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There’s an old saying among professional writers: Quality work takes time. It can take many hours or even days to research, write, fine-tune and revise your blog post, article or website copy before it’s ready-to-publish. Journalists and copywriters have known this for a long time. Increasingly, though, “quality content” is becoming a popular buzzword among digital marketers.

The fact is, if you take shortcuts and don’t put the time into writing good copy, you will shoot yourself in the digital marketing foot. Now admittedly, some online marketers have done fairly well in the past by focusing on keywords, internal linking and other SEO techniques, rather than the quality of their content. But that’s not going to cut it any more. Nowadays, having high-quality content is key when it comes to maintaining a successful online presence.

In fact, search engines like Google and Bing have stepped up their efforts to discourage spam and sketchy SEO practices, and at the same time, have been placing a higher value on quality content. So now, if someone types in a search request for “plastic surgery in Atlanta,” Google will not only seek out sites that fulfill that request, it will also search for highly-visited websites with quality content. Once a search engine finds a particular website and determines its content is good-quality, that site will move up on the search engine’s results page.

But that’s not the only reason to have good content. As an online marketer, ultimately you’re not just trying to attract Google robots, but to please consumers. When your website offers truly useful information that your target market needs and wants, the public will see you as a service-oriented, reliable and trustworthy company. If consumers find your site helpful, they’re going to return. Chances are, they will also link your content to their own websites or share your content with friends on social media, which will boost your search engine ranking even higher.

But what exactly is “quality” content? Marketing and communications gurus have been commenting on this a lot in recent years. Really, though, the definition of “quality writing” is the same today as what journalism, communications and English teachers have always told their students. It never hurts to have a refresher though. What follows is an overview of six key aspects of effective digital communication, along with tips for improving your own website content:

Create Original Material

The most important thing you can do for your website and for your rankings is to make your content original. People get really turned-off when they’re doing an Internet search on a particular topic and they see the same old information “spinned” or reposted verbatim on one website after another.

Sure, it can be easy to be tempted to just swipe content from other sites, because after all, coming up with your own, original content takes time and skill. But using other people’s material without getting their permission or crediting them—plagiarism—is illegal. Now you may be able to get away with re-wording, rephrasing, or cutting-and-pasting various sections of copy from different websites to “repackage” as content for your own site, but it’s still not the best practice. It won’t drive people to your site, because after all, you’re just saying what everyone else is saying.

Increasingly search engines are monitoring sites for duplicate material, and Google, for one, is coming down hard on those who plagiarize. Don’t fool yourself: If what’s on your site has been copied word-for-word from another site, or if it “highly resembles” someone else’s material, you will see a drop in rank and in visits via the search engines that have made the discovery. Furthermore, if the plagiarized copy is not removed or properly cited, the owner of the material may file a copyright infringement lawsuit on you.

The way to get better rankings and more traffic to your website is to provide unique insights and other information that’s only found on your site. Something that’s unique will be reposted and shared on social media sites, and visitors will return to your site because after all, you’re the website that produces fresh material.

Exactly what is the best way to come up with original material? Conduct interviews with industry experts, company employees or satisfied customers and share their ideas and insights. If you’re a plumbing contractor, put your own plumbing tips on your website, or write about your personal experiences or business philosophy. If you just attended a professional conference, offer your perceptions and impressions about the meetings you attended. If you’re addressing a routine topic or an issue that has been covered extensively, share your unique perspectives, or at least put it in your own words.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to do the writing yourself, hire a writer. There are plenty of professional writers who will work for you on a freelance or contract basis for very reasonable rates. You can easily find a writer on freelancing websites, Craigslist or even by posting a “help wanted” notice with the journalism or business communication department of your local college.

Be Thorough and Complete

There was a time when shorter, more shallow copy was just as effective at bringing visitors to websites as longer, more in-depth content. In recent years, Google has been assigning priority ranking to content with word counts in the 2,000+ range. But truth be told, consumers have always valued thorough information—especially if it’s content that provides them with genuine answers and insights. If it’s useful material, people will read it—even if it’s lengthy.

Quality content provides the “full” story. When you write your copy, put yourself in your target audience’s shoes and try to address all their concerns. Don’t leave them wondering or in confusion, and don’t omit important details. If you only provide shallow or surface information, people will give up on your website and look somewhere else for answers.

