Creating the Content
After spending a good half-hour looking up keyword values, it was time to refill our coffees and talk about some other things. While Claude went to get our order, I asked Anita if she was still happy with her topic selection.
"Oh, sure," she said. "I know that eating well and exercising isn't exciting. If I was doing it for the money, I'd be better off targeting one of the fad diets. Or something techie—Dad's topic seems to pay well."
"It does for now," I agreed, "because it's new and phone service is something everyone can relate to. But these things change over time; in a couple of years the payouts for voice-over-IP will probably be smaller and your dad will be looking for something better."
Claude had returned with our coffees. "And what's wrong with that?" he said, having overheard me.
"Nothing!" I said. "And over time as your site gains more content you can usually spend less and less time working on it, although a blog isn't so easy to let slide."
"But what do we do now?" Anita asked.
"Now that you've chosen your topic, you can start creating the content for your site."
Claude was surprised. "But I don't have a site!" he protested.
"Not yet, no," I said, "but you have a topic. That's enough to get started. And while you're creating content, there are other things you can do at the same time. Like finding a domain name. But I'll save that stuff for later, when Stef's with us again. Ultimately, it's the content that attracts visitors to your site, directly or indirectly."
"What do you mean?" Anita asked.
"Direct visitations occur when other sites link to yours or through word of mouth from previous visitors," I explained. "High rankings in search engines and web directories are indirect causes of visitation. If you have compelling content and you do some basic promotion of your site, you'll get some traffic."
"And the more traffic you get," Claude interrupted, "the more chance that your ads will be clicked and the more money you'll make."
"So first we design our Web sites?" Anita asked.
"No, not yet," I said. "Don't confuse content creation with site design. We'll tackle site design later, after you've registered names for your sites and found hosting services to run them for you. But there's no point in doing any of that until you're ready to build some Web pages. Which means creating, gathering, and organizing material for the site."
"You sound like my old English teacher," Claude protested. "I finished school a long time ago, you know."
"It is a bit like going back to school," I confirmed, "but don't worry—nobody's going to grade you on this stuff."
Dusting Off Old Skills
One of the things you learned in school was how to write essays and reports. You had to research (find, read, and analyze) source documents. You had to form your own thoughts on the topic and put them on paper in logical sequences. You had to check your spelling and use good grammar. You had to reference other people's ideas.
Guess what? You use those same skills to create the content for your Web site or blog. A single-topic site, for example, is like writing a long report, complete with sections (the pages) and a table of contents (the home page). A blog is like writing a series of short essays.
If you find writing a chore, you're probably not thrilled to hear this. Claude certainly wasn't. But you can't just go and grab content from other sites and pretend it's yours; that's illegal and unethical. You have to write your own content.
That's why it's important to choose an interesting topic. Maybe you didn't like writing reports and essays in school because they were never about things that interested you. If the topic interests you, you'll be more motivated to write about it. You'll also write better material!
Finding Source Material
Unless you're the expert on a topic, you'll need to start with some source material. Gathering this material is useful for different reasons. First, you can reference the material you find on your own site. You want to present accurate information. Second, it educates you about the topic and informs you enough to write intelligently about it. And third, it never hurts to know what others have already written about the topic, even if you already are an expert.
The first place to find your source material is on the Web, of course, for the following reasons:
- Free and easy. With a few well-placed queries in Google or some simple scanning of the Open Directory project (www.memwg.com/open-directory), you'll find all kinds of topical sites with free information.
- Linkable. If the information is freely available on the Web, you can easily link to it from your own site. (Links are, of course, de rigueur in blogs.)
On the other hand, there are downsides to using Web-based material:
- Uneven quality. Some of the information you'll find will be of dubious quality, so be critical in your assessment of its worth. This is especially true of user-contributed encyclopedias and directories like Wikipedia.
- Pages disappear. Web pages can disappear at any time, temporarily or permanently, which is particularly frustrating when your own pages are linked to them.
- Not everything is free. High-quality material is often available only to paying users. It's common to put abstracts and summaries up on the Web for free but to require a payment to see the actual article or report.
Sources of information other than the Web should also be considered. Books and articles are obvious choices, and they'll often lead you to still other sources. Talking to and getting advice from knowledgeable people is another possibility—it doesn't cost you anything to send a polite email to an expert, and the chances are good that you'll get some kind of response.
Organizing the Material
After researching the topic, organize the material into meaningful chunks. How you do this depends on whether you're creating a blog or a conventional Web site.
