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Monday, March 21, 2011

THE FOUNDERS DEN: Best Practices: The Art of Creating Valuable Web Content

Writing content for the Web presents a unique challenge with multiple success factors, some of which may be contradictory:

  • “Will my audience read it?”
  • “Will it help guide them around my website?”
  • “Will it serve my own needs? Entertain? Educate? Create brand awareness?”
  • “Am I doing everything I can to keep Google happy and interested?”
  • “Will making my text search engine-friendly ruin the experience for my readers?”

With a bit of strategic thinking, valuable web copy can meet all those goals. Doing so is simply a matter of stepping into the shoes and viewpoints of the primary audiences: the readers and the search engines.


There’s a frighteningly common misconception among site owners: “This is my website. Therefore, it’s all about me.”

Wrong. A website should seek to serve its audience. Whether the site represents a business offering services to prospective clients, or a media outlet offering entertainment for consumption, keeping the audience happy is paramount.

When checking your work for tone, strap on those “audience shoes” before you make your evaluations. “Does this get me any closer to a solution for my problem, or just tell me how ‘swell’ the company is?” Don’t tell users that your company is the best; tell them how you can help. Don’t detail how “innovative” you are before proving that you empathize with their situation, know their fears, and can relieve them.

Another common “content crime” is to fill pages with company jargon or slang. When speaking to an audience, you need to use terminology they’re familiar with. You wouldn’t write an article addressing a Spanish audience in Chinese, would you? Of course not. So why would you try communicating with your readers in anything other than their “language?”

Speaking clearly to your audience is just the first step in boosting a site’s…


“Usability,” at a basic level, is the level of ease with which a standard user can navigate your site. While there are thousands of scientific studies and approaches to usability, just a few simple tweaks can make it much easier for readers to use your site.

Don’t make them have to hunt.
When you reference an important topic, link to your corresponding page about that topic. Do you mention one of your products in some “About Us” content? Link the product name to the product’s page; don’t make the user have to find it.

Make links useful; avoid “click here.”
A link represents a doorway to another page of content. Anyone who’s tried to find the men’s/women’s bathroom in a foreign country knows the value of well-labeled doors. “Click here” doesn’t tell the user what’s behind the door. When you link to a product or case study, tell the reader what they’re getting into. For example, instead of “Newfangled Widgets: Click here,” try, “Learn how Newfangled Widgets can save you 20%.” As you can see, it’s possible to create more valuable door labels, and “sell” the benefits of your product at the same time.

As an extra benefit, search engines put a lot of value on linked text, both within your site and coming in from external sites. Keep your links keyword-centric and you’ll be considered more of an “authority” for those keywords.

Always answer the question “Now what?”
Web users want to be guided a bit. Inevitably, if you’ve created some product interest on a page, a reader who’s just digested that content will wonder, “What’s next?” Answer them by linking to related pages or downloadable documents. Link them to a form on your site where they can contact someone to learn more. Always keep them engaged, and always offer next steps before they decide to leave the site.

Courtesy and Respect for Users’ Time

The average web user looking for a product, service, or vendor for their company has a very short attention span. Make the best of that short time by following these guidelines:

Quick Reads and Bullet Points
Many web users don’t read, they scan, so content is best delivered in small chunks. You’ll notice that many websites use a lot of bullets, and small blocks of text, maybe 3-4 sentences at a time. Start each page with a solid intro paragraph that sums up what the page is about. Finish with another quick summary…

But, Don’t Sell Yourself Short
One or two sentences don’t count as a page.

The links on your site are a promise to the user. They say “if you click me, you will find something valuable and useful.” When that user clicks a link and gets nothing more than 2 sentences of “fluff” content and a generic piece of stock photography, you’ve broken that promise. The user is now disappointed and irritated that they wasted time to clicking that link and, justifiably, they leave your site. If you feel a topic deserves a page, give it a full page; a good guideline for page content is about 250 words, minimum. This also happens to be the minimum amount of content search engines expect to see on a well-optimized, relevant page.

Mind your manners when it comes to forms.
One of the least user-friendly things you can do is lead someone to a form without some bit of intro text above it. Asking someone to give you their personal contact information is a bold move; the last thing you want to do is be rude about it by simply throwing a form at them. If you want to get someone’s information, put in the effort. Entertain them; sell them on something; make them need to give you that information: copywriting

  • Tell your users why they were brought to the form
  • If the form is a registration for a document, sell that document to them. Give some information about its author and/or purpose. Why should they want it?
  • When they’re done with the form, say “Thanks.” They’ve done you the favor of giving you some useful information, so tell them you appreciate it, give them a realistic timeframe in which you’ll get back to them, and – while you’re at it – offer them something else.


Audience is everything. In the end, your readers determine if your site succeeds or fails, so make them the priority they need to be. Always view your site work from their perspective, and if you don’t know their perspective, ask for it. Cross-reference your work with these guidelines, and your happy readers will keep your site in business.

By Eric Rice

LWI and The Founders Den

The Founders Den

The Founders Den is a collaborative group of successful entrepreneurs, attorneys, investors, tax professionals, and advisors who are committed to sharing their knowledge, expertise, and resources to improve the environment for rising startup businesses. The Founders Den Members come from a variety of professional backgrounds and business sectors, and are focused on leveraging their wisdom and experience to offer advice to young companies, and in select cases the Den serves as an incubator for promising ventures who are in need of support to turn their plans into reality.

Eric Rice is a successful entrepreneur and has built a number of businesses in sectors ranging from financial services to gaming. He is currently the CEO of LWI, a non-traditional marketing firm specializing in social media and online branding.

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The Emergence of the Relationship Economy features TNNWC Founder, Adam J. Kovitz as a contributing author and contains some of his early work on The Laws of Relationship Capital. The book is available in hardcopy and e-book formats. With a forward written by Doc Searls (of Cluetrain Manifesto fame), it is considered a "must read" for anyone responsible for the strategic direction of their business. If you would like to purchase your own copy, please click the image above.


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