Writing for the Web involves learning how people search online

Writing for the Web is different from print and other mediums because, on the Web, people are actively searching for information – possible related to your products or services. And you have the opportunity to direct those people who fall within your target market to your site.

That’s why content is still king online — image-heavy and Flash sites do look great as an online brochure, but they won’t draw in extra traffic. So that’s why your website should include keyword-rich copy, i.e., copy containing keywords used by your target audience to search for information.

Finding the right keywords — and how best to use them on your site — is a very involved process I won’t go into here, but it’s very useful to get an insight into how people — Internet users — search for stuff on the Internet.

It’s easy to forget — especially if you’re pretty Internet savvy yourself — that a lot of people out there think Google (or Yahoo for that matter) IS the Internet. And the fact is, people search online in a large number of ways. Many people don’t use the address bar at all and instead type things like eBay.com or even Google into the search box. It’s quicker to do this and click on the top link than type the whole URL into the address bar! I do it myself.

There’s a great post on the Morget Designs blog — How Do People Use Search Engines — that talks about this, including a link to a video to a talk given by Google research scientist (now there’s a job title!) Dan Russell. There’s also some discussion on this over at the excellent new SEO blog, Searchland — Why do People Google Google?.

The fact is, not everyone searches for “[My widget’s name and model number]”. So you have to think creatively when compiling a list of keywords.

A great starting point is to do a little user-study of your own. If you want to sell a particular product, ask friends and family to search for information related to it and look at what words they use, in what order, and so on.

If you already have a site, you should also look at your website stats to see which keywords people use to find you. It gives you a clear insight into the thought process of your target market, and can even generate ideas for new products.

“Try our new improved haggis”

Growing up in Scotland, I consumed the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race” — otherwise known as haggis — at least once a year on Burns Night and, honestly, it’s great mashed up with potatoes and turnips. Strangely though, not everyone agrees with me, and it can be tough to sell haggis sceptics on the delights of assorted sheeps’ innards boiled in the same animal’s bladder.

Anstruther Fish Bar — Scotland’s best fish and chip shop (and Tom Hanks’s favourite no less) — makes a valient effort, however. Last time I was there, I noticed this sign…

Ignoring any questionable ingredients, they go straight for the suitably vague “new improved” approach.

Got me thinking how else you can sell haggis…

“Just eat it! (And forget about what’s in it.)” (With apologies to Nike)

“Scotland’s caviar. Now with chips.”

“Not exactly healthy… but not bad for you either.”

“The original boil-in-a-bag meal.”

(It’s been a long day.)

By the way, the best haggis comes from Macsween of Edinburgh.

The most useful websites on the Internet

The Guardian has published a list of their most useful websites of 2006 — The new 100 most useful sites.

It’s interesting to compare this list to their previous one in 2004 — Cream of the crop: 100 most useful websites.

They rightly point out (taking the UK-view, as a British newspaper):

“In 2004, the internet was a different place: there was, for example, no YouTube, and most Britons online didn’t have broadband. That’s changed dramatically: now, more than 75% of users have broadband, and the arrival of Web 2.0 has brought sites where the interaction is as fast as if it were on your machine.”