In today's fast-paced world, you only have seconds to make a good impression online. If your Web or ecommerce site is hard to find, takes too much time to load, is unattractive or difficult to navigate, chances are you've lost a potential customer, maybe dozens of them. So how do you create content that attracts and sticks in people's minds?
Dozens of Web content experts had advice to offer. Here are 16 of their top Web content strategies for engaging both humans (i.e., potential customers) and robots (search engine spiders or Web crawlers) -- and increasing search engine rankings and sales.
1. Make sure your content can be properly viewed across platforms and devices. "More than 40 percent of Web traffic is coming from mobile devices, but most content does not look good or convert well for mobile visitors," points out Alex Shipillo, head of marketing at Pressly, which provides a mobile publishing platform. Therefore, "your website content should be optimized for smartphone and tablet devices, so that your readers can effectively consume the content," he says.
One solution to this problem is to use responsive design. "Responsive design has been around for a while, but it's becoming increasingly important as people access devices across a variety of screen sizes and form factors," says Derek Singleton, an analyst at Software Advice, which helps businesses find the right software.
"It is also more important because Google is now taking into consideration mobile user experience when ranking websites in search results," Singleton adds. So if your site isn't providing users with a great cross-platform experience, you may be putting your site at risk of losing Google ranking as well as prospective customers.
2. Know the customer journey. "Offer a personalized experience that caters to individuals based on what stage a person is in his or her journey," suggests Erin Levzow, executive director of Hotel Marketing and Ecommerce, Palms Casino Resort.
At the Palms, "we enable site visitors to have different experiences on the website depending on if he/she is exploring the casino resort for the first time versus another visitor who knows exactly what he/she wants and is ready to book right away," Levzow says. And that customer experience strategy, knowing where the customer is on her journey and then getting her where she wants to go faster, can benefit other businesses as well.
3. Make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for. "Users should be able to easily navigate around your website and quickly find what they are looking for," says Lauren Jaeckel, senior SEO copywriter, Loud Interactive. The fewer the clicks, the more likely the sale. And keep in mind that most people read from left to right and from top to bottom (like the letter Z). So feature tabs for main landing pages in a horizontal navigation or menu bar at the top of each page, with subcategories listed underneath.
4. Use keywords, but do some research first. Before you populate your site with lots of keywords you think customers are looking for, check out Google's AdWords Keyword Tool, recommends Dan Wilkerson, marketing manager, LunaMetrics, which provides Google analytics, SEO, PPC and social media consulting. "And keep in mind a user's intent. Someone searching for 'windows' could be looking for information, the software or to buy replacement windows," he notes. However, "someone looking for 'cheap windows' is more likely to be interested in buying."
5. Create unique content. "Many times, ecommerce sites copy and paste product descriptions given to them from manufacturers," says Michael McDonald, marketing analyst, the Artcraft Group. "While this might save time, search engines want to see unique content -- and reward those sites that create fresh, unique content," he says.
In addition, "every three to four months refresh your Web content so search engines have a new reason to crawl your website," says Brooke Franks, copywriter and content manager, ProSites, Inc., which provides website design and Internet marketing services to medical and dental professionals. "If you don't want to or can't update your content periodically, consider blogging instead. Adding new articles each month will also give search engines a reason to crawl your website."
6. Tell a story. "Clothing retailer ModCloth is a great example of [how to sell something by telling a story]," says Christine Parizo of Christine Parizo Communications. "For each item sold on their website, they give the customer a very short vignette about where the customer would wear the item, in what circumstance and when," she says.
"While B2B companies may not be able to do something as cute, they can always give examples of how their products are used, such as a brief story of how a customer would solve an ongoing problem with their software," she continues.
7. Provide product reviews. "If your website has products for sale, provide a platform that makes it easy for visitors to access product reviews and comparisons," suggests Singleton. "We also recommend using schema.org to highlight the reviews and ratings on your site for Google," he says. The reason: "Google uses this information to generate rich snippets for its search engine results page. Using these snippets can result in a higher click-through rate, which in turn will help traffic and hopefully sales."
8. Let visitors know they can trust you. "Site visitors want to know that you're a trusted business," says Singleton. So he advises sites use resources such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) seal. "Shoppers also want to see customer testimonials on your site that speak highly about your product and services," he says.
9. Blog. "According to Hubspot, 43 percent of marketers reported acquiring a new customer from their blog in 2012, while 82 percent who blog daily acquired a customer from it, as opposed to 57 percent who blogged only monthly," says Kari Rippetoe, content marketing manager, Search Mojo, a digital search and advertising agency. "Blogging is probably the easiest entry into content marketing, enabling businesses to continually create fresh content that Google loves," she continues. "Posts are not only indexed in search but are highly shareable through other marketing channels, such as social media and email."
10. Include evergreen content. "Evergreen content is content that never loses its relevance--something people will always be searching for, which will keep bringing traffic to your website," explains Elena Meadowcroft, content writer & social media specialist at PDR Web Solutions. "An example of evergreen content would be an article on hurricane preparedness [handy if you sell windows or storm doors or your business is located in areas where there is a high likelihood of hurricanes] or tips on growing tomatoes [if, say, you run a gardening business]," she says. Other evergreen content ideas: how-to articles and videos.
11. Remember that size matters when it comes to images and multimedia. "Images and other multimedia files must be properly edited and sized for optimal viewing both by Web users and mobile users," notes Mehdi Daoudi, CEO, Catchpoint, a real-time Web performance monitoring service. "That high-quality 1MB product image may be pretty, but it could lead to lost sales [if it won't load]."
12. Think quality not quantity. "Adding more content to your website simply for content's sake is a flawed approach," says Robert Murray, president, Skyword, a content creation and marketing company. "More pages/copy does not equal more traffic, engagement or sales," he continues. Instead, when creating or adding pages to your website, "make sure your content delivers value (whether it be informative or pure entertainment) to your consumers, and therefore your brand."
13. Say it with headlines (H1 and H2 tags). "Use H1 and H2 styles as they are weighted heavily in the latest Panda algorithm at Google," advises Jason Siegel, a partner at Bluetext, an integrated communications services firm. "Large type is also good for SEO."
14. Keep content short and to the point. "Gone are the days where you wanted to make an article as long as possible for SEO reasons," says Gimena Pena, cofounder & CEO, Pier2 Marketing. "SEO is important, but now it's all about using key words in a smart way," she continues. Better to have a short but focused product description or article that will catch a reader's attention than provide hundreds or thousands of words that will instantly overwhelm or turn visitors off.
15. Make content easily shareable--and share it via social media. "Make your content easy to share by including easily accessible 'share' buttons," states Jackie Chu, new media and SEO specialist at advertising agency TRAFFIK. "Studies show people are discouraged from sharing when it's difficult to do so." Therefore, if you want people to share your content, "reduce the steps the reader has to take by adding social [e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest] share buttons" on every page (or where relevant).
16. Brand your content. "For any creative content you make, be sure to brand it with your website name or logo," says Chu. "This way if someone uses your content and doesn't link back, you still can receive some credit and will gain some brand recognition." She also recommends adding a URL or even HTML code that links back to your site on graphics, photos and videos.
In addition, be sure to "share new [product, services or] articles posted on your website on LinkedIn and Twitter if you are a business [B2B], and Facebook if you are targeting consumers [B2C]," advises Pena.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.