Time to Revisit Your Content Strategy?

by Alan Eggleston

Happy New Year! The change in calendar year is often the trigger to revisit your content calendar and your whole content strategy. If January or February is a down time in your organization, this is a perfect time to do one.

Does your current content work?

Photo by Victor1558 by Creative Commons license.

Photo by Victor1558 with Creative Commons license.

Many web editors often do a sweep of their content at this time and decide any big changes. This may happen at other times of the year or more often than once a year, such as at change in fiscal calendar or concurrent with annual share holder meetings, but often New Years is a convenient trigger. Maybe now is when you decide when that time should be and plan for it.

A more useful strategy is to revisit your analytics at least quarterly and adjust your content strategy based on site performance. Online publishing is amazing for its quick turnaround –  make that work for you.

What does your data tell you?

A deciding factor for changes in content direction is website performance. Take a look at analytics and decide what your stats are telling you – is your current content working and thus worth continuing, or do the numbers tell you that readers want something different? Are visits down or perhaps never really up in the first place? Do visitors stick around or do they come in and get out quickly? Do they visit a lot of pages per visit or do they hit where they enter and leave? Do they arrive at the home page or come in to the site in-depth? Where do searches bring visitors and what do they do when they arrive? Are purchases up? Have you experienced growth in any of those numbers? Analytics can provide you with a ton of great strategic information.

What is your search performance?

Another decision, and one where many web editors historically have been weak, is about search performance. How does your site do in a search? How many of your visits are from searches and how many from people who simply know how to find you? What search terms are they using, and are they the search terms you were expecting (and upon which you base your optimization strategy)? Which search engines are driving the most traffic to you? How many come to you by outside links or by social media and what does that say about your link and social media strategies? What is your search strategy and is it working (do a search audit to find out), or should you rethink that as well? If you don’t have a search strategy – a strategy to improve how your site is found in a search – now is the time to start working on one.

Search performance is often tied to search engine policy. Have you read and followed search engine guidelines or are you unwittingly running afoul of their rules and being punished for it?

What are the search engines telling you?

If there’s any possibility your site isn’t performing well in a search – and, thus, not driving traffic to you – it is worth your time and energy to register for and use search engine webmaster tools. First determine which search engines are driving the most traffic to your site. It may not be Google like you think. However, Google in particular will provide you a lot of feedback if your site is doing something wrong – if they can’t index your pages, for instance; if you have troublesome links; if you aren’t measuring up to their standards. And Google will often suggest changes to help you meet their needs and allow you to resubmit your site for indexing (a “reconsideration request“). If they’re penalizing you, finding out why and doing something about it is a great benefit. Explore the other search engine webmaster tool sites to see what they can tell you and help you fix if they are key to your search strategy.

Google introduced major changes to its algorithm the past couple of years that may have affected your search performance. Are you aware of them and how running afoul of them could affect your site performance?

  • Google Panda* – filtered for poor quality content such as unreasonable duplicate content.
  • Google Hummingbird – entirely rethinks search to add nuance, handle questions, and adjust for mobile search.

*Panda and Penguin were folded into Hummingbird.

Panda could affect your search performance if you run a lot of duplicate content or if your content is of little value in Google’s eyes. Google is OK with duplicate content for globalized sites where different versions of a site contain regionalized versions of the same content. But to aid sites, they introduced the “canonical tag” for URLs to distinguish original content.

Penguin could affect your search performance if your content contains low quality links, including link farms or doorway pages and spammy content and links in your comments sections, such as in blogs or news sections.

If any of these algorithms may have dampened your search performance, now is a good time to rethink how to revise your content to remove the penalties. For instance:

  • More actively administer blog comments to eliminate comment spam, which is rampant.
  • Recode content to add the canonical tag for original content.
  • Make sure writers create only original content and that editors filter for duplicate content (run a search on segments of content to look for duplicates).
  • Eliminate gratuitous link trading and external links that don’t make sense for your content.
  • Revise major current content to build more nuance to improve search performance.
  • Strategize how to build nuance into your new pages to improve search performance.
  • Ensure your site is designed to handle mobile, which Google has also said is now important.

Growth is about improving the search

Today, content is about more than providing interesting text on a page for readers. It’s also about how you attract readers to your page and sustain readership. It’s as much about how you build the page and work with search engines as it is about publishing itself. As you rethink your content calendar – now, at New Years, or at any other time of the year – think about how you bring the reader to you.

Are You Using Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics? You Should!

by Alan Eggleston

Two tools you should consider adopting for your web editor’s toolbox are Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. Both are free from Google with a free gmail account.

Google Analytics

Let me start with the latter: Google Analytics. It tracks activity on your website or blog, including how many visits your site gets, how many are new or returning, how long visitors stay, how they got to your site, what they searched to find you, and more. There is a ton of information there if you mine it well, which can help you determine how to maintain your site. Google Analytics is easy to install: All you need to do is insert some code into your site and verify ownership.

