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SEO and writing for the web

The key to writing for the web is the old writing rule – know your audience. To serve that audience, you have to provide them

  1. valuable information,
  2. that they can find (search engine optimized), and
  3. that they can understand (optimized for on-screen reading).

I will leave creating valuable content for a different post, and today I’ll address items 2 & 3.

2. Do your keyword research: reflect your reader’s language

insights for search patterns for writing terms
Writing for your audience means using their language, not yours. And, what’s amazing is you can find out what they’re saying by asking the search engines.

Search engine records provide real time information on what people are looking for in their own words.  What a treasure trove!

Keyword ToolAll you have to do is ask Google to “listen in” and you’ll get guidance on how to speak to your audience, and how to help them find you all at the same time. Keyword research is market research.

The image on the left is a screenshot from Google insights for search comparing “writing for the web” “seo writing” “web copywriting” and “search engine optimized writing”. On the right is the Google AdWords Keyword tool, started with four key word phrases and expanded the list to give me data on 100 phrases based on the words I started with. Try these tools out.

To improve your web writing:

  • Explore the words used to describe your product or service, no doubt you will learn something valuable.
  • And then, write content that emphasizes the high traffic phrases that fit your content. While this sounds like a “duh” you would be surprised by how unconsciously folks revert back to their internal-speak when they write for the web.

3. Write for reading on a screen


Your dear reader might have several applications open. She might be reading on a smartphone on a bus. She might think she’s concentrating, but multitasking is less effective than focused attention, most likely her attention is diffuse.

Additionally, reading on a screen happens more slowly and with less comprehension than reading from a page. Jakob Nielson has compiled a meaty  list of web reading studies and information.

So, copy written for the web needs to be more scannable.

  • Prepare bullets and lists instead of long discursive paragraphs,
  • Break up long text with images and illustrations to get your message across, and
  • Use simpler language than you might for a reader with more focus.

There are several online readability tests that allow you to get feedback on the grade level of your web copy. But, Microsoft Word will also tell you the grade level of copy in your file, so there are lots of ways to assess this. You might take this a bit further and assess your copy against your competitors’ web prose, and compare to more general online sites you value (such as the New York Times online) to give you a general target level. You might find you’re writing at way too high a level to be digestible on the web.

Build on Success

Do your research – research the words and double check the scanability and reading level of   your web writing before you publish it. And then, in the best tradition of the web, assess what is successful and keep on making it more findable and valuable to people and to search engines alike.

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2 Responses to "SEO and writing for the web"

  • Liz
    September 29, 2010 - 10:36 am Reply

    I haven’t used ‘insights for search’ but it’s handy for knowing the trends of what people are looking for. Also you’ve got a great point about writing for people on the go, why not help them out by emphasizing specific points in your copy and make it interesting with images and illustrations :-)

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