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Only metrics you need to optimise your website performance

Only metrics you need to optimise your website performance

Your website is the hub of your inbound marketing efforts. Every piece of content you create or campaign you run should be designed to drive traffic to your website and landing pages, giving you the chance to convert visitors into leads and customers. It makes sense, then, to start by looking at insights from your web analytics platform, such as Google’s free Google Analytics, or any paid platform. Let’s review the 8 essential metrics you should be tracking on your website and its landing pages, and how you can use these metrics to optimize and improve your website’s performance.

1. Unique Visitors

Definition: The total number of individual visitors to your site during a specific period of time, not counting repeat visits by the same individual

How to Use It: Unique visitor data shows whether your content and campaigns are successfully driving visitors to your site. Look for a good upward trend over time, or in conjunction with specific marketing campaigns. If your unique visitor count isn’t rising, you may need to reassess your marketing tactics.

2. New vs. Repeat Visitors

Definition: A comparison of your unique visitors vs. the number of visitors who came back more than once

How to Use It: The more repeat visitors you have to your site, the more “sticky” it is (i.e. prospects are finding valuable content that keeps them coming back for more). If your repeat visitor rate is only in the single digits, your site might not offer enough valuable information to capitalize on the link or campaign that attracted a new visitor in the first place. Conversely, if your repeat visitor rate is higher than 30%, you’re probably not growing your audience enough to generate new business. A healthy rate of repeat visitors is about 15%.

3. Traffic Sources

Definition: A breakdown of the specific sources of traffic to your website, such as direct, organic, or referral

How to Use It: Direct traffic comes from people who have typed your website’s URL directly into their browser, visited your web pages via a bookmark, or clicked on an untagged link from an email or document you produced.

Organic traffic comes from a link found on a search engine results page. Referral traffic comes from a link on another website. Checking your traffic sources tells you how well your search engine optimization (SE0) efforts are performing. For example, you’ll want to see your share of organic traffic rising until it reaches 40%-50% of total traffic. Likewise, you can gauge the effectiveness of your link-building efforts by tracking referral traffic. Aim for referrals to deliver 20%-30% of overall traffic.

4. Referring URLs

Definition: The specific, non-search engine URLs that send traffic directly to your site. They represent the inbound links that are crucial for boosting your site’s search engine rankings

How to Use It: Track changes in your referring URL list monthly to see if your SEO link-building efforts are paying off. You want to see the list of referring URLs growing steadily over time as you produce more content that other site owners and bloggers deem worthy of sharing with their audience. You also can study your referring URLs to determine which types of sites or bloggers are linking to your site and what type of content they tend to like. All of this information can be fed back into your SEO strategy, helping you to produce more content that is likely to generate inbound links.

5. Most/Least Popular Pages

Definition: A comparison of the pages on your site that receive the most and least traffic

How to Use It: Studying your most popular pages helps you understand what kind of content visitors and prospects find most interesting. Popular pages also are good places to focus your database building efforts. For instance, you can add an email opt-in box or offer a registration form for a content download on those pages.

6. Indexed Pages

Only metrics you need to optimise your website performanceDefinition: The number of pages on your site that have received at least one visit from organic search

How to Use It: This metric tells you how many of your pages are being indexed by search engines and are getting found by users. Know this, and then you can drill down to see which landing pages receive the highest percentage of visits.

Popular entry points into your website are great places to optimize for lead generation by adding calls-to-action for content offers (e.g. ebooks, webinars, or other downloads). You should also track the number of unique landing pages your website has monthly in order to discover pages that perform poorly in organic search that may only generate a few monthly visitors but may turn out to be highly converting pages. Once you have identified these pages, you can take measure to optimize them for maximum conversions.

If you’re not satisfied with your site’s unique landing page count or if the list stops growing,
consider ramping up your blogging efforts. Business blogging is one of the best ways to create new pages that can be indexed by search engines. Furthermore, having more indexed blog pages means more opportunities to get found via organic search, making it more likely that you’ll generate new leads and customers through your content creation.

