Tuesday, March 22, 2016

4 Things Your Business Website Content Should Never Include

"What's wrong with my website content?" In my many years of fielding this question and many variations of it, I've gotten pretty good at pinpointing certain traps that business owners tend to fall into when they write their own online content. Here are four errors you want to avoid.

1. The Endless Home Page

This is a mistake that I encounter from time to time when I'm asked to redo the content for a commercial website. The client is mystified because visitors are bouncing off the home page without exploring the rest of site, "even though we give them tons of great information right from the beginning." It usually turns out that those tons of information are exactly what's wrong with the home page -- because they don't belong there.

Website visitors don't want to hack their way through a jungle of words, paragraph after endless paragraph, just to figure out where they stuff they actually care about is located on the site. I had to rewrite a home page once that read like an "About the Doctor" page -- and by "about," I mean "about 5,000 words." At first I thought the physician had accidentally pasted the content from her bio page onto her home page. But no, I found a separate, even longer description of the good doctor's life story on that page!

The home page is the front entrance to your site. Dress it with content the way you might dress the front of a brick-and-mortar store: with just enough sizzle to make visitors want to explore the aisles. Nobody buys anything while standing in the doorway.

2. "We We We" All the Way Home

Another recent website writing job posed a different kind of problem. This business owner was in the health and beauty industry and wanted his web content refreshed and updated. Once I took a look at it, I realized that it needed more than that -- it needed a change of perspective. Every sentence, it seemed, was about the company's services, the owner's expertise, the staff's training, "our this" and "my that" and "we provide" the other.

I call this problem "We We We Syndrome" because it's all about the business, when of course it should be all about the visitor. It should recognize the visitor's pain points and describe the products and services in terms of what they mean for the visitor's quality of life. Let's face it, the only question most prospective customers have when they read any kind of pitch is, "What's in it for me?" Focus on that.

3. Keyword Soup

Remember the alphabet soup of your childhood? As fun as it may have been to spell words with your lunch, a some point you probably realized that the stuff was nothing more than a thin, watery broth with lots of letter-shaped noodles in it -- at which point you could be forgiven for moving on to more nutritious fare. Well, lots of website content reads like a bowl of keyword soup, featuring unsubtle, often ungrammatical piles of keyword phrases surrounded by empty words.

This practice is called keyword stuffing. Nobody likes it, least of all Google, who penalizes site owners for the obvious repetition of city names, phone numbers and other key phrases that don't have much to do with the main body of the text. I've had some serious disagreements with web developers over the use of incorrect, stupid-sounding phrases for the sake of SEO. Yes, you'll get more people viewing your content (assuming you escape Google's watchful eye). But do you really want to leave all those extra viewers with the impression that your marketing is written by morons?

4. Double Trouble

Duplicate content is generally looked on as a no-no in the world of online marketing, but I've seen countless instances of it. Some businesses think nothing of simply lifting entire pages of web content from another organization and pasting them, intact and without attribution, on their own sites. This is a dumb move, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

There are those who claim that Google will penalize your duplicate content and others who maintain that it won't hurt your search rankings. But there's another, arguably more serious problem with it. If someone is searching for what you do, chances are that he or she will browse through a pile of search results, including yours. If your content is an exact copy of someone else's, then who's the author? Who's the real expert, and who's the copycat too lazy or unqualified to post an original spin on the subject? Keep in mind, too, that as long as your content is as good as everybody else's, then it's better than nobody else's. Keep it unique!

Step away from these four potential pitfalls and you'll be a step ahead of many of your competitors. And if you want to gain leaps and bounds on them, take one more step -- hire a professional copywriter who can get that web content just right the first time!