By Mike Murray published January 23, 2014

4 Online Content Best Practices for Success

“All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary — it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.” — Somerset Maugham

happy woman with computerI like Maugham’s understated way of referencing the skill and effort that goes into writing. But as content creators know, it takes more than just good grammar skills and a flair for words to be successful at marketing and web content creation. So, as we collectively kick off our web content creation efforts for 2014, I thought it would be helpful to compile some of the best practices CMI contributors have shared for web content creation — including a few observations based on my own personal experience.

Ready? Let’s go.

1. Prioritize quality AND quantity of your web content creation

With the advent of online marketing, writers and marketers became very clever at “charming” the search engines into ranking websites highly based on inbound links, cross-linking, keyword saturation, and more. Google has basically become the Einstein of search engines — its engineers and developers keep a keen eye on advances that help ensure its algorithms adapt to the latest digital marketing strategies and cater to evolving consumer search behaviors.

For example, Google’s Penguin update and, more recently, its Hummingbird update enhanced the ability of its search engines to distinguish quality websites and online content from spammy or link bait-laden ones. While some marketers may be frustrated by the frequent need to revise their marketing strategies, these changes have been well-aligned with fundamental content marketing principles and aims (such as the goal of creating content that is useful, rather than cluttered and spurious).

Given these algorithm updates, businesses that engage in quality web content creation should naturally stand out, and their content should rank more highly on search engines. Brad Shorr’s article, What Quality Content Is, and How to Help Your Clients Create It, is a fine refresher course on this subject. Brad does an excellent job at distilling some best practices on what can be an esoteric subject and matter of personal taste in the hands of some writers.

2. Grab attention with titles — and retain it by using visual breaks

Anyone who has come to the world of web content creation by way of journalism knows the value of a catchy headline. Readers’ eyes tend to wander towards what they find the most interesting, compelling, or curious on the page when presented with multiple options or when faced with a limited time frame for consumption. If you’re creating online content for a business, it will do nothing for sales, lead generation, or ROI if you can’t get readers to engage with that content, period.

Roger C. Parker’s Writing the Best Titles for Content Marketing: A 10-Point Checklist is an ingenious breakdown of the art and science of crafting hypnotic, attention-grabbing headlines and titles that will help ensure readership of your blog post, case study, white paper, or website page. Better yet, Roger includes a Title Evaluation Scorecard, featuring such elements as voice, specificity, and position, which can help you to hone your page or content deliverable headlines with laser-like precision.

Once you’ve captured your readers’ attention with a headline, you still need to keep their eyes on your page until the very end of the piece (so they see all of the calls to action). Use sub-headlines for various sections, or use bullet points to break up the page visually. Another benefit of the use of sub-headlines is that they can be optimized with formatting tags and other meta-content tags — an SEO tactic that still holds credibility with the search engines for determining content hierarchy and keyword emphasis.

3. SEO success is all in the details

Speaking of SEO, don’t ever lose sight of its power and the value it can provide. Well-chosen keywords are a must when it comes to writing online content. Relevant keywords used frequently throughout your content (but not too frequently) will bring people to the online content you create.

David Reich’s post, Where and When Your Keywords Really Matter for Content Marketing and SEOand How to Optimize Content When You Don’t Know Jack about SEO by Kevin Cain provide insightful guidance that can help fledgling and seasoned content writers alike better understand the essential do’s and don’ts for online content creation in the digital age. You can also find great SEO tagging advice in another of Brad Shorr’s posts, The Essential Guide to Meta Descriptions that Will Get You Found Online.

4. Conversion is the ultimate test of content success

Some online content is created to establish brand authority; other content is positioned simply to serve as a helpful informational or educational resource for its readers. And in both scenarios, web content creation is often done for the overall purpose of promoting or selling a product or service.

Regardless of the underlying intentions behind your decision to create content, you are likely to fall short of your goals if your content does not ultimately elicit some form of response from its readers.

Whether you are writing content based on the buying cycle in your industry, making social media updates, or producing persona-based online content, strive to include compelling calls to action to help guide your audience through the stages of your engagement process and, ultimately, your business funnel. Leaving these vital content components out of your online content is like building a sailboat and forgetting to hoist the sail that will power it through to its destination.

You’ll find plenty of tips for using calls to action wisely in my post, Optimize Your Website Content with Calls to Action: Tips for Small Businesses, as well as by checking out Mark Sherbin’s, Are Your Calls to Action Missing These Proven Formulas? Both posts provide a small arsenal of insights about how to boost the efficacy of your online content and achieve more positive results.

