Reading “7 Things You Need to Know about SEO in 2014” from Compete Pulse, I was fascinating to read that “size matters:”
Most blog posts range between 400 and 600 words, but the ideal length for highest ranking is actually around 1,500.
Many still believe that a successful website is one that offers the information the customer needs and nothing more. Or that the ideal post length should be short, 200-450 words.
It’s not. It’s about the words. It’s about the words it takes to make your point and answer the question.
After four years researching and fighting for a Writing for the Web course at Clark College and other schools around the globe, the first class was held this past Spring with good success, and push back from the students who believed that designing and developing for the web had nothing to do with learning how to write on the web.
It’s time to revisit this discussion and explain that blogging and web publishing, from the perspective of the designer and developer to the business owner, is one of the most critical aspects of our industry, and a skill that needs to rise to the top of your skill set and resume. If you can’t write in today’s web world, you are lost and losing out.
Let’s look at all we do on the web and how it relates to the written word.
Email is our communication method of choice for every time of business. Sitting in a client’s office yesterday, a request was made to fax legal papers. She turned to me and asked, “Does WordPress do faxes?” I laughed. “No one does faxes any more. We scan and email.”
In 2013 there were nearly 3.9 billion email accounts and 247 billion emails sent every day, 122,500,453,020 every hour. Sure, we spend time on the phone, use traditional mail, and rarely fax, but the majority of business communication is done via email.
Studies report that email is about 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels with conversion rates three times higher than social media.
Social media may rule your world, but the world still trusts email for their correspondence including marketing emails, newsletters, customer support, and business interaction.
Email is still so powerful and prevalent compared to interactions with websites, social media, and texting, there are classes, training, workshops, and whole websites dedicated to teaching you how to write the proper email.
Here are some examples of articles from top media sites on the topic recently:
- Email Etiquette for Business Correspondence – About Careers from About.com
- 57 Ways To Sign Off On An Email – Forbes
- 7 Tips for Writing Emails That Get Opened – Forbes
- 25 Tips for Perfecting Your Email Etiquette | Inc.com
- The ExactTarget Blog 50 Email Marketing Tips and Stats for 2014 » The ExactTarget Blog
Whether you are a business person, designer, or developer, you will use social media to promote your wares, share your thoughts, brag, and communicate.
Writing for social media is different from traditional forms of writing. On Twitter, you are restricted to 140 characters, mini haiku style. Facebook, Google+, and others thrive on a large visual to reinforce the points or replace the words. Reddit thrives on the controversial and debatable. Tumblr and Stumble Upon relies upon the shared not the original.
Each social media platform has their own style and guide for format, presentation, phrasing, and influence. Crafting a well-formed social media post can be as challenging and time consuming as writing a blog post. Some become experts only in Facebook or Twitter and have trouble when they cross the threshold between the two. Highly visual folks adore Google+ and “got it” long before anyone else, while Facebook folks still haven’t figured it out.
While most corporations have email writing guides, even small businesses are creating social media policies to guide their employees through the process of writing and publishing across social media platforms, and how to represent themselves and their employers fairly and legally.
Learning to write for social media means learning the styles of each platform.
- Writing for Social Media: How to Write Blog Postings, Tweets and Other Status Updates: Public Relations Society of America
- 10 Pro Tips for Writers Using Social Media – Mashbable
- How To Write Killer Social Media Marketing Copy – Shareaholic
- How to Write Social Media Content: 8 Steps – wikiHow
- 71 Ways to Write a Social Media Update: Specific Tips to Engage Your Followers – DufferApp
- How To Write Exciting Social Media Posts For Your Business | BloggingPro
- Don’t Tweet up the Wrong Tree: How to Write for Different Social Platforms – Oracle
- How to Write a Social Media Policy to Empower Employees | Social Media Examiner
Coding, Hacking, Programming
The process of coding, hacking, programming, designing, and developing for the web involves writing – and not just code.
If you have ever spent hours trying to find an error in your code to realize that it was a missed semi-colon, comma, or quote mark, you know that writing matters to code. If you can learn how to use punctuational in code, you can learn how to use it in a sentence.
Inline documentation is the instructions found within the code, helping those using the code understand how to use it and how to change it if necessary. Some of the best inline documentation I’ve found comes from within WordPress core, Themes, and Plugins.
In Smashing Magazine, WordPress contributor Siobhan McKeown used the following coding example for inline documentation:
In my experience, the quality of documentation in WordPress plugins and themes varies widely. From poorly documented plugins with one-line readmes to products with user guides, developer APIs and in-depth screencasts, you’ll find every type of documentation in the WordPress ecosystem. Many plugins and themes are built by developers who don’t have the time to write documentation or don’t have the money to pay a technical writer.
Even more reason why developers and programmers need to learn how to write, and write well. It’s more than a need, it’s a must. Good inline documentation can make or break the product.
As Siobhan’s article explained, developers and designers also have to write documentation, explanations on how to use their product or service. Many professionals hire technical writers to create the tutorials and documentations, but there is nothing like hearing directly from the ones who wrote the code.
