If Web-based user documentation can improve a company’s Web site ranking, then it makes sense for technical writers to take advantage of this fact.
So if you’re writing Web-based user documentation, how willing are you to change your writing style for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) considerations?
- Would you decline – arguing for the purity of your words and the SEO value of text that has a natural flow?
- Would you agree to include certain key words in your headings and body text to improve keyword density?
- Would you agree to use black hat techniques, such as using hidden text? After all it’s not illegal.
Indeed, do SEO experts and copywriters know how to write Web based content better than a technical author?
We would suggest you agree with your sponsor for whom you’re writing. Is it for Google (and your search engine ranking)? Is it for your end users (and support call reduction) ? If you know the audience and the purpose of the documentation then you’ll be able to verify if the writing approach you adopt will meet their requirements or not.
@Ellis: how willing are you to change your writing style for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) considerations?
You assume that the styles for technical writing and for SEO are different. Before I can answer the question, I need to know the differences between the styles.
@Ellis: Would you agree to include certain key words in your headings and body text to improve keyword density?
Yes, if the inclusion of the keywords helps the audience.
In some cases, an increase in keyword density can increase the clarity of text. Here is an example from Kohl’s ‘Global English style guide’ (http://www.globalenglishstyle.com), section 5.1.1:
Do not write: Once you define the basic structure of your table, enhancing it is easy.
Write: Once you define the basic structure of your table, enhancing the table is easy.
In the first sentence, the pronoun ‘it’ can mean ‘basic structure’ or ‘table’. The second sentence is unambiguous. (For the purposes of the exercise, assume that ‘table’ is a keyword.)
In some cases, an increase in keyword density can decrease the clarity of text:
1. Technical writers help people to use products safely and effectively.
2. Technical writers (technical authors, technical communicators) help people to use products safely and effectively.
With the second sentence, a reader has more work to do. If readers do not need to know the synonyms, the inclusion of synonyms for SEO is not good for the readers. However, if one of the audiences is search engines, then possibly, compromise is necessary.
I would say that the technical writing style is usually very SEO friendly (see our interview with Chris Bose for more information on why this is the case). However, there are organisations out there who populate their Web site with content that is purely there to improve their ranking in Google. The articles are written with a brief to include n instances of a certain word or phrase. They are badly written – from a human perspective.
This means there could be clashes in the future between extremes: Between someone who wants to maximise the SEO capabilities and someone who wants to maximise the readability for users.
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I went through this process recently with an SEO consultant. Some suggestions for rewrites were things I simply would not write. I let a few marginal calls go the SEO way, but didn’t always find it easy to reconcile SEO-friendly sentences with a human-friendly, Plain English tone.
Here’s the paradox: some of our audience are searching for jargon and jibberish, and and if we want to lure them in, we need to optimise for jibber-jabber. Which sticks in the throat a little.
The SEO techniques you describe are now rather dated.
Thankfully, Google has got so good at detecting pages that have been artificially loaded with extraneous keywords, that your best strategy is to write ‘normally’ (that is, as if you’re addressing a normal person).
Even if this weren’t the case, I’d argue that your primary goal should be to aid user assistance, not to generate web hits. That is, your primary audience should be the user, not the prospect.