If you are considering bringing in a print journalist to write for your trade or local website, or if you’re making the transition from print to online writing, you need to know the basics of search engine optimization or SEO. Effective SEO is the key to building traffic and monetizing websites. The principles of effective SEO affect some aspects of writing, but they don’t affect the fundamental need for high quality.
The concept of ”search” is the key difference between print and web writing. While most people have a few favorite websites bookmarked, they obtain information of interest by using search engines, searching for online content that may have been written 10 years ago, last month, or this morning. SEO makes your content easier to find no matter when it was written. Here are five tips on making the transition to web writing by understanding SEO.
1. Learn the Basics of Keyword Research
If you are writing for a trade website, you’re writing for a limited subset of topics. When you learn to use tools like Google’s Keyword Tool, you learn what keywords people search for most often and can develop your stories around these keywords. However, knowing what the desirable keywords are isn’t enough, and you can’t just cram those keywords into your articles at every opportunity. Sure, search engines look for keywords, but search engines are also smart enough to know that if the phrase ”API 5D drill pipe” appears 47 times in an article, it’s most likely a case of ”keyword stuffing” trying to game the search engine. Search engines punish such activity by demoting such articles in search results.
2. Formatting Online Is Different than Formatting Articles for Print Media
Read a copy of The New Yorker and you expect page after page of solid text. Online articles are different. If you’ve done newspaper layout, you know the intricacies of making articles and graphics take up a pre-set amount of physical space. That’s not an issue online, and in general online readers avoid walls of text unbroken by graphics, headings and subheadings. An online reader wants to skim your article about concrete mixing to quickly determine whether you discuss exposed aggregate in concrete countertops, for instance. He or she may scroll through looking at headings and subheadings, or may use their browser’s ”find” tool to find exact words and phrases of interest. Solid walls of text turn off a lot of online readers and should be avoided.
3. Don’t Worry Much about ”Exclusives”
Scooping someone in print used to be a huge deal, and while it’s still somewhat of an honor, with internet saturation, exclusives don’t remain exclusive for long. If you do manage to scoop the competition, that’s great, but you shouldn’t make that a primary goal. Does anyone remember who first reported the death of Michael Jackson in 2009? No, but they still appreciate and search for relevant stories that are factual, well sourced and well organized.
4. Use News Feeds to Your Advantage
Once you learn the important keywords for your website, set up news alerts for a few of the most important ones and check your news feeds daily. This is a great way to help you keep a topic fresh even if you’ve written about it dozens of times already. If you write for a website specializing in securities law, for example, you can set up news feeds to alert you of court rulings of interest. This can help you keep from repeating yourself even if you write about similar topics every day, and it’s great for helping you brainstorm new ideas.
5. Know the Difference Between Search Fads and Search Trends
Count on people learning just enough about search algorithms to take full advantage of loopholes and tricks to shoot their content to the top of search engine results. It can be extremely frustrating to produce great content and watch unreadable drivel claim the number one search result on a keyword you use. However, every time someone figures out how to trick the search engines, search engine developers learn how to catch them and they generally kick them way down in the search results once they do. In extreme cases, sites can be banned from search results.
Play the long game: write high quality, well-researched content, use keywords strategically, and if you’re involved in on-page SEO, learn how to properly tag your content. This is the content that ”wins” in the search engine game over time.