In the modern era of search engines there is a marked difference between writing for an online search “spider” and writing for a real person.
In order to have a successful website, it is vital to combine these two very different styles of writing into one cohesive whole that will maintain readership while allowing new readers to find the content via various search engines.
At first, these may seem like two mutually exclusive goals.
Since Google rolled out the Panda update, it has become more difficult to obtain and maintain a high “Search Rank” while also keeping your content interesting to readers.
Search engine spiders are biased, and give preference to sites that have internal links – be it links to previous posts or other pages on the same site – and are linked to from external sources.
However, if you give priority to this sort of “link spamming” behavior, the end resulting post can be nearly unreadable.
It’s far too easy to have every other word link to a different post, just so that the site will be attractive to the search engine spiders. To your readers however, this will render your posts annoying, as an accidental click on one of these linked words will navigate a reader somewhere else.
Speaking as someone who has tried to read more than one article on a site like that, it is quite a “turn off,” and will result in the loss of more readers than the gain of any new ones.
Writing for your readers
If writing specifically for the search engines isn’t viable, then perhaps posts should be written for a reader.
Full of engaging, informative writing with minimal links – internal and external – and building upon each post to create a fantastic archive of information that will attract readers purely on its own merit.
This is a wonderful sentiment, but if your site or blog, business or personal, wishes to survive and actually make a difference in its readership, one of the most important things is attracting and keeping the interest of new readers on a regular basis.
The most engaging and fascinating content does no one any good if no one ever finds it.
And so we are back to the question of how to balance your writing so that search engines will parse it correctly and lead new readers to the site’s doorstep as often as possible. Thankfully, all the tools necessary to create engaging content while also providing the spiders with their “food” are at the site creator’s fingertips. It is only a matter of knowing where to look, and what to do.
Samuel Axon of Mashable.com speaks about the importance of “tagging” each individual post,
“Tags help organize your blog so both humans and search engines can find what they’re looking for. They’re terms like “consulting,” “local” or “technology” that reflect the topics and content of the post.”
The importance of tagging is clear – as clickable options that will link any reader to all posts that use the same tag (in WordPress, Categories fulfil a similar, but not identical function, and both should be utilized), as well as extra keywords that will help search engine spiders find and index posts based on keyword content.
In a well-organized blog or site, tags are the reader’s gateway to similar information, allowing them to quickly and succinctly discover everything a site has to offer on a particular topic.
The question then becomes how to decide exactly what tags and keywords apply to your particular article. To help make these decisions, Google offers a tool called “Trends”.
Google Trends will allow you to search for specific keywords that you feel might be relevant, and discover how often – on average – each of those terms is searched for using Google.
For instance, if an article were planned on the primary topics of ecommerce, readership, and proper use of SEO, a quick search with Trends would tell you that of those three keywords, SEO is by far the most searched-for by Google. Therefore “SEO” would be one of the primary keywords you would want in your article and in your tags.
Once the most searched-for keywords have been established (just because the other two are less searched for does not mean they shouldn’t be included – if they were left out, it would be an example of writing an article specifically for the spiders, and that is what shouldn’t be done), it is time to implement them into your article.
The first place (besides tags and categories) to keep track of is the title of your article.
Both search engines and readers notice the title of your article first, so it should give a good idea and impression of the article’s content. “Proper SEO Practices to Grow Readership” is an example of an article title that includes two of your keywords – but it is most important that the primary keyword is prominently featured: SEO.
Moving into the meat of the article, it is invaluable to pick out several other articles on the destination site or other similar sites that you will be linking to.
These “feature links” can either be in the text of the article itself or provided afterwards.
There are website plug-ins that can search your site for similar articles that seem to match keywords and tags and list them in a convenient box after each new article. This sort of linking will keep new readers on your website longer, as they move through the tagged topics and find all the articles you have to offer on the subject that brought them here in the first place.
A word of warning though. These tools should be used with caution. Excessive internal links can have a negative effect on both readers, and in your search engine rankings.
Important terms in your articles should be linked to relevant previous articles on your site. An example might be that one instance of the keyword “SEO” in the meat of your article could be linked to another article on the topic. Every instance of the word should not be linked – this not only looks unprofessional to the reader and will fall into the “link spam” filter of search engines. This typically will actually result in a drop in your websites authority if done too often.
