Updated Friday, October 23, 2021.
Summary: Today’s online business writing must incorporate SEO techniques. Today, you are in large part writing for machines.
If you’re writing for the web, you are writing for your boss, of course, the client, certainly, but also most importantly for a bot, a group of algorithims somewhere in Mountain View or wherever Google has them kept. If you don’t have people handling SEO for you, then you better get on the learning curve kick.
The days of producing quality writing and throwing in some keywords to attract the search engines is over. There’s too much original, quality writing on the web for you to be noticed by that practice alone. Keyword selection is important but it goes hand in hand with a dozen other methods to get your client ranked higher in results.
Worse, an individual web page may not help a client’s website by itself, instead, an entire website of specific pages appealing to Google is key to getting your customer on its first page of results. That’s where a team comes in, you can’t do this by yourself unless you want to dive deep into SEO and become a webmaster as well. Let me give you an example.
First, you don’t have to go through this nonsense if you are, say, the only dentist in Tonopah, Nevada. People will find whatever you put online. Let’s say, however, that you are selling marshmallows online and let’s also say that this is an incredibly competitive field. THEREFORE, you are going to have a website that describes every aspect of marshmallow history, cooking, production, and distribution. As well as every other topic you can think of that relates to marshmallows.
ahrefs helps with this since it gives you a look at your competitor’s websites as well as endless statistics on keywords. Yes, you can see page lists of other companies on ahrefs. Look at the topics they written on, see which ones are the most popular, pen similar pages that can pass Copyscape, and boom! –- you’re getting things done. Oh, and get out your credit card. The one with the big limit. Subscriptions are hellishly expensive, in fact, everything about SEO research and implementation is freakishly high. People think anyone building a business website is making big money when it is usually the reverse.
That’s just the beginning. You know about keywords. Another step to writing your hundred pages is appealing to “People Also Ask.” You’ve seen this on Google. People search, for example, with a question like, “How are marshmallows made?” Google throws up a dialog box first, usually a company paying for Google ads, but below that is another box that says “People also ask.” With prompts like this:
People also ask:
What are marshmallows really made of?
Are marshmallows made out of pig?
Why are marshmallows so unhealthy?
How are marshmallows made step by step?
Now, time to write pages titled exactly like those questions. Google likes Google and will seize on this approach. If you have only one page, try incorporating those questions as headings on a single page. Keep asking Google different questions about marshmallows and keep writing pages prompted by your results. What if Google doesn’t produce a “People alos ask” box? There is a way to force it to. But I want you to figure that out on your own. You’ll need that inquisitive spirit if you are really willing to junk your craft as a writer and begin prostituting yourself before Google as a part-time SEO guy.
I could wallow in many more specifics. Your turn to write for machines. Let me get back to glittering generalities.
The last company I worked for built websites for lawyers. Law is insanely competitive, of course, especially in bigger cities. A typical client had scores of web pages, usually hundreds! One had four hundred pages on every aspect of personal injury. Of those, maybe twenty pages were frequented by real people. But you have to be content rich across an entire website, not just content rich on one page. You appeal to Google by presenting a broad coverage of your industry or whatever it is you are selling. The highest ranking websites in a competitive field have the most pages, newly done pages, original (or written to appear original) pages.
This titanic effort moves your client closer to the first page of Google’s results.
Steinbeck, Hemmingway, and Kafka would have real difficulty producing business writing on the web these days without an understanding of search engine optimization. Which is terribly unfortunate, it makes me angry at times that I am writing or revising mainly for a machine.
What triggered this rant?
I recently got a nice email from Aliaa El Nashar about a list of writing courses her group put together. But none of the courses combined writing with rankings. The Berkeley course, for example, on social media writing that I signed up for turned out to have no relevance to business.
The instructor’s focus was on producing quality writing. Somehow, that would win the day on social. No, it won’t. Not by itself. My cat photo on Instagram will pull more likes than whatever carefully done writing you’ve done for your post. A huge amount of social is based on images and an enormous amount of writing on the web must cater to bots and algorithms.
My company produces blog posts and other writing for law firms across the country. If we don’t get our client on the first page of Google’s search results then that customer is invisible. Business writing today is a combination of good writing, appropriate images, and an understanding of search engine optimization.
Our writing matches up or is better than most other internet companies that do the same work. While I am only on the edges of the SEO work that my team does, I am aware of certain methods we use to make our pages more search engine friendly. You read a little at the beginning. And those techniques go way beyond keyword selection and they are constantly changing as Google won’t reveal its methods lest someone game their system.
There is also a constellation of other outside website tricks that support any page that is posted. These are not within the writing itself but have to do with how the writing gets distributed beyond the hosting website. SEO is a dark art and unfortunately any writer putting out content on the web better know something about it.
I know of no course that combines business writing with SEO. Steinbeck, Kafka, and Conrad would all be lost today without an optimized website. Social media writing without SEO in mind? Good luck, Berkeley professor. I see major companies and groups struggle on Instagram to get 15 or 20 likes to a post when they should be getting thousands. Why? Because there’s now an entire ecosystem to develop to get a client better known. Tasking one person in a company to do social won’t do much good unless you have other resources in place. Or, a photo of a dog with a bandana on the back of a Harley. The whole thing is sad. Really, really sad.
I’m 62 and have been writing professionally since 1994. Now, my chief concern is getting the attention of a bot.
With personal websites like my writing website, who cares? I don’t sell anything, have no ads, and I don’t care where I wind up with Google. Any business writer, though, must get used this new, crippled reality that takes time away from their craft and puts it down a rabbit hole of algorithms. An incredible time trap.
Sorry for the rant, all business writers must move from an uncharted sea onto a new land. Most people, though, like that Berkeley teacher, haven’t landed on shore yet. You must write with ranking in mind. Otherwise, us fine writers will all see each other on page 13 of Google’s search results.
Some of my writing related to this page (all internal links)
More on Writing for Machines (More on business writing for bots and algorithms)
Do I Need to Repeat Myself? (Business writing must incorporate SEO techniques) YOU ARE HERE
Deeper into SEO (A Berkeley Writing for Social Media course fails)
Who/m are We Writing For? (The end reader today may not be human)
What Content Authority Means in SEO and Why it is Important (A discussion of content authority fundamentals)