How to Write Web Copy That Works for Users and Search Engines

by | May 27, 2015

By Sarah Camp, Interactive Communications Director

The web, and the way in which we use it, is constantly changing. With many different styles of browsing the web, even within individual target audiences, we must account for all of them in order to be most effective.

To make things easier, we’ve compiled the most important practices to follow to write website copy that appeals to your target audience, so they may find the information they are looking for quickly and efficiently.

The main thing to keep in mind when writing for the web is that it’s all about organization and presentation. When discussing search engine optimization, Google states, “Even though it contains the words “search engine,” we’d like to say that you should base your optimization decisions first and foremost on what’s best for the visitors of your site.”

Provide all of the information they are looking for in an organized, digestible manner. A good way to think about it is: you shouldn’t need an FAQ page because you should be answering all the frequently asked questions within the content, and it should be easy for users to find that information when they are looking for it.

Be sure to include the unique selling proposition. In relation to this topic, what makes your subject better than the alternatives? Why would the user choose your product or service over competitors? Feel free to establish trust and credibility by including names of clients, certifications and affiliations in copy.

Length

A very important touch point is length. Most web users have short attention spans, however, Google looks for at least 300 words on a page. Why do they do this? Google has multiple algorithms in place to determine whether or not your page is a good source for the topic it is referencing, one being length. If there isn’t much content on it, Google will not see it as a good source, and will be less likely to index it. (While having less than 300 words on a page doesn’t necessarily mean your site won’t be indexed, the real key is having enough supportive and relevant content that is not seen as fluff.)

In addition, studies have shown that pages that have more content on them are shared and engaged with more often. While this may seem to be in opposition to the point about short attention spans, this tells us that users are looking for more information, but they need it presented in a way that is concise and easily scanned so they can quickly find exactly what they are looking for.

If linking to external sites within your content, it’s a good idea not to do so within the first 200 words of copy. This ensures proper weight of links for search engines to determine importance.

Organization and Substance

A good practice is to start with a paragraph that is the most impactful and attention-grabbing – clearly and concisely describing the main point of the page. This paragraph can be designed to stand out on the page and be the “main copy.” For those users who just want an overview, this will be enough, and they will most likely move on to the next point they are looking for.

After that initial paragraph, you’ll want to back up your claims with supportive content to convince more skeptical people, and provide more substantive content for those who feel as though they haven’t gotten enough information. It’s still necessary to make sure there isn’t a lot of filler text; you’ll want to be concise, and relevant to the main topic. This is also the space where you should answer any potential questions, and lead into an action that you want the user to take or complete.

Web users expect copy that is informative:

“…people don’t want a shallow sales pitch telling them it’s the best, they want SEO copywriting that tells them what it does, how it measures up in the industry, and how it can benefit them.”

In general, you want to make sure the content is adequate for those who need more information in order to convince them, but broken into shorter chunks that are easy to scan and digest. The rule of thumb is: if a topic does not warrant at least 250 words of relevant content, then it should not be its own page.

[bctt tweet=”If a topic doesn’t warrant 250 words of relevant content, then it shouldn’t be its own page.”]

Keywords and Topics

Google is pushing to move everyone away from focusing on keywords and more toward a general topic approach, which is one reason why they are reducing the amount of keyword data they are providing for websites. However, keywords can still be an easy way to optimize your content.

Look at one keyword/topic per page and work in content to support that topic. Work in related variations of that keyword and long-tail phrases. Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific keyword phrases that visitors often use as they become more knowledgeable about a subject. They can also present themselves as a question a user types into a search engine that is related to your business. All of your terms should fit naturally into the page text.

It’s also a good idea to include keywords into your headers and titles, too. This way, users are more likely to see, and find, what they’re looking for while scanning your content.

Meta Descriptions

While meta descriptions do not affect where your site shows up in search engines, being the supportive text that displays on the search engine results page (SERP) they are still important. Because of this, it is a good idea to write meta descriptions that are comprised of strong marketing copy, compelling readers to click.

Meta descriptions should be no longer than 160 characters, and keywords should be included. Including keywords will make it more likely that your meta description will show on the results page than other body content.

User Expectations

As mentioned above, you want to be sure the content is easy for readers to skim, as users are typically looking for very specific information and are impatient. The use of visual aids is an effective way to help move them along.

Headings, subheadings, introductory text, bullets, bold text, italics, block quotes and whitespace all help with making a site more skim-friendly.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the readers are constantly asking themselves: What’s in it for me? While they may want to know what you can do, they want to know exactly how that helps them. How will it benefit them? What are you offering them? What will they get out of completing the action you are trying to get them to complete? Writing in second person is one way to accomplish them and is highly suggested when it comes to web copy.

Examples:

“You’ll get more leads.” “Your audience will understand you better.” “Learn how you can…”

Calls-to-Action

Relevant and contextual calls-to-action should be included throughout the content. There should be one main call to action on a page, and that call to action should be structured in a way that encourages the reader to “convert” or take the desired action. There should also be some links worked into the content leading to additional supportive pages.

When creating content for links or buttons, avoid terms like “click here” or “register now.” Link text should reflect what the user should expect to find when they click on it. It is also a good idea to include keywords that support the main topic for the page when possible (but do not use the same terms repeatedly).

Examples:

“Take a virtual tour” “Sign up for newsletter” “Get the whitepaper”

Here are the key guidelines to follow to write search-engine-recognized, user-meaningful content to help drive the right traffic to your website:

General Guidelines

  • No less than 250 words on a page (At least 300, ideally, but enough content to support your topic)
  • Answer all frequently asked questions within content
  • Use organized, short bulleted lists for easy to scan information
  • Keep headlines to 10 words or less (These should be strategic messages at a glance, and include the topic keyword)
  • Sentences should be 20 words or less
  • Paragraphs should be no more than 6 lines of text (Keep in mind when judging length that the width of a line of text for ideal web readability falls between 45 and 70 characters, dependent upon character size)
  • Don’t use filler, but support your topic for users who need it (Remember, if you can’t write enough without using filler to meet the 250 word minimum, the page should be eliminated or combined with another page)
  • Headings, sub-heads, bullets, bold, italics and whitespace can all help make a page more easily skimmed (This helps with readability and users can more easily find what they are looking for)
  • Work in a main, relevant call-to-action on each page, with additional links throughout the page that support content
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