This doesn’t mean everything your write for your website needs to be 2,000 words; some topics truly can be addressed in less words. But don’t be “short and to the point,” just to get some copy on your site, if a longer explanation really is warranted.

Strive for Accuracy

There has been a lot of speculation that Google will soon start fact-checking website content. If and when this happens, sites with bogus stats and facts could very well see a drop in their search engine ranking . But in the meantime, you’re still hurting yourself if you post out-of-date, unverified or inaccurate information. People won’t return to your site if you misled them the first time. Do your homework and make sure your content is accurate and current.

If you’ve read a “fact” over and over again on the Internet, don’t assume it’s true and worse yet, publish it on your own site. A lot of false information is reproduced over and over again on the Web. When you see stats and facts quoted online that you would like to use on your own site, if at all possible, go to the source of the information and find out for yourself. That may mean requesting a copy of a research report or doing a short interview with someone who was quoted. By doing so, you may obtain information that is even more current, or at the very least, get a unique quote or tidbit of information that you can use on your site.

Use Correct Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation and Sentence Structure

Quality content is free of misspellings, grammar blunders, punctuation errors and other typos. Sentences and paragraphs are well-organized, without a lot of repetition. The copy flows well and is presented in an organized fashion. This is not to say that the content needs to be absolutely perfect, but overall it is well-written.

If your content is sloppy—you’ve made a lot of grammar and punctuation faux pas, your sentences are constructed poorly, you ramble a lot and the copy is wordy, or you’ve just got a lot of typos and misspellings—you will come off as unprofessional. This can erode your credibility and deter people from doing business with you. Granted, not everyone will realize that you used a subject pronoun when you should have used an object pronoun, or that you misplaced an apostrophe in a sentence. But enough people will notice these mistakes, and they won’t be impressed.

Before you post any copy to your website, proofread it carefully. Don’t just use your spell-checker on your computer and think everything’s okay. The word “contest” will past spell-check but it’s not correct if it was supposed to be “content.” Don’t rely on your computer’s grammar checker either; computerized grammar checkers aren’t always right.

You might want to hire a proofreader to review your content before you post it. Even if you have a professional writer on staff, have someone proofread his or her work; pros are not immune from making typos, especially they have been staring at a computer screen for hours on end.

Write With Your Target Audience in Mind

Tailor your writing to your target audience’s concerns, perspectives, needs and wants. Provide solutions and insights to the particular situations they face. This may require you to do some demographic research so that you can adapt your writing style, word choice and the topics you choose to address to their particular age, experiences and educational level. If you are writing to people in particular fields of work, know something about their profession so you can use proper jargon.

If you focus on your audience, people will feel like you are talking directly to them, which will make them want to return to your site for more. On the other hand, if you over-stuff your copy with irrelevant “filler material” or keywords simply to get visitors to your site, people won’t stay on your site for very long, and they definitely won’t return.

Present Content in a Readable Format

If your content is easy to read, visitors will stay on your site longer, which is a good signal to Google that you’re publishing worthwhile content. Furthermore, the longer people are on your site, the more likely they’ll become interested in the products or services you offer.

There are a number of steps you can take to make your content more “reader friendly.” Keep your paragraphs short (between 1 and 5 sentences is generally good). Use a mix of longer and shorter sentences. Break up long copy into shorter sections with sub-heads; this makes it easy for readers to pick out the information they’re particularly interested in. When you’re presenting a list of facts or tips, present them as bulleted or numbered points.

Word choice is also important. In general, you should use the same kind of language in your website copy that you use when talking with customers face-to-face. Unless you’re writing for a technical audience, common, everyday words are best. Don’t use a pretentious, $10 word when a simpler, 10-cent word will do. Remember—your goal is to communicate information about your business, not to impress people with your vocabulary. Most people will not spend a lot of time on a website if the content is difficult to digest and understand.

The bottom-line is that good content matters. If you’re not posting quality writing, your website won’t have very many repeat visitors, or even first-timers. However, if you invest the time and money into producing thorough, accurate, original, well-written, relevant and readable content, search engines will like your website, and so will consumers.

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