Blogs naturally organize information by date, so one approach is not to do any further organization. As your blog grows in size, though, visitors will have a harder time finding the information they want. Since you can categorize entries on most blog systems, you should decide what the initial set of categories will be and write your first group of blog entries accordingly.
Conventional sites can organize their material however they see fit. Usually there's a home page—the main entry point into the site—and a menu or navigation bar that guides visitors through the major sections of the site. Folders are often used to represent the different sections. We'll look at different strategies for site layout and navigation in chapter 5.
Generally speaking, online material should be organized into smaller chunks than printed material to minimize scrolling. This leads to more pages on your site. Use clearly marked links to ensure that visitors can move easily from one chunk to the next. But don't make the chunks too small, or AdSense won't be able to accurately determine what the page is about.
Don't forget, though, that visitors often don't visit your site in an orderly or linear fashion. People often jump into the middle of a site directly from a page of search-engine results, for example. Keep your pages short, but provide context for the visitor who lands on a page without having seen any other page on the site. Make it easy to jump to the home page, for example.
Editing Your Text
Do you know how to spell? Do you have good grammar skills? It's absolutely essential that you write clearly and correctly, no matter what language your site or blog uses. A hard-to-read site doesn't invite repeat visits. Bad grammar and poor spelling also make the site look unprofessional. That's not to say that you can't use slang or acronyms or casual language, but you need to have a good reason to deviate from normal, everyday language use. Writing good content takes time and effort, but it'll be worth it in the long run.
That said, there are sites that deliberately misspell words in order to attract additional search-engine traffic, especially for words that are easily or commonly mistyped. Advertisers also routinely use misspelled words as keywords for their ad campaigns. It's not an approach I recommend for anyone setting up a site, however.
If you're not confident about your own language skills, there are many free spelling and grammar tools available. See www.memwg.com/spelling-tools for a list. Note that Google can be used for quick spelling and dictionary checks. Misspell a word in a search query, for example, and Google offers the correct spelling as an option ( Figure 3.8 ). Definitions for each word in a query are also easily accessed ( Figure 3.9 ).
Figure 3.8 Google catches misspelled words.
Figure 3.9 Word definitions available from Google.
Plagiarism and Copyrights
Copying someone else's work and passing it off as your own is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is a big problem on the Web, and it's something to avoid on your own site. Not only because it's unethical—you're profiting from someone else's hard work without their permission—but also because it's illegal.
Generally speaking, only the author of an original written work has the right to use and exploit the work. This is the "right to copy," from which the term copyright is derived. It's actually a comprehensive set of legal rights, such as the right to publish the work in any form or the right to translate the work into other languages. The owner of these rights—the copyright holder, which is usually the author but could be someone who bought, inherited, or otherwise acquired the copyright—can sell or license the rights to others. Book authors, for example, license their work to book publishers. The publishers then edit, print, distribute, and sell the books on behalf of the author. Without copyright protection, anyone could steal the product of another person's intellectual effort and profit from it.
Copyright does not protect a work indefinitely. Different jurisdictions have different rules, but it's not uncommon for copyright protection to last for fifty or seventy years beyond the author's lifetime. If a corporation or some other entity is considered to be the author, copyright protection normally lasts for fifty or seventy years after the work was created. These are just guidelines, because the rules are actually quite complex and depend on when and where the work was created as well as who created it.
Most works today—and this includes the text on a Web page—are protected by copyright, even if there is no copyright declaration shown on the work itself. Copyright protection is implicit and occurs as soon as the work is created. No registration with a government agency is required. (But be sure to consult with a qualified legal professional in your area for all the details.)
When the term of a copyright elapses, the work that was protected by the copyright is said to fall into the public domain. A work in the public domain can be used by anyone for any purpose, without any restrictions or payment. Sometimes authors of copyrighted works relinquish their rights and place the works in the public domain prematurely, before the copyright expires. Sometimes works fall into the public domain by statute. Works created by the United States federal government (but not state and local governments) are normally in the public domain, for example, but there are exceptions.
Note that a work can fall into the public domain in one jurisdiction while still being protected by copyright in another. The novel Gone with the Wind entered the public domain in Australia in 1999, but it's still protected by copyright in the United States, which caused the operators of Project Gutenberg some grief when they made the text available via their Australian site (see www.memwg.com/gone-with-the-wind). The global reach of the Internet may expose you to legal liability if you use copyrighted works in your material. Unless you're absolutely sure that a work is in the public domain, you must obtain the permission of the copyright owner to include the work on your Web site. Your best defense is to avoid problems by not including anyone else's material on your site (just link to it) and to write all content yourself.