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March 28, 2018   |   10 min read

Get Schooled on the Basics of SEO Writing

Google is far from a forgiving grader.

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher tasked my classmates and I with writing one short story each week. The goal? To help us improve our writing skills. And as we wrote, we were encouraged to keep a thesaurus nearby. This was so we could swap out smaller words for larger ones. “You used exultant instead of happy? Way to go!” Mrs. S. would say. The message became clear—good writing required fancy words. And it was one that sunk in.

Until I entered the world of digital marketing and search engine optimization.

As I began optimizing content for the web, it became apparent that the larger words make for better writing mantra did not always hold true. That’s because when it comes to writing for SEO vs. writing a short story or an essay, sometimes the best practices are just, different.

Are you writing digital copy based on rules from school? Explore these four common Language Arts lessons, and whether they’re applicable to SEO.

Lesson #1: Complex Words = Better Copy

Lesson 1 

NOT APPLICABLE: Fancy terms don’t always equate to better website copy. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. It all comes down to readability. Large or overly intellectual words make content difficult to understand.

Even users capable of navigating a maze of syllables don’t necessarily want to. While 50% of people can comprehend text at an eighth-grade reading level, most prefer text that’s written at least two grades below their max level of understanding.

blog graph

Why should copywriters and SEOs care? Because the more work it takes to interpret a page, the less likely a user is to stay on-site (let alone convert). Moreover, repeat bounces off of a webpage may in time lead Google to devalue it within search results.

Reteach yourself to:

  • Use a variety of sentence lengths and layman’s terms; this will ensure you’re writing at or below the maximum grade level comprehended by your target audience.
  • Spot the difference between words that are pointlessly complex vs. industry jargon that users may be expecting (after all, there are exceptions to every rule).
  • Run each piece of copy through a readability test, like those based on the Flesch-Kincaid scale.

Lesson #2: Use the 3.5 Essay Format

Lesson 2 

NOT APPLICABLE: While the general concept of an intro and a conclusion connected by three supporting paragraphs is sensible, this exact format is prone to leave SEO wanting. Specifically, in two areas:

1. Skimmable Text. While solid (and sometimes sizeable) blocks of text may suit an essay, they aren’t always best for online reading. Users are typically looking to learn quickly and efficiently, which means they need the ability to skim key points—something largely unachievable when faced with a page full of traditional paragraphs. Remember, users forced to work too hard often bounce.

2. Sub-Headers. When penning an essay, writing a clear first sentence is enough to highlight a sub-topic. When writing for SEO, it’s not. Cue sub-headers. These on-page elements are important, as they support SEO in a couple of ways. First, they make key points easier to skim (reference #1 above). Second, they offer good opportunities to insert keywords, as headers tend to hold more weight than regular text.

Reteach yourself to:

  • Use bulleted or numbered lists to highlight key points or items on a page, or turn information into a table or chart. Need more convincing? When deciding on sites to display within certain types of Featured Snippets, Google looks for pages with these or similar formats.
  • Write paragraphs of varying lengths—not all of them need to meet a five-sentence minimum.
  • Bold, italicize or underline key points, phrases and words for added emphasis.
  • Add sub-headers to organize and introduce related topics within a page—include a keyword if possible.

Lesson #3: Your Writing Should Meet a Minimum Length

Lesson 3

APPLICABLE: In school, you may have been asked to write a minimum number of pages. In digital marketing, SEOs challenge copywriters to meet a minimum word count of 250 per page.

Why stretch your content? It gives Google more to go off! Less copy means less information is available for search engines to perceive the focus of a webpage. This may result in lower rankings if Google can’t confidently match your topic with a user’s keyword search.

Apply this lesson by:

  • Making sure your key pages and blog posts meet the recommended minimum.
  • Challenging yourself to go for extra credit—write an occasional 1,500+ word post (long form content tends to rank well and often holds more value for users).

Lesson #4: Put Your Name on Your Paper!

Lesson 4

APPLICABLE: Obviously. But as many times as your teacher harped on this, they were trying to instill an important SEO writing habit within you. Authorship is important to establishing your brand’s credibility, and as such, has even been pegged by many as a 2018 SEO trend to watch.

This trend is due in large part to the growing number of unreliable stories surfacing the web. So many in fact that in November 2017, The Trust Project started rolling out an established set of eight “Trust Indicators” used to draw attention to credible, online journalism.

Apply this lesson by:

  • Adding an actual person’s name to each blog post and article—stories authored by “Brand” or “Our Team” won’t cut it.
  • Wrapping your author’s name in schema code, to remind search engines exactly who wrote the post.
  • Ensuring you and other authors have bios available—this not only lets users know who posted, but what qualifies them to write on a topic.

Outclass the others with an exceptional page ranking.

While some writing lessons need to be re-thought in the name of SEO, others still fundamentally apply. Let’s review:

  • Complex words don’t lead to better copy.
  • Unfollow the 3.5 essay format.
  • Keep meeting those established minimum lengths.
  • Continue attaching a real name to each blog post.
compare chart 

Follow these rules when writing for SEO, throw in some appropriately placed keywords and climb up Google’s grading scale.

Class dismissed!

* This post was written by a former Early Childhood Education major.

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