Rules of Engagement: Creating Effective Content

After re-reading my article from last week, it became obvious to me that readers could benefit from some elaboration. Rule #1 of Web site copywriting and content management is simple, and it’s here we must begin: Engage the reader.

Whether you are building your site from the ground up, redesigning, or honing your site’s copy, your words are what inform each visitor and help them decide to convert - whether that means completing a sale, downloading a whitepaper, completing a contact form, or a newsletter request.

As I mentioned before, SEO companies are notorious for providing copywriting services that stuff keyword phrases into poorly written copy, which at best will draw potential visitors to sub par quality pages and negate some of the benefit of the optimization efforts already implemented. Whether they realize it or not, many clients are forced to choose between artistic copy and search engine optimized copy, and they make their choice when they choose a marketing agency.

Agencies following more traditional methods of marketing often provide more engaging copy, but often to the neglect of keyword inclusion. Many SEO companies, on the other hand, could not care less about how artistic and compelling the copy is as long as it helps the client’s page to rank well in the major search engines.

In order to engage the reader and be successful in search, you need a marriage of copywriting quality and optimization. There are several approaches to reaching the desired result.

  1. Have the copy written by a more traditional copywriter, and then have an SEO professional tactfully edit to include keyword phrases.
  2. Begin with copy written by an SEO professional and then submit it to a traditional copywriter for editing suggestions.
  3. Hunt down one of the few professionals who excel at both.
  4. Write the copy yourself and have one or both professionals edit.

If you can find a professional marketing company that excels at both, by all means jump on that bandwagon (assuming they also provide the other quality marketing services you need). Most companies, however, will be forced to choose between options 1 or 2.

Given the choice of where to start, I recommend starting with the professional copywriter every time. Let the SEO professional come in behind and optimize well-written copy. A traditional copywriter will likely have a difficult time editing and rewriting optimized content to engage the reader. He or she will likely alter too much content and nullify the efforts of natural SEO.

Whether you write the copy yourself our outsource it, consider the big picture. Part of engaging the reader includes organizing your content in a sensible manner, and theme-based organization makes the most sense. Each page represents a point of thought, and should link (using descriptive keywords within the link) to subsequent pages/thoughts in a natural and logical manner.

Remember back in college or even high school when you had to provide outlines of your paper before writing your first draft? The same principle applies here. It was a pain in the neck then because no one wanted to learn the discipline of outlining. We all preferred to shoot from the hip, right? Well, if the good old days weren’t enough to teach the lesson, learn it now when it really counts. Outlining your information architecture properly is the foundation of success, and will help you when it comes to effective Web site copywriting.

For those of us who didn’t pay attention in school and have no clue about creating outlines, this begs the question: how do you create each page to meet the visitors’ needs and organize them to lead each visitor to the desired action? It’s a question for all of us, regardless of our grades in English and writing classes. A thorough outline of the information architecture is only as successful as the information leading to its creation. So we need not only a thorough map, but a map to the desired destination.

Your Web site will experience varying levels of success depending on how well it fits the needs of the visitor, which is why it is often necessary (and always helpful) to bring in usability experts. Professionals can poll your site’s current visitors and track their actions during their visit to your site to create behavior-based Web site personas.

With focus groups comprised of people who actually match the demographics for your behavior-based personas, these professionals help companies around the world understand how to hone a Web site’s design and content to maximize brand popularity and conversions. It’s a service worth discussing in more detail, so look for more information in upcoming articles.

Successfully engaging the reader involves search engine optimization to attract visitors to the site, thematic site structure for ease of use and successful information exchange, and compelling copy that leads the visitor from point A to point B to point C (for conversion). Take the advice of someone who has tried the right way and the wrong way: spending more on other marketing avenues won’t make up for poorly written site copy. Despite the burden of cost involved, your company will save money and reputation long-term if you do it right the first time.

About the author

Mark Jackson, President and CEO of Vizion Interactive, a search engine optimization company. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000. His journey began with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL/Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front (learning that working for a "large company" does not guarantee you a position, no matter your job performance), Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.

Vizion Interactive was founded on the premise that honesty, integrity, and transparency forge the pillars that strong partnerships should be based upon. Vizion Interactive is a full service interactive marketing agency, specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing/PPC management, SEO friendly Web design/development, social media marketing, and other leading edge interactive marketing services, including being one of the first 50 beta testers of Google TV.

Mark is a board member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM) and a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) and is a regular speaker at the SES and Pubcon conferences.

Mark received a BA in Journalism/Advertising from The University of Texas at Arlington in 1993 and spent several years in traditional marketing (radio, television, and print) prior to venturing into all things "Web."

Read more of Mark Jackson's columns at ClickZ.