When my four-year-old screams and throws himself on the floor in protest at some unreasonable request from his parents (like, say, taking his underwear off his head and putting it on his body before school), we quickly counsel him with one of the workhorses of American parenting:
“Use your words.”
This is not merely a selfish ploy to keep us from going prematurely deaf. Rather, we are passing to our offspring one of life’s essential truths: you increase your chances of success by using the most effective means to achieve your goals.
I am of the opinion that the hard-won lessons of parenting are applicable in a wide variety of situations. If I could give website owners a single piece of marketing advice, it would be:
“Use your words.”
While the explosion of video, audio, and image-based Internet content has provided strong incentives to improve search capabilities for these content types, efforts to-date have been stymied by the difficult problem of how to index and query this content. The fact still remains: Words are the currency of Internet search engines.
Search engines are built for one purpose: To connect people with relevant and valuable website content.
Why are search engines looking to connect people with valuable website content?
Search engines increase their own traffic when they provide their customers with Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPs, chock full of relevant, valuable websites. Once a search engine has attained a critical mass of traffic, its owners can make money on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising alongside those relevant, valuable search results. The most effective example of this is Google’s AdWords program.
How do search engines connect people with valuable website content?
As the name AdWords suggests, the answer lies in words. All successful search engines perform these three tasks:
- Index the Internet’s textual content
- Algorithmically rank web pages based on textual queries
- Present textual search results to users.
The take-home message here is that the vast majority of search engine processing power goes towards the indexing, ranking, and display of textual content, or words.
Why your textual website content is king
We’ve all encountered highly successful websites that are painfully ugly, coded with <span> tags and tables, and only work on Internet Explorer. But have you ever encountered a website that has worthless content or functionality and has somehow garnered great success? Neither have I.
This is not to say that other factors are unimportant… but at the end of the day, your website’s graphic design, HTML markup, technology infrastructure, and user experience are merely support structures for your website’s content.
Textual content is the single most important factor in the success of your online presence. Period. Valuable textual website content is consumed over and over. It gets emailed to friends, subscribed to, blogged about, cited, printed (yes! printing is an important but oft-overlooked viral marketing channel), and bookmarked.
How does one arrive at kingly website content?
Someone has to spend time thinking about how all your non-linear, tone-appropriate, better-be-scannable, critical-to-user-trust chunks of content are going to fit together. This someone also better think about what each chunk of content should be called, whether a chunk merits its own web page, and, if so, how it will perform when it’s listed on a SERP.
That someone might be you. It might be an editorial staff of 50. It might be a hybrid of your organization and some folks who do Web writing, marketing and information architecture for a living.
The key is to plan the expense of high quality content into your Web project (even if you’re the one creating this content). Then, be sure you tailor your technology infrastructure—your Content Management System (CMS) for instance—to allow easy creation and editing of your website content.
How do you get a CMS that is a good fit for your organization?
Find out what’s out there. Make a list of the CMS features you need. Then prioritize this list based on which features you really need. Create an RFP. Request product demos. Ask vendors what solutions they’ve developed for organizations similar to yours. Talk to vendors about your current editorial needs and expected growth. Get help if you need it. Ask lots of questions.
Don’t forget to use your words.