7. Landing Page Conversion Rate

Definition: The percentage of visitors to your site who take a desired action, such as purchasing a product or filling out a lead generation form.

How to Use It: By monitoring your conversion rates, you’ll know how well you’ve been capitalizing on the traffic coming to your site. You can monitor several different types of conversion rates, including:

  • Visitor-to-Lead Conversion Rate: the percentage of visitors who become leads
  • Lead-to-Customer Conversion Rate: the percentage of leads who become customers
  • Visitor-to-Customer Conversion Rate: the percentage of visitors who become customers

Tracking each of these conversion rates is like giving your marketing funnel a checkup. You’ll see where you’re doing well — such as converting visitors into leads — and where your funnel may be leaky, such as failing to convert those leads into customers.

8. Bounce Rate

Definition: The percentage of new visitors who leave your site almost immediately after arriving, with no other interactions

How to Use It: A high bounce rate means your pages aren’t compelling or useful to visitors. This could be a reflection of problems with your marketing strategy, such as having inbound links from irrelevant sources or not optimizing landing pages for specific campaigns. A high bounce rate could also indicate problems with your site itself, such as confusing architecture, weak content, or no clear calls-to-action.

What other metrics do you find critical for measuring and optimizing the performance of your website?

The Process is not the Point

There are two parts to every project…the Process and the Point.

The Process, which gets most of the attention, is the series of steps we go through to do the work. We obsess over the process…should we do wireframes, mockups, prototypes, or code right in HTML? What deliverables do we need to get buy-in? When do we do testing? What kind of testing do we do? Should we do user testing early? Late? When is the best time to get feedback?

We need the process to know what to do next. We need a framework to work with because it helps us get more efficient at what we do. When you’re user testing, for example, you’ll go much farther and get there faster if you have a repeatable process in place. You’ll want a quick way to get users for testing, a quick way to figure out what to test, what tasks to test, and what to do with the results.

While we should constantly tweak our own process, we also discuss it endlessly with others. Are you sure you’re doing user experience design correctly? Are you designing content first? Are you designing in the browser? Are you using lorem ipsum, for the love of Gods? Are you doing A/B testing? Using personas? I’m sure yours aren’t as robust as mine, natch.

And then there is the Point. The problem you’re trying to solve. The thing that isn’t part of a process but is the most important thing you need to focus on as a designer. The thing that, if you happen to solve it, makes the process almost irrelevant. Solve the problem and you’re successful no matter what process you’ve been using.

The point is often what’s different in your project…it’s the thing that you probably don’t have a process for yet (if you did it wouldn’t be a problem!). And you probably can’t talk about the point anyway because you don’t want other people to solve it before you (e.g. your competitors). So we instead talk about the process…

But we should remember not to confuse the two. The process is valuable…it’s a framework for deciding what to do next…and we need that…but it’s merely a means to an end. And whatever you do, don’t let process details distract you from solving your problem in any way possible.

The Process is important…but it’s not the Point.

Do FAQs improve usability?

Call me a heretic, but I hate FAQs. I understand that the FAQ has become de rigueur for websites, and I get that users expect them as a conventional content type. I even acknowledge that the FAQ has a venerable history. I don’t find them helpful, however: no one ever seems to ask my questions.

So I have questions about FAQs: Do they really work, or are they just a snake oil remedy for poor content? What does it mean when I can’t find my question in the FAQ? What do I do when the FAQ fails?

Do FAQS improve usability?

FAQs often read like a catechism, a fictitious back-and-forth conversation between the eager, inexperienced user and the wise, venerable expert, covering all the basics from the beginning, and urging purchase at every step:

Q: What is this product?

A: It’s a widget. It’s the best widget you’ll ever find. You should buy one.

Q: Is it hard to use?

