Helping people find you

If your content is on the web, but the people who need it can’t find it, it might as well not exist.

Search engines work by analysing pages, working out what they are about, and matching them to search requests. Whether you’re a business owner, a writer, or an editor, you want to make it as easy as possible for the search engine to do this accurately.

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the art of helping potential readers find your content.

I will assume that your goal is to attract readers who actually want what your site has to offer – whether products, services or information. There are also techniques for drawing people to your site who aren’t looking for what you offer, but who might be persuaded to want it: these are sometimes described as ‘black hat’ SEO.

Managing web content

In my introduction to writing for the web, I identified three challenges for web writers and editors:

  • impatient users
  • missing context
  • content management.

If you Google ‘content management’ you will find plenty of advice about selecting content management software. A large site may indeed need this; most can get away with a spreadsheet or small database.

Even if a site doesn’t need content management software, it does need a content manager (whatever their title). Someone needs to take responsibility for ensuring that content standards, policies and procedures exist and are followed. In an ideal world, every site would have a managing editor with the skills, knowledge and – perhaps most important – the clout to undertake this role.

We don’t live in that ideal world, but if you are creating or editing content for a new or redeveloped site, you have an opportunity to establish the standards, policies and procedures that person will need. (Of course, a site owner who has hired an editor can already be counted among the enlightened few who value their content!)

Creating connections

When Vannevar Bush wrote ‘As we may think Link to other site - opens in new tab‘ in 1945, the idea of  machine-made links between pieces of information to create a trail of related information was innovative. Today, hyperlinks , or just ‘links’ underpin our use of the web, whether for entertainment, for work or for everyday tasks like paying bills.

Links create connections

A link connects one image or piece of text with another part of the same web page, a page somewhere else on the same site, or a file somewhere else on the web.

Links to other sites can be risky, as you have no way of knowing when the other site is rebuilt: the domain name could be sold and the content completely replaced, so site maintenance must include a regular program of checking all external links. It is good practice to let people know if they’re going to leave your site, perhaps with a small icon like this one Link to other site - opens in new tab.

Avoid ‘click here’ (and ‘more …’)! If it looks like a hyperlink, anyone who has been using the web for more than five minutes knows they will need to click to activate it. Ideally, every link should make sense out of context, and be unique on the page: this means that when someone using a screen reader chooses a list of the links on a page, each of them makes sense.