Writing for Search Engines: Demystifying SEO

SEO may seem like just another confusing acronym, but it is not as complicated as it sounds. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is simply a fancy term for adapting the content of a website so that it will appear higher in search engine results.

SEO SpidersWhenever someone types a term into a search engine, that engine’s web crawlers or “spiders” (cue an image of the robot spiders hunting for Tom Cruise in Minority Report) scan the web looking for sites relevant to that term. Fortunately, we don’t need to crack the complex search algorithms involved in this process (but you can read Google’s enlightening explanation of “How Search Works”). There are some basic guidelines that can be followed to ensure that your content, or the online copy that you’re writing for your boss, will appear higher up in the search results.

Choose, and use, relevant keywords

This may be the simplest and most well-known SEO technique. Is your blog about cooking? Make sure you write with words that people will use when they search for topics related to cooking. You may be tempted to employ cutesy titles such as “A Bowl of Cheesy Goodness,” but a more straightforward title such as “Broccoli Cheese Soup for Cold Winter Days” is more likely to show up when your readers search for “broccoli cheese soup recipe.” Also, be sure to think of possible alternate search terms, such as “chocolate icing” for “chocolate frosting.” If you’re having trouble choosing good keywords, then consider using a site like wordtracker.com

However, there is such a thing as too many keywords. Search engines now employ algorithms to detect “keyword stuffing.” The best away to avoid keyword stuffing is simply to write well. Write in a conversational, natural fashion, instead of trying to repeat the same word as many times as possible. This will enhance the experience for your reader, as well as keep your page from being labeled as spam.

Being connected through links

In a world that thrives on social media and other forms of online connection, it is no surprise that having a popular, well-connected website will increase your search engine visibility.  A moderate amount of relevant links on your site will rank well with search engines. Internally, you can link to your own content. For example, whenever you reference information that you have posted about previously, link back to that page. When giving your reader instructions, such as how to buy your company’s product, provide links to the different parts of the process.

Outbound links are also important. Links to other well-designed webpages about the same topic show that your site is thorough and well-informed. When other pages start linking to your webpage, that is even better, because now you are being identified as a reliable source. The better connected you are, ingoing and outgoing, the more visibility you get and the more the search engines are going to like you.

I know you love my headings… Well, Google search does too.

Good site organization is important for multiple reasons. It arranges your content in a way that is easier for the reader to follow and consequently, that makes it easier for the search engine spiders to find what they’re looking for. Instead of writing your page in essay format, dump those MLA-style transitions and use headings to organize your information. This is also a great, non-spam-y way to boost your keyword count. Breadcrumbs and a sitemap are other ways to make your site easy to navigate, and they also increase the number of internal links on your site.

Search engines: A new kind of user

SEO is really just another type of technical writing. At its core, technical writing seeks to communicate information to users in an understandable way. SEO simply adds a new user to the mix: the search engine. And as you optimize your content for the search engine, you are improving your content for your human readers too. After all, these three basic guidelines encourage you to write well with relevant vocabulary, be well-informed and well-connected to other sites that support your information, and organize your content effectively. What could be more user-friendly than that?

-Marianne Goodlin

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