Two things have struck me recently. Actually, it’s three things, but as one of those was a snowball it didn’t seem too important. But the other two probably are – i) requests for ‘web content’, and ii) quite a few people talking about ‘responsive design‘ (click to read the article that inspired this post, by @KristinaKledzik on the @SEOmoz blog).
To tackle those two thoughts in reverse order (just because I feel like it – it’s Wednesday and I need no other reason) what is responsive design? And why have people been talking about it?
Firstly, What Is Responsive Web Design?
In the past, I’ve talked about the importance of optimising your website for the mobile market, the benefits of optimising for mobile devices, and even how to get started with mobile web optimisation. In many cases this particular hurdle has been crossed by using what I call portal pages.
These work as a sort of traffic light stop sign, at which point your website determines what kind of device is trying to visit, and directs it to the relevant optimised pages. So your desktop PC visitor will be sent to your website’s usual page, whilst those using mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones are directed to a more slimmed down version of your site that’s more conversion oriented than image dominated.
It all makes sense, except that it doubles your work load. Every time you update the desktop page you have to update the mobile version, or set up some complex algorithmic mirroring system.
Responsive web design is about creating a website which responds to the device being used to access it, adjusting the way content is delivered accordingly. So instead of several mirrored formats of your site you have just one website, which adapts its format and layout in response to what device the visitor is using to view it.
That certainly all makes sense. But there was something at the back of my mind still itching in response to the whole concept of ‘responsive web design’. Was there more to this idea?
Then it hit me. No, not another snowball, it’s now thawed! Thank goodness for the that. Now we only have flooding to worry about rather than being stranded on the M6. No, what hit me was the fact that I received several requests in the past few days for web content.
That in itself isn’t unusual, but what was especially noteworthy is the way in which people asked me for that web content. The conversation went something along the following lines:
“Client: We need content.
Me: No problem, I’d be happy to help with that. What are you looking for in particular?
Client: We just need more web content. Our website is too small.
Me: Are there any particular areas of your site you’re looking to develop?
Client: Not really. We just know that the search engines like lots of content, so we’d like you to write it.“
I doubt I’m alone in having experienced this type of conversation. The problem is knowing where to start in pointing out the inherent flaws.
The Problem With Developing ‘Just Content’
Yes, it’s true that the search engines do like content. After all, if there was no content on the web there would be precious little for the search engines to crawl. But content for the sake of content isn’t healthy. Or necessary.
Nor is it beneficial to your visitors, which are after all the whole point of your website. Your visitors almost certainly don’t visit your website just because their days are so empty and meaningless that unless they stock up on loads of content their brains will shrivel up and fall out of their left nostril.
Firstly, your visitors will find themselves trawling through reams of fluff, desperately trying to find the answers to their questions, eventually giving up because they can get more value from reading the list of ingredients on a packet of chocolate digestives.
Secondly, because your visitors will be leaving your site empty handed, and fairly quickly, the search engines will detect the high bounce rates, and as a result may well demote your site in the search engine listings.
Thirdly, the search engines aren’t stupid, and their horrifically complex algorithms can pretty well spot anything that’s been created for their spiders and bots rather than for real people, and if they do detect this fluff then they will very probably demote your website.
So developing content for content’s sake is only likely to put off your visitors, reduce traffic, lose sales and lower your site’s ranking in the search results. Not bad for a day’s work.
Which Brings Me Back To Two Things – Developing Content, And Responsive Content.
I’m sure you now get the gist of what I mean by responsive content, but the niggling little itch at the back of my mind leads me to suggest that by considering an alternative definition of responsive content we could help address the problem of developing content for websites which actually has a purpose.
It’s clearly important for a website to have plenty of content, and to go on adding fresh, valuable content where possible and where both appropriate and relevant. But we should never consider adding content purely for the sake of it. By thinking about responsive content, or content developed in response to something, we could find ourselves able to add fresh new content which is also going to be genuinely valuable and relevant for visitors, will appeal to the search engines, and will provide them with positive usability metrics in terms of visitor retention and low bounce rates.
So let’s consider responsive web design as web design that’s developed, or created, in response to something. So what’s the ‘something’?
1. Content Responses To… Customer Queries
There’s a pretty good chance that on a fairly regular basis you find yourself addressing the same sorts of issues, the same type of enquiries and answering the same questions. Why not use this as the start point for fresh new content?
There are a couple of ways in which you could do this. You could for example start to develop an FAQ page or ‘help’ section of your site, where these common questions and issues are brought together into one place. This sort of resource offers many benefits.
One of the first benefits of course is that you’re adding content to your site, but not just fluff – this is stuff that has real value. As such your visitors will appreciate this, refer to it, bookmark it and share it. The search engines will love it, not only because it’s good quality content, but inevitably when creating an FAQ page you’ll be integrating a great deal of contextually relevant vocabulary, which is the modern equivalent of keyword integration.
You can also add to your FAQ section over time, and link to the specific questions and answers through blogs, forum comments and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
2. Content Responses To… Competitors’ Websites
How many times do you check out your competitors’ sites? I’m surprised talking to a number of people how many admit that either they have never checked out their competitors’ websites, or do so once in a blue moon if they think about it and can be bothered.
Yet this is a great way of determining what you can do to stay ahead. Looking at directions your competitors are going in helps you to identify niche opportunities on which you can capitalise. It also gives you an idea as to what it is that’s drawing customers and visitors to their site rather than yours.
If your competitors have websites ranked above yours, or very near to it, then one of the reasons could possibly be content. It’s not likely to be the only reason, but it’s one of many factors to consider. Identifying possible opportunities for you to develop original content may very well be found.
Obviously I should just note here the importance of not simply lifting ideas wholesale, copying, or even re-writing existing content elsewhere. Use it as a source of inspiration, a starting point, not a template.. and then improve on it!
3. Content Responses To… The Offline World
Don’t forget the fact that sometimes conversations on the phone or at work could spark a topic or raise an issue which may well be relevant and of interest to the online world as well. If you have customers on the phone, or in your shop, you’re almost certainly going to be discussing issues with them, offering recommendations and advice.
Don’t ignore this. Make a note, and refer to these notes next time you contact your content copywriter to request new web content.
Are you a content developer who has experienced this same sort of request for content for the sake of content? How have you approached this sort of challenge? Join in the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or simply leave your comment below.