Each piece of content must be crafted to draw clicks, so that the next message can be seen. And what qualities should that message have? Jakob Nielsen, all the way back in 1997, showed that Web copy is most successful when it is concise, scannable, and objective. [http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/writing.html] We’ve talked about how content must avoid the marketing hype and fluff common to other media-you need to at least sound objective.

Make It Easy to Scan

And you must keep it brief. That doesn’t mean that you can’t explain everything in its glorious details, because some of your customers will want that. Just make sure that each page has a single focus, with your whole story diced into digestible chunks. How do you make information easy to scan? Here are your tools of the trade:

  • Get to the point. Write in newspaper style, with the most important points at the top. Do the same in each paragraph-keep them short with the important stuff first. Copy edit ruthlessly. Remember the words of Blaise Pascal: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Take the time to make your copy shorter.
  • Break it up. Paragraph after paragraph of unremitting text is deadly online. Use headings, bulleted lists, and highlighted text (including color). Stick a one sentence paragraph in the middle that poses a question. Use a frequently-asked question approach. Each of these techniques helps your readers to scan the page for the words they are looking for.
  • Highlight the next step. Once you have them convinced, don’t make them read everything to divine their next move. Make sure that the next step is abundantly clear.

People might tell you that they’ll read every word on your page to find that important link at the bottom, but in real life they don’t.

Optimize It for Search

One of the factors search engines use to decide which pages are listed first is the text on the page. Craft your text for top rankings and high conversions:

  • Emphasize your keywords. Use them several times on a page (but not to excess) and use them in prominent places-in the title, near the top of the page, in headings, and in bold or italicized text. Don’t stuff keywords into every nook and cranny (if your Web pages have crannies). The search engines won’t put up with it. If you write naturally, you’ll use the right amount of keywords. Some writers like to read their copy out loud so they can listen to it as well as read it. They say that if it sounds stupid, it is.
  • Write with variety. Using variations of your keywords in your copy helps both rankings and conversions. Because searchers do not use the exact same keywords each time they search, peppering your text with both singular and plural forms, varying verb tenses, and different word orders helps your page be found no matter what searchers type. Moreover, writing with variety overcomes tendencies toward the stultifying, repetitive prose that marks amateurish search optimization. Because your writing is easier to read, you’ll attract more links to your site and higher conversions as well.
  • Think location. Search engines are increasingly taking searchers’ locations into account. If you are a local business, make sure that all of the variations of your place names are woven into your content, so that search engines know where you’re located. Search engines increasingly attempt to match local searchers with local organizations.
  • Think local. Global marketers routinely translate pages into local languages, with translators choosing each word in the local language with a similar meaning to the original word. But that standard approach to translation can endanger your search marketing. Don’t settle for translating for the proper meaning&mdsh;you must do your search keyword research over again for each country and language. (Think about whether you’d want your computer product called a portable computer or a laptop—they both share the same meaning, but searchers look for laptop far more often.) The difference between a semantically correct word and the best keyword could cost you a lot of conversions. And insist on translators paying attention to the same writing techniques listed here.

The challenge of writing good copy with these tips in mind underscores how difficult it is to optimize a page for more than one keyword phrase. These tips limit the number of keywords you target-they can’t all be the first words on the page. In general, it’s best to optimize your page for one or two closely-related keywords, and no more. So don’t try to use the same page for keywords such as “supply chain management” and “automotive supply chain management”-those searchers are looking for somewhat different things.

Make It Compelling

For your content to persuade customers to buy, or persuade other sites to link to that content, or persuade readers to pass it along to others, it must be comelling. How can you make your content more engaging?

  • Tell a story. Human beings love to hear about other human beings. No matter how interesting your product might seem, how people use it will usually turn out to be more interesting. Or why people use it. Or how they heard about it. Or how your founder thought of the idea. People like stories and they retell them.
  • Be a resource. The best way to get links is to give them. If your page links to the very best resources on a subject, then others will link to you. Always give your customer pointers to more information so that you’ll be seen as an expert to be consulted-and talked about.
  • Fine-tune your offers. Some offers work and some don’t. Offers that demand to be passed on must be compelling and noteworthy. Free shipping is interesting, but giving your product away to the first 200 who come to the site might bring thousands of people there. Whether you persuade each one of the latecomers to buy is up to you, but word of mouth will work for a while.

While it makes sense for e-mail messages or Web landing pages to get this kind of attention, you might think it’s impossible to provide this level of care for every page on your site. The truth is that, although it is hard, every page on your site needs to have a purpose and you need to devote time and resources to that purpose according to each page’s relative value. Each piece of content on your site must be designed to get the customer to take the next step.

Want more tips to raise your Web marketing success? Check out Search Engine Marketing, Inc., which contains a complete step-by-step program for successful search marketing for your business. For more ways to improve your overall Internet marketing, take a look at Do It Wrong Quickly, an indispensable guide to the new ways of marketing.