“Few people set out to produce content that bores, confuses and irritates users, yet the web is filled with fluffy, purposeless, annoying content.” – Erin Kissane
Like gold, quality web content is a valuable commodity. After all, online entrepreneurs have embraced the mantra, “Content is king,” and understand that website ranking has a direct proportional relationship to their site’s amount of captivating prose. In the absence of a well-written meaningful message, search engines may not only dismiss the site, but more importantly, so will readers.
Now there are shortcuts, of course, where quality content pales in relation to the web master’s link building capabilities. Search engines may fall for ranking signals, elevating a site because of impressive incoming links, for instance, but an audience may not be so easily fooled.
The name of the traffic and conversion game is to gain visibility to your site, and build a brand. You want folks to see your online company as professional and reputable. Aside from the aesthetic of your site, people will evaluate your web content. No, they won’t necessarily be judging whether you’re the next Hemingway, but they will start to formulate an impression of you and your site. Your message, and the way you construct it, will either resonate with others, or turn them off.
The purpose of this article is to encapsulate what quality web content should look like (by example, hopefully), and the principles and commandments that need to be upheld. Think of this blog entry as ‘Online Writing 101’ – Titillating Your Audience While Appeasing the Search Engines.”
10 Commandments of Quality Web Content – A Journey of Mind, Body, and Soul
The writing rules you learned in school, primarily writing research papers and topical essays, may not readily apply when generating web content. There will be some overlapping rules and strategies that are applicable to both, but understand that online prose requires a different tool kit than offline prose. This will become apparent as I list and describe the following 10 Commandments of Internet-based composition:
1. Thou Shall not Bore Your Audience – Writing can be a serious business. It can also be exhausting, mentally-enervating, challenging, and labor-intensive. You, as the writer, may experience negative emotions when you compose your content but the audience should not experience similar negative emotions when they read it!
Dust off the solemnity (unless you’re writing about a grave topic), and let your inner child express himself/herself. Embrace your innate creativity and enlighten, entertain, and connect with your readers. You can do so even with the most seemingly dull topic.
Stay true to yourself, warts and all, and don’t be afraid to be completely authentic and honest in your writing. Some of my most popular guest posts are the ones in which I expressed my vulnerability, disillusionment, and lack of confidence.
You can’t be afraid of ‘writing raw’ and being judged. You should be fearful, on the other hand, of boring your audience, who, with one click, can disappear forever.
Tell stories and anecdotes – anything of interest that will bolster your point of view. Write in a way where readers can use all their senses, and almost smell and taste your topic by the enticing verbs and adjectives you use.
2. Thou Shall not be Repetitive – I remember cringing in discomfort when I used to read my son’s essays from school, especially when he was in elementary school. Although I never shared any negative judgment with him, I had to delicately remind him that good content requires DETAILS and ORIGINALITY. In a 5 sentence paragraph about his enjoyment of football, for instance, he would write that playing football is fun in all 5 sentences.
Now we can excuse a youngster for that lack of writing depth but we tend to go to a new screen when encountering this type of online writing from adults.
And remember, repetition is boring and that violates Commandment #1. Vary your prose by providing essential details but also ensure that you use related terms, too. You don’t want to keep using the same word or words over and over and over and over again (see what I mean).
3. Thou Shalt not Write More Than 3 Sentences in a Paragraph – Yes, web content format matters. This is an understatement as the amount of text that appears will affect how your site looks. Cluttered verbiage will be grounds for visitors to click that screen close button.
In today’s frenetic pace of life, readers just don’t have the time and inclination to read a big block of text. By formatting your web content (I will expound on this principle in the next commandment), you’ll protect your readers’ minds and eyes.
Deciphering a long message that is not broken up is an arduous and off-putting task. By limiting the amount of sentences in a paragraph to no more than 3 (1 or 2 is even better), you’re ensuing that your audience will not be overwhelmed.
I know this is contrary to what we were taught in school. I learned that a paragraph is not even a paragraph if it does not have at least 3 sentences. Dismiss that rule from your mind and consider how many teachers are successful entrepreneurs.
4. Thou Shalt not Forget to Use Headings, Sub-headings, Bullet Points, Images, Videos, and Calls to Action – You should see my school essays, many of which I’ve inexplicably kept. They’re pages and pages of uninterrupted prose. And while I typically got A’s on them, I would receive a grade of F by Google, the other search engines, and readers, if I continued to write in this way.
It’s mandatory to use the following elements when constructing web content:
- Headings – You must grab your reader’s attention from the get go. Spend time on creating intriguing, clickable titles to rouse immediate interest. You don’t have to be a copywriter to come up with clever headings. Think of the main point you’re introducing, and perhaps inject a twist on it or two with interesting verbiage.
