What is Web Content?

Web Content

It goes without saying that web content is the content of websites. However, the topic is actually a relatively complex one. Despite the importance of Web development technologies and Web design, the single most important aspect of any site is its content. Content makes the difference between a website's success and failure. This is therefore a vital topic for anyone involved in the Web, particularly where business is concerned. In this article we will run over the different types of Web content, explain the ways in which this content is delivered to website users and overview a couple of the most important associated technologies and techniques.

Text

By far the most common type of content on websites is text. Text content appears on pretty much every website you are likely to come across. The text within a website includes not only the excerpts you see within the page, but also the titles of pages, the domain for the site as a whole and lots of textual items that appear within the markup of each page.

In the past, many webmasters have attempted to manipulate the search engines to drive traffic to sites by targeting keywords and phrases within website text. The aim in this approach is to make a site appear as close to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) for those phrases as possible, making it more likely that people searching for those phrases will visit that particular site. However, the search engine algorithms are always growing in complexity and reducing the effectiveness of this technique. For this reason, the best way to make a site perform well is to simply publish textual and other material that is relevant to the purpose of the site and that provides high quality, useful information.

Although there is little point structuring text content to artificially draw search engine traffic, there is a real art to writing successfully for the Web. People read text differently on the Web than on printed media, with more of a tendency to scan content and less tolerance for text excerpts that are lengthy. Successful Web writing typically involves shorter sentences and clauses, rather than long, complex sentences with lots of punctuation. It is also worth bearing in mind that your readers may be reading in a second language, as they could be from literally anywhere in the world.

Media

Web media comes in many forms, including images, audio/ sound, video, animations and interactive variants on each of these. When deploying media items on websites, there are a number of potential issues to consider. These issues relate to the range of users who will be accessing a site. We have all become accustomed to seeing various types of media when we visit websites, and expect a high level of stimulation in general. Media items can make a site very engaging, but bring with them a range of considerations.

Users can be browsing to a site on a vast range of device types, operating systems and Web browsers. This means that for a successful site, developers and webmasters need to choose content items that are as accessible as possible to this range of environments. For example, if a user is browsing on a mobile device such as a smartphone, they may have limited connectivity. For this reason, many developers look to minimize the size of media resources such as graphics and other digital images, to reduce the download time as far as possible.

For interactive media, users with varied types of hardware control also need to be considered. Many sites are designed to facilitate interaction using a mouse and keyboard, but users of mobile and other portable computing devices such as tablet PCs do not have these in the same way as for a desktop PC. In some cases, developers opt to provide alternative content items for users without the required hardware or software. For example, many media items, particularly video and audio, require specific software programs to be installed on the user device in order to play. This can again cause accessibility issues.

Data

Much web content can also be described as data. A typical example of this would be a retail site in which products are listed for sale, each with a name, description, price and so on. In such cases, this data is normally stored within a database system. When the user visits a site, the content of the site is pulled from the database and presented within the pages. If the user makes a purchase, the database is also updated with this new information. Web content data can include text, numerical figures and even media items. Often, the data is arranged in structured ways within these databases, using data modelling techniques.

Static and Dynamic

Web content is delivered to the user's Web browser in more than one way. In the past, websites simply involved a series of HTML files and media files stored on the server. When the user visited the page, these were simply sent to their browser and displayed there. This was described as static. With the advance in Web technologies, dynamic techniques emerged.

The retail website example is a typical one here. With the product information stored within a database, the pages in such a website are actually built when the user visits them, i.e. when their browser requests them. When the user's browser requests a page, instead of simply returning the page, the Web server runs a program which fetches data from the database, builds it into a page structure in HTML and then sends that to the browser where it is presented to the user.

Dynamic web content allows sites to use one data store which can be queried from multiple site pages. If there is any need to change the data, it only needs to be changed within the database and this change will be reflected throughout the site.

Content Management Systems

Content Management Systems are commonly used throughout the Web. A Content Management System, or CMS, bridges the gap between the data and the resulting Web pages, automating the process of generating one from the other. Most CMS programs are designed to be usable by people who do not have Web development skills. This means that as a user of a CMS, you can build the content of your site without having to write any code at all. Among the most widely used CMS options are Joomla, Wordpress and Drupal.

Uses of Content

Web content is used to serve a variety of purposes. For example, many commercial ventures use content to attract users to their sites, or Web properties. For example, many people publish articles on sites that are separate to their main site for the purposes of driving traffic to that site. Blogs are a common way to achieve this, with content that is related to the purpose of a site linking back to it.

Conclusion

As you can see, Web content is about much more than simply the text and images you place on a website. Content can be a valuable online asset and is frequently used as a marketing tool. Above all else, it doesn't matter how many complex and impressive technical efforts go into the construction of a site, if the content is not up to standard. By focusing on content first and foremost, website owners have a better chance of success, whatever their aims happen to be.

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