If you’re writing your own website content, you might hear this sound advice: “Write for people, not for Google.” That is, write something that a real, live person would want to read, not what (you think) Google wants. Well, why? And how?
First, the why. Back in the day, “write for people” and “write for Google” felt like mutually exclusive goals. The same content written for people and then written for search engines might look substantially different. But as Google’s algorithms get more sophisticated, that difference is vanishing. Google wants content to be good, and “good” means interesting, useful, shareable, and written well. So your content should be interesting, useful, shareable, and well written.
Today, let’s look at that last part, the “well written” part and find out how to write good web content for people.
5 keys to writing for people (not search engines) on your website and blog
1. Write clearly and simply.
Every how-to writing course, book, and manual will tell you the same thing: your writing must be clear. Clear writing makes it easier for your reader to grasp your message. Unclear writing only confuses your readers. (You will know this feeling if you’ve ever spent significant amounts of time reading instructional publications from the IRS.)
When writing website content, or other content for the Internet, you have another reason to write clearly. It’s entirely possible that someone landed on your website page randomly, and you have to quickly get them up to speed on what’s going on.
Pick a page from your website that you’ve already written. Now think of a friend of yours in a completely different line of work; you sell industrial ice cream supplies, say, and she’s an auto mechanic who knows nothing about what you do. If she read your website page, would she immediately know what you sell and to whom? Would she find any of the words confusing or jargony? Or would she get your message, loud and clear?
2. Write for readability.
This topic is so important, I have an entire blog entry devoted to readability, which you should read.
To test your readability, instead of imagining a friend in a different industry reading your copy or content, imagine an 11-year-old child reading it. Would he be able to read it easily?
3. Be concise.
Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t add fluff. As some brilliant writer once wrote, omit unnecessary words.
4. Make it conversational.
Here’s a trick if you’re ever feeling stuck on finding just the right words to express a particular idea: Think of what it is you want to say, and write that. Use the words you’d use if you were speaking. Sometimes we make it more complicated than it needs to be.
See, we have a tendency to write in the stiff, formal voice that we learned in school. But that type of writing doesn’t have a place in the world of online marketing. It’s okay to be conversational on the web. In fact, you have to be.
So forget those stuffy rules you learned a long time ago in English class. With due respect to English teachers everywhere, I hereby give you permission to be a rebel and:
- Start a sentence with a conjunction (“And…” or “But…”)
- Use contractions
- End a sentence with a preposition
- Write incomplete sentences
- Skip the essay-style introduction paragraph and conclusion paragraph
When you’ve written up your content, read it aloud. Does it sound too stuffy? Too clunky? Too boring? You’ll hear it better when you read it aloud. Keep tweaking until you like how it sounds.
5. Make it scannable.
I bet you’re like me. I bet you click on a lot of articles/blog posts every day but you don’t read the majority of them all the way through. Probably a thorough skim of the first paragraph or two, a look at the subheads, and an attempt to glean some information from words that are bolded or underlined.
You might be scanning right now. And that’s okay. It’s just how people read online.
Knowing that, make it easy for them. Keep paragraphs short; long blocks of unbroken text are intimidating and unappealing. Use informative subheads so readers can orient themselves and see the flow of the writing. Use bulleted lists when it makes sense. Use numbered lists, too. Yes, they feel overused, but you know what? People like to read them, so it makes sense to write them.
Next time, writing for Google
By doing these things in your online copy and content, you will already be close to pleasing the almighty Google, and more importantly, you’ll make it easy and enjoyable for your readers to read what you’ve written.
Next time we’ll look at some of the simple adjustments you can make to your people-friendly copy to make it even more appealing to Google.