Using data to create great content isn’t something new. Marketers have for decades now made all they could to gather data to enable their work. Before in time, this used to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. With one word, it wasn’t something for a blogger or an owner of a…Details
On this page, you’ll learn all you must know about content optimization, including writing and publishing content that engages your target group, creating design that guides site users, working with content curation, maximizing conversions, and much more.
If you are looking for a specific topic, you could try to find it by using the search box to the right of the screen. If you scroll down to the end of this post, you’ll see a list of relevant resources, you can use to optimize the content of your website.
What Is Content Optimization?
Content optimization is the continuous process of creating content, monitoring, analyzing its performance, retuning it, and repeating all the steps again and again to maintain your business’ interests.
In a website setting, content cannot be seen as a separate entity, for example text. It’s a part of the website and functions as such in the effort to achieve the business or non-profit goals, set for the website.
Therefore, when discussing content optimization, we are talking about optimizing your whole website, including elements as design, website structure, navigation, CTA, SEO, media, text, etc. Focusing on single element optimization, for example, text, is usually not a viable strategy due to the fact that websites are perceived by site visitors as a whole. Simply put, a dysfunctional design or poor navigation can make people flee from your pages, even when you offer high-quality information on them.
Before ever starting to work with content creation or optimization, you must have your website strategy in place. The reason is that starting a website is in itself a strategic action, meaning that you do it to achieve a certain goal. The goal can be branding, promoting a service or a product, promoting a cause or a NGO, encouraging a certain action, for example, buying, calling, visiting a site, joining a cause, becoming a member/volunteer, etc.
No matter what your goal is, your website should be designed from the bottom up to support your goal and encourage conversions.
What Are Conversions?
Conversions are desired actions undertaken by site users, for example, registrations, purchases, downloads, shares, page views, etc. In practice, every action supporting your ultimate goals can be seen as a conversion.
Conversions are, however, not random but chosen specifically as milestones on your way to success. For example, if your goal is to get more newsletter subscribers, a subscription can be seen as a conversion. Needless to say, multifaceted goals, as business goals usually are, make it necessary to monitor many different conversions in the same time.
Tracking conversions is very important part of content optimization, as they provide you with empiric evidence you can use to adjust your strategy. You have to use analytics, such as the (still) free Google Analytics, in order to set and track conversions. If you use Google Analytics, you can set new goal/s by clicking on Admin->Goals-> +New Goal. You can then automatically see conversions in your reports.
Conversions allow you to evaluate the overall performance of your website or specific page and identify content that needs optimization. What they can’t do, is help you figure out, what’s wrong with your existing content or what changes would boost conversions most.
In order to find the answers of these questions, you have to carry out tests. In fact, it’s recommended that you do it multiple times a month in order to ensure best possible performance. Especially popular are A/B split tests, allowing you to find the best out of X versions of a page.
To carry out a split test, you need to create a number of different versions of a page. Then you have to set up the test in the software you use. When you start the experiment, site visitors will be split according to your settings. None of these site visitors will notice that they are a part of a test, which is an important factor for ensuring its validity.
You can check out the results on ongoing basis and choose to stop the experiment prematurely, if the numbers are convincing. The winner page is then adopted as a part of your website, while the other variations are discarded. OBS! It’s recommended that you use your conversion goals to measure results!
What software you choose to use, is of course up to you. There’re two solutions that I’d like to recommend as they are quite good. The first one is Visual Website Optimizer. One of the greatest things about it, is that it allows you to tweak your pages from within the software, diminishing the necessity of manually creating multiple versions of a web page. Other than that, it’s a robust and reliable A/B testing tool, giving you full control. Its price is high, as long as you don’t earn enough from your website (49-59 USD/month), but the good news is that you get a 30-day free trial, which is more than enough to carry out all the necessary tests for a small blog or site.
The other tool is hidden within Google Analytics. You can find it by entering the Reports section and clicking on Behavior->Experiments. You can either set an experiment by using one of the standard objectives (bounces, session duration, and page views) or use a custom objective defined by a goal, set by you (as for example, reaching a page, marking the completion of a purchase or registration). The downside here is that you need to be able to correctly set goals in Analytics, which is a bit of a pain, and you’ll have to manually create all the page versions, you want to compare. The big plus is though, that there are no limitations for testing and it’s completely free.
Best Practice For Content Optimization
Before getting into details with the different content optimization options, I must warn you that there isn’t a single set of settings fitting all. When working on website design, text, media, and all other elements on your pages, there’re a lot of unique factors that define your situation and your ways to success. Such are target group preferences, branch, niche, expectations, special considerations, accessibility, etc. and they must not be thrown away for the thrill of following best practice.
