This article aims to help people optimize their current content and improve the quality of their content. Too often companies shell out money to create more and more content while failing to use what they already have.
After decades of the “content is king” hype most businesses by now have some kind of content.
I don’t mean only self-promotional material. I mean real assets that provide value by themselves.
By now most legacy content is buried somewhere in the archives and is often not even findable anymore though.
People rarely visit such content and when they do they bounce quickly because it’s often
- Visually bland
So how do you improve your content? What exactly can you do to clean up your existing material so you can dust off the cobwebs and bring in some real visitors to your web pages?
Table of Contents
- Improve readability
- Add images
- Support the blind
- Make content timeless
- Update links and sources
- Add expert opinions
- Provide content upgrades
First and foremost, you have to allow people to read your content. Sounds self-explanatory? Captain Obvious is needed though! No kidding.
Most sites have legacy content formatted for desktop users or worse for book readers. Huge paragraphs meet tiny fonts sizes.
Endless sentences meet formal language with scores of acronyms (SEO ROI WTF?), Marketese or simply pseudo-intellectual gibberish.
Do not try to sound smart! Make people of all ages and skill-levels understand what you are trying to say! That’s the key objective.
What exactly can you do? Add a new paragraph after each sentence or two. Make sure to keep sentences short.
Write in a “conversational” tone.
What the heck does that mean? Write like you talk! You may even sound funny. Say things like: hey, readers! How are you?
In case you only published press release in corporate lingo translate it into language people an relate to. Trying to sound objective does not work. Only God is.
Ideally, you add personal stories of people who work with you or who you have helped. Don’t just claim things. Make your actions talk on your behalf.
Let people scan body text by adding subheadings and text-formatting like bold, italics or textmarker effects.
Use quotes like magazines and newspapers do.
See the one above? You just need to paraphrase the most intriguing or important messages of your article. No need to quote someone in particular.
Lack of imagery or repetitive one is making people bounce right away. Why? People are looking for visual clues! When they can’t find them they skip the body text altogether.
By images, I do not only mean logos, graphs or screen shots. These are rarely a way to catch attention.
You need actual photos first and foremost to illustrate what the post is about. Where to get those? Unsplash is your best friend for free images you can use anywhere.
Of course, you can use real hand crafted illustrations as well. These – as long as there is a creative idea behind them are often even better.
Yet many illustrations for blog posts look the same and only offer stereotypical metaphors. That can happen with images too.
What I often see are badly formatted posts that have a photo of a computer or smartphone on top. Sounds familiar?
Wow. How intriguing! You need to view this on a computer or phone! Who would have imagined?
Usually seeing real people doing something related to your post can be the actual trigger your brain needs.
Another often made mistake is that of using a logo of the company you describe as the main image. Worse – many sites use an outdated logo!
Google is the best example here. They have updated their logo years ago but bloggers and even journalists still use the obsolete logo to “illustrate” the articles.
This way you only reach those who are already interested in Google – think their share holder for example. Why should anybody else care?
Ideally, you show an image everybody can relate to or at least your preferred audience. That, of course, depends on the topic that is covered.
Google many privacy breaches can be illustrated in manifold ways. Think of a voyeur or a spy. Just showing the Google logo is more like an ad.
Support the visually impaired
When adding images most content creators do not even consider blind or visually impaired people.
There are many ways how people have a faulty vision. They can be
- color blind
- have strained eyes
There is a whole discipline called accessibility that deals with user experience for all of us not just the perfectly healthy ones.
There are many ways to help people with poor eyesight. For example, using visualization or graphs that rely solely on color is a bad idea.
Use both colors and patterns to make it clear for everybody where one item starts and the other one ends especially when implementing pie charts.
Graphs accessible by the color blind. Image courtesy of Adam Silver
One of the most well-known ways of making images make sense for the blind or those don’t see images for other reasons (think slow connections in rural areas) is so called alternative text.
For many years I made the mistake of leaving them empty or just adding a meaningless keyword inside the alt-attributes (not alt-tags [sic!]).
When writing proper alternative text you have to both describe what the image shows and explain the effect it has.
While showing an apple, for instance, do not just say alt=”apple” but describe the apple as red, fresh, hanging on a tree branch and looking very tasty.
Sadly WordPress is not really helpful with alternative text as they only show tiny text inputs for a few words. I’d rather edit alternative text in the code view itself.
There is an easy solution for shirt-sighted people. Enlarge your fonts by default and make them resizable so that your whole design does not break when people do it.
What to do for people like myself who only scan body text quickly or have strained eyes and sometimes suffer from lack of focus due to a migraine?
- Keep the paragraphs short.
- Make every sentence have a complete message.
- Use simple words.
- One sentence contains one message ideally.
- Don’t over-complicate sentence structure.
Do not rely on sentences above or other paragraphs to provide context. A sentence like “He loves that” does not tell me anything without reading the rest.
