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Design for Your Web Content

I remember putting together my first web site - when I was about 14 - and how long it took me to get the design just right. I planned it all carefully in my head, working out all the pages I thought a site should have (Main, About Me, Pictures and Links!). I even drew out a sitemap on paper, to make sure everything was perfect! Then I painstakingly taught myself .html (this was back in the days before WYSIWYG editors were around), and drew out each .jpg from scratch. It took me several weeks, but eventually the site was finished. All I needed to do was to write the content to fill it. It was only then that I realised that I didn't have a single thing I wanted to say.

I designed my second web site when I was in High School, and it was a far more ambitious affair. I made a page for each of my friends, and filled it with things I knew would make them laugh. The home page was little more than a list of links, because I wanted people to be able to find their pages easily. The design flowed naturally from the content, and unlike my first web site, this one was a huge success. Because I had written it with my audience in mind, rather than trying to fit the content around the design, it was more accessible, and people took the time to read it. As a result, the site became very popular, and people still talk about it now, even though the site has been offline for years.

Both of my sites were very basic, amateur efforts, but the principle applies equally no matter what size the site. Design is important, but content is king. The web is a communication medium - if you publish something online, you obviously have something you want to say, and you cannot afford to let your words be overshadowed by your flashy new web site. You need to learn to design for your content.

Design to communicate

The most important part of your web site is the content itself. You have something to say, and you must make sure you say it, or all your effort has been wasted. But there's no point in just regurgitating a few paragraphs of marketing hype - web users are surprisingly savvy, and they can see through that in an instant; an instant in which they will have hit the back button and moved on down the list of search results.

You need to find out what people are looking for, and give it to them.

Do some research; think about which terms you would use to search if you wanted to buy your product, and then look them up. Have a look at who your competitors are, and what they are doing. Research on Wordtracker and see if there are any other keywords you could try.

Then use your imagination. Think about why people might be looking for your product and write for them. If your site advertises a skiing hotel in Switzerland, don't just advertise for 'hotels in Switzerland', provide useful articles about skiing, and then point them to your hotel in the middle of a ski resort.

When you know what content you require, you need to write it. The key to this is that it must be written well - you want people to read it and find the information useful. There's a lot of rubbish out there, and if people find a genuinely useful article they will remember it and come back for more. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for writing better content:

  • Write clearly. Write succinctly. People get turned off by huge blocks of text, so keep it as short and sweet as possible.
  • Don't feel you have to explain every little thing, but don't assume that your readers know everything that you do. If they did, they wouldn't be reading your article.
  • Use references to strengthen your arguments, and link to sources where people can get more information. Don't be afraid to link to sites other than your own. It will only make people trust you more.
  • Talk as yourself. It's the web; you can and should be informal. People like feeling that they are listening to a real human being. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't use correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Don't overuse colloquialisms - not everybody is from the same country as you, and it's easy for things to get lost in translation.
For more information, have a look at our article about optimising your site for the web.

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Design for ease of use

People don't like reading as much text on a screen as on a page. Therefore, you must make things easy for them. Design your web site to complement and enhance the text, and be careful not to overwhelm it with fancy menus and images that distract your readers from the important stuff: your content.

Split the text into easily digestible chunks; use short paragraphs made up of short sentences. Give each topic its own separate page if it makes things easier to read. Five concise pages are better than one single sprawling mass of text.

Use bullet points and lists to make things simpler. Emphasise important things using header tags or bold to make them stand out. Basically, try to break things up as much as possible into smaller sections that people will be more inclined to read.

Design for accessibility

Not everybody who uses the web can see perfectly. Some are visually impaired; others may even be blind. Yet they are still quite capable of using the Internet, provided that web designers follow a few basic rules to make things easier for them.

  • Fonts should be resizable - it is tempting to restrict fonts to a specific size in order to preserve your design, but it is important that you allow users to choose for themselves. There are a huge number of articles on the web about creating layouts that will respond dynamically to changes in text size. A List Apart has an interesting article about creating completely separate layouts for low vision users.
  • Many visually impaired people use screen-readers to navigate the web - one way in which you can improve their experience of your site is to make sure you use proper .html, improving the accuracy of the screen-reader.
  • Don't use images to as a source of information, but to reinforce the information given in the text. Ideally, your site should work just as well with images off. Try viewing your site with a text only browser, such as Lynx, to get an idea of how it will be seen by a screen-reader.
  • Make sure you make good use of your image alt tags. Give a concise description of the image contents. If you include a lot of your site's meta keywords, you will help your SEO too.
You need to make sure that everybody can access and view your content, and that it looks the same on everybody's computer. That means testing. Get as many people as you can to test out your site in different browsers, different resolutions, and different platforms. Make sure it works in the same way in all of them.

Conclusion

As with my first site, if you emphasise design over content, your users will get bored and move on, and your site will sink back into anonymity. By following the suggestions in this article, your web site will be rejuvenated, and your content will get a chance to shine. People will read what you have to say. If they like what they hear, they'll come back again and again…

Related: Organic Seo - Content Writing

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Sam Roberts is a Copywriter and Researcher, as well as a co-founder of Herds of Words freelance copywriters. He can be contacted at sam@herdsofwords.co.uk

Or come join the herd at http://www.herdsofwords.co.uk.

Five Places for Free Content

Most of the big marketers have already figured out how to add RSS feeds and stream free content into their web site. If you don't know how to add RSS feeds, then you need to read my other article, "How to Add RSS Feeds in Five Easy Steps!" If you need immediate content and ideas, here are five places for free content:

Why is this important to your traffic? The Search Engines want content that is consistently updated on your site. When their spider crawls your site, and they notice changes; they conclude that you are keeping it up to date. They want to give higher page ranks to fresher content!

