I used to think SEO was silly, just a thing people liked to talk about to sound geeky and smart. I thought if people liked what I wrote about, they would read it. If they don’t like it, they won’t. Well, I’ve been converted. Now I realize that they can’t get the chance to realize they like it if they can’t find it in the first place. I need to do what I can to help make that happen.
July 28, 2012Writing Online: Best Practices and Effective Strategies Presented By Jamie Smith and Angie Albright
What’s this about writing good?(OK, we have to say it. It’s writing well. But anyway . . . )Writing for the web includes:•Considerations of SEO,•People’s online reading habits, and•Effective layout and styles for the online environment.This session offers some up-to-date research aboutonline writing and reading, best practices and concretestrategies for developing effective content for anywriting project, be it your business website or yourpersonal blog.
Your presenters Jamie Smith Angie Albright @JamiesThots @AngieAlbright @JamiesNotes @AGrowingSeasonJamiesThots.com (coming soon) AGrowingSeason.co 1
Writing for spiders and people• Traditional writing is for one audience: the reader.• Online writing is for two audiences: the reader and the web spiders. By web spiders, we mean search engines. This is where SEO (search- engine optimization) becomes vital. It’s the spider food.• Without good spider food, the human readers will never find your content.
What is SEO? How do I get it?• Search-engine optimization is more than just a subject of spam email you receive.• SEO increases the search engine’s ability to find your site and its content compared to all the other “stuff” out there.• Certain techniques both in your writing and behind the scenes will improve your SEO, thus meaning the chance for more people to see your site.
KeywordsWhat are they?Why do I care? Tips• Keywords are the • Make a list of potential keywords before words people writing. might use to find • Use common sense first, then a program something on your like Google Keyword Tools (AdWords). topic. • During editing, add keywords where they• Keywords can be make sense. singular or phrases • Use keywords in the main copy, in the (long-tail keywords) headlines, subheads and in the SEO plug-• Keywords should in (we’ll get to that in a minute). be used frequently, but artfully. Don’t just repeat it a bunch of times.
Links (not the sausage type) Tips: Links are our friend • Link to the website of an organization or company if you mention it.• Hyperlinks provide • Link to your own blog posts or website additional information pages if you refer to a topic you’ve already written about. for your reader on the • Use the hyperlink tool (looks like a topic. sideways 8) instead of listing the actual link.• Hyperlinks enhance • Don’t feel the need to link to every single thing. It is irritating to the credibility. reader’s eyes and will tell the search• Hyperlinks increase engines that you’re trying too hard. SEO.
Behind the scenesPlugins and formatting help! Tips:• SEO in WordPress is • Use plug-ins like “All in One easy because there are SEO Pack” and make sure you built-in tools for keep it updated. enhancing SEO. • Actually take the time to fill out• Keywords are easily the information on every page and every post for the plug-in. seen but a few “tricks of • Pay attention to character the trade” help you get limits (160 for description). Use the most out of your keywords in the description. SEO.
A few formatting tricksFormat helps spiders and readers Tips:• In each post, different tools • Break up the copy into help increase SEO and make the content easier for the human sections using subheads (use eye to read. These tools are keywords!) located at the top of the page.• Remember the outlines you • Use bold print and at least one had to do in high school? It’s of the headline options for the same concept, but it’s easier (and more fun). Using subheads. Don’t just increase subheads and lists can help the font size and use bold. you organize your writing.• Features like the • Use number or bulleted lists bulleted/number lists and instead of long sentences. Use changing the format style make great spider food. numbers when the order• Using a picture increases SEO matters, bullets when it does and makes the post more not. interesting to look at.
The good, the bad, and the ugly (not necessarily in that order)A FEW EXAMPLES
Which would you rather read?This is an old blog I wrote before I understood about SEO and online readability. Good content, but poorly laid outand hard to read. Notice long paragraphs, no subheads and no lists. Popular topic but this post got hardly any hits.
Good use of linksThis example from Angie’s blog A Growing Season shows agood use of links. Notice they are informative but notoverwhelming.
Bulleted and numbered listsThis excerpt from the blog Jamie wrote for the ArkansasWomen Bloggers site shows a good use of links, bulleted listsand numbered lists. The numbered lists are only used when anorder is needed. Otherwise, bullets are more appropriate.
Use varying subheadsThis blog from Jim Westergren (ironically, about SEO and WordPress)shows good use of varying headline styles. Tells the reader thatcertain important topics fit under a category but it also tells thespiders that this blog talks about those topics.
Who am I online?• In other words, what is the appropriate voice for writing online? – Consider audience - consider age, demographic, subject matter – Consider genre – consider personal blog, business blog, company website – Be careful of being too cute or too formal – Be consistent! • Stay in first, second, or third person • Use consistent tone throughout
How do we read online?• The standard for understanding how people read and see online content is Jakob Nielsen’s 2006 study.• He formulated the oft-cited theory that we read in an F-pattern online.
What do we read online?• Apparently we read • Readers use hyperlinks very little! Studies most frequently, indicate that viewers followed by buttons, read approximately 18- and then the “back” 28% of web page button. content.• Much of that “reading” is actually just skimming.
So what’s a writer to do?• Use strong, active sentences – Cut out “there are” and “it is.” – Make sure the subject of the sentence is a noun doing the action indicated in the verb. (This forces the writer to find interesting verbs!) For example: Okay: There are very few people in this room. Better: Few people attended the session.
So what’s a writer to do? (cont.)• Cut out wordiness, which is sometimes hard to spot.For example:Okay: The website content writers are accustomed to writing for search engines and robots.Better: Content developers often write for search engines.
What’s a writer to do? (cont.)• Get rid of the passive voice – Passive voice construction pushes the subject to the end of the sentence. – Active voice keeps the subject at the beginning of the sentence. For example: Passive: The website was monitored by the tech company. Active: The tech company monitored the website.
What’s a writer to do? (cont.)• Ditch the qualifiers! Be assertive! – Consider the difference between these three statements: • We believe that customer service is our most important value. • Customer service is our most important value. • Our company values customer service.
So what’s a writer to do? (cont.)• Punctuate effectively – Do not use semi-colons (this one hurts) – Journalism rule of commas applies online: do not use a comma before the last item in a series • For example: I like trees, butterflies and flowers. – Exclamation points – perhaps the most overused punctuation mark online. Very few occasions actually call for an exclamation point. – Contractions: not acceptable in formal writing; acceptable for less formal, especially in a personal blog or writing that sounds personal
So why bother if no one is reading?• So you stay out of trouble: • Avoid plagiarism (even copying and pasting your own work) • Represent yourself or your company professionally • Avoid vague or false claims
So why bother if no one is reading?• Good writing still matters! – Good writing should go relatively unnoticed. – Bad writing stands out and diminishes the company’s/writer’s credibility. – A few people will read a good bit of the content. – Google recently changed its algorithms to make legitimate content rank higher in its search results. – To save our society from complete devolution into monosyllabic utterances.
Resources• The Grammarist – www.grammarist.com• “Lazy Eyes. How we read online.” By Michael Agger, June 13, 2008. Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/the_browser/200 8/06/lazy_eyes.html• Grammar Goddess – www.grammargoddess.com• “Writing Online: Best Practices.” Groundwire: http://groundwire.org/resources/articles/writing-online-best- practices• “SEO for WordPress – The Complete Guide.” By Jim Westergren, March 17, 2007: http://www.jimwestergren.com/seo-for-wordpress-blogs/