Best Writing Practices for Websites
Writing successfully for the web requires a slightly different style than writing for printed material because people read differently. People are busy and bombarded by information from all sides. Most people are less inclined to read every minutiae these days and have become accustomed to absorbing data by rapidly scanning for headlines and bullet points within web pages. There’s another important factor to be considered when writing for the web too and it’s called Google. By carefully crafting and positioning your text so that it appeals to people and also appeals to computer algorithms such as those used by Google you will enjoy a better rank in the Google search index. The subject of SEO is way outside the scope of this tutorial but by following the few basic guidelines below your website will benefit considerably.
Write short pages
Use bullet points
Use Heading and Sub-Headings
Write Short Paragraphs
Use Bold, Italics & Underlines
1. Write short pages
As well as trying to provide a useful beginners guide to the WordPress Content Management System I’m also using this tutorial to introduce lots of fresh relevant content into my website so that I might benefit from an improved Google page rank when people are looking for my services. To do that, I’m making sure that there’s plenty of rich content that Google will like such as using lots of key words in lots of bold headlines. However, there are around 5,000 words in this tutorial and I’d really like people to read it too so where possible I’ve tried to break the information up into bite-sized chunks to make it easier to read. This way I’m trying to please man and machine.
People prefer not to scroll through lots of text if they don’t have to. If your pages are long be sure to place the best bits at the top in order to grab your readers and Googles attention. Google has no idea what’s in a photograph so the best we can do is label our images but I’ve included lots of images in this tutorial nonetheless because it breaks up the text and provides a nicer experience for the human eye. It’s a delicate balancing act. Often, I’m aware that my text is not how I would like it to appear but then I’m a web designer in a very competitive industry so for me, feeding Google is a high priority. When it comes to websites, good design is about much more than just looking pretty.
2. Use bullet points
Bullet points are a great way to display compact information.
• Easy to read
• Easy to write
Where you can, present your information in a list… a big bold list. Not always best for your readers but Google will love it and understand it.
3. Use Headings
Using headings is a great way to break up text and make it easier to read. I’ve used use headings in this tutorial to make it easy to read and easy for Google to understand when it’s on my website. Google loves headings which use keywords which give emphasis to your text but don’t go overboard – keep it natural and keep Google on your side. In HTML code, headings use numbered tags where 1 is the highest and biggest and each higher number is one order lower. When you write a post the title at the top should be set in tags at the top of the post when it is published. WordPress will do this automatically but you can introduce some extra ones in the code view of your text editor when you are creating pages or posts.
4. Write Short Paragraphs
Just as you should keep pages short, keep blocks of text short too. Google won’t really care but it makes your page look so boring to read.
5. Use Bold, Italics & Underlines
Highlighting key points using bold text, italics or underlining creates emphasis. It will make text stand out grabbing the attention of eye balls scanning the page. But use it sparingly else the page becomes a mash of cluttered text styles where it no one thing stands out and actually makes the text harder to read. It’s believed that Google may also recognise the tags used to produce bold, italic and underlined text and give a little more weight to keywords that may occur there. Where possible, try to use a keyword or two in lines you choose to emphasise.
6. Use Links
Whenever you mention something in your content for which you have another page that expands on that topic then link to it. It encourages people to dive deeper into your website. Link to external websites where it might benefit your visitors. This could improve your authority as a source of information by Google and people alike.
Search Engine Optimisation or SEO
Following on from my earlier advice regarding search engine optimisation, making your web pages search engine friendly is crucial to getting traffic to your site. The web is a very crowded place these days so the saying “Build it and they will come” no longer cuts it. SEO is an entire industry now so it’s outside the scope of this tutorial but the following is a basic guide to optimising your WordPress site.
Your site should be set to use ‘Permalinks’. These can be found in the ‘Permalinks’ link under the ‘Settings’ tab in your admin panel. As a database-driven site there’s only one file for each page and post on your site, it’s called the index.php file and it’s not like a static web page. WordPress pulls your pages and posts from a database and displays them on demand. With ‘Permalinks’ turned off you will see URLs that look like this;
http://www.yourwebsite.co.uk/?p=123 where 123 is the post id in the database. With ‘Permalinks’ enabled your URL could look like this; http://www.yourwebsite.co.uk/your-post. Permalinks contain a description of your page making them easier for people to remember and link to. It also creates an opportunity to display your main keywords for the page within the URL as they are often descriptive of that individual web page. Keywords in a URL is one of many factors that help your pages rank higher.