If you cannot create a self-sufficient site and you do not have an unlimited supply of content that is self-written or staff-written, there is a third option. There are sites that contain a vast array of information. DO NOT go to any random web site and take the content and place it on your web site. Once you write a web site, it is automatically copyright protected with or without the notice. If you take from any web site that does not give you permission, this is a violation of copyright laws whether the content is registered or not.

There are, however, quite a few web sites that will provide you with content to put onto your web site. You can include comics and jokes or you can find relevant content to almost any subject imaginable. One very useful web site is Freesticky. This site allows you to find a large amount of content to put onto your web site. For other similar web sites, just go to www.google.com and type in “free web site content” and you will get several excellent results. Play around and see which ones you find most appealing.

I have a found a great FOURTH option. Do you need free content? Old books where the copyright has expired can now legally be copied for your web site. http://www.gutenberg.org/ is a FREE place which houses over 16,000 online books which you can copy for free and place on your web site.

Fifth Option: Most government web sites provide FREE information that you can legally copy and place on your web site. Here’s the web site: www.pueblo.gsa.gov

The publications distributed through the FCIC are published or sponsored by a variety of Federal and private-sector organizations. While most of the information is in the public domain and can be copied and used for educational purposes, we can't provide a blanket assurance that all of the information is in that category.

Have fun! Go to town with all this free content..

Kit Elliott, SuperAffiliate.com,™ is a business development consultant, speaker, author, and copywriter. Kit also teaches marketing strategies and professional selling at http://www.superaffiliate.com and has teamed up with big name marketers to bring the Ultimate Search Promotion and The Million Dollar Round Table http://www.kitelliott.com

The Importance of Context in Content Filtering

Launching a search for “Breast Cancer Awareness” should not result in a flood of pornographic URLs, but if your filtering solution isn’t capable of analyzing context as well as words, that might be what happens. Filtering pornographic texts may focus only on the word “breast” and not on the context in which it is presented. It is important that your company’s Appropriate Use Policy (AUP) includes the specific definition of what constitutes Web sites that need to be blocked. Visiting the Breast Cancer Society’s home page would probably be allowed by most company AUPs. However, making sure that authorized sites get through and inappropriate sites get blocked, can be a very tricky business, especially if your filtering solution looks only at words and not context.

The Hardware Filtering Option

One way to ensure that your AUP is accurately enforced is to implement a hardware filtering solution that is able to handle both words and context. In addition, an appliance offers other advantages that make it the ideal choice to perform complex filtering processes that are fast, accurate and flexible.

One advantage is that an appliance-based filtering solution fits easily into your network’s topology while at the same time giving the company the flexibility of outstanding features. A hardware appliance is a dedicated and features pass by architecture that allows it to remain stable regardless of the load.

If load increases, the hardware appliance is infinitely scalable by simply adding another machine. Software filters are limited in both their performance, scalability and single points of failure.

Comprehensive Reporting

One of the most important components of successful Web filtering for any organization is the ability to generate relevant reports. You can get an instant snapshot of activity at your organization or produce management or compliance reports required by your organization. There is no better way to ensure that accuracy and reliability goals are being met. If you can find an appliance-based Web filtering solution that offers on-box reporting, you found the best product. With total on-box reporting you won’t have to purchase additional hardware or software that drives up your costs. In addition, you will be able to prove that inappropriate content is not reaching your employees and that appropriate content is allowed to get through. Also, reporting allows you to fulfill the requirements of your organization’s Acceptable Use and Security Policies and document your compliance.

The Importance of Human Review

Automatic URL database updates are essential for providing secure and timely content filtering. It is particularly critical that these database updates are vetted by more than just name identification. By employing 100% human-review coupled with weekly, daily or hourly updates, your company is protected from dangerous sites and objectionable content around the clock.. Using human-review, sites with questionable content are reviewed daily and added to the database. Conversely, if a site such as the Breast Cancer Society or a site handling fertility treatment information comes up for review,a human interface can approve the content for the database.

Medical Mistakes and Business Operations

The accurate and secure filtering of Web content has serious implications for many different organizations. In the case of Medical facilities it is important to know that hospitals and doctors’ offices are now governed by the HIPPA policy. This policy requires that no private medical data be distributed to anyone other than those precisely identified by the patient. If the internal or network security of a medical facility should be compromised, that facility would be in violation of HIPPA and subject to serious fines as well as the loss of patient confidence.

Pornography, phishing, spy ware, violent or racist web sites may share similar words with valid web sites, but they are negative and dangerous to the internal security of a company’s network and to their public reputation. By using an appliance based Web filtering solutions, companies can implement the necessary tools and resources required to protect their best interests no matter what the nature of their business. There are inherent limitations associated with software solutions especially when a firewall is involved. A software solution combined with a firewall means that eventually the general purpose CPU of the firewall will become bogged down with the double duty it will be forced to perform. In the worst-case scenario, the network is slowed down by the software filter and the firewall device, leading to compromised performance and network security.

Cyberspace can be treacherous, but it shouldn’t be frustrating and arbitrary. Software-based solutions that are inherently more complex and which employ heuristics rather than 100% human -review can only do so much. To ensure success, human interface is needed in order to judge context for content. The best solution for network security is a solution that is dedicated to providing the best service possible so that your organization can fulfill its interests and satisfaction.

While the danger of lost intellectual property and high-profile lawsuits float around in cyberspace, a hardware filtering solution keeps the dangers locked out while protecting access to vital content.

iPrism internet filters and web filters provide internet monitoring and network security. http://internet-filters.stbernard.com

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