Now from a ranking standpoint, it is worthwhile to include your primary keyword phrase in the header. In this way, Google understands what your site’s post revolves around, and perhaps will reward you with a boost in the ranking pecking order for that targeted keyword phrase.
- Sub-headings – This reinforces the heading and can add a related point. Perhaps here, you can list a benefit, feature, or an important aspect.
It may also make sense for the sub-heading to include an LSI, related word or phrase pertaining to the keyword phrase you’re targeting. Why not try to gain some brownie points from Google?
Remember, sub-headings, along with headings, make the article easier to scan. Most readers do not typically invest the time to read the entire blog entry – at least initially – and prefer to scan to gain insight from the main points.
Moreover, sub-headings contribute towards more white space which should appeal to your audience as well.
- Bullet points – Most of my writing teachers in school did not favor bullet points. One even said that she regarded the use of bullet points as taking a short cut. She believed that all points should be elaborated on, and not purposely condensed.
I’ve taken a 180 degree turn when it comes to implementing bullet points although I don’t mean to offend my former language arts instructor.
Bullet points succinctly show key aspects or points about the topic, and are so readily digestible to content consumers. They draw the reader’s eye as well, and vary the structure of the composition, enhancing the aesthetic of the post.
Some writers even use indents to accomplish the same task. This allows the audience to quickly scan for crucial information and just improves how the overall content appears to the eye.
- Images – You don’t have to pepper your content with so many images, but at least provide one or two. Images will elicit reader reactions on their own, and can fortify your message. An intriguing picture, in and of itself, may lead to shares, particularly on Pinterest, and get more eyeballs to your blog post.
Of course, ensure that you’re using copyright-free images. Like a good interior decorator, place your elements in the most advantageous spots, appealing to good taste and discretion.
- Videos – A picture of the video frame serves the same purposes of an image. Videos contribute to discussion, break up text, and add another element that should connect with readers.
Moreover, I find that adding a YouTube video may give a little boost to my blog entry’s ranking. After all, Google owns YouTube and favors this platform.
I would advise to only add a video if it’s well-done and related to the topic at hand, and preferably, not showing a competitor’s offer. In addition, consider the fact that the video you select reflects your interests, preferences, and degree of professionalism to the viewers.
Here is an outstanding video that depicts many of the ideas that I share:
- Call to Action – This is especially applicable to online entrepreneurs. Yes, your goal is to provide quality content but it may have a dual purpose. Perhaps you want folks to not only learn about your topic, but purchase a product or service that is related to it.
For instance, here I’m providing an insightful discussion on how to effectively write web content, but later, I’m also going to offer a writing service that I’ve teamed up with.
The Call to Action should be large enough for folks to notice, and pleasing to the eye. The use of colors, fonts, and images may make or break a call to action, so you may have to split test and see what works best.
Web content works when there is a high degree of readability and ‘scan-ability.’ Notice that I placed line breaks between elements to make it easier to read and scan.
And behind the scenes, make sure that you’re using the meta title and description tags. You’re also delicately sprinkling in your targeted keyword phrases here and there so that it reads well, and is noticed by the search engines. (NEVER overstuff that keyword phrase, however.)
5. Thou Shalt not Commit Information Overload or Overcomplicate Matters – As writers, our job is to inform, enlighten, and perhaps even amuse readers, and form a mutually beneficial bond with them. We want them to hear our voice in a language they understand.
Readers must come first, not our egos. When we’re writing technical content, for instance, we need to simplify matters, and not make the topic too complex. We’re not writing to impress readers or talk over their heads; we’re simply using the power of explanation in a way that reads well, covers the material, and is digestible.
As mentioned earlier, details are important, but there is a fine line between a detailed piece and one that provides every bit of minutia. When you throw the proverbial whole kitchen sink about a given matter, you may be overwhelming readers.
Use your best judgement and see what salient points to include. And when you figure that out, communicate at the level your readers are, ensuring that full comprehension takes place.
When the audience does not understand your message, it’s time to edit your web content. And when you edit your content, be careful not to ‘dummy down’ the information as to make it meaningless.
6. Thou Shall not Use Big Words – Alright, I just used the word, ‘salient,’ so perhaps I committed an infraction, violation, offense … or simply put, I just broke a rule.
Seriously, I was trained to showcase my burgeoning vocabulary. My teachers loved when I used words that they did not even know the meanings of. They should have taken points off.
When you try to be erudite (or plainly put, a showoff), readers may not understand your message. Worse, they may dislike the author for being a pretentious (fill in the blank).
The art of great writing or at least producing quality content is to get readers to firmly understand your message in a way that gives them pleasure to read. When readers have to start looking up words when reading every single sentence, you’re interrupting their reading and reducing overall enjoyment.
