How and where to start (writing for digital)
Recently, I ran a series called The Content Drop-In, in a bid to get Footprint Digital’s experience out into the world. In that series, I concentrated on four key topics:
- How and Where to Start (Writing for Digital).
- Where to Begin with Brand Language (The Brand Lexicon).
- How to Stop Writing Shite.
- Stop Waffling Start Storytelling.
This article is the first instalment of the writeups for this series, with all of its teachings. BUT, if you’d prefer just to watch the webinar back – I’ve included it at the bottom. You’re welcome.
If you’re a new or reflective content or copywriter, or you’re a marketing manager taking humble guardianship over a website, or indeed are the sole owner and keeper of your company, and you want to know how to start writing for users and search engines better, this is for you.
Before you start, just know that this is about how to begin writing for digital, and will cover the basics for on-page search engine optimisation (SEO)—how to make search engines know your website exists.
Disclaimer: just because this says SEO does not mean you care more about algorithms, robots and other techy stuff. We write for people, fleshy and imperfect. They should be at the centre of your considerations—at all times.
Without further ado, let’s get to it!
SEO on-page basics
When you type a query into Google (other search engines are available, but let’s be honest, you’re not using them), you get ten results, which google deem to be most worthy of your query.
These results are based on a loada stuff, which I don’t want to go into here.
To get your website onto these results pages you’ve got to put some effort into them, so here are the basic things you should be considering.
Find your audience, find your keywords
The bane of my writing life: keywords. These are the phrases I must use in my page copy to ensure that the algorithm beast (Google) is satisfied.
These should be targeted at your audience, think:
- What would THEY search to find your company, product/service or blog?
- What other variants should I consider?
Start with some free tools, Google Adwords for instance. You won’t get exact data without paying, but it will give you ranges, which is enough.
Finding keywords should be part of the research phase, which I’m not going to go into detail about here. But before you write any website or page, you should know people are looking for it. Forums (like Reddit), reviews and competitor research are great places to start finding real-life queries and problems you can help solve.
But, the detail in research is a conversation for another day.
Back to keywords. Aim for different, targetted, banks of words and phrases for each of your site’s existing pages (but no more than three per page).
Now, think about your page title and meta description
So what the bloody hell are these things? Let me show you:
To get your title accurate, you’ll need to have done your keyword research (I’m not going to cover keyword research anymore in this article, sorry).
The title is what you’ll see sat atop each search result (it’s a ranking factor).
The meta description is the snippet underneath that tells you a little more (it’s a click-through factor).
To make these work hard, you should follow these tips:
Think about your URL structure too
Any sound content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Squarespace allow you to change your URL structure to match the page.
There are bad URLs, and there are good ones, you’ll want to aim for the good ones.
Get your relevant terms in there (the keywords that describe the page), and when you have a blog title or a more extended page focus, separate the words with dashes.
For example: https://fakename.co.uk/blog/what-is-he-on-about.
Don’t use numbers or random punctuation. Also, don’t let your CMS automatically generate these for you—fight the machine!
Here’s what I mean:
You’ve seen a document layout on Microsoft Word, right?
Well, it’s also something to consider in your website content too. Poor document structure (when your page headings are inconsistent and crap) will confuse the Google bot.
You really want Google to skim your page, and understand the content—you don’t want it double-taking like a Looney Tunes character with its algorithmic eyes popping out of its face.
To do this, make it easy to skim and understand.
Don’t go thinking this is just for the search engine. No, this is most certainly for your readers too. They want nicely broken down and ordered content. They don’t want to be blundering around the place searching for meaning; they want it staring them in the face.
Here’s what I mean:
Keep your content in order and keep your users happy. Oh, yeah, and the search engine too.
Use clear, non-robot, calls to action
Hey, this ain’t so much of a ranking factor as the above are, but they sure as hell matter for conversion and page goals.
The number of pages I’ve encountered with no clear next step—mind-boggling.
It’s like having an actual salesperson pitch at you and then say “have a nice day” and waddle off.
Give the user the next step, and make it personal and targetted to that page, product or service.
With all due haste, destroy the following:
- Call us
- Click here
- Learn more
- Find out more
These are shit.
Unless your site is offering demon overlord husbands or brides, then “submit” actually works.
Join your important pages together, like a dot to dot
Internal linking we call it. But you’re free to stick with dot to dot.
By linking your important pages together by adding hyperlinks into service pages, location pages, blog posts, or wherever, you will define a site hierarchy.
Your most important pages should be linked to the most, with your not so important pages, being linked to the least.
The text that is hyperlinked matters too by the way – so if you’re hyperlinking “click here” to take the user to a page, stop it.
If your “SEO Services” page is important to you – then your hyperlinks should be on relevant terms.
For example, it could be an exact match (wherever it says “SEO Services”) or where a similar relevant phrase appears such as “if you’re looking for site optimisation, we can help”.
Don’t get spammy.
Only put internal links where they are most relevant and will help the user.
If you smash a ton in there, it ain’t gonna work guys.
Don’t ask me about “ideal” wordcount…
Ok. Look, there is no such thing as “the golden wordcount”.
Some pages have little to no words on them and rank #1. Why? Well, they’re deemed the most relevant by the algorithm, so we just have to accept that.
Yet, research reveals that pages with higher wordcount tend to perform better. But we’re talking 5-10k here, which we would never expect on a service page.
High content pages rank well because they tend to be guides or in-depth topic dives.
So, there’s little comforting guidance I can give you here; there’s just not enough consistent research and information for there to be a guiding light.
I try to aim for 350 words for landing page content, and a minimum of 500 words for a blog post.
Write everything that needs to be there and remove anything that doesn’t. Your user will thank you for it.
That’s the best I’ve got. Sorry.
What does this advice look like when it’s on the page?
Writing with SEO in mind can be tricky, because you may find yourselves confined to the layout of a predesigned page.
But, what do all these features look like on the page? Here’s an example:
Underneath that, we’ve got relevant social proof to really show we know what we’re doing:
And that’s it for the basics.
I think that with this knowledge in the head-bank, you’ll be far better prepared when you start your journey writing for users while considering search engines.
But, if you’d like any more help, you should contact us here.
We’re more than ready to help you battle the Google beast.
Did you get bored of reading?
*Sigh* there’s always one! Here’s the video for you.
A little bit about the author (J)
I have a love/hate relationship with words and SEO.
Watching over all client-facing content at Footprint, I help build and develop strategy. I teach, I learn, and I write. Having written for clients over various sectors, from marine engineering to kids parties, variety without compromising consistency is one of my more enormous challenges. I’m IDM, and Hubspot qualified in content marketing and social media, and a to-be TEDx speaker.
In a nutshell, I help websites better consider their audience with better words, and better thinking.