Writing for the Web: Seven Quick Tips to Make Search Engines (and Your Audience!) Happy

search engines

Revisiting, creating or updating your website copy is an intimidating task, especially if you’re in an industry where writing creatively isn’t something you do every day. (Or think about … ever.) I know what happens: Once you get the sentences on paper, you start to overthink things. You’re worrying about every word: Wait…should I really use a contraction? What the heck is a semicolon for, anyway? Maybe you start to get lazy and just copy a paragraph from other sections here and there, thinking it won’t be a big deal if the same copy shows up twice. No one will notice, right? Wrong! Search engines will.

And chances are your audience will, too. Writing for the web differs from any other writing project you do on a daily basis, so you have to think about it differently. That might even mean – gasp! – defying typical conventions you thought were canon. Here are some of my favorite tips for writing web copy.

  1. The best thing you’ve got going for you is your own unique voice. Use it! Don’t think that just because you’re a subject matter expert, you have to talk like one. Instead, write to your audience as if you’re having a casual conversation with them. They’ll enjoy it much more than if the content was full of tongue-twisting technical jargon. Plus, search engines look favorably on conversational language rather than force-feeding your technical keywords to them. (More on that in point #6.)
  2. Avoid duplicate content across pages. You might be tempted to use some of the same copy on different pages because it seems relevant. However, this can really confuse both your audience and search engines. Remember, a search engine has one goal: to provide the best answer it can to a given query. If it’s looking at two identical answers, how does it know which one to display? It doesn’t—and it might think you’re actively trying to dupe the search engines, which can lead to ranking penalties. Just remember that each page should have its own dedicated topic. If you feel the need to duplicate your copy, re-evaluate your need for that page in the first place.
  3. Be a rebel. Feel free to do those things that your high school English teacher told you not to! For instance—you can use contractions. You can use second person. You can use exclamation points! You can even start a sentence with a conjunction if you’re feeling frisky. Just make sure it works and fits with your voice. Not sure if it does? Read it out loud. Does it feel okay? Did you trip over it? Take note and adjust.
  4. Make your content easy to skim. Don’t be afraid of bullet points or subheads. The truth is, people on the web scan. They want to quickly absorb information, so make it easy for them. However, keep in mind that there is a right and wrong way to use heading tags in code, and search engines take a critical look at what you think is important enough to be a header. So your headers will need to be tagged correctly (your web team will likely handle this part), and they need to contain the right content.
  5. Use active voice as much as possible. Quick English lesson: active voice means the subject of the sentence is performing the action. Passive voice means that the subject of the sentence is having the action performed on it. For example, active voice: Jen is writing this blog post. Passive voice: This blog post was written by Jen. Active voice is succinct, direct and to the point.
  6. Incorporate keywords into your content, but remember to write for people, not search engines. Keyword stuffing is a thing of the past, and it can get you into a heck of a lot of trouble if you’re trying to rank in Google. Revise content so that keywords will fit in naturally. When in doubt, go with a sentence a reader would enjoy, not a search engine.
  7. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Bad grammar or a poorly constructed sentence can look like keyword stuffing or gibberish to search engines (and people!).

Still having trouble? It could be time to let the experts take over. If you need help organizing your content or nailing down your content strategy, give Flying Cork a call!