Writing Page Content (Finally)

Here’s what Google has to say about writing good web pages, direct from its own help article on SEO:

“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means.

Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.”

So, there you have it. Write compelling and useful content. It’s as simple as that!

Being useful and compelling

“Thomas, you are a really useful engine”
– Sir Topham Hatt, The Fat Controller

If you’ve followed the steps outlined above, you’re already on your way to being useful as you’ve focussed your pages on giving your customers what they want and need.

Hopefully, your content is also unique, which we know is important, and up-to-date.

How to spot an unhelpful or boring page

Whilst getting a measure of whether a page is truly “useful” or not may seem a bit nebulous, it is relatively easy to spot a page which is less useful than its fellows.

The two key metrics to look at here are Exit Rate and Bounce Rate.

Pages with high Bounce Rate have customers arriving (landing) on the page and immediately exiting. Pages with high Exit Rate have customers arriving as part of their journey through your site (e.g. they came from another part of your site) and then leaving.

Seeing high numbers in both instances is bad, unless the page is logically the last one in a customer journey (the end of checkout or your ‘Contact Us’ form are likely to be high-exit rate pages).

By comparison, long viewing times are generally seen as a good metric (assuming that there is a large amount of content on the page). We all have super-short attention spans these days, so keeping someone interested in your page is a small victory in itself.

Customers, turtles, and gate posts

There’s an urban legend about a turtle balanced on top of a gatepost that, depending on what website you like to find your urban legend entomology (what, only have one?) probably originates in either Texas or Queensland.

It goes something like this…

“That man’s a post turtle.”

“What’s a post turtle?”

“You know, when you’re driving down the road and you see a turtle on top of a gatepost. He doesn’t know how he got there, he doesn’t know what to do next, and you know he didn’t end up there all by himself.”

Mostly this is used to insult politicians, but I think it applies pretty well to the average website visitor as well. They land on your site, they don’t know where they are or what to do next, and you’re the person in charge of sorting that out.

Software developers love the myth of the “stupid user” and will, if you let them, complain at great length about how people don’t know how to use computers, shouldn’t be allowed to have computers, shouldn’t even be allowed near computers, and should probably be replaced with computers in the near future for the good of everyone else.

Here’s the reality:

There is no such thing as a stupid user, only bad interface design.

Lots of developers seem to think that it’s OK to abandon users who are “too stupid” to use their website/software/app. It’s a bizarre behaviour that makes no sense if you transpose it to the real world.

When did you last need to update your smartphone software, or install Flash, or switch to a more up-to-date browser to buy meat at the butcher’s shop?

When it comes to web pages my definition of “compelling” for the user is driven by the Five Second Rule. (No, not the one about dropping food on the floor).

“The Five Second Rule”

In “The Five Second Rule” Mel Robbins says:

The 5 Second Rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.

Assuming this is true (and a lot of people following Mel say it is) you’ve got five seconds per webpage to get the customer to physically move their mouse (or their finger) to click on your call to action, scroll the page to read more content, or have some other form of engagement with your page. Five seconds, that’s it.

Do those big banner images at the top of web pages that force you to scroll down to see the article make a little more sense now? That’s a physical engagement, delivered in under five seconds.

Passing the Five Second Rule Test

To pass the Five Second Rule test, your customer must be able to answer three questions within five seconds of looking at a webpage:

  1. What is this page about?
  2. Do I think this page contains the answer to my problem?
  3. What do I do next?

Or, to look at it another way:

  1. What is this page about?
  2. Is this page useful to me?
  3. What action am I compelled to take next?

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