A: NO! It’s the easiest widget on the market. You should buy one…

On the whole, FAQs like these patronize users. (Incidentally, the Greek root of catechism means, literally, to “talk down” to someone.)

While there isn’t much research supporting the usability of FAQs, they are a frequent topic among experts. Their advice includes:

  • Include real frequently asked questions. Jakob Nielsen addressed FAQs as one of the “biggest usability mistakes of 2002.” He said, “Too many websites have FAQs that list questions the company wished users would ask. No good.” Most FAQs seem to constitute a basic instruction manual or else call attention to selling features, making them only marginally useful to users with real questions.
  • Make sure you really need a FAQ. David Hamill offers a variety of tips, but cautions against having a FAQ for FAQ’s sake. “If your FAQ page is answering questions that the rest of the website should answer, then you have a problem with your site content.”
  • Show you care. David Coyne says that users appreciate a well-constructed FAQ because it shows you care about their time.
  • Keep it short and simple. Many other authors offer FAQ pitfalls and how-tos, and they are generally in agreement: Organize your FAQs in sections; make them simple, skimmable, and prominent; and ensure that they reflect the questions your users really do ask frequently. Feedback Army sums up their FAQ approach like this: “The trick is to make it easy to skim, keep it short, follow the right format, and stock it with questions people ask.”

The best case I’ve found for FAQs comes from Jonathan and Lisa Price in their book, Hot Text: Web Writing That Works:

When guests get stuck they most often turn to the FAQ, because the style seems friendlier than the average help system, and the genre promises answers to real questions from users, rather than a stonewalling corporate pile of documentation.

They surmise that the form originated in the pre-web world of the ListServ. Regular participants, weary of answering the same questions again and again from newcomers, would put their collective wisdom into FAQs and then admonish the uninitiated: “Yo, Noob! Read the FAQ before you post!”

I see their point. FAQs work on ListServs and Forums because their content comprises a spaghetti stream of topical, threaded conversations. A website—or any redacted document, for that matter—is different. The content on a website is composed, planned, and edited. If it doesn’t answer people’s questions, then it has only itself to blame.

Are FAQS still in my future?

A good FAQ is like insurance for your users: There when they need it, but hopefully they never will. If you decide that FAQs have a place in your content strategy, then I suggest the following:

  • Collect, track, and analyze your users’ real frequently asked questions. You need a way to gather your users’ questions and comments, so that you can sort through them and look for patterns.
  • Sales inquiries: When people call to ask questions about your products or your website, document precisely what they ask. Not only will this suggest content areas that are missing or unclear, but you’ll better understand your users’ decision-making process.
  • Support requests: Troubleshooting and frustrations give you a rich field of user feedback. If you have a call center, listen to recorded calls and ask your customer service representatives to pay attention to recurring questions. If you have a support request system on the web, study your support tickets.
  • Ask directly: If you do have a FAQ on your website, include a form that says, “Didn’t find your question here? What would you like to know?” Doing this creates a record of the questions you aren’t answering, as well as additional opportunities to follow up on with your users.

Use that insight to improve your site’s content. Having gathered these questions, look for patterns. Are there, in fact, any questions users ask frequently? Don’t just add them to your FAQ in the name of completeness. Sort the questions into piles. Look for common words. Count the frequency of occurrences. As soon as you see a pattern, look for ways to address it elsewhere in your content. Are users confused? Clarify the wording of the section that was originally intended to answer those questions. Are users looking for content that isn’t there? Create it. Are users looking for love in all the “wrong” places on your site? Reorganize it.

Never build your content strategy on the FAQ. Even if you create your FAQ from questions people actually ask, you should only use it to supplement your overall content strategy. Carefully consider your reasons for including a FAQ and your goals for supporting your users.

Are FAQs ever appropriate?

There are occasions when a FAQ is exactly the right way to go.

To answer the one question users ask before reading further. If you discover that a significant part of your target audience is looking for a quick answer to a few, simple questions, then it can help to pull them out so they don’t have to spend a lot of time digging around. If customers absolutely need a service to synchronize Outlook files, use the FAQ to tell them whether your service is right for them.