Webmaster Tools

The former is equally informative: Webmaster Tools. It provides both data on your site and hints and tips on how to make it better for searches, which as we all know is key to finding you on the Web. The name may make you think this is only for a webmaster, but really, it’s meant for website decision makers. Whoever sets up the account can add users, so even if your webmaster initiates it, he or she can add you as web editor – or the reverse.

Webmaster Tools is a way for Google to alert the site owner to trouble: Are they having trouble reading any pages? You can fix it and have Google re-index them. Have they identified “unnatural” links? You can examine your links and fix the problem so they don’t damage your ranking. Has Google found malware on your site? You can locate and eliminate it. They can also look at your structured data to make sure it isn’t messing up the way Google reads and displays it.

More Useful Tools

In addition, Webmaster Tools allows you to tie your articles into your Google+ Profile for search ranking to help highlight your authorship. They also offer Google Places to make it easier for searchers to find local businesses and the Google Merchant Center to make finding products easier in a Google search.

There is so much more. Both Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools have blogs to help explain the services and forums for finding help. All can contribute to making life easier and more productive for web editors and their teams.

Analytics: Avoiding Overload

In my role as a board member of my local chapter of the Association for Women in Communications, I’ve been compiling analytics. I collect the information through Google Analytics (website), MailChimp (e-newsletters), and Hootsuite (Twitter), and then I give a brief report at our monthly meetings. Sounds simple enough, right?

Not so fast. Not for me, anyway.

These tools can be really useful for communications, but every time I log in for analytics, I feel like I’m bushwhacking with no machete. The statistics are piled high, and the graphics look appealing. But every month, I log in, look around, get overwhelmed, consider downloading default data, decide I can’t really use that, get mesmerized by the colorful charts, and start clicking around randomly like a lab monkey in a cage. After wasting an hour or two, I log out and take a nap.

Last month, I determined to have a strategy before I logged back in.

My first step was to think about how I would use the data; imagining myself giving the report to the rest of the board helped me focus:

  • The report had to be brief
  • The data had to be explainable to others
  • The information had to be meaningful, and therefore specific and applicable to our group’s overall goals

I like to procrastinate think about the big picture, so next I rewatched a couple of insightful talks on information glut:

Clay Shirky’s “It’s Not Information Overload, It’s Filter Failure.
What I like about Clay Shirky’s talk is that he puts our current situation (his talk is from 2008) in historical context. We’ve “evolved” in an environment where publishing and printing have traditionally had high upfront costs, and therefore publishers acted as gatekeepers and quality-control filters. Now we have low-cost, low-barrier-to-entry publishing and we have spam, “information overload,” a flood of low-quality content, and a whole slew of new privacy-control issues.

Our new forms of media require new ways of filtering because we no longer have a filter (via cost and inconvenience) near the source of information. And because we depend on email, social media, search engines, blogs, and many other new means of getting information, we need new ways of thinking about filtering. The information sources we use now are often not in “linear” form—a filter mid-stream will not work if the stream is actually a connected group of lakes.

Which brings me to JP Rangaswami’s TED talk, “Information is Food.
Rangaswami is on to something—on to a new way of thinking about filtering—when he says that information is food. At the end of the talk he asks:

If you began to think of all the information that you consume the way you think of food, what would you do differently?

Analytics, I thought, is an all-you-can-eat buffet. How to avoid indigestion at a buffet? Be choosy: go for quality and freshness, don’t mix too many types of foods, and don’t be tempted to overload your plate just because everything is so cheap.

Now it was time to devise my plan for going into the jungle of data, and coming out with something … digestible. I came up with a few simple questions that I thought our analytics could shed light on, and I put them in three rough categories:

What people like

  • What stories get the most click-throughs in the newsletters?
  • What links or tweets get the most clicks/retweets?
  • What subject lines result in the highest open rate for newsletters?

Experiments and outliers

  • Did we change our methods this month? Can we see results in the analytics data?
  • Are there any unusual results (compared to industry benchmarks, for example)—either very high or very low?

What brings people in

  • What search terms were used to get to the website?
  • What search terms were used to search within the website?
  • Where are people being referred from?

There are many other good questions one could ask, and there’s an endless amount of minutia one could track. I chose these because they seem to suit our needs. And I like to group them in categories because it makes it easy to pick a question or two from each category without feeling like I need all of the questions every time. The important thing, I now believe, is not to try to consume more information than I’ll actually use.

Comments welcome.

@EditorAM

Readers Tap Web Editors Articles from Around the Globe

Today, April 23, 2012, Web Editors blog welcomes readers from across the globe. In addition to the United States, readers have visited us from the United Kingdom, Canada, Philippines, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, and Colombia (listed in order our analytics report presents them).

We wonder how your experiences as web editors might vary from market to market. What are your thoughts?