That being said, there are a number of universally applicable rules – see below – that have proved to deliver in terms of conversions. It’s not always smart to use them all at once but you’ll certainly achieve great results by applying those that fit your current need for content optimization.
There are so many design options that it’s not possible to count them. While this is good, as it gives you freedom to choose, it’s also bad, because you stand alone with a very important decision and no ability to ever review or test, which one of all designs works best for your website.
Design is crucial for website success, as it’s the very first thing one notices. As it includes all elements on all your pages, creating functional design is a very intricate task.
To help you on the way, here’re the absolute design musts:
- Even though intricate designs can be appealing to some, research shows that users prefer websites with low visual complexity and high phototypicality.
- Design should be consistent throughout the website. This means that pages with similar content should be identical, while pages from different subsections of the site could be – if necessary – designed slightly differently to highlight differences between the sections. It is, however, important to understand what consistency means and how you can create variations, without breaking the consistency.
- If your website features elements as ads, they should be placed with overall design in mind. Commercials can be very distracting and annoying for site users, making their improper use directly dangerous for your success and possibly bringing you a penalty by Google. Do not overuse ads and don’t place them in spots, where they prevent site users from uninterrupted digging into your content.
- Popups, for example, newsletter registration forms or ads, are very annoying for site users, especially on mobile devices, which has prompted Google to warn penalties for sites, featuring popups or above-the-fold forms or ads. However, they are incredibly effective. A popup signup form can lead to 50 % more signups. It’s therefore a good idea to consider both pluses and downsides before making the decision, whether to follow Google’s guidelines or not.
- Page elements should be mobile friendly, properly sized and placed far enough from each other (not too far though) to make it as easy as possible to assimilate pages’ content. While these are Google’s guidelines for mobile SEO, it’s difficult to assume that they only affect mobile sites’ ranking, now that Google has warned the soon arrival of the “mobile index first” era. Read more about the implications and the required content optimization in the Mobile Index First section.
- Images and media should be carefully chosen to support the overall content or fit the design of the page, when they are primary content. As research shows, adding a quality image as a supplement to text helps boost retained information by site users more than 6 times in comparison to only-text pages.
- Your company’s or brand’s logo is a crucial part of your website’s design. The logo and the overall design should complement each other color- and form-wise. This means that you should only use colors, shapes, typography, etc. that are a part of your branding.
Website Structure And Navigation
Your website could feature great content and yet be structured so chaotically that site users give up and bounce. In fact, website structure and navigation are two of the most important factors affecting bounce rates.
The reason is that site users like simplicity. They want to find, what they’re looking for, easily and quickly. If you fail to show them, which the next logical step in their journey is, it’s the fewest of them that will use time on figuring it out themselves.
When you optimize website structure and navigation, you address several important issues: boosting conversions, lowering bounce rate, and improving user experience.
Here’s the best practice in relation to website structure and navigation:
- Place menus, where site users expect to find them: in the header, in the sidebar, and in the bottom bar. Changing navigation position is only a good idea in an experimental setting, where you monitor results continuously.
- Menus should make it easy to figure out, where to click next. Well-formulated labels, logical structure, and multiple levels help a lot.
- Introduce a prominent Search box to help site visitors find, what they are looking for.
- Use highly relevant internal linking in text to help site visitors dig deeper in a topic of interest or find related content.
- Introduce Related Posts section under blog posts.
- Allow site users to explore your content by topic by adding Tag clouds or Category lists in the sidebar.
- Use Breadcrumbs to make it easier to re-track one’s steps.
- Organize connected web pages by using the Parent attribute and creating a logical path to follow. If not sure how to do it, check out this guide to WordPress setup.
- Organize content by clustering related topics.
- In order to boost the topical authority of your site, avoid mixing unrelated topics.
- Your website structure should encourage conversions by supporting the user journey. This means that you should provide all possible incentives (such as reviews, product information, guarantees, partners, bonuses, easy checkout, etc.) for conversion and make them easy to find and assimilate by placing them correctly in menus and sweet spots on your pages.
- Important standard pages and links that you should feature on your website to boost user trust are: about, contact, social media, reviews (if applicable), partners, legal information, and disclaimers.
- Use Categories to make post content easy to find.