To demonstrate that you really have listened to your users’ questions. If you have completed exhaustive, authentic research into your users’ needs and preferences, you can use the FAQ to demonstrate to users that you understand their concerns. Such a FAQ could be used in response to a public relations crisis, for example. Just make sure that you’ve done your research: people will see right through a phony FAQ.

To reassure users that their questions are normal. Likewise, you could use your FAQ to show users that other people are asking the same questions as they are. This technique works especially well for health concerns: “Everything you ever wanted to know about [blank], but were afraid to ask….”

Is my FAQ doing what it should?

Whatever you do, make sure you subject your FAQs to the same rigorous usability testing as the rest of your site. Since you have already considered your reasons and strategy for including a FAQ, you can now test whether it achieves the goals you set out for it.

What have I concluded?

FAQs are ubiquitous and familiar and occasionally helpful. They have a place in your content strategy, but use them carefully: if your users are asking the same questions frequently, consider how you can improve your content before reaching for a FAQ.

Get strategic

Content strategy is planning for every aspect of content to get results. That goes far beyond writing the copy. When getting strategic about content, focus on three key areas: analysis, editorial and architecture. While explaining content strategy in detail literally requires a book (or two or three), I’d like to share with you a concise introduction to each area in this article.

Contentstrategy-circle in Make Your Content Make a Difference

Figure 1: Content strategy usually involves analysis, editorial and architecture.

1. Analysis

Analysis is taking a magnifying glass to your content situation. The better you understand it, the better you can plan exactly what needs to change to reach the results you’d like to have. Two typical activities in the analysis phase are a content audit and a context analysis. Sometimes, these activities are lumped together into a content analysis. The exact term is not that important as long as you do the analysis thoroughly.

Content Audit

An audit is a close review of your existing content. If you have any content to start with, you need to know exactly what it is. The audit tells you what you’re working with. By the end of an audit, you’ll have answers to questions such as:

  • What content types, formats and topics do you have?
  • What is the quality of your content? (For help, consult this content quality checklist.)
  • How is your content structured?
  • Where do you have obvious content gaps and overlaps, or redundancies?

When you’re ready to try a complete content audit yourself, check out the guide Content Analysis: A Practical Approach.

Context Analysis

A context analysis looks at the elements that surround and affect your content. At a minimum, consider and answer these questions about your goal, your users, and your processes.

Goal

  • What is your business or organizational goal? Why?
  • How will content help you achieve that goal?

Users / Audience

  • Who are your users, or the people you want to attract and influence? Why?
  • Where (in what channels) are your users looking for content — on websites, on mobile, on social networks?
  • If you have an existing website or interactive experience, how is it performing?

Processes / Ecosystem

  • How do you create, maintain and govern content now?
  • How do you plan to do so when you launch the website or interactive experience?
  • What are your competitors doing in the realm of content?

As a simple example, let’s look at American Express’ OPEN Forum, a site for small business owners. Why did American Express want to attract and influence these users? Because reaching these users was a step toward their business goal. Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, SVP of Partnerships & Business Development for American Express OPEN, notes, “…our biggest opportunity is with small business growth — if they grow, we grow.” And, American Express decided to help them grow through a unique approach to content. Rather than create more content about their credit cards, American Express decided to create content about small business owner concerns. (More about this approach in the next section, 2. Editorial.)

We could discuss analysis for days, but I’d like to introduce other aspects of content strategy to you as well. For a more detailed explanation of this analysis, I highly recommend the analysis chapter of Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson. Also, I shared my step-by-step experience in the presentation Content Analysis: Know Thy Content.

The real benefit of analysis is ideas and insights for planning content editorial and architecture. So, let’s take a closer look at those sides of content, using the OPEN Forum as an example along the way.

