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November 15, 2012
The Two Sides of Content Creation: Part 1
I'm going to try to avoid using royalty-related, overused phrases in this article and just start by noting that if the flurry of Panda updates taught us nothing else, they taught us that content is…important. This knowledge leaves many, many webmasters and site owners with a catchphrase to digest but little in the way of a “how to.” Given that I've discussed content pre- and now post-Panda on so many occasions that I've long since lost count, it occurred to me that people who don't necessarily email may have questions on the subject as well. And thus was born this article miniseries where I'll cover the two main types of onsite copy and how to use and measure them.
Onsite Copy For Your Targeted Visitor
The first type of copy we'll discuss is the copy you write for your targeted visitor. This is the copy you write to rank with and the copy you write to convert those visitors into buyers. Now, essays can be written on how to write copy that ranks well and books on how to write copy to convert. For this article we will stay focused on the mentality to use when creating this copy, how to insure you won't get hit with the next Panda update, and how to measure your success. If you're interested in reading about how to write copy specifically, I'd recommend Jill Whalen's articles, also here on Talent Zoo. Jill and I may disagree on some of the specifics, but there's no doubt I respect her opinion; her reputation is well-earned and she's an excellent writer and knows more than a thing or two about copy. But back to this article.
To keep things simple, let's start with a short list of what you need to think about:
  • Is the content unique?
  • Does the content provide information in an easily relatable way?
  • Can a visitor perform your action item easily and readily?
  • Do you provide information unavailable elsewhere?
  • Are you making the visitor ask questions you're not immediately providing the answers to?
So here's why each of these questions is important.
Is the content unique?
Just in case you're not aware, Google is penalizing sites that don't contain unique content. The reason is pretty straightforward: If it's not unique, then it's not a value that can't be received elsewhere. This includes product descriptions, property listings, and anything else. So if you're drawing information from third parties, you need to take the time to rework this content to make it unique and have a value outside of what's being handed to you.
This includes your own site. I've seen many sites that have very slim product descriptions and then massive amounts of shipping information that appears on every page, essentially creating an environment where every product on a site appears to be coming in at about 15% unique content. This is not sending a good signal to Google. Some easy workarounds are to move the repeating content onto another page and link to it with a pop-up or expand on your product information to minimize its prevalence. There are other ways to get around this issue, of course; you'll have to chat with your developer and consider your site experience to determine what works best for your visitors.
And while it may be true, the comment, “But it makes sense to be there!” isn't always a good argument. While Google and Bing do great jobs, we have to be aware that they're working with an algorithm and if you look like duplicate content, whether you are or not is irrelevant. Google doesn't have 10 million employees all surfing the web grading sites, so they have to go with the philosophy, “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's probably a duck.” Even if you're not a duck, your goose is cooked.
Does the content provide information in an easily relatable way?
Remember that you know what you do better than anyone else. Understand that your visitors aren't you and need to be communicated with at a level they can understand and put in a context that makes sense. For example, I don't write our blog or even this article assuming that I'm writing to SEOs who know in advance what every acronym I could throw out is. Losing a visitor is almost as bad (and sometimes worse) than never having them at all.
Explain what you're talking about, use examples that can be understood by the majority, and put things in a context that isn't about you but about solving a problem or answering a question that your visitors have in a way that they can understand and relate to.
Can a visitor perform your action item easily and readily?
I'll leave writing about advance conversion optimization to the likes of Tim Ash. If you don't know who he is, he's the author of the book Landing Page Optimization. Highly recommended reading, but I digress. That said, there is one basic philosophy that I universally find to be true: Understand what you want your visitors to do and help them to do it.
Now I'm not referring to littering your page with “buy now” buttons, but I've found that guiding visitors through your site, linking to products when they are references, and linking to resource points when a technical or questionable topic is discussed keeps visitors on a site and steers them where you want them to go.
A further benefit of this mentality is that it naturally creates an internal link structure to your most important and relevant pages, thus increasing their priority on your site. So while you're doing your visitors a service, you'll be doing your rankings one as well.
Do you provide information unavailable elsewhere?
Regurgitating information that can be found on a hundred other sites will not help your visitors or your rankings. You need to provide unique content that will hold the attention of your visitors. This may be as simple as a product review or as elaborate a full research paper on a new technology. How it's done will vary sector by sector, site by site, but the goal is to give the visitor complete information and allow them to trust you as a source.
The main purpose of this content is to build trust; to prove that you're a reliable and knowledgeable source of information and, thus, you'll probably be offering good products and/or services.
Are you making the visitor ask questions you're not immediately providing the answers to?
This is one of the most common issues I see: sites using industry acronyms or referencing information or papers and then not following up to define what these things are. This can well be the worst thing you can do. If you make your visitor ask a question and then don't answer it, their only option is to return to the search engines and find the answer. So you've gone to all that effort and expense to get the visitor, and now they're back at Google. They may return to your site, but probably not.
Something as simple as a hover-over effect on acronyms that displays the full text on the page or some simple code that will pull a research paper or definition up when you mention complex issues or reference other material will help to keep the visitor where you want them: on your web property.
Measuring Success
The success of onsite copy for the sake of improving the visitor experience can be measured in your analytics and conversions.
What you'll be looking for specifically are page view increases and increases to on-page time depending on your implementation. For example, if you've gone through your key pages and added hover affects to acronyms and references to other information, then you'll be looking for an increase in the time spent on that page and/or a reduction in the page's exit rate.
If you've created more internal links to content (for example, directly to a specific product or product category when it's mentioned) you'll be looking for an increase in page views and a reduction in the exits from that page.
It would be impossible to cover every permutation of variables you could measure; however, if you understand the changes you're making and why, you'll know what you're trying to steer your visitors towards. With this, you'll be able to set up or review your analytics and conversions to determine if what you did worked.
One More Note
I've discussed a lot about adding content or content access to your site. This doesn't mean to make everything a link to more information or other pages; that would make it all bland and be useless from an SEO and visitor perspective. Pepper them in at key points and if you've found those key points are everything on the page, you will need to come up with other ways to reword your pages as the current content most likely doesn't read properly to begin with.
Next Time
In our next article we'll be discussing onsite content for the purpose of attracting links and social signals.

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Dave Davies is the CEO of Beanstalk Internet Marketing. Dave has been working as an SEO since 1999 and started Beanstalk in 2004. He writes and speaks regularly on the subject of Internet Marketing and hosts a weekly radio show on WebmasterRadio.fm. for more up-to-date tips and information on SEO and Internet Marketing.
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