Writing Your Own Website Content
If you want to increase your website traffic, and if you want to convert website traffic to actual customers, then one of the most important tools you can use is good website content. Because you are the expert in your business, YOU should be writing your own website content, and this article will guide you. If you are to employ a content writer, this article will help you understand the quality of their work.
Writing compelling, searchable content for your website is vital if you want people to be able to find you. Sometimes, you don’t need anything extensive – for example, if you are a food retailer you might benefit well from the placement of a popular recipe, or if you are a clothing retailer you might benefit from the posting of a size conversion chart with little more information required. But if your product or service solution is more involved, or more to the point, if your customers have a need for knowledge that you can provide, then you need to know how to produce a quality piece of informative content.
When you, as a consumer, want to know more about something, you probably Google it (or use another internet search engine) and the pages that you read will tend to be information pages rather than advertisements. After all, this is what you search for, you want information not banner advertisements. And when it comes to choosing a product or service provider, you’ll probably pick one that you feel you “know” and have confidence in – and you feel you “know” the organisation that has been sharing helpful information with you.
The aim of this article is to give you an overview of what is important when it comes to creating content for your website, and give you a checklist that you can use to ensure you are on track. The content writing guidelines and checklist will help to ensure that every piece you write is effective and engaging whether you are a content writing beginner or a seasoned digital marketing expert.
The aim of the content you are writing will probably be to –
- Rank well in a Google (or other internet) search
- Encourage visitors to look around at other pages on your website
- Have visitors want to return to your website again
- Have visitors engage with your “call to action”
- Be worthy of becoming social media sharing
Website Content Writing Guidelines
Stick to these simple guidelines for great, engaging and effective content. Just remember though – “simple” doesn’t mean “easy”… like any business skill, you must make a start, and then practise, practise, practise. But it will all be well worth the effort. And remember also, that content creation is probably about 20% science and about 80% art – no-one ever picked up a brush for the first time and painted beautifully – and not everyone loved the work of Picasso… don’t aim for perfection.
Writing style is very important. This is going to sound easy, but it’s not really. Simple, yes, but not easy. Writing your own website content will become enjoyable and successful once you start to think from your readers perspective, and adapt your writing style to them. Major newspapers learnt years ago that to capture the largest readership, it’s best to write to a younger audience… much younger… like early high school age. That’s not to say that you should be patronising to your audience, just understanding that they probably want quick and easy to digest information – even surgeons, barristers and academics claim that they are more likely to read and retain something written in simple plain English. Albert Einstein was probably spot on when he said, “if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself”. Maybe pitch a bit higher than a six-year-old audience – but the premise is correct.
Think first of your audience. Who will read this? Are they looking for a long holiday read to escape in, or are they wanting quick and easy to digest information? Generally speaking, you would write as you would talk with your audience. You already know that you should mirror the speech type of the customer you are talking with if you want them to listen to you… this is no different. If they were standing with you, and asked you a question, how would you answer it verbally? This is the best way to approach it.
Resist the temptation of writing about you and your product or service. No-one actually wants to know about that. People are focused on their issues, and how to resolve them. Write about their pain points, and how they can resolve them – towards the end you can mention that your product or service can help them… but spend most of the article writing about them and their needs.
Don’t over-do it. The days of thinking that readers want a thesis to consume are long gone. For nearly all content, the time poor reader wants to quickly grab some information that is relevant to them and be gone in minutes (seconds sometimes). There is no hard and fast rule here – I couldn’t share this information, on such a complex topic, in a 3 minute read… but if I were telling you how to clean the leaves out of your house gutters, 30 seconds ought to do it.
A note on Writing content for SEO
When it comes to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), there are some things we know for sure (because bigger search engines like Google tell us) for example, if you want your website to rank well in search results on a mobile phone, your website must be mobile responsive. Some things though are very much a secret – they will never tell us. And most of it is evolving… what effects the search results, what weight each component has, much of the algorithm criteria will be an evolving secret recipe. Any SEO tips we give here are either known aspects of the algorithm or there has been enough reported results to be confident that it is important.
List the keywords and phrases that you think your audience may type into google to find your page. Add to this list as your writing progresses, but don’t be tempted to write around these keywords. You’ll come back at the end to see how you can edit the keywords in… focus first on being mindful what your audience may search, and then on smooth writing – worry about editing in the keywords when your first draft is finished.
In the olden days of internet, you could simply add a list of keywords to the end of your article and the search robots would read them and rank you positively if your list matched searched keywords. In todays world of artificial intelligence, the robots know if you’ve just dumped the words in, or if they become a cohesive part of the text.
And again, don’t over do it. If you overuse keywords, the search robots, with their clever AI, recognise it and can actually penalise your ranking as a result.
The Use of Heading Styles
“Headings” on a web page are a font style like you may be used to in Microsoft Word. But the headings are particularly important on a web page because the search robots look for them. Therefore, only have one Heading 1 (so as not to confuse the main topic) on your web page. Use Heading 2s and Heading 3s to separate topics as you go. If someone should skim down your page reading just your headings, they should read like a table of contents in a book – reading the headings should give the skim reader a clear understanding of the contents of your page.
