The value of written web content is drastically undervalued. I say this all the time (as recently as two weeks ago, in fact: "text is by far the most important type of content on a website.") People tend to get so focused on making things look snazzy and attractive that they often neglect the humble written word.
But content is critical to the success of a website. It's what potential customers look at to gauge if you're trustworthy, know what you're doing, and can deliver on what you promise. And Google does the same thing, in fact. If it thinks that you're knowledgeable and trustworthy, your site will rank better. If it thinks that you are not, then it'll bury your website in the rankings.
The shame of it is, many honest businesses fare very poorly online because they don’t put the same amount of attention and hard work into their content that they put into their product or service. So how do you know if you fall into that category? Well, some content mistakes are more common than others. Here are the most common content problems that I run into on websites, and what can be done to fix them.
If you were to ask a mechanic what services their oil changes include, odds are that you’d get a quick bullet point list that would mention the oil they use, the items they check under the hood, maybe little perks like cleaning your windshield, and that would be about it.
When that same mechanic has their website built, odds are that they take that very brief list and slap it on their site’s “Oil Change” page and call it good. Unfortunately, that page will never, ever rank when someone in the area does a Google search for “oil change.” Why? It’s just too short. It lacks detail.
Google’s general approach to content is that if it’s long, contains a lot of keywords that are related, and is well-written (more on that later), then it’s probably informative and going to benefit viewers who visit the page. A short 50 word blurb probably isn’t going to do a visitor much good, especially if they have a specific question in mind. In the case of the mechanic, visitors might be wondering stuff like:
And a blurb isn’t going to be able to cover that kind of ground. A good rule of thumb is that, at absolute minimum, a page should have 300 words of content. More than 500 is preferable. These aren’t meant to be hard and fast rules. Opinions differ. But Google does punish thin content, and it appears to reward well-written long content.
A lot of people struggle to come up with more content, and so they just end up rambling, stuffing more words into the page in order to increase its length. Google’s crawler isn’t stupid. It’ll quickly flag the page for poor value content if you try this.
A good way to approach it is to think about the questions that you most commonly get from customers about that specific service or product. Make a list. And then make sure that the content on that page answers every single one of those questions. If you do this and organize it properly, odds are that you will end up with a page that does a great job of describing your service, and which will make customers and Google very happy.
Imagine reading a textbook that wasn’t divided up into chapters, and didn’t even have section headings. Just several hundred pages of text. You wouldn’t be able to gloss through the text to get a feel for it or to understand what it discussed. If you happened to lose your place, you would have a terrible time trying to figure out where you’d left off.
The same goes for web content. If you just throw a big block of text on a page, it can be a big turnoff for visitors, because they can’t quickly figure out if the information they’re looking for is buried in there or not. Odds are that they’ll hit the back button and look for another website.
Google feels the same way. It likes section headers to help it understand what a page is about. That’s why it’s imperative that you use Header 1 (H1) and Header 2 (H2) tags in your content. Basically, you just need to make sure that every page has a title at the top (if you’re using WordPress, chances are your site’s theme will use the post or page title as a Header 1), and that your content is broken up into sections that use H2 section headers. In this blog post, “5 Things That Are Wrong With Your Web Content (and How to Fix Them)” is the Header 1, and the lines of big black text (such as “2. It’s missing H1s and H2s.”) are all Header 2s.
H1s and H2s serve two purposes. They help people more easily navigate the page and find what they’re looking for.
Secondly, when Google is figuring out exactly what a page is about, it places greater weight on the text in the headers. If you mention “hard drive repairs” in the Header 1, and the Header 2s include terms such as “data recovery,” “diagnosing cause of drive failure,” and other such terms, then Google will quickly figure out that the page discusses various aspects of hard drive repair, and will make sure that the page ranks accordingly for those terms, rather than getting fixated on a sentence that mentions, say, damaging a hard drive with a hammer, and thinking that the page has something to do with hammers.
Think of Google as an easily distracted child. Headers help it keep from getting lost and misunderstanding what you’re talking about on your site. So make sure that every page on your site uses a Header 1, and at least one Header 2, if not more.
The exact effectiveness of H1 and H2 tags is a topic of debate, and how Google incorporates tags into their value calculations is unknown. But it’s pretty clear that headings DO help.
If a visitor is looking at the “carpentry” page on your construction company’s website, they don’t need to be told that “XYZ Construction has been doing cement work, foundation work.. for more than 70 years. We serve the cities of Albany, Albuquerque, Alexandria, Anaheim…” And they certainly don’t need to be told that on every page of the website. And yet, this is an incredibly common website practice, left over from the bad old days of web design.
When it came to search engine optimization, it used to be very easy to manipulate search engines by stuffing every imaginable relevant (and irrelevant) keyword onto every page of the site. As a consequence, you’d get these massive blocks of text in tiny print listing their services and every single city in a 1,000 mile radius that would be copied and pasted into the body of every page of their site.
