Writing for Search Engines AND Humans
Writing for search engines and writing for human readers are not mutually exclusive exercises. Search engines want to give searchers the best and most relevant results, so they value many of the same things human readers do; copy which is original, easy to read and well laid-out. Following SEO best practices for copy writing should make your website content easier to read and simpler to navigate.
Relevancy is a big component of Google’s search algorithm, so if you want to rank for the term “things to do in Sydney”, you need to make sure you use the term “things to do in Sydney” throughout your site, and especially in prominent places like headlines.
Having said this, using keywords too much is bad for both readers and search engines. Readers may get turned off by badly written sentences or headlines stuffed with keywords, and may not return to your site. Search engines may infer that a keyword stuffed site is spammy, which will negatively affect your search rankings.
The best strategy for any website to achieve a balance of SEO-friendly and human-friendly content is to write your copy as if it was for a human with a short attention span and no assumed knowledge. That is, make it clear and to the point.
When you are writing for the web, you are hoping that someone will find your content and read it. To make that happen, you have to make sure that your content contains the kinds of words people will actually search for. By matching your copy to the way people search, you can ensure that more people will find your content.
The following are some examples where the industry terms for products are different to the way customers described them
- Motor insurance vs Car insurance
- Footwear vs Shoes
- Fragrance vs Perfume
- Manchester vs Bedding
When writing a story, try and think of the different ways people might describe your topic. If you need help with finding out how to discover relevant keywords, read our advice on creating a keyword list for a website. While you won’t want to do this for every article you write, it’s a good way to get an understanding of keywords.
While quirky headings and puns are very popular in print newspapers and magazines, they should only be used online when they are alongside descriptive keywords. This is because online, people search using keywords, and the only way Google will know if your story is related to what someone is searching for, is if you use the same keywords they are looking for.
For example, an offline newspaper story about PM Julia Gillard was entitled “Code Red”, but anyone searching for stories about Julia Gillard online would use her name. So a better online headline would be “Code Red: Julia Gillard Australia’s PM”. Less catchy, but much easier for people to find.
When writing your headlines, try and think what people might search for if they were looking for this topic, and incorporate it into your headline where possible.
Organising content on your site not only makes it easier for your readers to find the content they are looking for, but it also makes it easier for Google to understand your pages and rank them for relevant searches. You should group common content together and try and avoid putting unrelated content on the same page (with the exception of home or feed pages). For example, if you wanted to discuss both a new gallery opening and a new theatre production, each of these two stories would ideally have their own page.
Similarly, within a single page, setting out your content in an easy to read format for your human readers will be beneficial for search engines. Use paragraphs, headings and subheadings to separate your themes into smaller topics. For example, a page talking about a specific theatre production could be broken into sections such as “Reviews of XYZ”, “Starring in XYZ” and “Viewing Sessions for XYZ”.
Search engines are not yet very adept at reading what an image is about, so if you use an image on your web page, make sure that you use;
- A descriptive alternative text tag; and
- A descriptive file name. It is best not to use file names like “pic.jpg”, “image-1.png”, etc.
These will help search engines understand what your images are about. Alternative text (alt text) is also used by screen readers for the visually impaired, and is displayed if your image cannot be shown for some reason. So alt tags are good for users, as well as search engines.
Having properly tagged images can help make your page more relevant for search engines and increase the possibility of a search engine using that image in its image search results.
If you are using an image which has text or a graph in it which is very important or relevant for your page, you might consider putting a text description next to the image, as well as using alt text.
When uploading images for a story, it is best to;
- Have all your images stored in one place, rather than across multiple directories of your site; and
- Use commonly supported file types, e.g. JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP
If you have a story which is relevant to something else you have written, make sure to include links to the relevant page. This helps search engines understand how pages are related to each other, and shows which pages are most relevant.
When linking within your website, do not use generic anchor text like “click here”. Where possible you want to have descriptive text for the link, for example:
…this was discussed in our previous post on theatre groups.
… more information can be found on the nature photography page
- Anchor text should never be more than a few words
- Links should be formatted differently to text so it is easy to spot, for example in a different colour or underlined
- Do not create unnecessary links, they should only be used for useful information
Header tags (H1, H2, H3 up to H6) help search engines understand the hierarchy of content on your page, and makes it easier for your human readers to navigate.
Your content should be broken into sections, with the most important headline tagged as H1, second most H2, etc.
Meta title is one of the most important aspects of a page for a search engine, plus it is the headline of the snippet people will read in search results. For this reason, you need to make the keywords relevant, but also write it in a way that searchers will want to click through.
Meta descriptions are the description under the title in a search engine result. Try and make them enticing, to encourage people to click through to your story.
Google’s Authorship Markup gives you another way to increase click through in search engines by allowing your authors picture to show with the article snippet. Such a result will stand out more and encourage click through. If you have industry influencers writing for your business you can take advantage of their reputation by showing searchers their recognizable profile photo. Even if you don’t have industry influencers writing for your business, an author picture will still help with click through, because it will help your result stand out.
Interactions and engagement
Customer interaction and engagement is useful as a way to listen to your niche (product reviews, questions, etc), and grow a direct relationship with them. It is also useful from a SEO perspective because lots of interaction with your post signals to Search engines that it is interesting, and new comments keep the page fresh.
Not all the content you create will be suitable for allowing reader comment, but for those pages that are, make sure you encourage interactions by including discussion questions at the ends of your article and responding to comments.
Most content which can be commented on will also encourage readers to share via social media. It can increase sharing or effectiveness if you pinpoint a short sentence or statistic which is most likely to be shared. For example, rather than having a ‘share this’ or ‘like this’ button at the top/bottom of your article, you might want to have something that stands out, e.g.
Include share buttons within your articles to encourage sharing of key points
Share This Now!
This way, you can pinpoint exactly what part of your article you think is shareworthy – and make it instantly shareable. Note that you will need different links for Facebook/Twitter/Etc.