It wasn’t long ago that telling someone you were a writer or wanted to be a writer elicited rolled eyes and made you look like a self-indulgent poser using a neglected blog as justification for not getting a “real job”.
Fortunately, times have changed, especially when it comes to how we use the internet although you may not notice many of the differences if you don’t know what to look for. But anyone who knows the internet—beyond being able to track down YouTube videos like this—will know that content, or the stuff that writers write, is basically what makes up the internet and, therefore, is pretty damn important. And it’s not just because content is the building blocks of the internet.
The internet is vast
According to Internet Live Stats, there are more than one billion websites on the internet. Think about that, and consider that there were a mere 3,000 websites available in 1994. That’s three million percent growth in just over two decades.
Not only are lots of websites on the web today, but more websites are being added all the time. Granted, not all of them last for very long with many lasting 100 days or less, but the overall growth is increasing in speed. Put another way, as the number of websites grows, it grows faster.
According to a (mildly stale) Nielsen estimate from 2014, the average internet user visits only 96 distinct domains or websites per month, not including duplicate visits to sites previously seen.
Let’s do some simple math: That breaks down to a little over one thousand (1,152) per year, and if we compare that to the one billion websites that exist, the average user sees 0.0001152 percent of the entire internet per year. In other words, it’s highly unlikely, not to say virtually impossible, for a person to visit even half a percent of the internet in a lifetime.
Navigating the complex, worldwide web
With such a ludicrous number of potential websites to stumble upon, there would be almost no chance of ever finding the information we want or need if we didn’t have some way to navigate the infinite expanse. Fortunately, we have search engines.
Google, Bing, and Yahoo are three of the most-used search engines. By using these search engines, we put our faith into them that when we submit a search query, they scour through a billion websites and return with exactly what we’re looking for, or the most relevant thing to it. But if you think about it, that’s a really loaded task to say the least, and a task that would add unthinkable time onto even the simplest query if we didn’t have search engines to do our bidding. Think about the hours we spend on the internet when, for example, we have one specific topic to research. Since we have powerful search engines at our disposal, we can let them do all the heavy lifting and simply process the information once Google or Bing has put it in our hands, which takes a fraction of a second.
For search engines to work, some pretty complicated formulas—called search engine algorithms—are churning under the surface, allowing them to sweep massive chunks of the internet and aggregate websites that are both relevant to the search query and higher in quality (re: more reliable) than other sources.
Again, think about how complicated a task this is. When we hear about Google making changes to its algorithm, the intent is to make the search engine better able to deliver to us the information we want, making it better able to distinguish what we want from what we don’t want.
love content got to do with it?
Allow me to answer this question with another question: When a search engine scans everything on a website, which specific part of that website allows the search engine to determine the subject and value of the website? The answer is content.
The definition of content varies a bit depending on who is defining it. Generally speaking, content—or, more specifically, web content—is the information or data that a webpage displays. This data can be in text form, or it can be some type of multimedia (i.e., photos, animations, sound, video). While today’s search engines have gained the remarkably ability to “read” these different forms of media—and that’s another discussion in itself—text is the easiest, fastest, and most reliable way to decipher the topic and assess the value and reliability of a website.
That makes the stuff you put on a website pretty important, wouldn’t you say? When you create a website, the idea is to acquire visitors who will engage with your content, perhaps share it with their friends, and—if you’re an entrepreneur or businessman—hopefully become a customer or client or at least a repeat visitor. But it all starts with content.
Creating quality content is the first step of the process. Search engines are getting more and more savvy, becoming better able to determine the quality of written content based on more than how many times a webpage’s text contains a certain keyword. It’s true that there are many ways to improve content visibility through the use of keywords (and I’ll discuss search engine visibility in a moment), but you’re always going to need quality content to back it up. After all, your website might appear near the top of a search engine results page (SERP), but if the content is of poor quality and it has no value or is misleading, it’s all for nought. No amount of search engine optimization is going to turn a visitor into a customer or bring readers back if your website if the content is poor in quality.
