9 Essential Elements of High-Quality Web Content

by Brett Borders on January 18, 2009

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.

  • http://optempo.com Frank Carr

    A few thoughts…

    On #1, it’s easy to combine both SEO and social into your title if you think about. Searching is the natural way people think. People enter search terms, not computer algorithms. Think about how you would search for an article on the topic you’re writing about and you’re likely to come up with a title that works for both SEO and social interaction.

    On #7, those popular ‘please subscribe to my newsletter’ interstitial ads almost always insure a quick stumble to the next page. They’re supposed to convert well but you have to think that you’re getting a lot of ‘wood’ that way (as they put it in Boiler Room).

    On #9, I don’t post my picture online. I like my privacy.

  • Brett Borders

    @Frank Carr,

    #1 – I would give the blog post a separate article juicy header title (for social media) and a keyword optimized HTML title tag (for SEO) – plugins like AllinOne SEO For WordPress allow this.

    #7 – I’m not saying interstitital ads are ineffective, but social media users- in particular- hate them. You have to weight the benefit vs. drawbacks and consider the target audience of your site…. A senior citizen’s stock site.. sure… something you’re trying to push with the StumbleUpon crowd… NEVER!

    #9 – I don’t think posting your picture online is ESSENTIAL… it just makes the content a little more human and tangible. The name of whomever wrote is is pretty important, though.. in my opinion.

    Thanks for your feedback!

  • http://www.seohats.com Alex Juel

    Great article Brett, you got all sorts of good tips here.

    On #7 your right on target with pagination issues. I personally can’t stand it and if you go to any story on Digg that has it, you’ll find that everyone will bash it and someone will just post the whole article on the Digg page instead, so nobody has to click through.

    @Frank Carr
    I know how people can be with privacy issues, but you’d find a much greater success on your various profiles when people can see who they are talking too. Makes the social experience much more personal.

    I personally use my own picture on everything. I don’t really see anything to worry about.

  • http://www.seowizardry.ca/SEO-Solutions.html The Wizard

    Hey thanks for that some great tips and a very very nice looking blog

    I like the introduce the author idea

  • http://www.TannerSite.com Tanner Christensen

    People visiting your website want to know what the page they are visiting is about, and they want to know it RIGHT NOW.

    All of these points can strengthen your website’s content because it lets people visiting know exactly what they can expect in a fast and efficient way.

    Simple, and straight-to-the-point headlines work because that’s the first thing most people look for these days. Having great-looking typography helps because it makes the content on your web page easy to read (and can also, subconsciously, separate your website from all of the others). Subheadings, bullet lists, clean writing, and avoiding intrusive ads are also all great ways to help your visitors understand exactly what the page they are visiting is about and why they should care.

    The rest of the points are frosting on the cake. ;)

  • Brett Borders

    @Alex Juel,

    Pagination makes my momma (and Googlebot) cry! Do it right… give people the information they want in one serving!

    @The Wizard,

    Glad you enjoyed it… thanks for stopping by!

    @Tanner Christensen,
    Having a blog or a website is like having a retail shop or restaurant, in some ways. The details are VERY IMPORTANT and if something looks a wee bit off.. or it fails to subconsciously soothe all people’s senses… people will walk out and refuse to patronize your establishment.

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  • http://www.startmysong.com scott

    “Avoid this shit like the plague”

    Love it, I don’t care how good the content is coming from an article, there is no way I will re-tweet anything with that shit on the page.

  • Brett Borders

    @Scott,

    What people vote on and share is a reflection of themselves and their taste.

    You have good taste ;)

  • http://www.onlineinternetfaxing.com/ Daryl

    The point that you brought up that I hold closest to my heart is the one about photos. Personally I’m an SEO and a photographer and nothing turns me off more then when a website designer or developer resaves an image for a website only to have it loose that pop effect that a nicely edited image has. Infact one company ripped off some of my images and put it on their website usually I would credit that website with using my images but they so bastardized them that I wouldn’t put my name down as a credit, and I`m too nice to hit them with a DMCA take down :)

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  • http://affiliate-secrets-revealed.com/ Randy Wheeler

    Absolutely great article. This is great information and an example of what the web is all about.

    Good Job

  • http://marketingtruths.blogspot.com burtm10

    I wrote an excellent comment and then wrestled with the Disqus login for a while and lost it…

    Lets see if I can get close to repeating it.

    This is an excellent post and demonstrates with clarity exactly what Brett is trying to say. The use of graphics makes my usual posts look decidedly bland by comaprison, I need to lift my game.

    #8 is something that has been recently discussed by Google as a requirement for adwords landing pages. This is problematical for for marketers because they really don’t like to give the victims, sorry, visitors more than two choices on any landing page. Click the link or leave. Since most of them don’t have a conversion rate of more than about 3% they might as well have some other links for the visitors to use. It might even increase the conversions.

    As far a your bio, sometimes it might be better to be an anonymous troll. I have read some rather disturbing stories about netizens being tracked down by odd people. If that can happen in a populous country like the USA, what about those countries with far fewer people?

  • http://beadinbythesea.blogspot.com BeadinByTheSea

    Thanks for another great article. I can certainly use some of these ideas for my blog. The pagination is one of my pet peeves when it comes to reading web content.

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    Burtm10,

    Thanks for your comments!

    I think a whole different set of criteria apply to landing pages. If you have a commercial page and you need someone to make a decision, it has to be optimized differently… with less links, distractions and citations.

    As far as a bio, I would argue that biographical information and contact info almost always increases credibility beyond an “anonymous site.”

  • http://marketingtruths.blogspot.com burtm10

    Perhaps, Brett, changing the commercial type of landing page to one of less
    commercial focus might make it convert better.

    Testing will tell. I read in one of those many ebooks that you should
    always get the best use from all your visitors. If you lose 80% or more who
    just leave anyway, maybe more links to partners could bring more traffic and
    ultimately more sales.

    The bio thing is more problematical. I suspect that many of the bios we see
    of the bigger marketers online are fake. It is aparrent that the bios on
    places like Facebook, MySpace etc actually do cause problems for the owners
    of those pages. The challenge is to balance personal security with online
    credibility.

    I still don’t have an answer that I am totally happy with.

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  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    What is your opinion about paginating Comments? I do that on my blog network to optimize resources.

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    Paginating comments is good from the standpoint that it reduces the
    amount of linkjuice that is bled out to the comment linkers page and
    keeps more linkjuice flowing to the links YOU specifiy in the main
    article. This is good for “optimizing resources.”

    It’s bad from the standpoint that comments create lots of keyword-rich
    content that can help a page rank for more search phrases than it
    would with just the original text. By splitting it into multiple
    pages, the links
    all go to the main content page and the orphan pages with comments
    probably won’t rank for anything.

    Bottom line: I don’t think there anything wrong with it in your case.

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  • Anonymous

    Good post and you’re right on the money with most points. I think #3 is a little bit weak. You don’t really need complicated images to make your point or to have a useful blog.

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