2. Editorial

Editorial plans mostly for the people side of content, such as:

  • What style or voice should your content have to attract and resonate with users?
  • What topics and themes should your content cover and when?
  • Who is responsible for what content?
  • What are your standards or criteria for credible content?

Many businesses and organizations who are not media properties completely lack editorial oversight for their websites and other interactive experiences. That can result in problems ranging from errors to missing a competitive advantage. Let’s turn back to our OPEN Forum example. In the world of finance, much content is a combination of dull explanations or legal mumbo jumbo. OPEN Forum takes a different approach.

2-openforum in Make Your Content Make a Difference

Figure 2: In the stodgy world of finance, American Express OPEN Forum offers a fresh approach to content.

The design might not look dramatically different from other finance sites, but the content is much different. To help small businesses, OPEN Forum regularly offers credible content about topics that small business owners care about. American Express produces some content, invited expert columnists create some content, and small business users contribute some content. Even though different authors contribute content, the content is original to OPEN Forum. Can you notice how different it is from aggregating random content or simply optimizing pushy landing pages? Through its consistent voice and handy content on OPEN Forum, American Express has positioned itself as a trusted advisor to small businesses. Because the articles, videos, and podcasts are deeply useful to small business users, they’re far more valuable to American Express.

Of course, having so many content contributors poses some risk of creating content that feels disjointed. To reduce this risk, what’s going on behind the scenes? The right editorial staff and processes ensure the content from different authors is coordinated. For example, while most websites lack an editor, OPEN Forum has an editor-in-chief. And, for robust editorial review and production, American Express partners with Federated Media. As you plan your content processes, you will consider what roles to hire in-house and what roles to hire as freelancers.

Besides the right people and processes, editorial planning results in an important tool: the Editorial Style Guide. This guide documents important decisions about your content for everyone involved to reference. A style guide typically explains:

  • Target audiences / users
  • Key messages
  • Voice and tone
  • Criteria for topics
  • Sample content
  • Usage, punctuation, and grammar guidelines
  • Trademark and legal considerations

For a helpful start, you might want to consider taking a look at The Yahoo! Style Guide.

So, all of this editorial work sounds interesting, but does it actually get any results? Yes, it does. Since 2007, OPEN Forum has built an audience comparable in size and engagement with other small business media properties. But that’s not the best result. In the lucrative small business market, American Express’s successful editorial approach is a differentiator. More than that, it’s a quiet coup. The results did not happen overnight. They took time. But, compared to its competitors, American Express now owns small business online.

I know what you’re thinking. “But American Express is a big company. Should a smaller one care about editorial?” Yes. A smaller company or an individual can do it on a smaller scale, with less content, fewer contributors, and probably fewer visitors. Editorial is about attracting the right visitors (or audience) and holding their interest through content. Size does not matter nearly as much as quality.

That’s a basic introduction to editorial. But, content concerns don’t stop here. Now, let’s turn to architecture.

3. Architecture

Architecture plans mostly for the machine side of content — while keeping the people side in mind. Architecture addresses how your content is organized, structured and repurposed. Architecture gets your content to the right place. This planning might start with a site map but won’t end there. You likely will need to define content models and taxonomies using metadata. In essence, you need to tell your content management system and other platforms what content you have, where to display it and how to display it.

Let’s look at a simple example, again from American Express OPEN Forum. The site has clearly defined templates for its articles, videos and other content types. Those content types come together (or aggregate) as meaningful topic pages. Take a look at this one for innovation. That aggregation happens dynamically because of good architecture.

3-topicpage in Make Your Content Make a Difference

Figure 3: This topic page brings together all of OPEN Forum’s original content about a topic (in this case, the topic is innovation), thanks to good architecture.

When you plan architecture well, you gain other benefits. Both search engines and people will find your content more easily. Your content becomes more accessible and flexible, not to mention easier and more efficient to keep consistent.

