Here’s the good news:
Every organisation or individual can achieve a high rating on Google and the other search engines.
Here’s the other news:
You’ve got to be a good writer and like people, language and communication. You’ve got to work intelligently and consistently.
If the second point sounds like bad news to you, here’s why it is this way:
Whether on the Internet, in magazines and newspapers, in advertising, in literature, and for TV and movies, writing is about communication. Communication is about human beings sharing information with each other in order to understand and share experience. And you can’t understand if you don’t get what’s being communicated.
You would think that this would be advice that everyone would intuitively understand, but we all know that many businesses struggle with the simple concept. Very many organisational and business sites look impressive and slick, yet their copy and information feels cynical, wooden, trite, empty or ingenuine. That means that their audience will read a sentence, or a paragraph if they’re lucky, and leave the site.
Recently, an article in Harvard Business Review, by Kyle Wiens, explains why an understanding of language and good grammar is important for writing computer programming. Wiens says, “…programming should be easily understood by real human beings – not just computers”. Clearly, if an understanding of language matters for computer programming, it matters even more for writing for the Internet.
Human beings require that writing is fluent, authentic, sounds and feels honest, flows well and rings true. While there are different styles of writing and different contexts that call for different approaches, formats and tone, essentially, we read because we want to find out things. If we have to work too hard, we’ll stop and find something else. Good writing starts with engagement, whether its advertising copy, high literature, academic or scientific writing, or your Sunday magazine.
Search engines pick up key words and phrases, but they also pick up organic style. This means that if you work too hard to fit in key words or phrases, at the expense of real communication, you’ll lose both your human and your computer audience. Language and writing is about being and sounding genuine and authentic. Just as we can spot a conman in real life, we’ll instantly stop reading copy that sounds contrived, cynical and self-serving.
Dale Carnegie taught us years ago in his famous self-help bible How to Win Friends and Influence People that to be effective communicators, we have think about our audience and stop thinking about ourselves. So just because computer-based writing is a relatively new medium, we have no excuse.
This means don’t lecture, don’t be gratuitous or cynical and don’t think you can bully or brow beat your audience or clients into trying or buying your product or services. They are people like you are. You need to have something to say that's worth saying, and that they want to hear. (Here’s an example of a recruitment website with simple artwork but effective, honest, straightforward writing). And don’t think it’s just luck or magic: there is a reason why some organisations or people have a high Google profile and some don’t, and it doesn’t just come down to how much money they spend.
There is not as much mystery to Search Engine Optimisation as you might think. Mostly, just learn to be a good writer. And how do you do that? Empathise with your audience, tell them what they want to know, have something worth saying and learn to be genuinely yourself.
Good writing is good writing – in any medium.
Lynette Jensen is a director & co-founder of workplace psychology practice Genesys Australia, which provides GeneSys assessments across Australia. She is committed to helping people find work-life balance through good job fit.
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