Writing effectively for the Web and SEO

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What has writing got to do with SEO?

One of the main tools in the arsenal of an SEO practitioner are the posts on external blogs, which when done right offer both a contextual link to a URL of your choice on what are often great quality sites, as well as some genuinely interesting, useful or persuasive  text. Often however, the quality of the writing is overlooked either because of a propensity towards quantity over quality – which at the extreme end of the scale leads to automatically spun articles which are unintelligible to human eyes – or because authors fail to draw a distinction between the thorough and lengthy discourse through which their respective qualifications were earned, and the short but insightful prose that characterises good web copy. SEOs will spend a large portion of their time writing copy for various purposes, including but not limited to search optimised press releases – either in tandem with or independent of traditional/standard releases – the external blog posts mentioned above and also any optimised on-page content, which as well as making Google’s bots happy needs to be useful to users as well. Making the copy functional and easy to read should also in theory increase traffic, metrics and ultimately the usefulness of the link.

What Makes Good Web Copy?

The watchword when writing for the web is brevity; don’t use 5 words when 1 will do, as users’ time online is already saturated with paragraph after paragraph of written text surrounded by a cavalcade of other  media all vying for their attention and cash. SEO Optimised Content WritingOne way to get information across to readers as quickly as possible is to take a leaf out of journalism’s book and execute the ‘inverted pyramid’, again a technique at odds with the academic style of writing that most professionals will be familiar with. Instead of writing in what some might call a more logical format i.e. setting out the premise, making several points and then coming to a conclusion, inverted pyramid writing suggests that articles should be written with the most important information at the start, leading on to less important and background information further on in the text. The practice originates from early newsrooms, where articles that went over on word-count were literally ‘cut’ from the bottom upwards before being placed in the press for printing. This meant that writers had to fit in all the vital information early, so that  if copy was cut from the bottom – or in our case busy web users only read a small section before moving on – readers still get the most amount of pertinent information wherever they dropped out of the article.
Of course this doesn’t apply to all web writing, but mainly articles that are unlikely to have been specifically searched for per se. If a user is looking for a certain research paper or instructional article, then they will be prepared to take more time to absorb the information and stay the course, they won’t do this however for an article they’ve merely stumbled across. According to research by Jakob Nielsen, users read web pages in an “F” shape, meaning that it might be a good idea to place any ‘hook’ within the area that the eye tracking software in Nielsen’s research has highlighted, and in terms of writing and formatting in order to directly optimise your blog posts for search engines, Samuel Axon at Mashable suggests a few things to remember:
  • Where possible include your targeted keywords in the title of your post, as Google assumes the first thing it comes across i.e. the title, is the most important.
  • If writing on your own site’s blog, link relevant terms to earlier posts and appropriate external sites in order to build credibility.
  • Don’t over or under-use tags in your posts. Between 5 and 10 is the optimum level, any more and you risk being penalised by Google for adding unrelated terms, and any less will mean you’re not making the most of their search benefits.
Other examples of ways in which the format and style of an article can be manipulated in order to keep the attention of web users include basing article around a “Top Ten” premise in order that copy be presented in more easily digestible sections. Another way to do this includes bullet pointed lists, something which you will also see used a lot online with regards to informational articles, and providing information that in all honesty most users could find themselves via Google search, but in a way that collates these sources and makes the information slightly easier to find.

Writing Should Be Fit-For-Purpose

How exactly you write on the web also differs between formats and purpose, for example press releases should follow most of the advice in terms of brevity and getting information across, but the ultimate aim here is not to keep readers interested and on the page, but for journalists to pick up the story for their publications, two entirely different objectives. The latter involves showcasing your ‘hook’ – the thing that makes the story a viable prospect for publication and therefore consumption by readers as opposed to selling yourself – so that journalists want to run with your story. Ultimately, you should put yourself in the readers’ shoes and ask yourself if the copy your writing will be of any use to them, the end-user. Hopefully this will mean an increase in the value of any of your content in terms of search, and will help you avoid churning out ‘spammy’ content.