A Web Editor’s Good Friend: The Content Inventory

By Cathy Hodson

A content inventory is in incredibly useful tool for a web editor, helping to manage a website’s content in many ways. It is useful for logistics during a redesign, defending a page’s usefulness, and something that can help keep track of a site’s metrics and taxonomy.

What is a content inventory? Usually, it’s a spreadsheet, filled with (not necessarily in this order):

  • The URL for each page
  • The format of the item (.html, .aspx, .pdf, .docx, etc.)
  • Content owner (which author or department staffer is responsible for the page or item)
  • Last modification date, what was revised, etc.
  • Metadata – keywords, description, title, etc.
  • Access (public; members; intranet; subdomain, etc.)
  • Any distinguishing information (i.e., comments or notes)
  • Analytics
  • Path to item from a navigation standpoint
  • Taxonomy

It can get far more detailed than that, also providing information about which pages link to the item, or which items or pages the item links to; what is its current status; will it be part of something being developed; when was it created; was it for a special project or purpose? Any way someone wants to slice up the content, it can be tracked through a content inventory.

A content inventory is a great management tool on a daily basis. It can help a web editor see at a glance which areas of the website need further development (more content), and which areas might need a little pruning or organizing, as well as the current status of each piece of content.

It’s an incredible tool during a redesign – just from a logistical standpoint. In a redesign, each item can be labeled for where it stands in the structure of the current site, and then where it will be moved to within the structure of the new site. The comments area is particularly useful in that scenario – listing any name changes to sections, any pages that are going to different sections. Maybe three pages from one section will move together to the corresponding area on the new site, while two other pages from the same section will go to a different section on the new site, depending on any reorganization being done.

From an analytics standpoint, a content inventory is useful in helping to see which areas of the site are driving the most traffic. It can help foster decisions on which items should be kept, moved to a more prominent area, or archived or deleted.

A content inventory is also a very useful taxonomy tool. The classification of your content can help fuel search engine parameters, and by listing metadata in the content inventory, it is easy to see which keywords may be the most useful, and which keywords may not be as effective. By classifying a website’s content, the validation of truly useful content becomes more apparent. It can help defend against, “Why are we covering this anyway?” or help show that perhaps this isn’t something that needs to be included on the site.

The aggregation of a website’s assets is something every good web editor should have a handle on. It is not just the responsibility of a web editor to create and maintain content, but to know what that content is doing on the website (purpose), where it fits in the structure and classification (logistics, taxonomy), and how useful it is to the company’s audiences (analytics).

For more information, see:

The Content Inventory is Your Friend, Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic, March 2009. http://blog.braintraffic.com/2009/03/the-content-inventory-is-your-friend/

Tackling Your Content Inventory, Lacey Kruger, Connection Café, April 2010.
http://www.connectioncafe.com/posts/2010/april/tackling-content-inventory.html

How Creating a Content Inventory Can Improve Your SEO, Obaiadul Haque, Search Engine Marketing Group, March 2012
http://sem-group.net/search-engine-optimization-blog/creating-a-content-inventory-to-improve-seo/

Web Editor: Alan Eggleston

Editor in Geek?
By Alan Eggleston

Do you have to be a geek to be a good web editor? I don’t think it’s in the job description, and in many cases it’s probably more important to be a good editor than to be a good geek, but it was being good at being a geek that got me a shot at working on the Web. So I’m going to say, if you want to be a Web editor, you should consider whether you’re also a geek.

I’ve been a web editor since 1995, when my supervisor at the corporate publications office realized I was a geek playing around on the Internet and asked me to tackle the company’s first website. I then found myself advising the company’s affiliates on their websites, and when the company put together a department for global online communications, I became its web editor. A year later, I was invited to join a new e-commerce team as web editor to help develop a new online model for the company. In 2001, a week and a half before 9/11, I left the corporate world and became a freelance web editor, which I continue doing to this day. I love editing and as a geek, I love Web editing.

Not all web editors need to be geeks, but as web editor it helps to have played around with various browsers, html editors and WYSIWYG programs, content management systems, CSS attributes, and mobile apps. It’s also useful to be familiar with Web design concepts, mobile conversion, and know the difference between jpgs, gifs, and tiffs, and be able to work with Web video and audio. While you’re at it, it will help your cause to know about search engine optimization (SEO) and site analytics, although not absolutely necessary. All this you may learn through experience, although much of it you can learn through Internet searches. I was fortunate enough to be curious and learn it on my own – a sure sign of being a geek.

My next article: Why SEO Matters

As a web editor with a lot of experience in search engine optimization, I’ve noticed it’s an area a lot of other web editors don’t understand. I recently ran a series on my own blog on SEO Basics for Web Editors, and I hope to bring some of that knowledge to your aid in this blog as well. Up next in my first article will be, “Why SEO Matters.” Join me!