Make content timeless
Many articles are still written news. Especially bloggers tend to write as if a piece of content would be just written for a day or week and could be disposed of after that.
Unlike daily newspapers that get thrown away on the next day your remains available and visible – at least theoretically.
Book authors in contrast ideally write for eternity. Some of them are read even hundreds of years later.
Most of us aren’t working for CNN or the BBC though. We write for websites. No matter how we call them,
- online stores
They are all websites and as such the content remains online forever as long as you pay your hosting bills.
First of all, do not make the date the second thing to be seen after the headline. Anything that is older than a few days might get ignored then.
In case the date has to be on top at least display the “Last updated” date there not the “originally published” one.
You can show the date below the content as well when you are not writing for a daily newspaper.
Remove all redundant time-frames like “yesterday”, “recently”, “in 2011”. All of these things seldom provide context and often devalue the content.
When the information is still valid you don’t need to tell people it’s from 2011 unless you want them to ignore it. If you’re looking for an easy way to leverage content and make it timeless, then work on your content writing skills. Jessica Foster has written a handy dandy 6 step guide that’ll do you wonders for generating some great seo content.
This one should be obvious you may think yet most blogs do not fix broken links. Even when you write the blogger and suggest a replacement you will in most cases get no response.
Some bloggers even get offended when you tell them that their blog is broken. They assume its criticism and are annoyed to say the least.
When approaching bloggers during so-called “broken link building” I often had bloggers respond negatively. They not just ignored me or said “no” but some would even delete the whole article.
Most bloggers are still focusing on flooding their readers with new content while they neglect existing assets.
This is even worse with a company or corporate blogs. The authors are often long gone and nobody cares about the articles they have written.
In some cases, links only get removed but not replaced with new ones. This way posts often lose their context.
Posts based on facts become lower value opinion pieces without external links because the statements are not backed up with references to actual sources anymore.
Long story short it’s important not only to fix dead links but also to replace them with links that are still up.
Ideally, you check all links from a post when updating it and even replace those that are still up but have been rotting themselves.
In the worst case, links that look OK are just redirects that lead to the homepage at best but often just to parking or spam pages.
Some outgoing links even may lead to malware sites or get redirected there after a few steps. Thus redirects are often worse than a dead link. They are zombies!
The process of fixing broken links is pretty straightforward. On WordPress there is a plugin that automatically identifies them. It’s called Broken Link Checker quite appropriately.
All you need to do is to look at the results of the ongoing link check in your WordPress backend. I do it just like checking the comments.
In case you don’t use WordPress or do not have the option to install a plugin there are external tools that can check your internal links for issues.
You’re reading the Raven blog so you most likely know of Raven’s Site Auditor, but if you’re an SEO practitioner with a focus entirely on site crawls, you probably know the likes of Screaming Frog – a high-end tool for crawling your website. It’s also great for finding links to fix.
Add expert opinions
Even though I blog about search, social media and blogging itself for more than a decade I’m never a big enough expert not to ask others for help.
You are never the God-like know-it-all entity. Asking peers and influencers to contribute to your existing post is as easy as sending a tweet.
Many people are glad to showcase their expertise – other are too busy – that’s why it’s important not to address only the top 3 influencers of your trade.
Seek out the actual experts who not only spend their day on social media and talking on conferences but also doing hands on work themselves.
Often the real experts are not that prominent because they have enough to do with client work instead of flaunting their expertise on a daily basis.
You can do this even without stealing their time. Just look up who is an expert and can prove it by existing published work. Then quote their content!
Do whatever fits you but don’t make your content solely self-centered. Make sure there are other – ideally independent – voices that either confirm what you say or add new angles.
Provide content upgrades
One way to use existing content is to improve the actual experience of it is by converting it to another format and either adding something or making things easier to digest.
You could simply provide a PDF version of your articles so that people can print and share them easily. There are other formats even better suited for ebook-readers to consider.
Consider summarizing your long-form-content by providing the 10 key takeaways in a printable form or as video. Most people do not have the time and energy to read a whole tutorial.
Brian Dean of Backlinko even was able to get a conversion boost of 785% by adding a simple checklist! Sometimes less is more!
The PDF format also usually leads to less clutter by itself. Many older sites have annoying sidebars and redundant or distracting elements that annoy people.
Making an audio or video version is also a good idea to tap into new audiences. Some people prefer media types they can listen to on the go while others rather prefer to watch than read.
Ideally, you do not just transfer the existing content to a new format without adding or changing anything but adapt it to the new medium you use.
The PDF is widely associated with ebooks. You can take your article and enrich it with actual real-life success stories and
Instead of just taking a static image and reading the content aloud you can show your face and talk to your audience about the message it contains.
In case you are afraid you don’t look good enough just watch Brian Dean and another hugely popular Internet marketer – Neil Patel. Both are (almost) bald and look fine that way.
Thus other formats are not just a means of duplicating your content to get traction on other platforms but also a way to reach those who were to busy to read your content.
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