This year, several million people and companies will roll out new blogs and web sites. Because of the intense competition and limited supply of reader attention, a majority of these new sites will fail. If anything about your content seems missing or “off” during the initial split-second glance… you are doomed.
Understanding the essentials of contemporary Web content style & structure will give your content a much better chance of getting noticed, read, and recommended to others:
#1 – Truthful Headline & Strong Hook
The headline is key. If it doesn’t create a sense of interest and value, no one will ever click on your post to read it. The hook is the juicy / interesting angle of the story that reaches out and snags people’s attention – pulling them in to read the copy. Every good story has a hook… but sometimes you have to brainstorm and dig deep to find it.
An excellent article headline on Copyblogger by Michael Stelzner
Make your headline as interesting as possible – but take care to avoid sensationalism… because your headline is a written promise. If the content doesn’t fully deliver on the expectations you created in the headline – you’ll get clicks but you’ll quickly “burn” your readers… leaving an angry reaction and a bad impression about your brand.
#2 – Beautiful Typography
Most default blog and content-management themes come with very basic typographic styles. This was okay a few years back when blogs were new… but now your text has to be formatted with style, readability and originality in mind – or else your ideas won’t be taken seriously. This excellent article on content optimization explains how many experts recommend using the font Veranda – but I’m a fan of Arial (the font you’re reading now).
If you want examples of immaculate web typography to emulate, check out CSS Zen Garden.
Your site’s header logo needs to be professionally designed with a graphics program. Then the text typography needs to be formatted in CSS. All of the critical text (HTML) elements of your content – bold, italics, header 1, header 2, header 3, ordered lists, unordered lists, links, already clicked-on links, blockquotes, definitions – need custom styles. Tweak out the subtleties of spacing and font decoration until you get a look you’re very proud of. (CSS is an essential skill if you want to blog with style – I learned it from these awesome online courses.)
#3 – Professionally-formatted Photos and Illustrations
Unless you’re an A-list’er or some Pulitzer-prize winning writer – too much plain text is downright intimidating. Having one or more images in the text will make your content easy on your readers eyes (and brain). Get images from Flickr Creative Commons, stock photo sites, or your own digital camera. A simple chart or illustrations can make a post look many times more professional. For relatively easy-to-use graphics software, I recommend OmniGaffle for OS X or Fireworks. Finally, try to format your images with captions, dropshadows, or CSS “frames” to make them look professional.
#4 – Subheaders and Bulleted / Numbered Lists
Many people will be reading your content at work and they may be in a tremendous hurry to get the gist of it. Also, most users prefer to quickly scan web content diagonally, rather than actually “read” it.
Having bold, nicely CSS-styled subheaders (i.e., H2, H3, H4 tags in XHTML) make your content easier to grok and less intimidating to zip through in a hurry. Lists (i.e., UL & OL tags) help people soak in important facts that would otherwise sail right under their radar.
#5 – Clear, Lean & Engaging Writing
Quality writing is important. image: StaR DusT
If your writing is murky, verbose, or filled with errors - your content won’t get shared and recommended. Review the classics like The Elements of Style – and also check out more modern primers like A Guide to Writing Well and the Copywriting 101 series.
#6 – A Unique Perspective
There’s way too much fresh, high-quality content being created for stale or recycled stuff to have much chance. If you just echo stuff that has already been written, or publish lists of links – you become really easy to ignore or safely unsubscribe to.
A fresh new twist on the same-old flavor. image: David K
As Maki @ DoshDosh explains in his article The Future of Content in the Age of Information Overload:
“Detailed, unique content immediately stands out on its own, even without extensive marketing efforts. People don’t just want to be informed, they want to better grasp a topic in all its nuances. The joy of consumption lies not only in the skimming of a news story but the processing of new perspectives to enrich a personal worldview or professional need.”
#7 – No Pagination, Forced-Registration or Intrusive Ads
Some corporate Web publishers like to take an article like “Top 10 North American Snowboarding Resorts” – and split it up into 10 pages to increase pageviews and make more ad impression money. This kind of “company-first” thinking doesn’t fly with the modern social media culture, who demands quick access to your information and minimal hassles. Also, pagination harms your SEO efforts.
This was a good article, but it would be a better experience if hadn’t been split into 13 pages.
Forced-registration will kill any social media potential, and the much-hated interstitial ads (example) will give your content some serious negative points when it comes to viral potential. Lastly, make sure your ad network doesn’t permit deceptive schlock that insults the intelligence of 99.9999% of your users:
Avoid this shit like the plague.
#8 – Links to Sources and Additional Information
High-quality web content has text with hyperlinks to sources, proof and additional resources. This takes your content to a higher level of credibility than “just some guy’s opinion.”
#9 – Information About the Author
Who wrote the story?… An anonymous troll? A highly-respected expert? Some guy in Swaziland you hired on Elance?
Linkerati like top bloggers, librarians and “real” journalists need to know. If they can hold someone accountable to a story… they’re more likely to feel secure blogging about it, linking to it, or quoting facts from it. Having the author’s full name in the byline, with a link to their biography (containing a clear photograph) will help score major credibility points.
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Brett Borders, the author of this article, is a professional copywriter who specializes in increasing website sales and signup rates. I'm available now to write for your website and optimize it for maximum sales and profits. Please contact me now for a free consultation.