Looking beyond the short term
Recent Google algorithm updates and a survey of mobile users have combined to prompt a fresh wave of discussion about effective website content, with the usual focus of how best to balance successful SEO techniques with the risk of being penalised.
The content landscape has changed enormously within the last couple of years, as search engine market leader Google continues its mission to offer relevant, fresh and genuine results to its users. Meanwhile, digital marketers have put huge effort into creating and formatting content specifically to impress the company's evolving algorithms.
For many online businesses, this means that every time Google launches an update, their approach must be refreshed and new shortcuts found; especially with regard to keyword use and linking.
However, as Google's endgame is essentially to ensure the prominence of high-quality websites which are naturally appealing to users, it seems it might be wiser for businesses to invest in longer-term content plans with real weight. This means forgoing quick fixes and investing in well-researched and engaging copywriting - including frequently-refreshed news and product details, a sensible navigation structure, relevant in-content links and logical, helpful meta tags.
Good design is crucial
While the latter point is a reasonable one, success isn't necessarily all down to text content, as a poor layout also displeases Google. This was the driving force behind the company's second 'top-heavy' update on 9 October - following a first update in January 2012 - which penalises websites which position too many advertising feature above the fold, requiring users to scroll down to find the details they seek.
Such actions show that Google is keen to encourage a good standard of design, regardless of how well-meaning the copy might be. The definition of strong design is more subject to change than text content, as it is affected by principles that evolve with technology, rather than time-honoured communication staples.
Aesthetic or technical naivety may also impact on some users via Google's second update to its Penguin algorithm, which launched in the first week of October and is designed to address problems such as keyword stuffing and bad linking practices. However, accidental or regretful users of black hat techniques may be assisted by Google's new disavow links tool.
Don't forget mobile...
Optimised content for mobile phone use is also now more important than ever, according to recent research by Google.
The company carried out a survey in September, the results of which revealed that if a website can be easily accessed and used via a smartphone browser, people are 67 per cent more likely to remain and make a purchase. Furthermore, 74 per cent of mobile users said they were likely to revisit a website if it works well.
Of the people interviewed, 96 per cent said that they had encountered poor mobile websites, requiring excessive scrolling or zooming, or failing to include accessible directions to locations. Good mobile websites tend to be quick to access, feature an effective search tool and an immediate 'call' option.
In all respects, consistently successful content practices come with a heavy dose of common sense. If your website is accessible, relevant and intelligently detailed, it is likely to perform well.