5 Ways to power up the appeal of your web content.

by Nick Usborne on July 6, 2010

Most individuals, companies and organizations add content to their websites in a way that is predictable, and ultimately not very effective.

Here’s what they tend to do.

They do some keyword research, identify a list of strong keywords and phrases, and then write short articles optimized for those words or phrases.

Maybe they do the writing themselves. Maybe someone in their company does it. Or maybe they outsource the writing to an outside supplier or freelancer.

The problem with this approach is that the focus in on search engines and quantity, and not on people and quality.

The final page may do its job when it comes to getting listed in the search engines, but usually proves to be a disappointment when read by people.

This is particularly true when every page is presented in the usual “article” format.

Articles are easy and fast to write, which is why so many pages are presented in that way. But when your page looks like just another short “article”, it doesn’t seem particularly tempting.

Of course, none of these criticisms apply when you write a really good, genuinely useful or wonderfully entertaining article. But those are few and far between.

If you want to break away from the usual, highly-optimized and ordinary article format, here are 5 ways to spice up your pages and make them more appealing and engaging.

1. Add something interactive, like a poll or a slideshow

The web is not like print. It is a place where people like to do more than read. They also like to DO. As writers and publishers we are too quick to assume that our readers always want static, one way communication.

Much of the time your readers also want to participate. They want to feel involved.

A simple way to engage a reader is with a slideshow. Sure, they are simple clicking from one slide to the next, but every click is a vote for your page. They are involved in the process and the more they participate in the unfolding of the content, the less likely they are to leave before completing the page.

A deeper level of engagement can be achieved through something as simple as a poll or survey. Readers love to share their opinions and to see what others think and feel.

These aren’t the only two ways to promote interaction on a page. Think of what might work for some of your pages, and give it a try.

2. Create a resource list

Any kind of list is popular on the web. Top 10 Money Tips, Top 10 Gardening Mistakes, Top 10 Smart Phones…and so on.

But resource lists are even more popular. Top 10 WordPress Plugins. Top 10 Travel Sites, Top 10 Social Media Sites.

With a resource list you are, of course, inviting people to click forward to another site. But it’s worth it, all the same.

People like resource lists, because you have done a ton of work for them, and are making their lives easier. They no longer have to research 100 WordPress plugins, because you have whittled the list down to just 10.

Resource lists are also hugely sharable. Study the most popular tweets on Twitter, and you will find that a significant number point to resources lists.

3. Share what’s new

Readers are hungry to read about what’s new…whether it’s the news, celebrity gossip, new gadgets, or on the topic of your website.

This kind of content doesn’t have to be lengthy, it just has to be fresh.

And by making a commitment to share what’s new with your readers, you are giving them a reason to come back to your website again and again.

There is also an SEO advantage to sharing what’s new.

Google knows that when something new and big happens in the news – like the latest oil spill or a celebrity cheating on his wife – people want to find the latest news on the topic right now. And they don’t want to have to go to page three of the search results to find it.

So if a news item is popular, Google starts to lift pages focused on that item higher up in the search results. They lift those pages which are new, and focus on this popular topic.

What does this mean for you and your site?

Whenever you come across a popular news item that relates to your topic, write a page or post on that news item. If the story persists, keep writing new pages and posts.

Google’s Quality Deserves Freshness algorithm will cause your page to be listed higher in the search results than it might normally do, because your page is “fresh” and focused on a popular topic or news item that a ton of people are searching for today.

4. Write a better headline

More and more, people scan headlines and on that basis alone make the decision as to whether or not they’ll keep reading.

This is why it is essential to craft your headline with care.

Doesn’t everyone do this anyway? No, they don’t. And the principal reason they don’t is that they are paying too much attention to optimizing the headline for the search engines.

There is nothing wrong with including keywords in your page headlines, but you need to keep in mind that your audience is ultimately not the Googlebot, but real people.

If you write your headline with the focus on Google, you will likely write something that is not terribly appealing to prospective readers.

Keep in mind that people are being exposed to more and more content every day – through their emails, web pages, social media sites, Twitter and their smart phones.

If you don’t write your headlines with the primary focus being on securing the attention of your readers, you will be lost in the clutter.

5. Tell people “How to…”

A simple way to power up an otherwise bland article is to turn it into a “How to” guide.

When you tell people “how to”, you are speaking to the reasons many people conduct searches in the first place.

People don’t search for “controlling aphids on roses” out of a passive, academic interest. They search because they want to know “how to control aphids on roses”.

As soon as you turn a passive article into a how-to guide, you are speaking more directly to the needs of the reader. The perceived value of your page jumps up significantly. And, once again, it is much more likely to be shared through social media.

Final thoughts…

Uploading low-quality content to your site in bulk is quickly becoming a zero sum game. Millions of new pages are added to the web each day.

If you want your pages to be indexed, found, enjoyed and shared – you need to give every page a higher perceived value in the eyes of your readers.

By making each page more valuable, you’ll be setting yourself apart from and above your competitors.

Quality has always been a competitive advantage.

With web content, this is now truer than ever before.

[NOTE: If you enjoyed this article, you’ll doubtless enjoy the daily content ideas I publish for Web Content Café members. Learn more about membership here…]

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark July 29, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Hi Nick, just a quick “newbie” question – If I spice things up a bit and use a slideshow every now and again, does this format risk my keywords/phrases not being picked up by the search engines as they would be by a traditional post? (And yep, I did hear you about focusing on content quality rather than strictly the search engines, but…?)

Nick Usborne July 29, 2010 at 5:45 pm

When I add a slideshow, I usually also write a few lines of text above or below it, so Google can figure out what the page is about. But as you surmise, I create slideshows primarily for my readers, and not with a view to attracting search engine traffic.

Nick

Oliver Paul July 31, 2010 at 5:57 am

Hi Nick, slideshow is a great idea. After sweating quite a lot, I eventually made my first slideshow: http://www.slideshare.net/treeparables. Thank you for the inspiration. Two thoughts:
1. It helps to focus on core messages and once you are clearer about the core of your site, coming up with new content ideas gets easier.
2. I think we should have the readers best interest in mind. My first slideshow was a summary of my site, but going over it I thought: “Who gives?” Is this really gonna help the reader? How can I give the reader the most value? What’s in it for them? So I eventually redid the whole thing.
Those interested in doing slideshows: loading up your presentation takes time. Have a cup of coffee handy :-)

Jerret September 30, 2010 at 8:58 pm

You can also find interesting slideshows from others and post those too. I’ve found some amazingly interesting stuff on SlideShare as well as DocStoc. If it’s good, people will share the resource from your Website/blog.

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