Writing for the Web: Adapting Online Content to Improve Visibility

Content is king, as the not-so-old adage goes. If that’s true (and let’s assume it is), then search engines are the higher beings to which these kings’ power is ascribed.

It’s an apt metaphor when you consider that search engines determine which online content is seen by audiences, and which content is resigned to languish on the second page of search results.

Indeed, if said content isn’t created with search engines’ preferences in mind, its chances of being seen by target audiences diminish significantly. This explains the attention communications professionals give to optimizing Web content for search. Whether through search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM), these executives develop online content, including corporate Web site landing pages, blogs and news releases, to achieve the highest-possible rankings in search results—at least, they do if they want to increase their value to their business.

“Developing and optimizing your Web content for search is critical to your bottom-line goals,” says Rob Hecht, senior vice president and digital marketing strategist at imc strategy labs. “Especially with the rise of social media, you have to ask yourself if your PR content is being fully leveraged online.”

Part of answering this question revolves around evaluating specific SEO practices like keyword optimization and linking strategies, but there is more to it than that—namely, the act of writing Web content in the first place.

With that, communications executives can begin adapting their online content—and, in turn, improving their brand’s visibility—by considering the following strategies and best practices for writing for the Web.

â–¶ Use research and metrics to shape online content. “Without proper keyword research, you may just as well not put up a Web site at all,” says Kai Blum, director of search engine marketing for MS&L Digital. Lucky for communications executives, the Web is ripe with easy-to-find information that can make your online content highly attractive to search engines and target audiences alike.

“The Web allows for much more enhanced measurements and data gathering than traditional PR and marketing,” Hecht says. “Use available Web analytics data up front to inform your offline and online content campaign strategies.”

Hecht recommends using the following tools and metrics to do so:

• Use Web analytics software ( Omniture, WebTrends, Google Analytics, etc.) to determine the frequency of main search robots crawling your site;

• Find out how many of your site’s pages have been indexed by Google; and,

• Use Web analytics referrer information to find out which search engines your site draws traffic from, as well as your site’s most popular pages.

â–¶ Keep content focused and concise. Once you know the main sources of your traffic, as well as the most visited pages within your site, you can pay special attention to developing messages accordingly. But remember: The theme of each page, as described by the title/header, should be limited to a single category of information, as opposed to combining disparate topics in a single location.

“Continuity is important for establishing the theme of your site and its content,” Hecht says. Likewise, says Sarah Skerik, a vice president of PR Newswire, “Focus on one key idea. Don’t dilute your message by trying to appeal to all verticals.”

Once you have identified the specific goals of each site/page, be it a corporate blog, a Twitter profile or your Web site’s landing page, be sure to keep the high-quality content coming.

“Your Web site’s reputation is based on the content it contains, which is why it is important to view each word and each page collectively as an opportunity for optimization,” Hecht says. “Sculpting your content is a cost-effective method to reach a specific demographic or targeted niche.”

â–¶ Keep your target audience’s preferences/colloquialisms in mind when writing for the Web. If your target audience is inclined to use slang or colloquial language, be sure to consider this when drafting online content; your keyword choices will be affected down the road.

Skerik offers the example of the search-term frequency of “RV” versus “recreational vehicle” or “motor home.” Because the abbreviated term is much more widely searched than the others, all Web messaging should be adapted accordingly.

These best practices, coupled with the strategic use of keywords and links (see accompanying sidebars), are the foundation for shaping online content that is optimized for search. In next week’s issue of PR News, look for additional strategies for increasing online visibility through conversion optimization, symbiotic SEO-SEM applications and approaches to marrying online and offline communications initiatives. PRN


Rob Hecht, robb.hecht@imcstrategies.net; Kai Blum, kai.blum@mslworldwide.com; Sarah Skerik, sarah.skerik@prnewswire.com