A recent Vitamin entry 10 Things to Consider when Writing for the Web contains much of the same advice that I stress when people ask about creating or redesigning a website. Know your audience, find your purpose, and develop a friendly voice or dialogue with visitors are a few things that need to be figured out before you start. Then once you have a draft down there are the headlines, links, and style to polish. Finally, refine the work by whittling it down to the right length, checking spelling and grammar.
Notice I said get a draft down or outline set before you start worry about your headlines or links. Focusing too much on the ten tips you read and trying to make sure you follow them right from the start is a recipe for writer’s block. Get ideas down on paper, in short and point form and work from there. Once you have your vision forming, worry about the details like headlines and links. An outline is a good place to start, but don’t think you will get it right in your first draft. Your initial thoughts may take you somewhere completely different once you see it on paper, requiring major revisions. It does get you to where you want to go, though. Now get writing!
Kristina Halvorson lists three web content mistakes in an interview on ThinkVitamin. While directed at larger organizations that employ copywriters and content professionals, I think the mistakes and solutions can be valuable for even small organizations to understand when creating or updating a site.
I’ve spoken about forgetting about the content in designing a site before, where the focus is on the visual look and splashiness of the site. Kristina’s number one mistake talks about forgetting about the content after it is created. She talks about a content life cycle that allows the content to remain it’s freshest. There are also some great questions to ask when starting a project that will help define what needs to be done.
The second mistake is about the time needed to create the content. I’ve talked about this before as well. Good content doesn’t create itself, so get started early and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Remember, more is not always better. The third mistake goes with the second. The project should often be defined by what you want to say, not the other way around. Establishing the project around your goals and mission helps accomplish that and if you get off track, refer back to those to right yourself.
Search engine optimization has had two faces in its early life. Early optimizers found weaknesses in the search engines to exploit. They quickly became the black hats, trying to stay ahead of the search engine algorithms and game the system to achieve artificially high rankings. As the reputation over black hat optimization became something to avoid, the white hat optimizers came to be, offering optimizations safe from search engine penalty. Over night many people started businesses based on SEO white hat services.
Unfortunately there was not an attempt to rename the SEO industry during its birth. It held on to the SEO title first established by the black hat marketers who by now had become an underground, black market industry. The SEO industry offered a sliver of the knowledge necessary to build a successful website, with most focusing on passing on the few simple rules for content and site design that are unknown to casual site owners and businesses. To those that make websites, SEO is just a piece of overall site design, creation and management included in any project.
I’ve never like the term SEO. To me it implies a secret science when I believe all the information is readily available. It is also common sense while the search engines provide a fair and appropriate way to rank site popularity. Still, many clients want the “secret” for their newly launched site to rank number one for their industry search terms. I think it is more of an education issue and clients need education on more than just SEO. Derek Powazek writes about the evils of SEO and how it contributes to the wealth of spam comments and other zero-value material on the web. In the comments of his post, many working in the SEO industry object to the classification that SEO is not legitimate. It seems many are stuck on calling themselves SEO experts or other such titles. If you are focusing on just SEO, you are limiting yourself. While SEO may be a well known term that brings customers, it is also an industry with a shady, untrustworthy background that confuses and scares many looking for help. Increasing your offerings into areas such as usability, content management, website management, etc. you can increase the areas you consult in. I think by being more than a SEO only company you will gain more respect from clients and gain a greater reputation in the industry. As Derek says, make great websites for you and your clients, that will bring the best advertising.
Don’t have expertise in design or usability or architecture? See if you can partner with some other small firms to refer work their way. By moving away from a SEO firm to a full-services firm you can help correct the problems that SEO causes on the web like comment spam and link selling and grow yourself at the same time.
Web page links are the main method of navigation, both on a site and across the Internet, and as such need to be findable and reveal some context around the destination.
I am supposed to branch off into other topics yet I have not found time and motivation to write those articles yet. I am still bookmarking web content and search articles that explain the critical value in creating content for a small site and I feel an obligation to continue to post these links with some comments.