All Hail Content!

Why do so many webmasters seem to forget the most important thing that every website needs? Or maybe they take it for granted. Well, customers need it in order to make an informed purchase, and search engines need it to know how to rank your website. Keep reading to learn what it is, and how to incorporate it into your website.

You have your website set up, with all the anchor tags and ads and headers and the various SEO tricks that you’ve learned will give you a high ranking in the SERPs. And you’re seeing a lot of people visiting your website, but you’re not getting the conversions you expect. What’s going on? Could something be missing?

Yes indeed, and that something might be so basic you’ll hit yourself on the head when you realize it. Bring up your website and look at it with the eyes of a visitor. When you or anyone goes online to search for something, the first thing they’re looking for is information. They’re not looking for ads, or links to other things, or pretty pictures, except as a means to an end. And that end is finding content.

Don’t think content is important? When was the last time you made a major purchase? Do you remember what you did? No doubt you spent a lot of time researching the item and comparing it with similar items, finding out everything you could about it until you were comfortable with your decision. Well, doing something online, particularly e-commerce, is just like that. In fact, you have more hurdles to overcome than a brick-and-mortar retailer.

Think about it. Your customer doesn’t have the actual product in front of them; at best, you’re giving them a picture of the product. And you’re asking them to trust you with their credit card information. If they’re at all Net-savvy, they’ve probably heard about the risks of identity theft. You want to make them as comfortable as possible, and the only way you can do that – since you can’t actually stand there and hold their hand – is by giving them as much information as possible.

There’s another reason to make sure your website provides a content-rich environment. You want to rank high in the SERPs. Well, everybody knows that search engines love content. If you have lots of content, then the search engines have plenty of material to index. That means they’ll get a true idea of what your site is all about, and be able to give you an honest organic ranking in the SERPs. That means your site will turn up high whenever someone is looking for exactly what you’re offering – and this relevance can lead to more conversions.

Maybe it would help if I start by telling you what content is not. Content is not “Here’s this great link to some information about dog training” followed by the link. Going larger, content is also not a whole slew of links to sites about, say, child care with a one-sentence description of each site. That’s an example from real life, by the way, and there is a case in court about it. The site is KinderStart, and if you’re curious about the details, you’ll probably want to read the article I wrote about it here.

Now that you know what content isn’t, you’re probably wondering what it is. The best site I know of when it comes to e-commerce content is Amazon.com. Let’s go over there and take a little tour. The home page is jam-packed with information, but it’s organized. When you search for something, you get not just a list of the items with links; you get thumbnail images and prices. When you click on a link to a book (hey, I’m a big reader, what do you expect from a writer?), you get the price, availability, the number of how many are available new and used (and at what lowest price), a customer rating with links to reviews…you can scroll down to editorial reviews which include a description of the book’s contents, scroll down further for more product details like the page count, publisher, and so on…and that’s just for openers.

Now you know why Amazon.com does so much business. It’s almost as if the books are leaping out of your monitor begging to be bought. So what do you do if you’re not selling books online? Well, certain things will still translate over, like customer reviews. And if you’re selling products that have spec sheets, you might want to include those – maybe not on the main page for the product itself, but certainly you’ll want to link to them, like Amazon links to its customer reviews.

Images of the product you’re selling also count as content. Images can slow down your web pages, though, so you might want to have a thumbnail on the main product page with a link to more and/or larger images. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words (though trust me, you’re going to need those words, too, to get your point across).

So how much content is enough? When you think you’ve given your customers too much content, you’ve probably given them just enough. Even if they don’t use it all, it’s reassuring to see that the information is there. And a comfortable customer is one that is more willing – and more likely – to make a purchase.

You might be thinking at this point that I’m aiming this article only at those who do e-commerce on their website. Well, guess what? If you’re not selling anything, content is even more important, because it’s all you have to attract your visitors. Trust me, they aren’t coming to your site to check out your ads! You still want your visitors to do something when they come to your site, whether it’s signing up for a newsletter, creating an account, posting on your forums, reading an article, or whatever. The only way they know who and what you are is by the content you show them.

Sure, when you have a website focused on e-commerce, a sale is a “conversion.” But if you have a site that’s not specifically selling anything, something like signing up for a newsletter counts as a conversion, too. And the only way you’re going to get those conversions, again, is to make your visitor comfortable…and the only way you can do that is with content.

Now that you know your flesh-and-blood visitors (whether they’re “customers” or not) need content, how about the ones that aren’t anything more than software? Yes, I mean the search engines. It may be a little more difficult to think like a search engine than a customer, but it can be done. The goal of a search engine spider is actually very similar to the goal of a person; it’s looking for information. The difference is that it’s not looking for specific information for the same reasons. It’s trying to classify your site so that, when a visitor to the search engine puts in keywords, they’ll see links to the websites that are most relevant to their search.

To some degree, you may have to blind yourself a bit to “see” like a search engine spider. It can’t see any graphical elements. All a spider can see is text. That means if you expect to rank at all in the search engines, you’d better have relevant text.

Let me say a word to the technically savvy folks out there who know how to do certain kinds of redirection: don’t even think of it. Yes, there is a black hat SEO trick that lets you direct regular visitors to one page and serve up a completely different page to search engine spiders. That will get you banned from the search engines, and you don’t want that. Even being a major company won’t protect you from that, as you can see from this article here. Don’t fake content; just sit down and write the real thing.

Writing content for the web is not like writing fiction. It’s a lot more like writing a newspaper article. That shouldn’t be surprising, since you’re writing for two completely different audiences, even when (as with Amazon’s book sales) they’re the same people. Let me explain.

When you’re writing fiction, you don’t want to tell your readers everything at once. Especially if it’s a novel, they’re in for the long haul. You don’t want to keep them in the dark, of course, but you want to give them only enough to keep them interested in turning the pages.

Web surfers, on the other hand, have short attention spans. You do want to give them everything at once, but you want to give it to them in small, short, easily digestible chunks. Think about almost any newspaper article you’ve read. In the first paragraph or two, it tells you all of the most important points about the story: who, what, where, when, how, and why. If you keep reading, you’ll get more details, of course, but you don’t absolutely need them.

Does this contradict what I’ve said up to this point about bombarding your visitors with content? Not at all. You just need to make sure that the details are in short paragraphs that quickly sum up each idea. Your writing should be easy to read, and free of jargon. Web surfers don’t want to work to get the information they need (remember the short attention spans).

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it is, if you take the time to do it. In return, you’ll see better rankings in the SERPs, and more conversions from your visitors. Good luck!

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