs | plaques | gifts etc.
Links are the glue of the internet, without them we’d all be a little lost. When creating your content, you’ll often link out to other sites and partners.
General rules of thumb are:
- Don’t link to spam sites! Think about who you are linking to and how — no point helping a competing service with a juicy link to their competing page.
- Is there a blogger in the space with influence who has said something cool? Link to them! They’ll love it and might even talk about you.
Using Images to Break up Your Copy
You may have already sourced your images in your research phase. If you have then great just be sure that they address the following:
Sources referenced where external or unpaid for and permission sought
Optimised for fast loading times (where the platform doesn’t do so automatically perhaps)
Solid naming conventions with references to keywords where appropriate separated by hyphens.
Through using well named imagery that’s related to the content and theme, that’s well named and engaging we can help improve performance in Google image search and raise our profile and traffic.
The page URL (web address) is an important element of search performance.
We should look to make sure that our page URL’s contain our target keywords and or variants.
URL’s have no limitation in length, but it’s sensible to keep them relatively short and punchy as they are often displayed in the SERPs. Page URL’s will be truncated if too long so try to limit them to 100 characters max. It doesn’t matter if you overstep this limit, but be mindful that any characters after will not be seen.
Some CMS’s like WordPress create our URLs on the fly, taking the page title or heading of the content piece.
The WordPress CMS presents us with an opportunity to edit our URLs.
Where appropriate, we should apply similar thinking to that of our page title selection looking for variance opportunities where they present themselves.
Google News — There is discussion within the tech team for content that is newsworthy or aimed at a specific news element to be tagged or identified as a news piece.
Where this occurs, it’s important to ensure that a 6 figure number is appended to the end of the URL. Failure to do so, will mean that the piece will unlikely be included within Google news.
Tagging and Topics
WordPress gives us the option to tag our content and file it under various headings. Try and categorise your content in to 4 or 5 relevant camps if possible. Most CMS’s allow for this, so use it if it exists.
Through doing so, we create content diversity for a variety of singular topics and increase the likelihood of ranking for a variety of related terms.
After You’ve Completed Your Content
So, you’ve created your content and have spell checked the hell out of it and ran it by a colleague for sanity checks. Woot! Well done, what next?
In our pre writing phase above, we looked at the various social media opportunities and took notes around who was talking in the space.
It’s a good idea to have a post publish process that makes the most of what you learnt in your research phase and try to build up a head of steam.
Fledgling content will not fly alone, it needs the help of friends and colleagues to gain wings and help it grow.
The following list of bullet points will help your content get eyeballs and create additional impetus.
It only really applies to blog posts or special reports/white papers , guides and news items so bear this in mind before you do. Don’t use it for boring old product pages, unless they are super awesome or innovative perhaps
- Follow folks and brands that were tweeting or visible in your key phrase space and seek to engage with them over time.
- Use a social scoring metric as an aid in identifying who might be worth the largest investment of your time.
- Publish your post to Twitter and tag it with #hashtags relevant to the topic — determine the ideal time to do so aiming for your largest GEO audience
- Utilise your internal office/company network and let them know that you’ve posted and ask them to retweet, favourite and share your post.
- If appropriate — Post your link to LinkedIn and linked groups that you participate
- Post the link to your Facebook page and consider a small post boost targeted at Facebook user cohorts interested in your space
- Evaluate any other spaces that could be good conduits for your piece. Reddit for instance
- Include your latest blog post in any email footers you may use
- Did your post have a cool image? Is it Pinterest or Instagram worthy? Tag and send it to these networks.
- If someone shares or retweets or comments on your stuff, then thank them for doing so. Be social.
- Monitor the performance of your post in Google analytics. Spend a few minutes each day looking at your recent posts or content pieces and see how well they are doing.
- Talk to Rob about tracking new keywords and URL performance
Rinse, refine, and repeat.