Internet’s permanence means no excuse for poor content

Internet’s permanence means no excuse for poor content

In the pre-internet age, a common way of reassuring someone who had notched up bad publicity was to tell them that the newspaper it was printed on would be 'tomorrow's chip wrappers'. It was another way of pointing out that the news only lasted so long and people would soon forget about it.

However, the situation is very different today, when we view a constant stream of social media updates, emails and web pages. It might be fair to assume that with all this information being sent to us minute by minute, we're more likely to miss out on particular items than in the days when the newspaper was king.

Yet the internet is very different because, unlike its entries going in the dustbin after a day, they are recorded and stored indefinitely. A piece in the New York Times talked about the "eternal retrievability of anything online" and it's true; every status update or photo we post could be found again at any time.

All it takes is a quick Google search and almost anything can be resurrected. Indeed, a case in point is a search we did on 'male grooming', only to uncover a newspaper article that had been archived from 1991 – it's the closest thing we've got to time travel.

Likewise, more regular sharing of content on Facebook and Twitter can also result in items that seemed to have run their course being resuscitated and attracting more views than they did in the first place. We've all clicked on friends' links to find 'news' articles dating back two years or more being treated as up-to-the-minute. 

Official organisations are also working to facilitate this evergreen nature of the internet. Non-profit repository The Internet Archive recently announced it is creating new tools that will allow media-based communities to build their own archived collections that are available to the world for free.

The US Library of Congress also began acquiring and permanently storing the entire archive of public Twitter posts since 2006 five years ago.

In a way, this permanence is good for companies that want a presence online. After all, with the best will in the world, consumers and potential customers can't see every blog post, Twitter comment and guide you publish – if content can be found at any time, you stand a better chance of getting the message across that you intended to convey.

However, it can also have a less advantageous side because many people still treat the internet as a temporary medium. For example, they might hurry a Facebook status or a blog post out to promote a product in order to capitalise on a particular trend, but not take the care they might have done in a newspaper advert – and any mistakes will be there forever. This can damage their reputation.

How to avoid internet mistakes that will be evergreen

The best thing to do when creating any online content, no matter how short, is to treat it as an important part of the branding and message. We'd therefore recommend:

1.    Making it interesting to the customer

When faced with the open forum that is the worldwide web, it's easy to go off on a tangent and start talking about topics you like – but will this interest your potential prospects? The last thing you want is for someone to discover a feature, only to respond with 'so what?'. Make sure your posts are relevant as well as interesting.

2.    Ensuring the message is obvious

Creating business content isn't the same as writing fun posts for your friends on social media – it needs to have a message. If you want to use an article on holidays to encourage people to buy travel insurance, then make sure it says so.

3.    Making it searchable

Search engines might not be obsessed with SEO any longer, but they do still need to find you. That means using relevant terminology, meta data and other tools at your disposal to ensure your piece doesn't fade into the mists of time, never to be seen again.

4.    Not waffling

Internet audiences have famously short attention spans, so don't risk them pressing the 'back' button in their browser before they've finished reading. Keep all posts below 1,000 words – and if you've only got a short message, don't be afraid to write a corresponding short post in which to say it.

5.    Checking for mistakes – and being careful with localization

Strings of spelling mistakes on company websites can make potential customers suspicious that they're not who they say they are, so it's vital to proofread carefully. As a related point, it's especially important if you're crafting content for consumption in more than one country and language – poor translation and misspelled words appear unprofessional. You should therefore employ specialist translation services if you're not sure on a language, rather than trying to go it alone.

The internet is a perpetual storage medium, so make sure your content stands the test of time.

Posted by How can I make sure my content is good enough to stand the test of time?

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