That’s some basic architecture. Now, let’s kick it up a notch. Is OPEN Forum part of AmericanExpress.com, the core American Express website? No, it’s not. Now, that might bother some user experience designers and information architects out there. Shouldn’t this be one cohesive experience? Yes, it should. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of the content has to be in one website or in one place. AmericanExpress.com serves more visitors than small business owners. So, putting all that small business content on AmericanExpress.com could easily get in the way of other visitors. Instead, OPEN Forum and AmericanExpress.com link to each other at relevant points.

4-architecture in Make Your Content Make a Difference
Figure 4: OPEN Forum is not part of the core American Express site.

Okay, now let’s kick it up several notches. Content strategy pioneer Rachel Lovinger has articulated convincingly that advanced architecture also makes your content more nimble to use across different interactive experiences, from your website to your mobile application. She notes,

“Publishing content that’s marked up with smart structure and metadata allows it to be delivered on a wider range of channels, while still retaining the context and relationships that make it meaningful and useful to both your audience [visitors or users] and your brand. Think of it like providing publishing instructions with the content, where each different platform uses only the instructions that are relevant.”[2]

For example, if your content is structured well, you can offer mobile versions of your content more efficiently, as American Express has. You also will have a much easier time creating widgets or an API to distribute your content, as NPR did. (See image below.) Does this kind of planning get results? Within 12 months after releasing this API, NPR doubled its users (audience). [3]

5-API in Make Your Content Make a DifferenceFigure 5: NPR structured its content well enough to offer a useful API.

You or your organization might think such multichannel architecture issues are mostly technology issues. Now hear this: They’re content issues, too. Consider how your content’s architecture will help you reach the right users in the right channels.

How These Areas Work Together

My diagram presents the areas of content strategy as a cycle. Now that you understand each area better, let’s look further at this cycle.

Before Launch: Architecture Last

When you’re about to reimagine a website or launch a new one, focus on analysis, then editorial, and then architecture. Why architecture last? Because that way you don’t waste time and energy planning areas of a site that you don’t need. You avoid scrambling to fill unwanted screens and features with content. You’d never build a house by constructing every possible room, then deciding which rooms you actually need. It should be no different with websites and interactive experiences. Plan the content you need first, then architect it.

After Launch: Analyze and Adjust

After you launch, the cycle doesn’t stop. Analyze how your content performs. Learn how users behave with your content. Stay in touch with industry trends. Watch for problems and opportunities. Address them by adjusting your editorial and architecture. Successful media properties never publish content, then leave it. I like how Tracy V. Wilson, Site Director for HowStuffWorks, describes her approach to ongoing analysis.

SEO copywriting tips for link building

Compare the two posts below, both written by the exact same SEO expert and each containing around the same number of words. Without knowing the subject, can you guess which post earned more links?

Which Post Earned More Links

Try 378 to 6. In addition to its visual appeal, the left post was more timely, useful and informative – all hallmarks of copywriting grace.

The “secrets” of copywriting have existed since before the ancient Greeks. Generations of Don Drapers have perfected the craft. Today we use computer analysis and data mining to uncover the most effective SEO practices. Rand’s early peek at the Ranking Factors hints at some of these factors. My colleague Casey Henry conducted a study of link-worthy material that included elements such as title length and word frequency. Fantastic stuff and I hope he does another such study soon.

So why don’t more authors take advantage? Why all the cardboard looking blog posts?

Here’s the takeaway. To earn links, use copywriting to organize your content.

1. Write for Power Skimmers

Steve Krug’s words of wisdom for website usability in his book Don’t Make Me Think ring true for all elements of SEO copywriting.

Heat Map“We don’t read pages. We scan them.”
-Steve Krug

Krug advocates for a billboard style of design. This means using language, images, layout and color to make your material stand out and shine. Think of motorcycle riders speeding past billboards. Which one will they remember?

To be fair, prettying up mediocre content won’t make it any better. But does your best work look like it belongs in an encyclopedia?

Unless you are Wikipedia, don’t look like Wikipedia.

