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Copywriting for Users and Search Bots

March 27, 2019 - Zak Averre

Do you want to find out how to write good content for your website? Much like life, it’s about balance. The balance between robots and human readers.

Why should I worry about what text is on my website?

Writing text for websites is often an overlooked area of web design. It can be as important, if not more important, than the website design. For example, if you have a brilliantly designed website but it contained little useful info, the chances are that that visitor will not stick. Imagine picking up a book with an amazing cover design only to find the pages are blank. “Content is king” is the saying – and so it is. Add great, well-written text, to a well-designed website to maximise the design’s effect.
 
If the budget is available we would always recommend going to a professional copywriter. This is not always possible and so many of our clients opt to write the content themselves. This makes a lot of sense from a budgeting point of view but it is worth considering the expertise a professional provides.
 
So – what is the best way to write content for your website? How do you start and what sort of things should you be thinking about as you go through the process. Also what format do your designers work in? These and more questions are answered in this article…

Where to start

From a branding perspective, it might be best to start from the point of view of how you wish to be perceived by your target audience. If your company was a person, how would they speak? Would they be to the point and ‘businesslike’ – or more friendly and jargon free? Setting the right “tone of voice” and writing style for your website should fit in with your overall brand message and placement. Have a look at competitors in similar markets to see how they are presenting themselves.
Site Map Example
If you are working with a design company, you will usually have a “site map” developed for you. This should be a diagram showing all the pages on your website and how they interact with each other.
 
Before getting into the nitty gritty it might be best to sit down with the site map and to decide the purpose and function of each page. Most pages will fall into the following categories:
  • Providing information
  • Selling
  • Signing up / Applying / Enquiring

Each of these pages has different purposes and require different types of writing to fulfil those purposes. Each of these pages may also have different messages which your text will need to support. Have a think about each of your pages in the light of their purpose. Mark on your site map your general ideas so that when you get started with the text for that page you have an idea of where you want to be.

Humans vs Robots

Humans vs Robots
We write for humans. In emails, letters, text messages etc. Websites, are different. They are not only visited by humans. There are search engines which have little programs (tenderly called “spiders” or “bots”) which will visit your site and collect data. This data varies depending on the query or demands of the search. They will store this data in the search engine’s database so that when someone searches for keywords, your site’s data will be considered in their algorithms. Depending on how your site does in the algorithm you will appear higher or lower in the organic rankings.
 
Appearing high in search engines is a powerful marketing tool. How often have you gone beyond the first page of results? It’s worth writing the content for your website in a way search engine bots can read and use.

Writing for Humans

Copy writing for users

Writing content on websites is very different from writing to people you know. For example, if you write an email to a friend or colleague, it is likely they will read every word you put down. This is not the case with websites. People “skim read”. If they are not engaged within a few seconds they will move away from your site to find a site which is relevant to what they are searching for.
 
Jacob Neilsen, a usability expert has a few articles based upon some in-depth research as to how users read online content. It’s worth going through them to get a better understanding of exactly how website users read the text:

So how do we write content on our websites which are most likely to get a result? Here are a few tips:

  • Use subheadings. Users will skim read, it’s a good idea to use subheadings so that they can find relevant topics quickly.
  • Be concise. Use bullet points and clear language which is not long-winded. Avoid passive language as well as slang, or technical jargon unless necessary. Try to include one concept per sentence.
  • Front-load content. This means that you put the conclusion for what you are trying to say first. This helps users get a gist of what is on the page and hopefully, it will capture their imagination. There is nothing worse than reading a few paragraphs and realizing the page you are on is completely irrelevant.
  • Make sure it’s interesting. Ensure the text is relevant and to the point. Write in an interesting way which will engage your audience.

Writing for Robots

Writing for bots

Web designers ensure that they code your site in a way which is search engine friendly. There are things which will be “invisible” to humans which will need to be in place to be successful. For example, the content of the various tags in your page’s source code (title tags, keyword tags, description tags etc.). These should be in place as default and should also be editable to allow updates and revisions.
 
If you have a knowledge of HTML code you will be able to do this by hand. Most people do not have the time to worry about learning this complex language but there are other ways to edit this type of content. You will need a system to to allow you to do this called a “Content Management System” (CMS). This handy interface allows you to track how your website’s pages are performing in search engines. This is an ongoing process which may mean continual updating to the site over time.
 
When a robot visits your website, it will look at the visible text and links on your page. The search engine will decide what your page is about and index its findings in its database. When a user searches that database the search engine will then feed your page into relevant searches. But how does it decide what your page is about?
 
One way is by looking at key phrases. As a rule of thumb, combining long tail key phrases with short tail keywords. This means interspersing very specific phrases with more general terms. This will allow you to rank for specific questions on search as well as more general searches.
 
There are many other factors but for the sake of this article, here are a few tips on creating ranking content. We would recommend you speak to professional SEO experts who can research what phrases or words would be best to include on each page of your website, as well as other strategies and techniques you could use to gain higher rankings. A few general tips though are:
  • Find a phrase. Consider what search engine users might type in as a search phrase/phrases to find the page.
  • Use the phrase in your content. Ensure this phrase is used in the headings and content of the page. It might be an idea to repeat the phrase a few times throughout the copy as well as in the main heading and sub-headings of the page. Be careful not to stuff the copy as this can scare bots away from your site for spam.
  • Use your meta tags. Add the phrases to your page title, description, images and keyword meta tags. You will need to do this through your CMS system or by coding the page with that information yourself.
  • Use links. Add links in the body of your site to other pages within your website. This will encourage the search engine robot to crawl through these other pages of the site. Linking internally and externally can be beneficial depending on your needs.

Conclusion

So – we hope this guide has been helpful. It’s all about balance and being aware of the different types of visitors to your site. Don’t go overboard with writing for humans and neglect the search engine bots – likewise, don’t just write for robots and forget the humans! Get the balance right and you’ll have a great website! If you’d like a hand in achieving this balance and climbing the rankings contact us today. Our dedicated digital team are on hand to grow your site and help you achieve your goals. 

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