Developing the WordPress Codex, it nearly took bribery to get developers to contribute content to the online manual for WordPress users. Even today with the various official WordPress Handbooks, the best documentation is written with the cooperation of developers and those who wrote the code. Make it easy for them and your business by learning how to write documentation.
At the very least, you will be called upon to write documentation that explains to others how to write documentation for your project. I kid you not.
- Inline documentation | John James Jacoby
- Tips for writing code comments in developer documentation | I’d Rather Be Writing
- Tips for Writing Good Documentation – ReadWrite
- A beginners guide to writing documentation — Write the Docs 1.0 documentation
- Guidelines for writing documentation — BlueBream v1.0b4 documentation
- Keeping Your PHP Code Well Documented – SitePoint
- Top 15+ Best Practices for Writing Super Readable Code – Tuts+ Code Tutorial
- Best. Docs. Ever. 6 Tips to Writing Documentation – Stormpath User Management API
- The Golden Rules of Code Documentation | Java, SQL and jOOQ.
- Godoc: documenting Go code – The Go Blog
- Fifteen Thoughts and Tips on Writing Software Documentation In the 1.5 week – Borja Sotomayor
When you want to find information, what do you do?
Type. You use words to start the hunt. Even the visual folks start with the words. They may turn to Google Images or YouTube to find their answers, but it starts with the words.
Search engines know this, so they’ve worked hard to honor the questions we ask. We used to have to write in “oil change.” Today we can type in “how to change the oil” and get better answers to our search.
Web publishers, writers, and content generators understand this, so we write for the search engines, to get found by those searching.
In a controversial piece, “Stop Writing for People, Start Writing for Search Engines,” AJ Kohn wrote:
The goal of search engine algorithms is to emulate the human evaluation of a site or page. This is not an easy task. In fact, it’s a really difficult task. Think of all the things that you tap into when you evaluate a new website. The amount of analysis that goes on in just a few seconds is astounding.
The thing to remember is that search engines want to be a proxy for human evaluation. They’re trying to be … human. Don’t lose sight of this.
Part of Google’s search algorithm is to emulate the human, to interpret a site with human values, sense, and perspective – judgement. To answer the question, “Is this the information I was seeking?”
We often don’t know what we are looking for when we hit the search box. I spent three years looking for code or a WordPress Plugin to randomly highlight a past post as a post. I searched for blast from the past, history, past posts, historical post, old post, revive, and a variety of related words. I finally found what I wanted by accident, while searching for something else. The Italian author of the “Archivist WordPress Plugin” didn’t speak English well, and his documentation on the Plugin in broken English included none of the words I used to search. Finding the words is critical, so is writing the words people will use to search for your content, especially with WordPress Plugins as they serve specific purposes that need to be identified in all their synonyms.
Writing for search engines begins with understanding who and what you are writing for. Search engines now index Google+, Twitter, and other social platforms. When you write there, you are also writing for search engines.
- Search Engine Friendly Copywriting – What Does ‘Write Naturally’ Mean for SEO? | SEO Book
- How To Write So Google Loves You (Easier Than You Think!) | Search Engine People Blog
- The Future Of Content & SEO: How To Stay On Top – Search Engine Land
- Writing SEO Copy – Nitty-gritty of Online Copywriting Techniques for Search Engines and Your Users – High Rankings
- Writing for Search Engines – SEW
- SEO 101: The Only Algorithm That Matters (For Writers & Publishers) – Search Engine Journal
Blogging the Bits
No matter what you do on the web, you will need a website. Whether or not it is a blog, content management system, or static site, you will use words.
The most important words to craft are found on the About page, telling the world who you are, what you do, why you do it, and what you are doing with this website. It sets expectations, guidelines, and the play field for the reader and the author.
The next most important words are found in the site’s title and tagline, typically found in the masthead (header) of every site. The words are a promise of what is to come, carefully planned and chosen.
Next is the core content, the articles, posts, the words that support your site’s title, About page, and purpose. It’s the stuff that brings people in the door.
Writing for the web on a website means leaving behind many traditional writing techniques and styles. While the traditional inverted pyramid newspaper style is a good starting point, as is learning to write an influential editorial, writing for the web means writing shorter paragraphs, using headings as subtitles, using nouns and synonyms more than pronouns, and incorporating heavy visuals and images, video, and links into your content.
It also means learning some basic HTML code.
Want comments? Want interaction on your site? Guess what? Readers have to learn how to write on the web as well. It is an art and skill to learn how to assess and respond to comments.
Learning to write for the web also includes understanding how to structure, organize, and manage content on a website. It means studying not just writing, SEO, and HTML but User Experience (UX), Web Standards for Accessibility (national and international laws), and learning about readability and responsive design practices.
Writing for the web is about influencing the reader to calls-to-action, making them click and go to places you recommend or set as a goal destination such as subscribing to the site, filling out a form, or buying something.
Writing for the web is about links, connecting the dots within a website and beyond to related and relevant information.
Writing for the web is about entertainment, stimulating the mind, calming the spirit, and stimulating conversations.
Writing for the web is about building relationships with readers, your fans. It’s about helping others. It’s about being there when no one else is to answer their questions and give them the information they need to take the next step in their lives.
Writing for the web is about changing the world, one reader at a time.
Learn to write well.
Learn to write better.