If you’re new to SEO or are just starting up a website, make this your mantra for any new optimization project: You can’t optimize content when you have no content! Find out how to easily create and refine relevant content for your users.
I recently got into a discussion with an owner of site who sold bottles of steak sauce. He was wondering why he wasn’t getting any more attention to his pages despite having spent money on a fancy new layout. Unsurprisingly, he had almost no content; his blog was empty, the product pages listed little more than the names of each item, and the front page had less than 100 words total (which is less than this entire first paragraph). I asked him when he’ll start adding information and writing some pages for his blog. His response: he’d get around to it when he could think of something to actually write.
This story is all too common among many site owners. Writer’s block hits early and it hits hard. But the truth is, writing doesn’t have to be a chore. If you know how to approach it, it can be a fun and creative process that can bring your site together and benefit your site’s visitors by providing them with something of value.
In the following sections, we are going to target the problem, set up a game plan, and attack it.
1. You Can’t Optimize Content When You Have No Content
This is probably a no-brainer for you if you are reading this, but it’s critical for anyone who is starting or updating a website to have textual content on the site’s pages. In fact, if you’re new to SEO or are just starting up a website, make this your mantra for any new optimization project: You can’t optimize content when you have no content!
Search engines are the bridges that connect users to the information that they are looking for on the World Wide Web. Because the Web is about communication and the exchange of ideas, the content is almost always textual; ideas, concepts, and information are abstract, so they are only able to be expressed in words, not in the pictures of a site’s layout, its extra navigational features, or anything else. People search with words to match documents that have those words associated with them, so if you have no text, you aren’t going to be found because you won’t have any information that a user is looking for.
Fixing this problem doesn’t have to be a huge challenge. In fact…
In my talk with the steak sauce site owner, he mentioned that he wasn’t sure if he even could write. After all, he isn’t a writer, so he wouldn’t know where to begin, what to say, or how to say it. Though, he’s been in the business for years and could talk all day about sauces, grilling, the different kinds of meat, and all kinds of things that someone like me wouldn’t even know about when it comes to making a meal.
One of the product pages was for chimichurri sauce. I didn’t have any idea what this type of topping was and the product page certainly wasn’t helping me out, so I asked the owner what I’d use chimichurri for. He told me that this was a sauce that was rich in a variety of herbs, including garlic and parsley. This particular kind was a bit too mild for him because it didn’t have as much hot pepper blended in like in some of the other brands he sold, but it was sweet and good on a tender steak.
Before my hunger started to kick in, I had to point out that he just came up with the basis of a pretty good product description. He could easily put something similar to what he just said on his product’s page and suddenly have more useful content on his site.
After some refining (which we’ll get into further), we might have a decent description like the following for our sauce:
Jack’s Chimichurri Sauce
With its rich garlic flavor and hints of a red pepper seasoning, our specialty Chimichurri sauce will put a mild twist on your taste buds. Use it to compliment the taste of a tender sirloin or use it as a glaze on grilled ground beef to make a satiating chimichurri burger.
So how did this “non-writer” come up with a description? Simple. Someone asked him a question about it.
Writing becomes really easy when we give ourselves prompts to start from. It’s even easier still when someone else provides those prompts for us. Sometimes, just asking a friend what they think about a page or a site will be enough to generate a few questions for us to answer. But if those questions don’t come from someone else, it isn’t impossible to come up with some on our own.
One way to invent our own prompts is to pretend as if we are a visitor who has never seen our site before and assume that we don’t know anything about it. In this example of the steak sauce site, we’ve asked what the sauces are used for. Is this particular sauce hot or mild? Are there any recipes that would benefit from using this sauce? Is it a popular item? Where are the ingredients from? Some of these questions might seem strangely specific, but their answers can be used to build a great textual product description.
Another way to come up with prompts is to visit sites both similar to your own and ones that are very different. While browsing these various types of sites, ask questions about what is being presented, starting with the basics:
- Who are the people reading this site, and who are the ones writing it?
- What are these individual pages about, and what do all of these pages have in common with one another?
- Where and when were the things on these pages created or when did they happen?
- Why should I or anyone else care?
