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A small percentage of Web content really makes a difference. It makes the sale, delivers the service, and builds the brand. This is the killer Web content. It probably represents less than 10% of content published on the Web, because—let's face it—most content just gets in the way.

Do you have the killer instinct?

Up until now, content has been a hugely undervalued asset. In the early years of the Web, the focus was on the technical. Then it shifted to visual design. Only now are people recognizing that quality content is the essence of what makes a Web site successful. The Web runs on content. It is its hidden asset, its gold. Yet, for so long, it has been treated like coal—a low-grade, low-cost commodity best dealt with in bulk.

The opportunity to create content has never been greater. We are living through a text revolution—from emails to mobile phone texting, from Web sites to blogging, the world has gone mad for words. So you'll need to be sure your skills in creating killer Web content are well honed. Because if your content isn't the killer stuff, how on earth is it going to stand out, and who on earth is going to bother reading it?

But the Web is full of filler

I used to be a music journalist. In the music industry there is the concept of "filler." Basically, the average album has 10-14 tracks. Some artists have only 5-7 good tracks ready to record, so they need to write another 5-7 tracks to complete the album. Typically, these are substandard tracks and are known as "the filler."

The Web is full of filler content. Generally, this content has been directly transplanted from print and doesn't serve any other purpose than to give a Web site some bulk. The press release—a staple of most corporate Web sites—is a good example of print content that gets published because it's the easy way out. Originally, press releases were not meant to be published. Instead, they were supposed to be released to the press as a story hook—something that might get them interested in writing a story in their publications.

Your Web site is your publication. You should be taking your press release ideas and turning them into compelling stories that communicate clear messages your customers care about. Simply putting press releases up is just the lazy way out. Most of your customers care to read your press releases about as much as they'd care to open a bag of two-week-old dead fish.

Right now, Web metrics are relatively primitive. However, metrics tools are improving. Within the next five years, the Web will become a communications channel where content can truly be analyzed and identified as "killer" or "filler." Look around you and you will see that many organizations are publishing reams and reams of filler content—just to fill up space, just because that's what's always been done, just because that's the job someone's been paid to do, just because it's so much easier to churn out filler than to hone the killer stuff.

From the best Web sites, the filler will slowly but surely be weeded out, and the people who create it will have to either find new roles or be retrained. (In fact, this is happening today in organizations such as Microsoft.) If you create killer content, on the other hand, you will be highly valued and highly rewarded, because it is this content that will be making the sale, delivering the service, and building the brand.

The essence of Web site success

I was once told a fascinating story by a friend of mine who is involved in the investment banking industry. Investment bankers were looking for investors in what they were calling "third-world economies." Nobody was having much luck. Then some banker started calling them "emerging economies," and there was a phenomenal increase in investment—all because of a couple of words.

Fortune magazine had a similar experience. For years, it had been publishing a supplement on retirement options with headlines like "Better Plans for Retirement." Then someone came up with the idea of using the headline "Retire Rich." Those two words resulted in a huge jump in sales, making that issue the company's most successful in its entire history.

Words matter, and they have never mattered more than they do today. In this hectic world, we are inundated with so much stuff that we simply home in on the things we care about. And we express what we care about in a small set of words—I call these words "carewords."

I could call them "keywords," but then you'd yawn and put the book down. The problem is that—like "third-world economies"—the word itself is uninspiring. Of course, the way keywords have been used hasn't helped. Many people think that they are something you quickly add to the HTML of a page and have only a loose association with the actual content. Keywords are also associated with metadata, a word so boring it deserves a health warning. So I'm going to call them "carewords" from now on.

Listen up: The secret of Web communications and marketing success is to be found in the concept of carewords. There's something in them that has explosive potential, something that gets to the essence of modern human behavior. As Web readers, we are hunter-gatherers once again—only this time, instead of scanning the horizon for prey, we scan pages for carewords. When we see these words, we click, we act. And that is what the Web is all about: tasks and actions.

What do most people care about when flying today? Low fares or free coffee? You'd probably say low fares. When people go to a search engine, are they more likely to type "low fares" or "cheap flights"? Suppose I told you that one of these careword phrases is 400 times more likely to be typed into a search engine than the other.

Wouldn't it be important for you to know that if you were working as a marketer for an airline?

Note: This article is based on the book Killer Web Content, which offers techniques for identifying the carewords of your customers, helping marketers to eliminate the filler and focus on the killer Web content.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.