2. Why Headline Formulas Work

Headlines organize your content by making a promise to the reader. The body of your content delivers on that promise.

Check out this recent cover for Wired Magazine.

Why Headline Formulas Word

Using the “who-what-why” formula isn’t the only way to format your headlines, but it works. Another technique I like is to ask a question, e.g., “Have You Been Secretly Penalized by Google?

Don’t be scared of headline formulas. Instead of “gimmicky,” think of them as a framework for the promise you make. When I’m stuck for headline inspiration, I surf the fantastic resources over at Copyblogger.

There are literally dozens of effective headline formulas out there, so you need never worry about repeating yourself.

3. Get 20% More with Numbers

I made that number up. Why?

Numbers grab our attention. Look at the titles to some of the most linked-to posts on SEOmoz.

It makes you want to click one of those links right now…

Whether in a headline or a list, numbers light up the ordered, mathematical part of our brain to make content more attractive. It also provides you with a way to structure your material in a way that makes sense.

4. Free and Easy Power Words

My writing life changed when I read Robert W. Bly’s seminal work, The Copywriter’s Handbook. He introduced me to the power of choosing the right language for successful communication.

Although some of his “power” words belong in the back of a Sunday newspaper advertisement, their effectiveness can’t be denied. These include words like quick, easy, guarantee and free.

“Free is the most powerful word in the copywriter’s vocabulary. Everybody wants to get something for free.”
-Robert W. Bly

Words are magic. The opposite of power words includes language like try, maybe, might, possibly and perhaps. These “halfway” words kill your writing.

The point is not to use a rote list of words like a checklist in your copy, but rather be conscious of the power (or lack of) your language. Don’t hedge your bets with weak prose.

5. A Picture is Worth 1000 Clicks

Rethink your visuals. Visuals are essential to any story and include:

  • Photographs

  • Artwork

  • Charts and Graphs

  • Slidedecks

  • Video

  • Infographics

The wrong way to add images is to buy stock or steal them off of the web. Instead, make every effort to include original media in your content. A simple, 100% original hand drawing attracts more interesting any day of the week than using Parked Domain Girl.

Unique Images Earn Links

Original Pineapple Artwork by Dawn Shepard Graphic Design

It doesn’t matter what you use, just make it original.

6. Use Sub-Headlines or Die Trying

This is a no-brainer. Imagine the front page of a newspaper with just one headline. All other text is equal. You wouldn’t read it, or you would tire quickly if you did. Our brains don’t work that way.

We want things broken up and organized.

If your text is longer than 250-400 words, you must use sub-headlines. No exceptions.

7. When in Doubt, List it Out

This entire post is a list. Try these numbers on for size:

  • 75% of the top 20 post on SEOmoz contain a bulleted list

  • 60% feature a numbered list

Why do lists work so well? Why is David Letterman’s Top Ten the most anticipated part of his show, even if it’s not as funny as the rest of the show?

Lists are the building blocks of ideas. When we go to the grocery store, we don’t write a story – that’s ineffective. To communicate your thoughts quickly and effectively, nothing gets to the root of the matter like a list can.

Humans crave order. Use lists to create structure and build your content from the ground up.

8. Quotes

My all-time favorite use of effective quoting comes from Michael Crichton’s science fiction work Timeline. He juxtaposes two ideas against each other to explain a single concept about quantum theory.

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it.”
NEILS BOHR, 1927

“Nobody understands quantum theory.”
RICHARD FEYNMAN, 1967

Utilize quotes to set your ideas apart.

9. The Bold and the Italic

Along the same lines, use bold to emphasize important points. If you don’t have important points, you have bigger problems.

Italics do the same job but sound more European, like this guy.

10. Be Honest

Effective SEO copywriting should never alter or misrepresent your work. Indeed, its purpose is to help you communicate your core ideas more clearly and effectively.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
— Ernest Hemingway

Writing from the heart is always the best copywriting technique.