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Web Content: 37 Items to Consider When Writing for The Web
Friday, July 08, 2011
A few years back I wrote a piece outlining 37 things to keep in mind when writing content for the Web. Now, nearly five years later, it is time to revisit this list and see if there are some additional items to consider when producing content for the Web. Certainly search engine algorithm changes in both Google and Bing warrant an update to the list. Not to mention that content now comes in various forms from Twitter Tweets to video and traditional web pages, the presentation of content has changed quite dramatically over the past five years. How people consume content has also changed during this time, so while this piece will focus on writing content for the Web, it is important to keep in mind when preparing content for the online universe.

Part of writing for the Web means understanding how users will digest the information that you put out there.  Some studies have shown that people prefer to scan rather than read, and as a result want Web copy to be short and to the point.  I am a believer in this depending on the subject matter.  The recent Panda Update from Google suggest otherwise as their perception of "quality content" may mean presenting more in depth information through longer pieces of content.  Many who leveraged article marketing in the past used a formula of 300-400 word of copy to try and optimize for various key phrases, now that Google has placed some focus on content farms and such, diversity in article lengths is a must.  Some suggest that there is still a formula, in terms of word count, that is preferred by Google, but quite honestly it depends on the content and what you are trying to communicate to your audience.  And speaking of your audience, you also need to factor in the level of comprehension and reading level.

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Score is a mathematical formula used to establish the reading level of a piece of content.  With the Flesch Reading Ease test, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read.  The scoring chart resembles:

Source: Wikipedia.

To test the grade level and readability of your content you can visit this site:
http://www.standards-schmandards.com/exhibits/rix/index.php.  Of course you will want to avoid creating overly complex content for your audience.  Limit the use of marketing jargon and marketing buzzwords and consider how your audience will interpret and digest your content.

So what is the ideal reading level for your website?  The answer is that it depends on your audience, but you need to have some sort of idea about who you are targeting with your content so that you can write and prepare your content accordingly.  Interestingly enough, late last year Google added a readability level to their advanced search which can be accessed by clicking “advanced search” to the right of the search box and click in the new reading level section. You can then filter to see only results that are basic, intermediate or advanced, and annotate results with reading levels.

So it stands to reason that Google may be factoring in the readability level into what they determine as being quality content and therefore what they display in their search results.

With that, let us unveil our updated list for the top 37 items to consider when writing Web content.

37 Items to Consider When Writing Web Content - 2011 Edition

Just as our previous list suggests, some of these items are "no-brainers" but you would be surprised at how many sites seem to ignore these tips.  Even some of the most skilled writers slip up from time to time, so if anything else, hopefully this list acts as a good reminder for things to consider as you write and prepare your content for the Web.
  1. Understand who you are writing for - interpret how they will be engaging with your content
  2. Create unique content - see #7
  3. Keep It Simple for SEO - when in doubt keep your content simple and to the point.
  4. Grammar and Spelling are important - Google is truly factoring in the quality of content.  Pages that have little or no errors may in fact rank higher than pages with typos and poor grammar.
  5. Use Informative, Relevant and Keyword-rich (but not keyword spammed) titles - this can help entice clicks from a search results page
  6. White Space is always a nice thing
  7. Plagiarism is still not cool - scraped content, syndicated content and duplicate content just pollute the Web.  Avoid contributing to this and keep your content unique.  This is especially true for all of you e-commerce sites out there who share product descriptions.
  8. Keep the link to copy ratio down - this is a little more difficult for directory-type sites, but too many links on a single page simply take away from the user experience.  No one is going to click link #1,225 on the page.  Be smarter with your links in relation to the copy on your page.
  9. People love lists.
  10. Avoid use of marketing jargon.
  11. Use microdata providing your content contains related microdata elements - the recent launch of schema.org that is widely accepted by the Big 3 Search Engines suggests that this will become the norm in the future.
  12. Make use of bullets and subtitles
  13. Sans serif fonts are easier and faster to read on computer screens.
  14. Each page of web content should focus on a single topic (don’t try to over optimize)
  15. Regularly update your content - fresh content is great for SEO.
  16. Avoid ambiguity (leave that for the government and lawyers)
  17. Images/Pictures should be specific and informative, not generic or ad-like
  18. Be coherent – keep it tight and together.
  19. Make it easy for people to share your content - for important content be sure to add options for retweeting, Facebook Liking or Google+1ing.   There are also various options for social bookmarking.
  20. Do not place content within JavaScript (some engines cannot access this copy)
  21. Limit the use of copy within images (search engines cannot crawl that copy)
  22. Ensure that key content is not placed within an i-frame
  23. Ensure that the vast majority of your copy is not found within Flash
  24. Ensure and test that your content can be accessed by the search engines.  If they can't see it, they can't rank it.
  25. Be careful with using humor – some people are easily offended
  26. Like a good songwriter, create content that will stand the test of time. A good song is a good song. A good web page of content should become an authority as others link to it and share it via social avenues.
  27. Link to related resources - follow these links.  Yes I said follow these links (as opposed to making them nofollow).
  28. While your focus should not be on keyword density, be sure to include relevant keywords throughout your copy to help illustrate the topicality of the page.  If your page is about green widgets, you probably should include the term "green widgets" within your copy.  Just don't overdo it.
  29. Pay attention (but not too much attention) to word count - while there is no magical formula for the length of a page, some pieces of content will require to be longer.  Take an FAQ page for example.  Pages such as this can easily be in the 1,000 - 2,000 word range and still be effective.  Yet a simple blog post may only need to be 400-600 words long (or less) to get its' point across.
  30. Don’t be Wordy – don’t get fancy, or use wordy intros.
  31. Add content where it makes sense to do so - do not create content for the sake of creating content.  If there is one thing that recent algorithm updates have shown us is that the number of pages your site has (or the actual size of your site) will not determine how well you rank in Google.  A few poor quality pages on your site can drag your site down as a whole. 
  32. Avoid adding placeholder pages/content - this is actually something that Google suggests not to do in their Webmaster Guidelines.
  33. See #6
  34. Do not overwhelm your pages with advertising in relation to the actual copy of your page - I have seen sites get hit by the search engines for this.
  35. Have a editorial process - ensure that your copy is peer reviewed and proofed before it goes live.
  36. Title – Subject – Support - your subject and support material should tie into closely with your title.  It should be evident as to what the topic of your page is.
  37. Break up content with images or call to action buttons - this helps break up the content blocks and will direct attention to various sections of the page.
While there you have it an updated version of our list of 37 things to keep in mind when writing Web content.  We would love to hear what some of your tips are.  Feel free to comment and share some of your tips with our readers.  Happy writing everyone!

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