Mobile Index First
As briefly mentioned above, Google is experimenting with moving to mobile index first. This means that page ranks will from now on be based on mobile site versions and not desktop versions. Needless to say, this is going to have enormous implications for webmasters, who have worked to optimize their main (desktop) websites for decades now and have only supported simplified and incomplete mobile versions.
While simple is good for mobile as it often results in fast page load times, it’s now about to become very bad for SEO. Google has warned that offering less content or fewer pages on mobile sites can affect site ranks negatively.
Additionally, the move to mobile index first means that mobile SEO rules, such as no popups, no above-the-fold signup forms, proper size of objects, responsive site elements, etc. become the law.
Therefore, one of the most pressing content optimization moves you must make in 2017, is to optimize your mobile site to become as good as or better than your desktop site. Here’s the checklist for mobile content optimization:
- Stop treating your mobile site as a lite version of the original. This makes 49 % of users drop the mobile version and browse the desktop one on their smartphone. Instead, you should find a smart design solution, allowing you to include all content, without your pages becoming too crowded. Expandable sections are an example of a simple solution to the space issue.
- Implement full SEO optimization on your mobile pages, as you know it from desktop. This means working with content aggregation, keywords, media, backlinks, social signals, etc.
- Double-check whether your mobile site lives up to Google’s rules for mobile friendliness. You can test your pages with Google’s new test tool.
- If you’re not already using it, consider implementing responsive design for your website. True that some specialists argue that a responsive site design isn’t the same as mobile optimization but that might just turn out be a result of poor content strategies. The fact is that Google recommends using responsible designs instead of maintaining separate website versions for desktop and mobile. The reasons are many but among the most important ones are less redirections, less crawling of your site, more precise page rankings, ease of sharing for users, and correct attribution of backlink value.
- Remove popups and ads that cover the screen.
- Make sure your mobile site has a proper sitemap and submit it to Google. If your mobile site doesn’t have a sitemap, you risk that some of your pages won’t get discovered by Google’s bots and will thus not appear in the index.
- Consider, whether you should implement AMP. While it’s said to not affect SEO, it does promise more visibility for your posts (pages are still not available). There are though also some downsides to keep in mind, such as slowing down page load time with up to a second.
Optimizing Content For Conversions
Even though content optimization as a whole targets the efficiency of your website, there’re a few very important optimization techniques that have huge impact on conversions. They are borrowed from psychology and have proved to deliver results.
Which ones you choose to use, depends on your overall strategy. What’s important, is to remember that implementation of anything new should always be tested before being deployed on scale. A/B split tests are ideal for this purpose.
Visual hierarchy is the theory, explaining how people scan content, what grabs their attention, and, most importantly, how you can guide site visitors to notice certain elements or follow certain content pattern in order to convert.
The basics of visual hierarchy, you must consider when optimizing your content, according to 99Designs are:
- Site users follow certain page scanning patterns. If your page is content-heavy, like a blog post, people tend to scan your title, and then jump down on your subheadings and the beginning of your lines. This is called the F pattern. In order to engage people following the F pattern, you must focus on delivering engaging and easy to spot headings and subheadings. Additionally, you should make sure that enough important keywords, defining your topic, are strategically placed in the beginning of your paragraphs. If your pages feature only a few elements, people tend to scan, following a Z pattern. This makes it important to focus on site elements as header menu, image/offer/CTA in the middle of the screen, and text or menus in the bottom area.
- Size can be used to emphasize importance or guide site users to follow a path to conversion. When a site element is bigger than other elements, it is perceived as more important than them and attracts therefore users’ attention. You can use this to either highlight a single CTA or create a path to follow by sizing several page elements accordingly (from big to small).
- Playing with space, texture or encapsulating is a very good way to highlight a CTA’s importance and make it stand out. When a CTA stands out clearly enough, it’s effectiveness grows considerably.
- Using size, weight, color, and spacing when working with fonts is crucial for driving attention to chosen CTA or keywords. It’s especially effective to use font size, color, and weight as a way to emphasize the most important keywords in your message. In addition, you can use special word placement, for example on multiple lines, to ensure that site visitors notice, what you want them to notice, and perceive it correctly.
Colors are very a powerful tool in terms of influencing consumers, creating perceptions, and triggering actions. Even though marketers and web designers often warn against overusing colors, their proper use can help you cultivate brand awareness and boost conversions.
When used in the company’s logo and in the design of your website, it helps create the correct perceptions of the brand, such as price class, quality, reliability, diversity, etc. For example, warm red and yellow colors are known to provoke impulsive actions. They are usually used to signal an opportunity, discount purchase or limited offer. Colder and earthly colors, on the other hand, are used to signal reliability, stability, or luxury (mainly royal blue, purple and black).