Those days are gone. But it’s still very common for websites to take the copy-and-paste approach to their content, thinking that more is better. Unfortunately, duplicate content actually hurts your website, for multiple reasons. Think about what we just discussed in the two sections above. Points 1 and 2 involve creating pages that feature well-written content that focuses on a specific subject.
If the mechanic we used in one of our earlier examples writes 300 words about oil changes on their “oil change” page, but then pastes in 700 words about allllllllllllll the services their shop offers, and alllllllllll the cities that their shop serves, they’ve just subverted the entire purpose of the page. When Google takes a look at that webpage, it’s thought process is going to be something like, “Well, about 30% of this page talks about oil changes, but 70% of it is content that’s been duplicated throughout the site and is unrelated to oil changes, so it’s probably not very important.”
Duplicate content also tends to confuse Google as to which instance of that content is the most important or useful copy of it. The usual end result is that all of the affected pages rank poorly.
Duplicate content devalues your original content. Every page needs to be unique. While it’s okay for the occasional call-to-action or short phrase to appear in more than one place, 99% of the time it simply isn’t acceptable to paste and re-paste the same piece of content ad nauseum throughout your site.
Beware: You may have duplicate content issues and not even know it. Websites that aren’t set up properly may show the same content at multiple locations within the website. This also serves to devalue the content, and hurt site rankings.
Google is quite good at figuring out the original source of a piece of content. Copying a page of content that ranks on the first page of Google and putting it on your own site does not mean that your copied content will also rank on the first page. Google will look at it, say, “Why would I want to feature multiple copies of the same thing?” And it will actually bury it in the rankings. Also, if you do that too much, you may get a manual penalty from Google that will hurt the search rankings of ALL of the pages on your website.
In addition, the original owners of the content can actually file a DMCA takedown against your website through Google, which will result in the offending pages being completely delisted from Google’s search results.
Post Modern Marketing has helped many clients who have been impacted by manual penalties. While they can often be fixed, it’s very time-consuming (and potentially pricey). Do yourself a favor: don’t steal content. If you’re wondering why your site isn’t ranking at all, take a moment to think about where you got your content.
This is an incredibly common issue. Experts tend to speak about their specialties in ways that only make sense to other specialists. If your business is a B2B, then that isn’t a problem. You speak your customer’s language, so you’re good to go!
But the majority of businesses deal with customers who aren’t experts. They don’t know the technical terms for things. Instead, customers think in terms of what they need, or what the issue is that they’re trying to resolve. A computer repair business that spends hundreds of words talking about flux capacitors and widgets and micro-processing units is going to miss the vast majority of customers who are on Google searching for, “repair computer won’t turn on,” or “computer turns on and off but no screen,” or “noisy hard drive.”
In Section 1, I noted that a good way to develop content is to think about the questions that customers frequently ask. An even better way to approach it is to think about how your customers ask questions. How would your customers characterize their needs?
If the computer repair guy thinks about how he approaches his craft, he’ll probably end up with pages that focus on the different parts that are often affected by issues: circuit boards, displays, keyboards, hard drive, power supply, sound card, video card, etc.
Instead, the service pages on his website should focus on how customers perceive their problems: keyboard doesn’t work, computer display doesn’t turn on, computer display looks distorted, computer doesn’t turn on, sound doesn’t work, etc. Each of these pages could have a section that discusses how this issue usually looks, then give a few pointers on ways that users might be able to fix the problem if it isn’t serious, and then gently explain to the visitor that if these attempts don’t work, that they probably have an issue that requires the services of a computer expert.
This a great approach for multiple reasons:
Thinking from the perspective of your customer can make a huge difference in the quality and usefulness of your site’s content, and in turn really help its search rankings for relevant terms. It can be very difficult to separate yourself from your perspective of experience.
This is why I often characterize myself as a ‘useful idiot’ when we develop websites and I’m writing the content. Because I’m coming from a position of ignorance, I end up asking the sorts of questions that a customer might ask, and so in turn develop an understanding of what the customers need to know, and convey that information in the content I write.
Writing decent content takes time, effort, and practice. You have to really take some care to check that your content features proper spelling and grammar, and is generally coherent.
Have you ever looked at the packaging of a cheap piece of electronics that you buy at a dollar store, or from an overseas seller on eBay? It’s often filled with misspellings, poor grammar, and so on. But when you look at the pricier name brand version of the same thing, the writing on the package is almost always error-free.
Which of these products conveys more trustworthiness? Now think about how you present your business through the content on your website. Do you want to come across as the name brand product, or the generic dollar store version? There is evidence that suggests the obvious conclusion: Good grammar drives sales.
Make sure that the content on your website is well-written. If your writing skills aren’t up to par, or you don’t have the time to give your content the attention it deserves, spend some money on a professional content writer.
Well-written content isn’t optional. If you treat your content as nonessential, you’re going to be outpaced by all of the competitors who choose to invest time and/or money into their content. They’ll outrank you in Google, and regardless of how good your business is, most of your potential customers will never find you in the first place.
But if you remember the five points outlined in this blog post and apply them to your website content, you will see an improvement in the ranking of your website, as well as the number of leads that it generates.