Writing and optimizing your Web site content
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: April 7, 2009
|There's no denying technology seriously impacts the written word. The largest search engine on the Web could care less if something is well-written; search results are based on keywords, backlinks and other undisclosed factors. Backlinks are perhaps the biggest plus; all ranking services rely on the quality and number of Web sites that link to yours. This practice can confuse. For instance, even if The Wall Street Journal or a heavily-trafficked message board links to your content, that won't make much difference in your position at blog rank sites because those ranking sites want links from blogs. Some ranking systems like Alexa can only pick up ratings from users who have downloaded a specific toolbar. Despite those practices, it's still important to bear a few things in mind when you create written Web content.|
|For starters, let's look at a few facts listed in a primer at Sun Microsystems: |
• 79 percent of users scan an article; only 16 percent read every word.
• The reading experience on the Web is 25 percent slower than on paper.
• Length for Web content is 50 percent of written content length.
What's a serious writer to do?
Remember the top priority: readers have to be able to find your content. Try to keep your headlines less than 70 characters in length; 60-65 characters are best. I often include a brief summary in italics below the title because this summary is often listed after the page title on search results. Make the first word in your title the most important word; repeat that word several times throughout your article. I always try to repeat the most important word at the beginning, middle and end.
Based on policies set by the company that syndicates my column and various individual editor preferences, I've set my target length as 500 words. One newspaper editor has a literary meltdown if I go over that. Others don't seem to mind as long as the overage isn't brazen.
If you blog, you'll have an option to list tags for your article. Try to keep those short, sweet and to the point. For instance, if you're writing about a kumquat tree, use the term 'kumquat.' If there's a category option, you could list such an article under 'gardening' or 'citrus trees.'
Always date your article and if at all possible, include your pen name. This makes it accessible to students in search of sources. Sources have to be cited.
Other options for easy readability as well as search engine pickup include using bulleted lists, highlighting key words or phrases with boldface or underlines and using subheads if your article runs long. It's fairly easy to break an article with subheads—keep them short and focus on keywords. It's also useful to throw in a few words that differentiate your content from other content if a subject is popular. I did this when I wrote a wire service story about a female celebrity constantly in trouble because of her party-girl ways. I found her MySpace page before anyone else thought about it, and I pulled a couple quotes from there, earning the goodwill of my editor. Everyone else had the story too. We had the diary entry.
There's a wealth of information on the Web about writing content, but I wouldn't be honest if I said I always follow even the best advice. Sometimes a subject demands I go long—this is often true with how-to articles and opinion pieces. It's my experience that when I scoop a story, the search engines could care less how I wrote the story. A scoop is a scoop it seems, just as it always has been.
Above all, clarity and creativity must never be sacrificed for any reason. And no matter how carefully you craft, the best-laid plans will sometimes be undermined. The Web, like much commercial print publishing, is not a meritocracy.
Additional Reading about Writing for the Web
Writing for the Web/Sun Microsystems
Online Writing Lab at Purdue University English Dept.
Guide to Grammar and Style/Jack Lynch at Rutgers University
Past Web Savvy columns
--Posted April 7, 2009
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Kay B. Day
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.