When used in CTAs, colors act as triggers of actions. The rule here is simple: buttons that you want site visitors to click on, should be red. The text message of a CTA should though never be red, as this will then serve more as a warning instead of as an enticing offer.
This is of course, a very simplified presentation of the psychology of colors. If you’re interested to find out more, this very exhaustive post by CoSchedule is the place to start.
Number Of Steps To Conversion
There’re two things to keep in mind: there should be enough steps to support users on the way to conversion. Every non-essential additional step can, though, result in significant drop of conversions.
In short, this means that you should make it possible to, for example, buy with one click for those, who know what they want and prefer to get it done with, while offering additional information and options for others, who prefer to be sure that they are making a good and safe choice.
An example of such a setting can be a travel agency’s website, where it’s possible to book a trip only by filling out a simple form and entering your credit card details. In the same time, an expandable section offers additional information, customer reviews, and, eventually, a disclaimer; a button within the form serves as a shortcut to reviewing and ordering additional services; and a section “You might also be interested in” makes it possible for customers, who have doubts, to make a buying decision by offering them similar trips to the chosen one.
The rule is to give people, what they want and you can only do this by featuring different offers for different types of consumers.
CTAs (Call To Action) are your most important weapon in terms of maximizing conversions and this is why you should pay a lot of attention to them when working with content optimization. There’re a few basic rules, you should follow in order to increase conversions:
- Use natural language. Natural language makes it easy for site users to accept the call to action and follow it. Unnatural language creates a psychological barrier that has to be overcome in order to proceed to conversion.
- Your CTAs must stand out from the rest of your pages. You can use white spaces, colors, encapsulating, or texture to highlight them. Keep it though tasteful and in accordance with overall design!
- Use arrows to point to your CTAs. We humans are programmed to follow arrows.
- Make your CTA buttons red. This color is known to boost conversions significantly.
- Exchange standard CTAs as Register or Buy with ones offering a clear incentive as Get your SEO guide now!, Join the exclusive community of XXX now!, or Get your order. Communicating the benefit, one can expect, when clicking on a CTA button, is of crucial importance to conversions.
- If your CTAs include a form, make it as short as possible. Long forms are known to lower conversion rates.
- If there’s a way around it or it isn’t completely necessary, don’t use CAPATCHAs in CTA forms.
Optimizing Text and Media Content
When it comes to content optimization of text and media, for example blog posts and pages, there are quite a lot of rules and trends to follow. The reason is that content can be optimized for search engines, user experience, conversions, and to support accessibility (for example for blind users). However, it should always be done with the specific factors affecting your activities in mind and not with optimization itself being the goal.
That being said, there’re some important optimization points, you should consider, when planning your content strategy:
- Video traffic will make up 80 % of all web traffic by 2019. This is an important one. It might be that your target group isn’t that interested in video right now and it’s therefore not a pressing matter to introduce video. However, the fact that video is already so big and is only expected to grow, means that you must figure out a way to integrate it into your content strategy. It’s not necessary to drop text completely, it’s actually much better to combine a video and a descriptive text. By doing this, you will serve your target group much better by offering everyone their content of choice and you’ll future-proof your website.
- Quality should always come before quantity. You must understand that your followers will forgive you, if you skip posting on a Wednesday. In the same time, most of them won’t forgive you for wasting their time with superficial or meaningless content. This applies to all pages, posts, newsletters, guest-blogging, and social media activities.
- The content on your pages should live up to the expectations of site visitors, be written (or presented) properly, without mistakes, with proof for credibility (for example, by referring to source), and well segmented, making it easy to assimilate.
- Headlines and metadata. Your headlines and metadata are crucial not only in terms of SEO, but also as a first-point of contact for potential site visitors. It’s here you have the chance to tell them, why they should choose your page, instead of competition.
- SEO is, naturally, a big part of content optimization. Whatever you do, you should also consider, how it’ll affect SEO. The reason is that search engines are your shortcut to a larger audience. In the SEO section of this site, you can find all you need to know about boosting your site’s rank.
Instead Of Conclusion
There is no conclusion to content optimization, as it is a process. I hope, you are a bit closer to figuring out your optimization needs now, than before you started reading. However, there’s still more theory to explore and new trends to keep up with.
If you’re one of those, who want to be updated all the time, you should consider filling out the form in the bottom of the page. This simple action will give you the chance to get important updates directly into your inbox once a month.