Writing articles that maintain reader interest while also ensuring high page rankings in search engines is a delicate balance of links, tags, and reference links to other sites, as well as quality and consistent content.
Marty Weil, a freelance magazine writer says,
“The best time to optimize a blog post, ad copy or other article bound for the Web is when you’re writing it. Make sure the keywords you need to use are in the text. No more than two keywords per post, and a “keyword density” of no more than 4 uses per 100 words, or 4 percent.”
This is talking not about the tags, title, or meta keywords, but about the instances of the particular important keywords in the article itself.
There are many tools on the Internet that can help you find this “sweet spot” for keyword density, such as the SEObook tool.
These tools and others like them function by running a “simulated spider” over the page, looking at it the way a search engine does and breaking down for you what the search engine will find when looking at the article.
It will tell you how many times you used each keyword, as well as the words that you might not have intended to be showing up as keywords that are. For some of these, it is a matter of personal style – a writer who has a tendency to use the word “actually” quite a lot, or throw around terms without quite knowing what they mean except that they’re common search terms can result in the article having keywords that it shouldn’t have.
Editing the article to cut down on these extraneous and confusing “mock-keywords” ensures that the article performs the way it should once it is live on your site.
Who’s your audience?
In all of this talk of the importance of keywords, tags, and SEO, it is far too easy to lose sight of the fact that these articles are written to be read by human eyes as well.
In fact, that is their primary function – the search engines are just there to drive the actual people to the site, where they will read, comment, and maybe even link back to the articles from their own sites or share them on social media.
When an article is being written, it should be written to appeal to the human being on the other end of that search engine query. The writing should be grammatically correct, spellchecked, and most importantly, come across with the author’s skill and passion.
“If you’re about to launch a phenomenal new product for your company,” says Stacy Acevero, of BloggingPRWeb.com, “your writing should portray how revolutionary it might be, and its positive implications for the public.”
There is nothing more important to an article, even in this day of overwhelming SEO options and clouds of tags and keywords, than the passion and knowledge of the author.
Lets see some images
Still, an article that is nothing but text is not usually enough to grab and hold a reader’s attention – not when there are other options that turned up in the same set of search engine results that have photographs or other interesting graphics.
In past years of slow-loading modems and dial-up computers, pictures just slowed down the page load time and caused people to have to spend longer to get the information they need. In this modern age of T1 lines and fiber optic or wireless internet, pictures are a necessity.
“…no matter how often you show up [in search results], you will not widen your audience if no one stops to read your posts. In order to make them stand out more, use pictures. Adding images to your post can make more people stop and pay attention.”
The question then becomes where to get these pictures.
Not every website has the available funds or connections to have a professional photographer on call for every individual article.
Thankfully, there are quite a few sites online where talented photographers offer up their photographs with nothing more required for their use than they, the photographers, are credited.
The most popular place to find high resolution images for use in articles or blog posts is the “attribution license” area of Flickr’s “Creative Commons” stream. In order to use any picture you find in this particular stream legally, all that must be done is a credit link to the image placed somewhere in your article.
Traditionally these are placed at the end of a post, in [ ] brackets, italicized and right-aligned.
The images themselves can be linked to the artist as a form of attribution, however it is far more popular to have the image open a larger version of itself for the audience’s perusal rather than to have the link in the image force the reader to leave the website. Some choose not to have the image be clickable at all.
Anything goes as long as the artist has been properly credited somewhere in the article.
Passionate writing, interesting images, proper keyword density, the careful choice of keywords, and having keywords placed in the title of each article are requirements in our modern age of Internet articles.
Articles that meet these requirements are not just going to show up in search results and attract new readers to the destination site, but the writing and information will hopefully keep the new readers and continue to attract more over time.
The delicate dance between wonderful, useful content and a site’s SEO is one all competitive website owners must keep in mind as they go forward with their article archives, blogs, and other websites.
Keeping all of these in mind will ensure that the articles will not only be found in search results, but that they will be a valuable reader experience for every user who follows the link from the search result and finds themselves on your website.
[Feature image in this post by Tucia]