As you plan ahead in 2014, what kind of writing practices work well for you when you produce online content?

For more online content best practices, ideas, and examples, read “Epic Content Marketing,” by Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Mike Murray

Mike Murray has shaped online marketing strategies for hundreds of businesses since 1997, including Fortune 500 companies. A former journalist, he has led SEO studies and spoken at regional and national Internet conferences. Founder of Online Marketing Coach, Mike is passionate about helping clients identify their best opportunities for online marketing success based on their strengths, his advice and industry trends. You can find him at his blog, Online Marketing Matters or on Twitter @mikeonlinecoach.

Other posts by Mike Murray

  • Brad Shorr

    Hi Mike, Great post, and thanks for mentioning my posts. Anything we can do to help each other learn HOW to create high quality content is extremely worthwhile. Every day I’m more and more convinced that following anything short of best practices will result in failure both for SEO and human readers. Your emphasis on conversion is a great point. There’s not much value in spewing out content unless it aims at some sort of goal!

    • Mike Murray

      Thanks Brad. Your insights helped round out the piece. Like you, I see many missing or so-so meta descriptions. I referenced conversions just to keep it top of mind. I realize it’s a topic that can go in many directions. For example, you would think a post should at least be a traffic driver regardless of how someone arrives (before they hopefully share the content). But if the numbers are low and the sharing is limited, then something else should be in play. Hopefully, the post (or the page/design) references a clear call to action. It doesn’t take many visits to make calls to action effective (starting with a suitable meta description to draw them in). Or the goal could simply be to reinforce a brand and emphasize thought leadership (demonstrating that publishers are leaders in their industry (they reference posts as needed).

  • Ram Babu SEO

    Excellent tips , thanks Mike

    • Mike Murray

      Glad you liked them Ram.


  • rogercparker

    Dear Mike:
    Great, example of tight, informative writing and helpful resource links. Thanks for mentioning my Title Tips. Looking forward to downloading your resources.

    • Mike Murray

      Hi Roger, I enjoyed drawing from some good ideas. Hope you like the downloads you found from the B2B study. Let’s stay in touch.

  • rw

    so this is news. i thought this was general knowledge.

  • Barbara Mckinney

    Great article here Mike. I think the most powerful practice is prioritizing quality and quantity of content we share online. Knowing that you have thousands of competitors, sharing a quality content will make you stand out from others.

    • Mike Murray

      Thanks Barbara. I agree. The opportunity to share is critical – that’s why the whole package must work – titles, structure, knowledge, writing, etc.

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Mike,

    Titles and eye candy. Love the tips. Craft attractive titles. Draw readers in. Follow up with imagery and visual breaks to keep the fleeting attention span of the average person.

    Practice! Writing frequently helps you spot patterns between how you craft content and how people respond.

    Thanks for sharing Mike!

    • Mike Murray

      Glad you liked it Ryan. I wanted to draw upon past posts and show how much really needs to be considered. I like what you had to say about frequency.

  • Stacey Mathis

    And just to add to number 2 (“Use sub-headlines for various sections”), if your subheads can tell a story all on their own that also helps, especially with that ultra impatient reader/shopper.

    • Mike Murray

      Good point Stacey – thanks for the perspective.

  • Dimarcus Jackson

    #4. Conversion is the Ultimate test to content success – You hit it right on the money! Good content plus an awesomely designed call to action at the bottom = I just signed up! Your a seasoned Vet. I’m always open to learn from the pro’s. #GreatPost

  • Geoffrey Winn

    Great article, but How to Optimize Content When You Don’t Know Jack about SEO by Kevin Cain is largely about the Keyword Tool that has been discontinued. But thanks, lots of good information in this post.

    • Mike Murray

      Good point Geoffrey. I liked the older SEO post even with the keyword research tool changes because of some key points – like pursuing keywords that aren’t as competitive. With Google, I’ve found that that latest search data is probably on the low end (for search volume). I generally get some good ideas from it, but I look at other sources – not always tools. Competitor sites and social media provide good insights too. Thanks again for reading the post.

  • Barbara Mckinney

    Thanks for sharing this information Chris. Honestly, I’m not familiar with Google’s Markup Helper but I will research more about this interesting tool soon.

  • Jim Young

    These are awesome tips, Mike. I have a standby rule that I rarely deviate from: the quality of the content should never be compromised just to squeeze in keywords for SEO purposes. I think if it’s done organically, and a few keywords are strategically placed here and there, the content will generally not be sacrificed in order to please the SEO gods. Thanks for sharing!