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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Serving Two Writing Masters

It's never easy to serve two masters, but when you are writing for search engine spiders and for human readers you are doing just that. As a ghostwriter I write a lot of content that is designed for the search engines. That means that my clients have rules about keyword density (the number of times each keyword is used) and about whether keywords have to be used exactly as written, including spelling mistakes.

The main goal when writing for search engines is to have keywords corresponding to the most searched for terms so that when people search for those terms again they find your site. And it probably works, though search engines are constantly updating their search algorithms so they can't be fooled. That's why the emphasis has changed from metatags to keywords to whatever the latest info is (I'll leave that for another time).

However, there is a problem. Content that is written primarily for search engines may seem turgid and boring to a human reader. After all, web content is about addressing the reader directly in a sort of conversational style, If you were talking about plastic containers, you would only mention it once or twice as you would both know what you were talking about - 15 times would make for a dull conversation.

Some writing clients have caught on to this and allow white noise around the keywords. This is words like 'the' and 'a' and prepositions which help to make the articles better for human readers while still keeping the keywords intact for search engine spiders. In addition, they realise that using the keywords only a few times can be just as effective as using them 15 times, provided they are placed correctly. Search engines want to see relevance. That means that whatever the article title is, you should have the keywords in the first couple of sentences. And if you also have them in the last couple of sentences, that will indicate that there's relevant content throughout the article. Of course, there's more to it than that. You need to think about your subheadings and the content that follows them too.

As a ghostwriter, it can be difficult to write for two audiences, but that's just what we often have to do with web content. Where possible, I try to write something that I would be happy to read, but there are times when you have to bite the bullet and do exactly what the client wants, even if it goes against the grain. The thing that bothers me most is spelling mistakes, so I always check whether the client really means to include them, pointing out that human readers will think less of the content if they are left in - it sometimes works. How do you handle writing for two audiences?


Dana Prince said...

Great post, Sharon. I really struggle with this one sometimes and I especially hate the spelling mistake one. I do the same as you and luckily all my clients so far have pointed that there are spelling errors. They do seem, some of them, to want grammatical errors though which makes me shudder.

I try to find a happy balance and do my best to make the fodder readable and enjoyable while adhering to the direction from the client but some days it's tricky!

BloggingWriter said...

It is, Dana. I guess many of us have to strike that balance. When I wrote for print, I didn't have to think about any of this. I really dislike spelling and grammatical errors - I have to grit my teeth as I type :)