Enter: search engine optimization
I’m going to assume that everyone has at least heard of search engine optimization. If you haven’t, search engine optimization (SEO) refers to a number of content writing practices that make content more visible to relevant search engine queries.
In the not-too-distant past, many people were employing search engine optimization practices that were colloquially called “black hat” optimization practices, which were ways to trick search engines into giving a website top billing based on the things that search engines would look for to gauge content. Keyword stuffing is an example of a black hat technique and refers to putting a keyword on a webpage many, many times to trick a search engine into seeing that page as being more relevant or valuable than similar pages that contained the same keyword fewer times. By using keyword stuffing and a number of other search engine hacks, poor-quality websites were able to get higher in search results without having to worry about quality. However, this pushed the search engines to change their algorithms.
That’s not to say algorithm changes are rare. On the contrary, improving the functionality and reliability of search engines is a a fluid, ongoing process. Take Google for example. Google makes improvements and moderations to its algorithm between 500 and 600 times per year. It may seem excessive, but that’s how Google and other search engines stay ahead of any new black hat techniques that content hackers might drum up.
Good search engine optimization practices, or “white hat” techniques, are how you make quality content visible to the people who would find value in it. Good SEO starts before the first words are written, or typed as it were. To optimize web visibility, everything must be considered as part of an overall strategy, including the specific angle or scope of the subject. The best way to explain what I mean here is with an example.
Let’s say you wanted to write about a new diet you’ve found to be effective. The first step would be to conduct keyword research, which will help direct your particular angle or approach to the topic; in other words, what will you communicate about the diet that’s not yet been said? So you type the specific diet into Google (“paleo diet”, for example) and note the example queries Google shows you. Keyword research is also a great way to pick a title and can be used to help structure your content by using relevant keyword combinations and derivatives in your subheadings.
It’s said that Google tends to favor longer articles, but it’s always recommended that content not be too long since people are less likely to continue reading anything that’s longer than 700 or so words. As a minimum, 300 words is the rule of thumb. As you write, you should avoid paragraph-length sentences and any obscure jargon that might alienate readers less knowledgeable on the subject. Use keywords and derivatives of keywords, including plural forms and using them in frequently queried phrases (again, keyword research). And this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other optimization tips out there that can be used to help your readers to find you.
A content ambassador
So what’s the point of this love letter to web content? A couple of things, actually.
Despite content being so integral to the internet of today, many people out there continue to feel that content is secondary to other aspects of one’s web presence. It seems that many companies, in particular, assume all they need to do is to fill their websites with any searchable content as long as the website looks aesthetically pleasing with elaborate web design and a liberal sprinkling of keywords throughout. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
You can have a visually stunning website be a complete failure because it has mediocre or even terrible content and, therefore, no real value to offer.
I’m a writer. I write many types of content because it’s my passion and I love the feeling I get by just knowing my words are constantly reaching thousands or even millions of people from all over the world. The content I write informs readers of something new, teaches them something they didn’t know, inspires them and gives them ideas they didn’t have before, and links people to other people or to businesses. My work facilitates a global network of information exchange, the building of relationships, the seeking of personal betterment, success in commerce, and the sharing of ideas.
With communication being such an essential part the human condition—and because content is still undervalued on somewhat large scale—I wanted to take a moment to discuss the role that content has played in the growth and accessibility of the internet. It’s not inaccurate to say that content is the building blocks of the internet. Connecting yourself, your business, or a product with an ever-growing audience depends on whether your website contains quality content that’s been optimized for visibility. It’s only by offering content that’s clear, engaging, and accessible that you can continue to establish a website, otherwise it’s only a matter of time until it fades into the endless abyss.
Do you share my enthusiasm for quality content or agree that content is the most important part of a website? Please comment with your thoughts below, and don’t forget to share.
Originally published on LinkedIn.