Using Titles and Meta tags
The Title tag
Page titles are an important indicator to Google of what your page, or post is all about. These page titles are the tag that appears in the head of your HTML for that page or post. A well crafted title tag will include your main keywords or phrases and help Google decide where to rank your page, Keep your title tag brief and to the point because Google will only recognise the first 65 characters.
The Meta Description tag
The description tag is a small description of your page or your post. Your description will often appear below your page title in the Google search results. If no description is included Google will grab a snippet of your page and use that instead. The description on its own will not improve your search ranking but it allows you to control what Google displays as the snippet. A well crafted description can entice more people to click on your website link instead of your competitors’.
The Meta Keyword tag
The keyword tag has limited value. It was previously abused by web designers and is no longer used by Google to determine the keywords for your page Add keywords here for some of the small search engines if you like or just forget about it.
Visit the Plugins library and download an SEO plugin like ‘Yoast SEO’, then you can write your tags while using the Post and Page editors in the WordPress admin panel. It will appear lower in the page below the text editor. Yoast is only one plugin – many more are available which provides a lot more help to an SEO novice and holds your hand through the web page optimisation process.
Using headings and sub headings
We already discussed using headings and sub headings earlier. They help break up the text and make it easier to read. Headings can help them scan to find what they are looking for. At the very least, your page should have one heading. Most themes will paste the post/page title inside tags. Your main keywords or phrases should be used there. Sub-headings can use various related keywords variations of your keywords to cover the word combinations that searchers might use in Google.
Keywords and phrases
Consider your keywords carefully and think about which words and phrases people might use to find your site. For best results each page or post on your site should aim towards a specific set of keywords and/or phrases. Your home page will probably cover your most important keywords but your other pages and posts should target specific sets of keywords related to that particular topic. Spread keywords lightly throughout your content but don’t get carried away. It will be difficult to read and Google will mark it as spam if it thinks it contains an unnaturally high density of keywords. Keep it natural and just include your main keywords here and there.
Link anchor text
The often underlined and blue clickable text that forms a link is known as the link anchor text. Google counts the number of links and the quality of links pointing to your own web pages it also takes note of the anchor text used. The anchor text gives Google additional clues as to what the page being linked to is about. If you’re able to control links from other websites, try to suggest your preferred anchor text. Link text such as: ‘Click here’ is not helpful to anybody and it pays to keep Google happy. However, using exactly same anchor text in too many links pointing to the same page may be get your site flagged by Google as a spammer and trigger over optimisation penalties.
Google takes note of whom is linking to whom and it uses those links as part of its ranking algorithm. If you have website content that’s really good and informative other people might link to your pages. Backlinks to your website is a great SEO tool if they are from genuine quality sources and a link to your website from one with especially high authority such as the BBC website is worth many, many more links from an undistinguished website so despite popular opinion, more isn’t always better.
Your website navigation should already be linking to the main sections of your website. When adding new content or pages, remember to link to them if it’s appropriate and use keywords which relate to the page being linked to instead of ‘Click here’. It gives Google a better understanding of your internal website structure.
Your web hosting provider will be storing server access logs. This records visitor data and lots of other useful data. It will show things like number of visitors per day, which pages they are visiting, and how they discovered your site. If they came from a search engine like Google it records the keywords they used in their search. This is really valuable stuff but if that’s not enough for you then Google even has it’s own tool called Analytics. It’s even more powerful and enables you to drill through the data. To install this, ask your web designer for advice. You will need to set-up a Google Email account (Gmail) to use Analytics. With either tool you can use them to see the keywords which people are using to find your web pages. It’s great for fine-tuning your website optimisation strategy because it might throw up some little surprises like the keywords that people are using that you hadn’t anticipated.