Category Archives: SEO

Search Engine Optimization

Writing for the Web

Why write for the web?

Writing for the web is fundamentally different from writing for written media. In this post I will explain why writing for the web is something else and why it is important to apply these “Writing for the web Guidelines”. 

How visitors read a web page

Reading from a screen is different from reading from paper. Generally people take less time to carefully read and understand the text. Also, they scan a page quickly, looking for hyperlinks and headers.

Jakob Nielsen’s famous eyetracking study shows this very clearly:

F-shaped Reading Pattern - Eyetracking Study Nielsen

Users focus on the top part of the page, then quickly scan in a vertical direction, mostly in a F or E shaped pattern.

Read more about Jakob Nielsen’s Eye Tracking Study

Of course the type of page determines the exact way it is handled. People will take the time to read through a long blog post if they are interested in the subject. When looking for products to buy in a web shop visitors will tend to scroll down a full page.

But in general keep these things in mind:

  • Users do not read thoroughly.
  • If they don’t find quickly what they are looking for they’ll leave.
  • And unless you’re writing a literature blog, people are not interested in long sentences and eloquent words.

How search engines read a web page

Although we write for our visitors, if the search engines can’t find us no one will read our web page. So it is good to understand how a search engine “sees” a web page and how it determines what is important and what not.

Readable text versus images

Search engines use automated “bots” to crawl the web. Since it is a computer program it cannot understand pictures or any other multimedia, hence the importance of readable text. This is why most Flash websites are really bad for SEO (search engine optimization): because all the text is in images. The same goes for video or audio. It is great to have video on your site but make sure that at least you have a text summary of what the video is about.

Note: also for accessibility reasons you should always have a text alternative for information contained in images, video or audio.

How a Search Engine decides what is important

How can a “bot” decide which text is important and what not? Not that well! That’s why searching the web is sometimes so frustrating. But here is part of the search engine’s logic:

  • Keyword density – how often does a word appear in the page.
  • HTML tagging – A word used within a header (h1,h2, h3) must be more important than words within a regular paragraph. Same for hyperlinks, alt tags, etc.
  • Page titles – The title that you see in the browser window has significant weight.
  • URLs – www.mydomain.com/kayak-tours is clearly about Kayak Tours.
  • Words located higher in the web page are more important a than words at the bottom

Graphics versus Text

Note that the focus is on readable text. Not on gorgeous design. In fact, one mistake many designers and business owners make, is to have too much graphics on their site and not enough text. Especially when it comes to the home page, which is the most important page because it is your first impression.

Some bad techniques for a Home Page are:

  • Having a Flash Intro or a Splash Page as your intro page (you lose about 25-35% of your visitors!!!)
  • Hardly any text on your Home Page, just images and click-throughs.
  • No clear explanation about what the site is about, what you offer and where you are located.

Visitors & Search Engines

Although we need certain techniques uniquely for search engines, most of the issues mentioned above are important for real people as well.

Readable Text

An image can say more than a thousand words, but sometimes people turn off the images in their browser. Also, don’t forget about visually impaired people, or users viewing your site on a mobile device (smartphones, etc.).

And use enough text and explanation about who you are, where you are located and what you do. Realize that not everyone coming to your site knows what your business is about. Someone from New York might be looking for a landscaper and end up on a local New Orleans lawn mower’s website. Also make sure that on your homepage it is very clear what type of services or products you offer. I have seen numerous sites where it took me several pages before I understood what the site was about.

Using semantically correct HTML

Using Headers and breaking up your text in short paragraphs is also user-friendly. Again, remember the scanning type of reading.  A page with clear headings and clear outstanding keywords is more pleasant to read and easier to scan.

Giving your page a more explanatory title than “Home” or “Products” helps a user find his browser window back.

Keywords

As I explained in a previous post, meta keywords are not important anymore, however, keywords themselves are very important.

Keywords for SEO

So what are keywords exactly? Keywords describe what you do in terms that your customers use. For some companies that is easy, for others it is a lot of work to find out which the best keywords are.

Keywords are the terms on which you expect to be found through a search engine. Now when you are targeting for a certain keyword combination you want to be at least on the first page of the search results. This means that you need to find out if it is realistic that you will end up there, or if there is just too much competition.

Example: trying to rank #1 for “accountant new orleans“. If you are just starting as an accountant then it is not realistic to expect to rank high on such a broad term.

Finding your niche keywords

If page 1 is out of reach for your initial keywords then the thing to do is specialize. Say you have a lot of non-profit organizations as customers. In that case the keyword phrasenew orleans accountant for non-profits” might be a good choice.

Keyword Analysis

As you might have guessed by now, finding the right keywords is a process. You start by describing your products & services as detailed as possible. Try to use language that your clients use in stead of your own jargon.

Initial Measuring

With that initial set of keywords you start measuring: where do you end up and how much competition do you have?

You also need to know if the keyword combinations that you choose are actually being used. No use in ranking #1 on a search phrase that nobody will type in.

First Round of Optimization

Once you are confident about your keywords you will make sure that these keywords are used throughout your site, and especially in the menus, headers, page titles, meta descriptions and emphasized (bold) text. This is called “On-site Optimization”. On-site Optimization indicates that it is work done on your own webpages. Additionally, you will use your keywords for all your online listings.

Second Round of Measuring

And then you wait a few weeks… Search engines need some time to update their indexes so generally you do another report in 4 to 6 weeks. Next to the Search Engine Report you also analyze your Google Analytics Data to see how people get to your site and which pages they visit.

Evaluate Your Keywords

With your new data you go back to your keywords and evaluate how well they work and if you need to add new ones or narrow it down further.

Meta Keywords

Most people nowadays have some clue of the importance of keywords, however they often think about the wrong keyword concept, being meta keywords.

What are Meta Keywords?

Meta Keywords are words entered in the code of a webpage. These words are not visible on the page itself. In the source code of a webpage they look like this:

<meta name="keywords" content="New Orleans, hotel, French Quarter, accommodation, etc.">

What is the purpose of Meta Keywords?

Originally the meta  keywords were meant to categorize what your website was about. A very good idea. But as these keywords are invisible for the viewer, they were quickly misused by webdevelopers and SEO companies to influence the search engine rankings.

Use Meta Keywords or not?

Many inexperienced web developers or DIY website builders still put endless lists of keywords in their pages and think this will help them being found better. Nowadays the opposite is true. Google will actually punish you for keyword stuffing as they want their results to be fair and not manipulated.

Some people still use the meta keywords and as long as you don’t overdo it it won’t hurt. But it won’t help either, so I don’t waste my time thinking about meta keywords or putting them in.

The right way to work with keywords

Now the right way to use keywords is by using them in the visible text of your webpages. How to do this and how to find the right keywords is something I will cover in a next post.

SEO: directory listings

Once you have a good idea of your keywords and you have some solid content on your website, the next step in Search Engine Optimization is link building. You want to be linked from as many well-known and respected websites as possible.

This is a time-consuming process, but it will definitely work on your search engine rankings.

For most of my customers I start with the free listings. The only cost involved is my time. But there are also some worthwhile paid directory listings. I want to mention those here so you can evaluate for yourself if you want to spend the money on these:

Do I really need to be on these directories?

Not necessarily. Most of my customers are local and for them local (and much cheaper or free) directories are more important. Many of my SEO customers are in a good competitive position and already rank in the top 5  for their keywords, so for those clients it does not pay off to add these listings. And I certainly don’t want you to spend money if you don’t need to!

But if you are struggling to get to the first page of Google, then it might be worthwhile to increase your SEO budget and make the investment in these listings.