As writers, we want people to love the experience of reading our stories. As online writers, we also want people to be served our stories when they want them, to read and engage with them, and then come back for more of them.
That’s why it’s important to know the basics of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), keywords and other smart web writing techniques. These things can get pretty complicated, so here are three of our favourite ways to easily apply some of the key principles.
1. The KISS method: Keep It Short and Simple
Online, readability is your best mate. Readers love you for it, and search engines prioritise it. All text on the internet has a ‘readability score’, and the quality of your score depends on a few factors. Writing that is easy to read and understand is not only more enjoyable to read, but it makes your content more inclusive and accessible to a wider audience. All good things!
Remember the old Keep It Simple, Stupid principle? As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing stupid about it at all. That’s why we’ve put our twist on the old method.
Keep it short
Cut down lengthy sentences and swap complex words for simpler ones. Say what you mean using as few words as possible. This doesn’t mean that big words and long sentences are always bad, they just create more labour for your readers.
Keep it simple
Using plain English is about writing in clear, concise language that is easy to read and understand. Avoid using jargon and explain unfamiliar references. Also, read your writing aloud—if it feels unnatural or difficult to say then your readers will probably feel that way too.
Grammarly and Hemingway are great tools to help you strengthen your readability. These browser plug-ins give suggestions for how you can improve as you go, so they step in when you’re writing emails, documents, and using other programs.
2. The bite, the snack, and the meal
People who read online content are hungry and impatient. Search engines are too. The bite, snack and meal method is a way of understanding the different types of online readers and how they consume content to ensure you’re serving them enough to be satisfied. For us, it’s also a great way to think about how our writing can turn nibblers into regular diners—without being click-bait of course!
Bite = headline
A good headline is a taster. It gives readers enough so that they know what to expect from your content. Many readers will move on from here, but for us, smart headlines can also encourage healthy cravings for more.
Data tells us that:
• The best headlines use keywords to make sure our articles turn up when our audience is searching for information
• Online readers love headlines that are lists, how-tos, or that ask questions
• Aim to use around 6-10 words, and make them mostly common words with a few emotional and powerful words
Check out CoSchedule. It’s an excellent tool to test the effectiveness of your headlines, with tips on how to improve yours based on data. Any score over 60 is a win.
Snack = introduction
A good introduction gives readers a concise summary of your article in two to three sentences. The original method says that a good snack is one that satisfies readers enough that they don’t need to read on, but we also want ours to stay for the meal. That’s why we love intros that are generous enough to give more story detail without filling up our readers too much before the main.
For example, What’s Going On In Hong Kong? Should We Care? is a bite of ours. Here is the snack:
For weeks young people have gathered in the streets of Hong Kong in record numbers to protest. But what are the protests all about? Asanga got the lowdown from his friend Edwin, a Hong Kong national with friends and relatives on the ground.
We know some of the best stories begin with an anecdote or story, not a summary. This is OK—sometimes creative decisions win over SEO. Your job is to find the right balance.
Meal = rest of your article
For us, a tasty meal is one that directly links to the bite and the snack. Make sure your content delivers on its promise to leave readers feeling so satisfied that they’ll come back—and bring their friends!
3. Formatting: Break it down now
Since tech researcher Jakob Neilson’s findings in 1997, we’ve known that the majority of us scan or skim-read online content. We thought this meant content needed to be short, but then research from content experts like Buffer and Medium said that articles with upwards of 1600 words, or that take seven minutes to read are favourable. Confused? It differs from publication to publication, and from story to story.
The good news is, there are formatting rules which today’s readers and search engines will both like, no matter the length or style. Here are the main ones to keep in mind.
Go for line breaks over large chunks of text
Create white space by breaking down your paragraphs and giving your sentences more room to breathe. It makes writing easier to digest, particularly on mobile devices.
Make sure they tell readers what the next set of text is about, so they can find out easily and quickly whether your content is relevant to them.
Break up your text with in-text images and videos, infographics or call-out quotes. These act as visual breaks and offer readers a new way of experiencing the information, which keeps them interested.
So there are a few strategies that we hope stick in your memory for the next time you’re writing online content. Apply a few of these tricks and over time you’ll find they become second nature.