Long story short: Stop being a pompous ass author.
7. Thou Shall not be Lazy – Do you really want to produce quality content, ahem, like this article? It takes work, determination, and perseverance.
Sure, a touch of ingenuity and imagination is necessary. But content that draws raves reflects a strong work ethic.
A solid piece of literature requires investment of time in research and fact-finding. It also generally requires thought, where you fuse related points together, and connect supporting examples and anecdotes.
Web content writing is not for the work-weary or for those who don’t like to stimulate their brain. Epic content requires epic effort. If you’re besieged with responsibilities, it’s best to wait for a more convenient time to pound the keyboard.
And understand that you may not produce a masterpiece with the first draft. (Yes, just like in school, you should write a rough draft based on an outline.) Editing is a crucial part of the writing process, and will be discussed in another web content writing commandment.
Quality content is an evolutionary process, Grasshopper, and eventually you’ll words will be mint.
8. Thou Shall not Forget to Edit – You’re convinced that your writing is a finished product so why bother editing? You’re sick and tired of writing so why spend more time proofreading?
Imagine a cautionary yellow light flashing. If the goal is to produce quality web content, you can never be certain you hit that mark without reviewing your work.
Better yet, have a fresh pair of eyes look at it before it goes out for mass consumption. A good editor can find grammatical and spelling mistakes, sentence structure issues, or make suggestions to refine the piece.
Show me high quality web content, and I’ll bet it has gone through the editing process … and probably more than once. Fine writing is like chiseling a stone. It takes attention to detail, a steady hand with eyes wide open, and a willingness to shape, correct, and refine as you go along.
9. Thou Shall not Gloss Over Uncertainties – While it’s ideal when writing is a free-flowing process, there are times where you will have to stop and consult a dictionary, thesaurus, or grammar checker..
Make certain that you’re using a word correctly in a sentence. Ensure that the seeming synonym you’re using actually fits. Check whether a given word should be hyphenated or perhaps appear as two separate words.
Read that sentence and make certain it’s not a run-on.
Don’t make the mistake that people won’t notice or care. Web content becomes tarnished when apparent blunders surface.
I’m not advocating perfectionism. The impossible quest to be that perfect author wilts creativity, imagination, and desire. But if you’re writing something that does not make sense to you, or you’re uncertain whether you’re abusing your native language, imagine how the reader is going to feel.
10. Though Shall not Plagiarize or Spin Content – You must know the difference between writing and copying. The former reflects your voice; the latter reflects someone else’s.
Writing should be an authentic, genuine experience where you’re sharing your ideas and perspective with an audience. A plagiarist undermines the audience by offering ideas that belong to someone else.
Plagiarism is all about deception – taking advantage of readers and the author, if not undermining one’s own higher consciousness.
If you want to produce stellar content, it has to be YOUR content, injecting your personality! As such, there’s no room for spinning content as the generated verbiage rarely reads well and lacks complete originality.
Quality content is much easier to create if one is a ‘quality person’ – someone with principles and ethics.
Web Content Writing Best Practices – Adhere to the Commandments Above
To summarize, quality web content originates when the writer has a strong desire to produce it, willing to go the extra mile to perform research, write thoughtfully, and edit carefully.
A web content specialist provides just the right amount of details, in an informative and entertaining way, galvanizing the readers’ interest.
The content specialist is also detail-oriented and adheres to grammatical rules with proper sentence structure.
The goal is to connect with the audience, and make reading the article a pleasurable experience. As such, the words should strike a responsive chord within the reader, and not be too complex or too simplistic.
A proficient author is also sensitive to how the blog entry looks, and uses various elements, like headings, sub-headings, bullet points, images, videos, and even a call to action, to frame the material. Ample white space is also necessary to enable readers to scan the information. An added thought: Why not experiment with colors and fonts to see the effect on the blog entry’s appearance?
The web content author must also write for search engines and be familiar with SEO principles. Meta tags should be added and the targeted keyword phrase with related terms should be sporadically used throughout the piece.
But writing quality web content revolves around the readers’ needs. Towards that end, the author must consider the problem or issue that needs to be solved or addressed, and whether the information helps the reader in some way. There has to be a point to the article … from the reader’s perspective.
And finally, great content can and should be produced by you! There’s no reason to take others’ ideas and claim them as your own. You need not manipulate the work of others, and spin content. Web content writing must be a creative, individual enterprise.
Try not to worry about the length; only concern yourself with the relevancy (i.e., keeping to the subject or targeted keyword phrase at hand) and quality.
So follow the 10 commandments of web content writing and you’re sure to produce stellar content that will be valued and appreciated by your audience. By adhering to these commandments with religious and spiritual zeal, you’ll be able to elevate your writing to celestial status, and you’ll be blessed with success beyond measure.