I’ll be writing my next few entries about the type of content that is often left out of the editorial guidelines companies create for their online content.
A blog post, a web page providing directions, and a product description all count as content. These are the types of content that show up in your editorial calendar. These are the types of content you make sure get proofread. And this is the content you worry about showing up well in search engines. But what about other less visible content?
Your 404 error page is not one you really want your visitors to see, but it’s likely that a few will. You can’t prevent a blogger from providing a link with an error in the URL. (You’re watching your logs and analytic reports for these instances, right?) The 404 error page is important and one your writers or editors should be writing and reviewing regularly. Here are a three examples. One is almost useless, one is clever but not particularly helpful, and one provides useful navigational assistance and search. Not a lot of writing is involved, but you want the tone of this page to match your brand.
A hosting site’s default page:
And from Heinz:
If you don’t have access to your logs or to analytics, you might want to ask your visitors for some help in tracking down the source of an error. I’ve had good luck asking people for the URL of the page they were coming from when they tripped on my 404 page. Just be sure to thank those visitors ASAP.
Help and instruction pages
Programmers aren’t always great writers, not do they really want to read your editorial guidelines. But they do know understand common errors how to resolve them. So let them help you write the content and let them review your final draft. Get a technical write or a usability professional involved if you’re still having problems with how well the help page actually helps. Get a designer involved if no one even notices your help page options. But be sure that the tone, style and standards for writing the main pages of your site are applied to these pages, too.
Confirmation or thank you pages
Once someone has made a purchase or signed up for an event or submitted a form, you’ll want to let them know that their action worked, that it was appreciated, and what to expect (an email, a link to a white paper, a phone call, etc.) The tone of the page should match the rest of your site, so you’ll want to write this page. You’ll want to consider adding additional links or options for your readers, too, so you’re not leaving them at a dead end. You might even suggest that they follow you through your social media or suggest your offer to a friend or colleague.
You’ll want your privacy and other legal notices to be more readable, friendly and reassuring than legalistic. But your still have to meet the legal requirements. Do what you can to at least make these statements easy to scan. Write it as a FAQ or break it up into bite-size pieces. Try providing a summary of your intent in providing the page and then let the specialists write the full notice to cover your legal needs. Lead into the legalese with a few sentences that show you understand your readers’ concerns and interests. Add a very short statement to a page where you’re collecting data and link to the full policy statement if you can. And when you find five words being used when one would suffice, ask for that edit to be made.
PDF or not?
I was recently asked to explain why or why not someone should publish content as a PDF. I’ll try to offer some insights. At a few very large institutions it is often easier to send your web lackey a PDF of a document than a Word or HTML document. Ease and a sense of control are major enticements for publishing a PDF, but let’s look at a few other issues.
- It’s really hard work to make a PDF ADA compliant. It’s really easy to make an HTML page accessible.
- PDFs require an extra step on the part of the visitor. Visitors are lazy. They don’t like taking extra steps. You’ve just changed the way they have been reading and navigating and that’s likely to upset them just a little bit.
- It’s another thing that can break. PDFs are very stable and Acrobat Reader is installed on almost everyone’s PC. But things can break and it’s possible that if a document won’t open the user will blame you.
- PDFs usually lack navigation. You don’t want dead ends on your site. You want people discovering new and wonderful things on your site.
- PDFs are harder to update and edit than an HTML page. Unless your document is meant for an archival copy, you will need to update it at some point.
- The person posting a page that needs to be converted into HTML is more likely to notice your typos or errors than someone simply posting a PDF file.
- PDFs are easily stolen or borrowed and posted elsewhere. Even if your content is part of the public domain, you probably want readers to see your branding and your navigation.
- HTML style sheets make it easy to create a style sheet for printing that will make your document pretty when printed.
- If you must post a long document as a PDF, then please use the indexing or bookmarking feature within Acrobat.
Do these examples matter to SEO?
You don’t really need the search engines visiting your error pages or legal notices. You can ask for them to be excluded from search engines indexes by using the robots.txt file.
Search engines can index your PDF files, but they also point out that your file is a PDF. They do that so their users can elect not to visit such a page, or ask to see it in HTML (Yahoo) or in Google Docs (Google).
What content have I missed?