Seven Classic Rules of Writing that Apply to SEO

SEO and the Psychomachia – Diligence vs. Sloth

By Laura Mauney

Garbled messaging can stop internet searchers from clicking through to a website.

Garbled messaging can stop internet searchers from clicking through to a website.

Back in the day of newsprint, when the information superhighway was just a gleam in Nicholas Negroponte’s eye, writing and editorial jobs were pretty much restricted to – yes – genuine, well trained writers and editors, meaning those who actually knew the rules of the trade, had a natural flare for expression in language, and knew how to break the rules without sounding ignorant of the same.

These days, in the modern weboverse of six bazillion blog posts telling us six different ways to do the same six things that the last six thousand blog posts talked about, one iota of truth shines through the overload of undercooked web content.

Websites that Follow the Classic Rules of Writing are more Likely to Succeed

The most obvious reason to hire real writers and editors to create content for a website is to maintain a competitive level of professionalism. Well written copy can also help websites to:

  • Rank higher in search engines
  • Induce more users to click through
  • Encourage user retention
  • Register lower bounce rates
  • Engage more visitors
  • Create ever-growing followings
  • Generate more sales or leads, when applicable

In other words, virtue (diligence) triumphs over vice (sloth) in the world of SEO (search engine optimization), just as it ever has in the world of print, and the world at large.

The following Seven Rules Adapt Classic Best Practices for Information Writing to Web Content Scenarios:

  1. Write concise Meta Titles and Descriptions for every page on the website. Use action words to prompt click-throughs (what some call CTAs) and include clear information about the site itself. Avoid keyword packing, bizarre verb conjugations, and over-simplified cliches.

    Meta descriptions should be logical statements that include keywords people have historically used most to find the site, in combination with product or subject related keywords tied to capturing targets.

    Keep in mind that Meta Titles and Descriptions are usually what show up in Google and Bing organic searches, a scenario that, in turn, enables websites to use meta information as an advertising opportunity.

    Garbled or nonsensical meta information may induce click-throughs, but is unlikely to improve bounce rates, or result in new customers.

    Intelligent meta information helps Google and Bing figure out quickly whether a site matches a search string, and helps websites refine target audience, capture the people who want to find the site most, and engage users immediately.
  2. On every page containing written content, develop a strong lead or hook paragraph. High school English teachers often call the lead a “theme paragraph.”

    Answer the basic journalistic questions in the first few sentences:

    • Who?
    • What?
    • When?
    • Where?
    • How or Why?

    If the site is promoting an event, tell people where to go, when to be there, how to buy tickets, how much tickets cost, where to park and what to bring.

    If the site is designed to sell products or capture leads, post a phone number, lead form or buy button on every page.

    If the site is providing comprehensive information, summarize it succinctly in the first paragraph of each page and repeat the summation in the ensuing headers.

  3. Abide by Google’s mantra: avoid doing evil. Post no lies, no plagiarism, no racism, no sexism, no hatred, no threats, no religious discrimination.

    Even if one is promoting a particular view, avoid condemning those who disagree. Rejecting people because of differences, in other words, is a pretty poor marketing practice and is (in this author’s view) universally antithetical to the concept of a free-thinking, free-market society.
  4. Writing is a form of entertainment. Keep readers engaged with clever transitions, active sentences, conflict and resolution, and logical structure, including titles, headers, and bullets.

    If the site targets the general public, stick with short paragraphs and user friendly language.

    More info-centric articles that target academics, scientists, policymakers, etal, will have more appeal when thoughtfully written with respect to the standards of the audience: correct word usage; well-crafted statements; fact checks supported by third party quotes and sources.
  5. Stick to the classic news story pyramid structure by posting the most important information and/or prompts above the fold, preferably right at the top of the webpage.

    Why? Impatient readers want to know they are reading the right information right away, and are more likely to read on, once reassured. Impatient users, likewise – no surprise here – are the most likely to buy.

    Why defer to impatience? Long-winded, unfocused content can be annoying, even boring. Irritating those who can make or break a website’s popularity simply makes no sense. Capturing and retaining as much audience as possible will help website rankings, result in more sales or leads, if that is the object, and draw more general attention to the site over time.
  6. Just as editors do with newspapers exhaustively, each and every day, keep websites up to date.

    Avoid cringe-worthy mistakes like allowing misspelled words to linger on the site for years, thinking no one will notice (we will). If a product line changes, change it on the website. If product inventory expires, remove it from the website. Make a plan for posting fresh information on a regular basis.

    Maintaining a blog is one way to achieve that objective. Using technology at its best to auto-post new blog posts and/or products onto the website homepage is a superior best practice.
  7. Keep in mind that most readers took the same K-12 spelling and grammar classes as professional writers and editors.

    One reason newspaper editors require multiple levels of review for articles – the final level being the copy edit and proofread – is to catch common errors that all of us make from time to time.

    Good grammar boosts public image and makes websites more believable. Poor grammar breeds distrust and disdain. Common mistakes, awkward or misused words, and missing punctuation break reader concentration and can result in loss of interest.

    The last step to take before going live with web content is to proofread for spelling and grammar. If a mistake or poor construction is found afterwards, correct it as soon as possible.

Does abiding by these seven rules GUARANTEE that a website will reach #1 ranking at Google within a few days for the broadest keyword category available for the website’s subject?

Laughably, probably not.

However, just as with the most successful newspapers, well crafted content can help sites get to a page 1 ranking across a range of more specific searches, inspire more click-throughs, and make users happier.

Happy users are more likely to return, to buy, to link, and to share, all factors that contribute to a website’s competitiveness in the cyber world of SEO, the real world of business, and in the whole world at large.

Did you find a copy error or misspelled word in this article? Tell me about it, please!

About Laura Mauney

Laura Mauney is a writer who thinks she is a photographer. Professionally, she specializes in online marketing, and creating, organizing and managing creative assets and user-friendly information for websites. She is also a mother. Her photo blogs include Flowers in Urbia and Trees in Urbia.

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