Take note of the questions that you are asking and don’t be afraid to get specific (e.g. what was the magnification range of the telescope that Galileo used when he was discovering that the earth revolves around the sun? Was Galileo the only one with this kind of telescope at the time? Answering these questions could fill a paragraph or two and might even spark enough ideas to start a new page, assuming that it’s relevant to what your site is about).
Were your questions answered by the site? If so, were the answers helpful?
Now take those questions and try to fit them to your own site, asking similar things about your own pages and seeing if you’re finding clear answers. If you aren’t, it’s time to start answering your own questions.
3. Editing, Pruning, Building
After you take a short break from writing, come back ready to edit what you’ve just typed. Aside from checking for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, make sure that your pages still maintain a certain level of focus and aren’t going off on any wild tangents. If you do stray into other topics that don’t belong on your page (for example, if you started writing about how photosynthesis works when your page is about putting ferns in your house), consider making a new page for that deviation and internally linking to it from any other parts of your site that may reference that subject.
Also, see if you can make connections between different pages with similar topics. In the example of the steak sauce website, the owner could use his blog to post recipes. Using what we’ve learned in section 2 of this article, the recipes could be descriptive and alluring:
Kickin’ Flank Steak
Want to add a little zest to your steak? This peppery flank is excellent for a cool evening of grilling and will exhilarate your more adventurous guests. Serve this with a brisk, mixed-leaf salad and a side of asparagus for a full and unforgettable meal.
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
3 avocados – peeled and diced
1/2 onion, minced
This short description didn’t add a whole lot of new words (only about 45 or so), but it makes this recipe much more interesting for a reader. Combine it with a link to your product page for the item you’re selling and leave the comments section open for your visitors. If someone has tried the recipe, they might come back to leave a comment about it which could further describe what’s on the page and would also help convince new visitors to try it for themselves.
4. Wrapping It All Up
Now that you’ve refined your content, check that your pages are internally linking to one another in ways that make sense. If you do this properly, it can help move a customer to make a sale, download software, listen to a song, or whatever it is that you want them to do on your pages.
Back at the steak sauce website, out of the content we’ve created, we have appetizing product descriptions and blog posts with illustrative recipes. The blog posts point to the pages of the products that are being used. But are our product pages pointing back to our blog posts?
Wait a minute. Do we really want to do that? Isn’t the point of the site to sell the sauce? You want to keep the visitor on the product page and make the sale.
Well, that’s true. We would like to make a sale. But not every customer who lands on a product page arrives with the intention of purchasing that item. For example, if the visitor really likes a particular steak sauce, they might be curious and explore what other sauces that the manufacturer offers to see how others compare. Instead of their usual tabasco-flavored sauce, they come upon a sweet honey barbecue sauce. It isn’t hot the way our shopper likes it, but they click on the recipe link to get an idea of what this sauce would work well with.
Soon, at the new page, their mouth is watering at our description and they’re convinced that this would sweeten up an otherwise bland meal. They hit the link that you included, hopping back to the product page, and then add the item to their cart.
But of course, that’s the best case scenario. Maybe we don’t get rewarded so easily this time; the visitor finds our site because they searched for the kind of sauce that they like and our page popped up because they wanted more information or a recipe. After they reach the recipe page, they leave our site.
If we were helpful to our visitor and gave them what they were looking for, they could have made the dish using the technique they found on our blog. Even if they were using a competitor’s ingredients, if they had a good experience, they will be likely to return and look for more meals to make and leave feedback. Or they’ll share our site with a friend who will look at it on their own time.
Either way, we have increased our chances of having returning visitors or having those visitors refer our page to other people. These visitors, both returning and new, may buy some of our products and walk away satisfied.
After looking at ways to figure out what sort of content to add and how to internally link our pages, we can spend more time on promoting our site and finding customers. A site’s storefront doesn’t have to (and often shouldn’t) be so cut-and-dry to the point where it assumes that our customers know everything about us and what we sell already. If we can educate or entertain our visitors with some relevant information as they’re shopping without being distracting or unnecessary, they’ll be much more confident in making a purchase. And if we write blog posts that we can casually tie in with what we sell, our site can now be more than just a store: it can be a resource of information for people to subscribe to and read, which will open up a whole bunch of other possibilities for sales and product promotions. But maybe we’ll get into that some other time.