Your Heading 1 is the name of your article – it should be clear, concise and tell the reader exactly what your article is about. Any other headings on the page should be Heading 2s and/or Heading 3s.
Other SEO Factors
While this article focusses on the writing of the content, there are some other SEO factors that you should also be aware of such as –
- Using keywords in the file name and caption of images is important
- Reviews, particularly Google reviews, can be helpful (but the use of them comes with a word of warning)
- If your product/service solution is bound geographically, then the naming of the service location is important
Writing Structure for Good Website Content
As a “mature” age student, I found myself struggling with the idea of academic writing, until I learnt about writing structure – and what a difference a little structure can make! Now I’m not suggesting that you write your content for academics (unless of course that is your audience), content writing is much more like journalistic writing, but starting with a structure will help your information flow and keep your reader engaged.
See if your intended message/s should be broken into blocks – if you have two or more distinct points to make, then each point should be considered a separate building block. Create a dot point outline of your key messages and see if you end up with one dot point list, or if your messages fit better by breaking them into multiple lists. If you have multiple lists, you have need to write your article in building blocks.
Dot point lists are also a great way to start the structure of your writing – even the most experienced content writers will often start this way.
If your article has multiple building blocks, use Heading 2s to identify each new block. And use Heading 3s within each block to identify each new sub-point. Then use the paragraph structure below under each of your headings.
The Grab Paragraph
For website content the grab paragraph, which is immediately below your heading 1 (the title of your article) should be a maximum of only a few sentences, and be intended to grab the attention of your audience, paint a picture of what they will learn if they continue to read, and entice them to move on to the next paragraph.
Write this last because you won’t have fully understood the power of your message until you’ve finished writing it, and The Grab Paragraph should include both the essence of the most powerful part of your message, and the most pressing need that your audience was searching answers for.
Think of this like an elevator pitch – if you had very limited time to tell someone what your article was about, in a way that was compelling to them, in the hope that they would search for and read your article… what would that description sound like?
This is a good time to mention paragraph structure. Throughout your article proper paragraph structure will hold your reader just as importantly as accurate information and it will help ensure that your intended message is what the reader digests. While there are no set rules (for example, sometimes one lone sentence is enough as a paragraph) an average paragraph will have four or five sentences – one topic sentence, two or three “supporting” sentences, and a conclusion sentence. A paragraph structure like this will help your story flow which means it will be engaging and more likely to be retained by your reader.
Most of the dot points, and even the sub-points, that you made at the beginning of your writing, can be brought together as complete and digestible ideas if this structure is followed.
Each topic should be introduced to the reader. Immediately following a Heading 2 (topic heading) there should be one or two paragraphs that essentially tells the reader what the topic is about. If your content has multiple building blocks, then each Heading 2 would be followed by Introduction paragraphs.
Sometimes it will make sense to add a discrete call to action button at the end of the introduction paragraph in case the reader knows from reading this that they are in the right place. A simple “click for more information about [insert product/service name]” can sometimes be beneficial here – but be mindful not to change the topic away from their need and towards your solution.
This is where you explain the detail of what you want to tell your reader. People will continue to these paragraphs, after reading the introduction paragraph, if they want more detailed information, particularly in how-to type articles.
Make this bit all about their problem and definitely not about you and your product/service. Set yourself up here as the expert. Tell them what’s important, tell them why it’s important, tell them how to do it, tell them the benefit if they do it. The body paragraphs add weight and importance to your message.
Benefits NOT Features
Anyone involved in selling knows that customers don’t buy features, they buy the benefits. Take buying a new car for example – this is a major decision for most people and often the second most expensive purchase they’ll ever make but do they buy it because of the size of the engine, fuel to distance ratio, or safety rating? No! They buy it because it’s cheap to run (so they have more money) or their family is safe.
Write like this. Write in terms of benefits to them, not in features. People don’t buy features, they buy benefits.
A simple sum up… tell them what you’ve told them.
So, each topic has had an introduction, some supporting paragraphs, and is now ready for you to bring home with a conclusion. There should be nothing new added in this paragraph, this is where you reiterate what you have already told them.
Call to Action
This is the only bit where you would normally talk about you or your product/service. How does your solution fit with the issue that bought your reader here? It’s great that, after reading your wonderful article, they know more about the topic, now remind them that you are in fact an expert and that they can call on your expertise. Again, don’t over do it! Keep this to a very simple sentence or two. And make sure that the call to action is easy – a simple click to call or click to email… or simple instructions on how to get to you.
Use this checklist once you have finished writing as a type of quality control and to see if you’ve got the key features covered
- Skim through your headings – do the headings read like a comprehensive table of contents?
- Take out the body paragraphs and read the headings, introduction paragraphs and conclusion paragraphs… your story should still make sense.
- If you read this article out loud would a mid-high school student understand it?
- Have you written with your audience in mind? Have you written in their language?
- Is the bulk of your content about them and their needs, or about you and your product/service? (A great exercise is to use two different highlighter pens – highlight sentences about them and their needs in one colour, and sentences about you and your product/service in another colour – then step back and look at the result).
- Has your list of keywords been used effectively (but not excessively) within the article? The main keywords should be seen in headings, and in grab paragraphs.