Writing for the Web
Date posted: April 10, 2012
Now more than ever, content is king. Writing for the Web, however, is not easy. A number of best practices exists that can improve the readability of your program pages and college website.
Essentially, Web writing involves striking a balance between writing for humans and writing for machines (i.e. search engine crawlers). Here are some tips for optimized, effective Web writing.
When Web writing for human eyes:
Keep it concise
Effective Web writing is most often concise and to the point. You may want to bombard prospective students with every bit of information about courses, programs and facilities, but this isn’t a good strategy. Keep content short.
Use titles, lists and paragraphs breaks
Use titles, headline, bullet lists and paragraph to cut up intimidating blocks of text. The more you break up the text, the easier it is for readers to find what they’re looking for (and the more they’ll enjoy their experience with your program pages).
The following is an example from our Social Media Marketing Setup page:
Be conversational (and professional)
Try to make your program pages as conversational as possible, but make sure that the text is still professional. Plain language can be very effective, but it still has to show your college or university in the best light.
Keep your audience in mind
Know your audience and write with them in mind. What are your website goals? Are your program pages meant for prospective students? Current students? Answering these questions can guide your writing.
Consider the following example from our recent post, “Optimizing Your College’s Press Releases“:
The audience for that post was college marketing departments. Knowing this, we were able to focus our subject matter and decide what we thought these relevant stakeholders would most likely want to read.
Your program pages should be as informative as possible. Online readers want information quickly. Give it to them.
Front-load your paragraphs
Start your paragraphs with the key point. Don’t make your visitors sift through endless amounts of text. An inverted pyramid is the image you should follow. Start with your main idea and then expand upon it.
To help you visualize this, here is an image of the inverted pyramid:
Optimizing your program pages for search engine crawlers
Now that you’ve written engaging content that your audience will want to read, you’ll need to optimize your program pages for the best possible rank.
Here are some basic SEO copywriting tips:
Keep an eye out for keyword density (but don’t obsess over it)
The ideal keyword density for your programs pages should be between 1-3%. Google, however, has recently hinted that they may soon penalize sites that are “over-optimized”. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t follow SEO best practices, but it does suggest that you shouldn’t cram keywords into a program page to boost the density.
Use heading elements
Use the six heading elements, H1-H6, to send more focus to your keywords and give your program pages a hierarchical organization (don’t skip section elements, e.g. using an H1 then an H3). An example of heading elements:
See if you can spot where we’ve used heading elements in this post.
Show off your vocabulary
Using synonyms of keywords can be helpful. This involves latent semantic indexing (used by Google), which is based on the idea that words used in the same contexts tend to have similar meanings. High quality, relevant content, in other words, will beat out content that is over-stuffed with keywords.
Highlight your keywords
Underline, bold or italicize words to emphasize them. Search engines will assume that a word is a keyword if you do.
Make sure to write page titles (70 characters or less) and meta descriptions (160 characters or less) for every program page or blog post.
As we covered in our post, “How to Write Great Title Tags“: the ideal title tag should be roughly 70 characters long. Anything past the 70 character mark will not be visible, which means it’s important to create title tags that are close to that length. This restriction, however, can actually help your writing: it will force you to create title tags with only the most important keywords.
A Google search for the words “University programs” provides some examples. Lets consider the following:
As you can see, title tags that exceed 70 characters are cut off, with any excess replaced by an elipsis (…). This does not happen with shorter title tags:
On the other hand, this title tag may be too short (45 characters). Short title tags ensure that nothing is cut off. However, they may not take full advantage title tag keyword opportunities. Try to get close to that 70 character sweet spot.
Link, link, link
Add links to your program pages. This should be done both internally (cross link with your own pages using relevant anchor text) and externally (linking to useful and relevant websites). This will tell Google what your pages are about and boost your college website’s rank.
Include pics (and title them!)
When adding pictures, title your photos properly with a keyword-rich title and ALT Tag.
As you can see, ideal Web writing involves a combination of techniques meant to engage both humans and machines. It may seem like a difficult balance to achieve, but by following these tips, you will be able to boost the online presence of your program pages.
What other Web writing tips would you recommend?