4 Things You Didn't Know about Web Content
Tim Schlee |September 05, 2014
You’re probably not an expert on writing web copy. You’re a self storage owner. It’s not your job. You probably don’t want it to be.
But whether you write your own website content or pay someone to do it for you, you still need to know enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. We’ve gone over the basics of writing website content before, but I’m here to let you in on a few secrets. They’re not always pretty. They sometimes mean more work for you (or your writer). But they work.
Some of them are bold claims, you may think, but these harsh truths can help you home in on what really matters in your website’s content and stop wasting time pursuing the conventional wisdom that will get you nowhere.
1. Almost No One Reads It
That’s right – only 16% of internet users read word by word, according to research from the seminal usability authority, the Nielsen Norman Group. The rest simply scan. That means you’re off the hook, right? If no one reads it, do you really need to put all that effort into crafting great content?
Of course you do! First of all, 16% is small, but it’s not insignificant. Don’t alienate your full-on readers with poor content. Secondly, writing for scanners will actually help you craft better, more concise copy. Even the people who read every single word aren’t looking for the next Moby-Dick on your self storage website, so cut it down to the essentials.
And regardless of whether your users simply scan your content or actually read it, it’s important to organize your information in meaningful, identifiable structures. Think about all the major points that are stressed in every article about how to write for the web:
• Short paragraphs
• Frequent headings
Anything that instantly tells the reader where they are and what they’re looking at (or about to be looking at) is fantastic. If a person scanning your web page can’t find what they’re looking for in the first five or six words of a paragraph, they’ll probably jump to the next one until they find it. And if they can’t find it in any of those five or six word chunks, they’ll probably just leave your page and head to another.
So no lengthy intros. No beating around the bush. Get right to the point so you can accommodate the standard F-shaped reading pattern that dominates the web:
See all that red in there? That’s what most people look at. That’s where your important information should go. Take a moment to think about who you’re marketing to and what will attract them to your facility over a competitor’s, and then stuff all that information in the places with the highest visibility.
By writing for people who don’t actually read, you’ll not only help all the scanners out there – you’ll also end up with great, readable, and straightforward website copy that will suit everyone’s needs, no matter how much or how little of it they actually read.
2. Some Words Are Scientifically Proven to Be More Persuasive
Seriously. Check out this KISSmetrics post on hypnotic power words. These words have been shown to be more effective at persuading people to do things. Like renting a unit at your storage facility.
The three that the article focuses on are:
The way it works is that these and other words bypass the rational decision-making part of a person’s brain and instead target deeper desires in their subconscious that they generally have trouble simply reasoning away.
For example, when you ask someone to imagine renting at your storage facility, they have sensory experiences that are, from the brain’s perspective, all but indistinguishable from real sensory data of their actual surroundings. As the article puts it:
Storage companies are already ahead of the curve on this. The vast majority of people visiting your site are already looking for self storage, so you really don’t have to put a lot of effort into persuading them that extra space is something they need. Your job is not to convince people they need storage – it’s to convince them they need storage from you.
So make a deeper impression. Don’t just list amenities – convey the benefits in vivid terms that conjure images in the reader’s head. Use those hypnotic words to sneak past the rational barriers of critical thought and engage directly with the unconscious realm of desire and imagination.
To echo every writing teacher everywhere: Show, don’t tell. Use ‘because’ to show your customers precisely why your units, amenities, or prices are the solution to their problem. Help them imagine their life of convenience and simplicity once they rent from you.
You don’t have to be Shakespeare. A working knowledge of these words and how they work will already lift your website above 99% of other pages on the web. You can do it. And just imagine the amount of leads you’ll pull in.
3. SEO Doesn’t Matter
There. I said it. It doesn’t matter.
SEO is far from dead – optimizing your mark-up, maps listings, and link building is still very important – but with the release of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update last year, it’s little more than an afterthought when writing content.
Think about it. What does your user want to know when reading your website?
• Unit sizes
That’s probably about it. They want to know the basics of your business so they can make their decision and contact you. And now with Hummingbird, that’s all you really need in order to have an optimized page!
Forget about keyword density. Don’t worry too much about stuffing title tags and alt tags with keywords. Write like a human being trying to communicate clearly with another human being, and you’ll be fine. Because the Hummingbird update is all about identifying sites that satisfy the user.
Google’s ultimate business goal – any search engine’s ultimate business goal – is to supply users with the sites that will best satisfy their needs so they come back and continue to use their search engine and hopefully click on some of the paid ads at the top of the page on occasion. That’s how they make money. If Google sends their users to crappy sites, they’ll stop using Google and won’t click on the ads, so Google will make less money. But if the user is happy, Google’s happy.
So make the user happy. Get to the point. Write concise, clear copy without worrying about all the noise you read online all the time about how to make your website rank well with Google, because most of it is wrong anyway.
4. You’re Never Finished
The internet isn’t like print media. You don’t write, revise, proof, and then send your content off to the printing press and never touch it again. It’s there constantly on your website, begging to stay up-to-date. Readers might flip to the copyright date of a book to make sure it wasn’t published too far in the past, but no one on the web will be happy with content that’s any less than 100% accurate as of the time that they’re reading it.
Your content’s got to keep up with the times, which, fortunately for you, isn’t that tough but might require a little more effort than you used to think web copy would.
Your Site Should Reflect Current Events
Your business isn’t static, so you content shouldn’t be either. You have deals, coupons, events, etc. These things are inherently time-bound. It’s good to write about a special discount or, say, a toy drive on your website because it’s one of your most visible promotional tools.
But if you mentioned it anywhere on your website that’s not a time-stamped blog post, you need to get online and take it down as soon as the event is over. Little frustrates users more than out-of-date information, and remember: If the user isn’t happy, Google isn’t happy.
And of course any significant changes, like opening a new facility, should be reflected in your web copy right away.
Don’t Forget to A/B Test
Current events aren’t the only reason to change content on your website. One thing many webmasters seem to forget is that the internet is the perfect place to experiment. There’s no reason to rely on the horrendous mess of conflicting advice that people you’ve never met write on the internet when determining the right content for you niche. You can find out for yourself!
It’s not hard to use Google Analytics (or some other analytics software) and set up a simple A/B test. Just change one variable – a heading or a picture or a small bit of vocabulary – and find out which one leads to more conversions.
This is an essential part of your web presence. You’ve got all the tools available to continually optimize your website – so use them. Very few other kinds of marketing materials offer the huge amount of raw data that a website does, so crunch those numbers and figure out which content works best for your particular market. I guarantee you 90+% of your competitors have never even thought about testing their web copy, so a little effort can go a long way toward differentiating you from the pack.
(You can, of course, test things besides content, such as layout or navigation, and you should definitely do so.)
Those are the messy truths of writing web copy that too many people seem to ignore. Some of it’s easy. You can tune out much of what you read online because it’s either out of date or not pertinent to your business, for example. But testing your pages and learning a little more about what kinds of words to use might require a bit more effort on your part.
But I promise you – the effort is worth it. Just think about the return on investment. Is it worth it to spend a couple hours setting up an A/B test that results in a huge spike in conversions? Is it worth it to rework your title and meta tags to sound like actual human speech if that increases your click-through rate? You know it is because you can already imagine walking to the bank to cash the check.