When and how to refresh your web content

We’re going through the process of rebuilding our website just now, with the launch scheduled soon. My part in this process has been to completely rewrite our copy, which is an exercise I’ve been through with several clients recently as well. I wrote the current SEOptimise website copy back in 2011. Two years ago doesn’t seem very long, but it’s abundantly clear from reading the existing copy that we’ve come a long way since it was written, and that I’ve come a long way as a copywriter since then too – my writing has matured significantly as I’ve worked on so many different clients and picked up new copywriting tricks. I’m proud of the new copy – which you’ll see when the site launches – and feel it reflects the fact that SEOptimise has properly grown up.

So how is this relevant to you? Well, I’ve learnt a lot in the process of rewriting the copy – not least the importance of regularly reviewing and refreshing your content and not simply putting it online and forgetting about it. In this post, I’d like to share some insights and tips to help you make sure your on-site content continues to be fresh, relevant and effective at achieving your goals.

I’m going to cover the following:

  • How do you know when your content needs refreshing?

  • What to consider when you rewrite your copy

  • How to write effective web copy

  • Refreshing your meta data

How do you know when your content needs refreshing?

If websites didn’t refresh their content once in a while, Twitter would still look like this:

twitter 1473517a

Hard to believe when you look at it now, isn’t it?

But when is it time to change? It’s time to ask yourself some questions.

Does your website generate conversions? Do people share it and interact with it? Do you get a steady stream of traffic to all your content, or does it all go to the homepage or blog? If your content isn’t performing well, it’s probably time for a refresh.

Have an objective read of the copy on your website and answer the following questions:

  • How long ago was it written?

  • Does it still reflect where your brand is today?

  • Is it still relevant, or has the marketplace changed?

  • Does it conform to web writing best practice – using short, skimmable paragraphs, headings and bullet points where appropriate?

  • Is there too much copy – or too little?

  • Is it consistent throughout the site – does it read as though it was written by one person or many?

  • Does it encourage users to take the actions you want them to take?

Your honest answers to these questions should help you identify copy that could do with being rewritten.

You should also look at the other kinds of content on your site:

  • How are the images on your site looking? Are there enough of them? Are there opportunities for adding images to support the copy? You know what they say – a picture speaks a thousand words.

  • What other content types do you have? Is there much variety? Have you thought about adding some videos, podcasts or reviews to introduce new content types to your site?

  • Do you have any content that could be presented in a more engaging format? For instance, a long page of copy that could be better presented as a video, or a dry report full of statistics that would be easier to digest in a visual format, as an infographic?

What to consider when you rewrite your copy

So how do you go about refreshing the content you already have? Here are some things to think about to get you started.

Site architecture
If your site structure is changing along with the refresh, you’ll need to plan out what copy you need for each page, and where each page sits within the hierarchy. This will help you when it comes to cross-referencing and crosslinking between pages, as well as planning your workload or writing briefs for your copywriter. Even if you’re not planning a major overhaul of your site architecture, it’s still worth considering whether you need any extra pages creating, or existing pages combining, in order to structure your content logically and deliver your message effectively and in a user-friendly manner.

Language and tone
What tone are you aiming for, and what language will you use to create it? Write a list of words and phrases that reflect your brand – how you describe your services, USPs, values, and so on. Decide whether you’re going to use first person or third person. First person (“we are a digital marketing agency”) is friendlier and more direct, while third person (for instance, “SEOptimise is a digital marketing agency”) is arguably more distant, and coldly business-like. Which you go for may depend to an extent on the nature of your business and who your target audience is, as well as the need to differentiate from competitors – so have a think about who your readers will be and ensure that your copy is appropriate to them.

How much copy do you need for each page? SEO best practice dictates a minimum of 300 words, but conveying your message effectively is still the single most important consideration. Too much copy will put readers off, but not enough and you risk not being valued by Google as well as providing insufficient information for readers, so you need to strike a balance.

