Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings has written a useful article on what makes great web copy and how it differs from offline brochure material….

Pretend you don’t know anything about what your company offers and you stumbled onto it somehow. Can you tell immediately what it’s all about? Can the search engines? Do this exercise with each inner page of the site as well. Is what each page has to offer, truly crystal clear? Or does your website presume that people already know who you are and what you’re about. If it’s the latter, you may have an online brochure on your hands, which isn’t a good thing.

One of the differences between a website and a printed brochure is that a brochure is often requested by people who already know about the company, but who are looking for more specific information regarding their offerings. Although not ideal, for those browsing the websites of companies they are already familiar with, an online brochure may certainly suffice. Which is probably why so many websites seem to be written like one! Often, when a website is originally designed and written, nobody thinks about the fact that people unfamiliar with the company might be visiting it. However, if you want to gain new customers from the search engines, i.e., people looking for your type of product or service (or even information) who never heard of you before, they need to know within a few seconds that they’ve landed in the right place.

Do you have what they want?

For these folks—and their numbers grow everyday—it’s critical for your website to let them know immediately that they’re in the right place and that you have exactly what they’re looking for. Searchers, by their very nature, are seeking stuff. If you have what they want, then for heaven’s sake, display this information clearly, boldly and succinctly on every page of your website.

It’s important to do this on every page is because, unlike a brochure, people coming from search engines can and will enter your website from any page. There is no linear progression. No beginning, middle or end to a website. Each page is a gateway to every other page, and many people may never even see your home page. But that’s okay if you’ve done your job properly.

Minimally, each page of your website should have a paragraph of text at the beginning that provides a descriptive summary of what the rest of that page contains. The beauty of doing this is that it’s not only extremely helpful to your website visitors, but also to the search engines. This is why it’s so important to be as descriptive as you possibly can—you’re serving two audiences with the same interests, and neither of them may know anything about you when they first get there.

Being descriptive on your website is often as simple as using the keyword phrases people might be typing into a search engine in a natural manner within your existing copy. You’re presumably providing people with information on your pages already. If your content isn’t using your keyword phrases, you should be asking yourself why not? Interestingly enough, writing descriptively provides you with the opportunity to tell those who don’t know anything about you, i.e., search engines and potential new customers, all about your offerings in the simplest manner possible.

Being descriptive just makes sense!

You may have seen websites that have been “optimized” by simply sticking keyword phrases at the top of each page, or by stuffing them into headlines or other places where they don’t really make sense. While this may, in fact, work to tell search engines what the page is all about, it often looks silly to your website visitors because it’s clearly not done for their benefit. Users may not even notice those keyword phrases in a lighter/smaller font stuck in a place they wouldn’t normally be looking. Instead of showing them right off the bat that they found what they were seeking when they started their original search, they are left to scratch their heads in wonderment. If there are no paragraphs of text staring them in the face providing them with this knowledge, it’s easy enough for them to click back to the search engine and buy from the next website in the list.

Don’t lose them before you even have a chance to sell to them

Once a person is at your site, if you actually do provide what they’re looking for, the worst thing that can happen is for you to lose them to your competitor simply because they couldn’t immediately see that you had what they needed. Unfortunately, this is an all too common occurrence with websites that were created without any thought to search engines, or as an online brochure intended for those already familiar with your brand.

Take a look at your website with fresh eyes. Enlist the help of others who may not already be familiar with your website, and see if they can tell right off the bat, what it’s all about. If they can’t, most likely you will find that you have some work ahead of you in this respect; but don’t despair! The benefits of clearly describing your product or service offerings will far outweigh the time investment. What you will find when you fix your pages in this way is a snowball effect. Your search engine rankings will increase, your targeted traffic will increase, your bounce rate will decrease, and your conversions will soar.

Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings, a search marketing firm outside of Boston, and co-founder of SEMNE, a New England search marketing networking organization, has been performing SEO since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.