How to write web content according to Jakob Nielsen

Fernando Maciá

Written by Fernando Maciá

Writing content for the WebJakob Nielsen, the renowned guru of Web usability and accessibility issues, recently published an article in his famous Alertbox newsletter where he exposed a series of tips about the way in which we have to write the contents of our Web. These tips detailed the typical mistakes that are made in the online environment when it comes to writing down what we want to communicate to our potential customers.

When we write for the Web, it is because we want to be found.

“If you don’t appear on the first search engine results page, it may be that you don’t exist either” is the sentence with which Jakob Nielsen’s article begins. Search engines are certainly the most important means of attracting traffic to a Web site that contains a high dose of content.

In search engine positioning, search engines use the contents of our Web pages to place them in certain positions within their databases. Search engines are continually improving their relevance algorithms to display those pages that have the most similar content to what is being searched for on the Web. Any text that is written on a Web page is bait for search engine users.

People use their own terminology when confronted with a search engine.

There are many Internet articles that say that “content is king” but if the king does not speak in the same way as his subjects, it is useless to have a lot of content. When we write the contents of a Web page we make the typical mistake of copying what the company’s sales dossier says, or what the corporate book says, or even worse, putting the company’s mission and vision to explain the products and services we sell.

These sophisticated or formal contents are nothing like the phrases that our potential customers might use when searching for us in search engines. Jakob Nielsen recommends “speaking the user’s language”, i.e. using familiar words to describe our products or services.

The main problem is that we describe things in different ways. The words we use to describe our business may be different from the keywords used by customers. Teaching customers to rename things is more complicated than us changing the way we express ourselves and consequently reaching them.

For example, a company that offers consulting services for people who want to sell their pharmacy might want to position its Web site for the phrase “pharmaceutical business consulting” or “pharmaceutical business valuation.” Such phrases sound great but rarely would a user who wants guidance on how to sell their pharmacy use these terms in search engines to find these types of services. Instead, phrases such as “advice on how to sell my pharmacy” or “how to sell my pharmacy” are more popular and familiar phrases within the vocabulary of the user of this example and could therefore become a wider flow of Web visits.

Confusing product names: avoiding metaphors

There are many marketing theories that recommend us to baptize our products or services with proper names to enhance branding. If our company is not well known in the market, it is recommended to position ourselves in the Web through familiar or descriptive names instead of positioning ourselves through metaphorical names.

For example, if we sell luxury apartments through the Web, the best phrase to describe our product will be “luxury apartments” or “exclusive apartments” and not the brand name such as “deluxe spaces” or “deluxe dreams”. No search engine user will use these peculiar phrases to find luxury homes.

The names of our products obey a valid brand strategy that we should not change. However, when writing the contents of our Web, we must use familiar or descriptive words in greater proportion than the use of sophisticated or metaphorical words from the name of the brand.

Inventing new names for products or using politically correct names are common misconceptions in some markets when it comes to writing content for an e-commerce-focused Web site.

Conclusions for good content writing

Search engine optimization experts recommend using descriptive and concise phrases to write the titles and descriptions of each of the Web pages of our site. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen recommends using “household words” for excellent search engine visibility. Both theories complement each other towards a common goal: “writing for users”.

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Fernando Maciá
Fernando Maciá
Founder and CEO of Human Level. Expert SEO consultant with more than 20 years of experience. He has been a professor at numerous universities and business schools, and director of the Master in Professional SEO and SEM and the Advanced SEO Course at KSchool. Author of a dozen books on SEO and digital marketing.

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