Many websites have virtually no copy on their homepages, for instance, which is terrible for SEO. Plenty of clients over the years, on having this pointed out to them, have declined to add more copy on design grounds. But adding copy to a homepage doesn’t have to impact the design; it’s perfectly possible to add subtle copy further down the page, with a couple of lines visible and an ‘expand’ or ‘read more’ button that then shows a longer paragraph. This is a good compromise, and you can see it in action in the screenshot below, which comes from towards the bottom of the Notonthehighstreet homepage.

Notonthehighstreet 680x460

Structure and calls to action
Think about how you’ll structure the copy on each page. To start with, jot down your site plan and make a note of what each page is trying to achieve. What will a conversion be from this page? Websites are there to fulfil a purpose, and whether you’re an e-commerce site or not, you’ll still need to define conversions in order to assess how well your website is performing.

Examples of conversions include:

  • Download a brochure

  • Buy a product

  • Remain on a page for a particular length of time

  • Watch a video

  • Send an enquiry

  • Register for an event

  • Sign up to a mailing list

Does your web content guide users to take these actions? If not, you should encourage readers to do what you want them to do by adding calls to action into your copy.

Internal links
I mentioned internal links in the section above on site architecture. It’s good to include these contextually in the copy, as this gives users immediate access to other relevant information at the point at which they may want to see it. Other examples of good ways of including internal links – which also help strengthen your site architecture – are to have lists of ‘related posts’ at the end of a blog post, or a ‘you may also be interested in’ section for related products on a product page.

Tip: ask the team
Your website should reflect your company values. One way of ensuring that it does is to seek the opinions of your colleagues. When I first started thinking about the new SEOptimise copy I asked every member of the SEOptimise team to email me three words they would use to describe SEOptimise. I put all the words people sent me into a spreadsheet, and ordered them by the number of times people used each word. Then I worked those words into our copy. The result? Website copy that actually reflects who we are as both a company and individuals.

How to write effective web copy

When you’re writing for the web, remember that most readers scan through web pages rather than reading them in detail. This means that it should be easy for them to get the gist of your message (for example, the benefits of a product) without having to read it properly. Here’s how to achieve this.

  • Paragraphs: keep paragraphs short. No walls of text!

  • Structure: use the ‘inverted pyramid’ structure of a press release. Start with the most important information first and then include progressively less important details.

  • Headings: use a single H1 for the title, including a keyword if it reads naturally to do so, and use H2 tags for subheadings throughout the copy to help break up the text.

  • Bullet points: where appropriate, information can be presented in bullet point format (as I’m doing here). Bullet points break up text and make some kinds of information easier to read.

  • Bold: you can highlight important words or phrases in bold to make them stand out.

  • Hyperlinks: as mentioned above, include links to relevant pages, both internal and external, where appropriate. Have internal links open in the same window and external links in a new window.

  • Images and other media: photos, drawings, videos, infographics, graphs, maps – all these and more can be used to support the copy on a page, and will add variety and visually enhance the page, improving its readability.

Don’t forget your meta data

When you rewrite your website copy, don’t forget to revisit your meta data (your title tags and meta descriptions) as well. Your meta data is a part of your copy and it’s just as important to ensure that it remains up-to-date, in keeping with the copy on your website in terms of language and message, and using the most relevant keywords. Strong brands present a uniform message across all areas. The top keywords can change, so it’s always a good idea to monitor these on a regular basis – say, once a quarter – to make sure you’re still targeting the best ones.

Here are a few tips:

  • Conduct some keyword research for your top keywords and make sure you’re not missing any opportunities.

  • Ensure that the keywords in the meta data for each page are relevant to that page and not leading readers to expect something different.

  • Ensure that the language and message in your meta data reflects what’s on the page.

  • Ensure that all title tags and meta descriptions are within the character limit (70 and 160 characters respectively) to ensure they don’t get cut off in the search results.

  • Ensure that calls to action and USPs are included to entice users onto the page.

You’ll find further advice on copywriting for meta data in my post, Copywriting tricks to turbocharge your meta data for conversions.

Do you need help refreshing your website content? We can help! Drop me a line at rachel@seoptimise.com or on Twitter @RachelsWritings.

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When and how to refresh your web content
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