It pays to be useful

August 09, 2010 06:19 pm | Updated December 05, 2021 09:18 am IST - Chennai:

Create your website for your users, advise Steve Johnston and Liam McGee in ? 50 Ways to Make Google Love Your Website ? (www.landmarkonthenet.com). Every design decision should be referred back to what we know about the users of the site, not simply to the beliefs, prejudices or even brilliant insights of the site owner or the site?s designer, the authors urge.

In this user-centred world you can only pursue your goals through supporting the goals your users have, because your users don?t start on your home page; they start at Google, as reads a sobering thought in the book. Typically, the users type in a query that reflects their goal, and the pages that Google returns will be those that Google believes supports that goal, namely the most ?useful? pages it can find.

And if the users arrive on your site and do not immediately see something that suggests their goal will be supported, they will leave, the authors caution. Reminding that the web is a pull medium, not a push medium, they note that the power is with the user, not the site owner, which is why it is more important to design for their goals than for yours.

Inspired by ?citation?

Usefulness is at the heart of Google?s mission; for, without useful results we would quickly abandon the search engine. But what is usefulness? A combination of relevance and authority that a website or web page has with regard to a particular search that a user may make, the authors explain. They trace the principle to the world of academic publishing, which uses ?citation,? a reference to a source such as a research paper from within an article.

Just as the quantity of citations a source acquires following its publication is considered a measure of its quality, relevance and usefulness, so too the more links that existed to a particular web page, the more this could be interpreted as an indication of that page?s quality, relevance, and usefulness, Johnston and McGee elaborate. ?The founders of Google decided that such a measure could be applied to the information it found on the web, where the citations were not simple textual references to other sources, but the actual web links that exist from one web page to another.?

Three things to do

Before you begin to write for your users, three things to do are: Have a picture of who you are writing for, define overall aims, and define aims for each piece of copy. As for the first, the authors recommend the use of made-up characters or personas to represent the different types of users. ?Make sure they each have a photo. Write a little bit about each of them ? what they want, why they want it, and how they speak about it. Continually refer to them as you write.?

When defining overall aims you will answer questions such as what you are offering, who the target audience is, what problem your offering solves, and why it is worth trying and buying. Also, ask yourself: ?Who am I and what are my credentials? Who are my competitors and how am I different from them? What resistance or objections will people have to this? What is the purpose of my pitch? When, where and how do I want people to take action?? And, on the third aspect, wise counsel is not to bog down the copy with a long list of keywords.

Chop, chunk, check, strengthen, and focus

As you go along, don?t forget to ?chop, chunk, check, strengthen, and focus? ? the five imperatives insisted upon by the authors. ?Chop? is about reducing to a minimum the page content that is unrelated to the featured item or subject. ?Write long and cut short ? once you have written a piece, go back through it and cut it by a third of its length. Strive for precision and concision.?

Chunk text into self-sufficient, headed, digestible paragraphs; check grammar, spelling and facts; strengthen by repeating thematic words contained within a heading in the succeeding paragraphs; and focus the page?s content on a single top-level heading.

The most important thing, as instruct Johnston and McGee, is to be useful. ?Your site has to be worth reading. This means writing good, useful content, which is not easy. The rest of the world writes to pander to the mass media. This is not what you are going to do. You are going to write for your users, not for journalists (keep that for the press releases).?

Write great things for your users, and you will get links, in time, the authors assure. Not just any links, but authoritative and relevant sites will start to link to yours, they add.

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