What comes first when creating a website: the words or the design?
Of course, the answer is the words. Every web developer will tell you, key words and phrases are crucial. Okay, article over you can all go read something else now.
BUT, wait a minute before you rush away. The written bits on your website aren’t just about getting to the top of the Google listings.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen an enormous push for organisations of all sizes and shapes to have a web presence. Right now there are approximately 250 million active websites on the internet.1 In Australia, about 45 per cent of Small Businesses have a web presence.2 It really is a crowded space.
So Search Engine Optimisation (also known as SEO or ‘how to ensure people find you on Google’) is now a big thing. Without it, your website is only a small meteor amongst the galaxies of stars, planets and asteroids that, when combined, are known as the internet. Without SEO, your bit of galactic real estate will end up languishing in the outer reaches of this virtual universe where it will remain undiscovered.
Let’s stay with the space metaphor for a bit longer. Google (or any other search engine) is the Hubble Telescope of this data universe. It scans the blur of information to find interesting and relevant bits of content that connect with words or phrases people type into the search box, hence, the significance given to key words.
These words and phrases send a message to the search engine: ‘Hey, we’re what you’re looking for!’ We’re advised to use keywords and phrases in blogs, news pages and regular updates to continue feeding Google’s insatiable hunger for discovering new content and give you that sought-after page one spot on Google’s search results. Then – hopefully – it is just one click away and you have new visitor to your website.
The next step is you make sure your website looks appealing and gives a good first impression: nice colours; clean layout; easily navigable etc. So far, so good.
However, now we come to another internet term: bounce rate.
The bounce rate of your website is based on the percentage of people who click onto your site but then leave again without having a good look around. Therefore, a high bounce rate is bad and a low bounce rate is good.
A high bounce rate most likely means your website hasn’t met the expectations of the person looking at the site and the quality of the content is not up to scratch:
“On top of meeting the expectations of your users, you should make sure they understand who you are as a brand, what you stand for and what you’ve got to offer.” 3
Therefore, it’s not single words or standalone phrases that provide the true meaning for your site. Rather, it is how you pull those words together to ‘tell a story’ that resonates with the reader and entices them to keep exploring.
Like any relationship, there needs to be a connection. Your text should pique the curiosity of the reader and provide an indication of the personality and culture of your business. I’m not saying the average plumber should have a website worthy of a Miles Franklin Award but what is written needs to be clear and easy to follow. Importantly, the gist of the text needs to convey to the reader that the business will understand a potential customer’s needs and wants.
Unfortunately, many organisations still place the written copy of their website at the bottom of their budget priorities. For these businesses and organisations, the words on their website tend to be a ‘copy and paste job’ from their brochures, annual reports or flyers or someone will ‘put something together’.
This practice is creating a new problem that has been dubbed the content divide:
“Because it costs nothing but your time to distribute this content, it means that small businesses now can achieve an audience of radio station proportions at no financial outlay at all….What many e-business commentators neglect to grasp is that the words that fly off their fingertips to create this online content is something both scary and difficult for many of the world’s smaller business operators. Not everyone is a wordsmith or even that proficient at this kind of communication.”4
The big prediction is that small businesses will miss out once again as the large corporations grab the top spots using higher quality web copy.
Just as businesses are now realising they need professional web developers to design and create the technical aspects or their website, they need to also understand the written content has to be at a professional level. It’s no use having a great design if your web copy is boring and staid. It will lower the reader’s experience.
Google’s search programs are getting smarter at sorting through what is and isn’t good quality content. There’s little doubt the content divide will eventually impact on website SEO. A few well-placed keywords or the odd blog article will no longer suffice. Good writing will be rewarded by Google. Poor web copy will be penalised and sent to the back of the queue.
Yes, the internet universe, like the real universe, is forever changing. The more we learn about it, the more challenges it presents. However, the challenges are surmountable. A good first step is to ensure your site is one of the internet’s shining stars by investing in well-written copy alongside good design.
- Always write for the web. People read text differently on a screen to how they read printed materials.
- Like a novel, your first (home page) needs to hook the reader and make them want to know more.
- Be engaging. Answer potential questions and understand your audience and why they came looking for you.
- Page titles and sections on your website must reflect your audience’s needs not your business or organisational priorities.
- Always proofread. Typographical and spelling mistakes will damage your reputation.
- If you are able, have your web copy professionally researched and written.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics
3 How to lower your site’s bounce rate, by Elisha Hartwig, November 2013
4 Content creates a new digital divide for SMEs, by Craig Reardon, January 2014