Writing for the Web: Writing for Humans and Bots
Writing for the web has evolved quite a bit over the years. The outdated practices of keyword stuffing and writing to appeal only to bots have thankfully given way to a more natural linguistic approach. This is because, just as all technologies, search bots have come a long way. Today’s bots can recognize natural speech patterns, enabling us to write for the end user rather than a machine. This is great news all around. Web content can be less stiff while still ranking among top SERPS, and searchers enjoy higher-quality content that is simply easier to consume.
Still, while this is a positive development for us all, it does mean that those of us who create SEO-optimized content may need a bit of a refresher course in current best practices for writing for the web – and appealing to both human site visitors and search bots alike. Here are some key tips for striking that balance.
Keyword inclusion: Act natural
Including keywords in content used to be achieved by a pretty rigid practice: keyword-stuffing. These days, however, such shady tactics are sure to get your content marked as spam and penalized in search results. Ending keyword stuffing means we all have a better experience while surfing the web, but what does this mean for working keywords into writing?
The best advice here is to include keywords where they flow naturally. Some places are still particularly good for keywords, of course: You should include your exact keyword phrase in your title whenever possible, or at least in an H2 title. But beyond that, working your keyword phrase naturally through your content is your best bet. Can’t fit it exactly? That’s okay! Today’s bots are smart enough to pick up on it if you change things up. If your keyword is Tampa dermatologist, for example, you can work the phrase into a sentence such as, In search of a dermatologist in the Tampa area?
Learn (and use) the inverted pyramid model
Today’s readers have shorter attention spans than ever. That’s not a harsh judgement or anything like that – it’s just the reality in an age where so much information is readily available. Readers – and especially internet users – must be extremely discerning about what information is worth their time.
When writing for the web, it’s important to keep this knowledge in mind, and a good way to act on that is to structure your content in the classic “inverted pyramid” model. This structure basically says to put the most important and relevant information at the beginning of each piece of writing, with more tangential information worked in later. If you open with tangential details, readers will give up on your content quickly. But by writing in an inverted pyramid, you ensure that your reader takes away the most important piece of information even if they only read a paragraph.
Make your writing scannable
Very few people who click on a blog post are prepared to read a long-form piece full of lengthy, unbroken paragraphs that rival Dickens or Melville. Splitting content into manageable chunks enables readers to scan through the piece and find what they’re looking for easily. Make sure to use plenty of subheads, as well as bullet points or other kinds of lists to keep things moving along. Including pictures and other visuals is also helpful for breaking up the monotony of long pieces of writing.
Keep sentences short, simple – and active
If you want to reach a wide audience, you’ll need to consider your writing from a sentence level as well. Your audience isn’t a captive one – they won’t stick around to read more of your content if they can’t get through a single sentence. In general, shorter sentences with simpler words make for better content when writing for the web. This isn’t universally true, and sometimes longer sentences are necessary for one reason or another. But a good rule of thumb is to keep sentences comfortably under 30-35 words.
Besides this, you should also be wary of the structure you use for sentences. Take care not to use too much passive voice, as passive sentences can sometimes confuse readers. There’s a time and a place for everything, of course, and sometimes passive voice helps convey information more effectively. But these sentences can take longer to parse, so consider rearranging passive sentences when you can.
Avoid jargon where possible
When writing for the web, remember that you’re speaking to everyone, not just industry insiders. You should know the language of your industry perfectly, but using complicated, industry-specific jargon is sure to confuse and alienate your readers. When you must use jargon – if you’re writing a post that attempts to explain an industry concept, for example – either define the term very clearly or link to a post (maybe your own!) that does.
Always close with a strong CTA
Writing informative blog posts is important, but you should always give your reader something to do with the information they just received via a CTA – a call to action. If your reader has reached the end of your post, chances are they were pretty interested in what you had to say. And, if you’re writing posts relevant to what your business has to offer, this is a pretty good place to have them follow you on social media, sign up for your email list, or get in touch for a quote. They’re free to ignore the CTA, of course – but they’re far less likely to take action if you don’t even ask!
How Do You Approach Writing for the Web?
These aren’t the only things that go into writing effectively for a web-based audience. And of course, the content marketing landscape is constantly shifting – today’s best practices might be tomorrows do-nots. At Elevation Marketing, we’re constantly staying up to date in the digital marketing space, whether its how we write, plan, or implement a new strategy. Contact us today to discover how we can help bring your digital strategy not just up to speed, but ahead of the game.