When it comes to search engines, and performing well on them, there really are only two things that matter. How engaging your web page is, and how ‘good’ your website’s reputation is.

These points really go hand in hand. It’s no good having a great web page, if your website doesn’t have the best reputation online, and likewise your reputation online will be damaged by any web page that has a poor engagement. You cannot therefore have one without the other.

When Search Engines crawl a website – which they do extremely regularly; they look out for a whole host of factors to help determine where they subsequently rank you following a user searching for a particular query. Some of these factors are technical and involve the quality of the code that has been used, and others seek to understand what level of influence and/or authority your web pages or website has on the subject in question. But most importantly Search Engines want to know if your content is worth being in that top spot. Don’t forget, Search Engines are businesses themselves, and they would quickly go out of business if every time you searched for something, what was returned was a poor-quality website with a web page that was dull as can be.

Working together

With this in mind, it’s crucial to understand how to ensure our pages are primed to maximise the potential engagement they could receive.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which we can do that:

We have a consistent tone of voice at Essex and using this fully across the website provides a consistent message and shows we are one team. This helps build confidence and maintain engagement as it ensures any user crossing multiple web pages in their online journey doesn’t switch between multiple tones. It’s really important therefore that when content is added, it is done so using this tone and messaging which was devised to support all areas of our business.

  • Deliver what your audience needs, not what you want to say.

Not doing this, is probably the single biggest mistake any web author makes. Their line manager asks them to add all these great stats and figures, or testimonials etc about how wonderful they are, and they forget that really, users don’t care about it... Of course, as a business, you are going to say you are great, and people expect you to say it, but that doesn’t mean they trust that you are actually great, just because you said you were. What tells a user that you are great is ensuring that you answered their query, in clearest possible manner, and in the quickest time. Don’t make them dwell on your pages by using overly complicated language or burying their answers in a mountain of self-congratulating figures and achievements. Learn what your audience needs and give it to them!

There are some great tips on the staff directory to help improve your content but to pick only one - before starting any new content you should think about the type of questions your audience might write to search for your page, and then answer those questions. Always be user-centric, and ask yourselves, if you were making the same decision what would you want to know? If you’d like some more information on how to get started planning your content and thinking about your audience’s needs, email wedm@essex.ac.uk.

  • Multiple pages are not always the answer.

Try to refrain from having pages for the sake of pages. Sometimes, combining that content on a single page makes for a much better web page than separating it out. In essence, you get one engaging page, rather than two less engaging ones. We sometimes all fall into the habit of thinking we need a new web page, for a new piece of content – and sometimes for SEO it is absolutely beneficial for us to do so, but other times it really isn’t. You should always discuss your ideas therefore with the Web Editing and Digital Media team (wedm@essex.ac.uk) and we can help guide you on the right path. It’s often said, that “we need a new page, as the other one is so long now the user will need to scroll to find the content”. This is a fair point…but when was the last time you looked at a website and didn’t have to scroll? In fact, how often do you look at web pages on your mobile, where you have to scroll all the time. Yes, content higher up generally performs well and I’ll cover content placement in a later blog, but scrolling shouldn’t concern you. As long the content is easy to find on the single page then it is better than splitting it out and weakening your engagement score.

  • Think beyond just text and stock imagery.

We don’t all have the budget for this, but videos, complimentary imagery, blogs, etc. all of these provide variety for the user and keep them engaged. Sometimes when we plan content it’s all too easy to concentrate on the copy and neglect other content. This tends to lead us to use stock imagery (or to reuse the same pictures all over the place) to try and make the page at least a little bit engaging. Unfortunately, stock imagery is very transparent and users can tell that it’s not really your photo. Likewise, old videos that had their place on a website 5+ years ago, now make your pages look dated and unloved. These will have a negative effect on you, so it’s really important to be truly reflective on your content and honest about it. If you haven’t got good imagery, you should commission some and if your video looks a bit dated, try and get it updated and looking more modern. This will hugely increase your engagement score and improve your ranking on search. Content is not just copy text and planning a web page must take that into consideration.

  • Less is sometimes much more

If you have loads of great images, or loads of testimonials about your work or even loads of videos, try and focus in on one or at maximum two of these to use; certainly don’t use all of them. A user won’t read/watch all of them anyway, nor care to scan through loads of pictures and videos. Too much information overwhelms the user and creates a poorer engagement. Remember to think about what they want to know about and then use the best example you have to compliment that. For example, if you have a fantastic event and you feel your users would like to know about it, they don’t need five images showing how great it was, when one will do this just as well. Likewise, you don’t need to produce pdf documents to download if that information is already on the page. This just doubles up your workload, and makes users download things unnecessarily. Keep it simple, give them what they need and don’t create extra work for yourself.

  • A website isn’t just an information directory it needs curating and updating.

Often, it’s easy to get into the habit of creating a nice series of web pages, and then only updating the factual information on it when it changes. Of course, why would you update a page if nothing has actually changed? The reality here though is, things have changed! Maybe not with your work, but with those other websites we compete with. It’s a bit like winning a race, and then not competing again but still claiming you are winning. You have to keep thinking about new ways to improve your pages, rewrite your pages and add more content to sell the story you need to sell. Sometimes you will just be updating it “for the sake of it”, but if that means your pages now out rank your competitors that will result in far more traffic and ultimately a greater return on investment than resting on your laurels for a piece of content that was great a year ago but now is just ok. A content calendar or strategy here will really help you keep on track.

So, what about the website reputation?

Generally, a website’s reputation is equal to the sum of all its web pages ranking positions. As I mentioned before, if you have poorer content that will lower the reputation but better content will increase it. Ultimately, the better that reputation is, the greater chance you will have of ranking well.

There are many other elements to consider when it comes to the reputation of a website for example, the number of broken links it has, whether it has a good user journey flow, whether the business has set up additional microsite websites now competing with itself on search engines. All of these have an impact on reputation, and WEDM’s role is to help protect that reputation, to help create an engaging web space for your work, and make sure that not only do your pages rank well, but also everyone else’s too.