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Captivating Readers While Attracting Web Crawlers

Posted on 1.01.2013

Today’s digital writer has two audiences: readers and Web crawlers. Unfortunately, the two have distinct tastes.

The latter, for example, prefers keyword repetition, which works to achieve higher search engine rankings (thus, maintain visibility with an audience). This “over-optimized” style of writing, however, can attract Web crawlers but can also lose a reader’s interest. On the contrary, online readers demand relevant information in easy, bite-sized pieces. Being brief, by using sentence fragments, bullet points and reporting “just the facts” increases reader interest but may sacrifice SEO-driven rankings.

And, despite the different preferences of readers and Web crawlers, both are seemingly interrupting the creative prose of yesterday.

“It’s not a trend I agree with,” said Lynda McDaniel, founder of the Association for Creative Business Writing and co-founder of The Book Catalysts. “That [brevity] style won’t bring anything to life, especially not the readers. Writing is the portal to our thoughts, and if we write in snippets, our thoughts will be just as abbreviated. To keep your content interesting and hold the reader’s attention; write to the reader, write for the reader and write from the heart. Write as if you’re talking with a friend — or at least someone representative of your readership. Engage the reader with stories and compelling information, not just short little blurbs.”

Words trigger emotion and form bonds with the reader. McDaniel thinks an importance should be placed on writing interesting content using clarity, fresh associations and interest angles. To create visuals and actions in the reader’s mind, try incorporating a few of the following techniques:

Appeal to the senses: Use language to paint imagery, create sound and describe an aroma, taste or texture. For example, if your business received an award, try “Within minutes of the news, music rocked the room and champagne corks were popping,” instead of “We won the award.”

Document sources to support opinions: To support ideas and attract Web crawlers, provide evidence from reliable, credible sources, such as research organizations, traditional media, government sources and associations.

Develop a sense of scale: Create an analogy using common knowledge to present unfathomable ideas, such as large numbers. Not only does this add interest, but it is also powerful imagery. For example, 1 second is 1 second (and easy to comprehend), but 1 million seconds is equivalent to 12 days. And, 1 billion seconds is equivalent to 30 years. Describing a product that measures 3.3 x 2.2x 0.8 inches? Don’t leave the reader guessing about what that means. Explain that it fits inside of an Altoid mint container.

Create similes and metaphors: Figurative language helps create a vivid picture and appeal to the reader’s imagination. For example, a report laden with heavy statistical data may be “as dull as dishwater.”

Use action verbs: Movement creates energetic and lively prose. For instance, say “The tree rose 50 feet out of the ground;” instead of “The tree was big.”

Choose active voice: Show the subject performing the action instead of the subject receiving the action. For example, “He wrote the story;” is preferred to “The story was written by him.”

Incorporate fun: There are several ways to use wordplay and add surprise. Take a cliché and make it cool by changing one letter or one word, such as “Best suite in the house.” Another example, “Is your website a pain in the Net?”

Repeat keywords and phrases: Create a resounding echo that imprints the key facts. Connect with the reader; connect with his heart, connect with his soul and connect with his mind. However, avoid excessive repetition that results in keyword stuffing.

Vary sentence structure: To add variety, as well as interest and emphasis, write paragraphs consisting of short, punchy sentences and longer, detailed sentences.

Maintain clarity: Use the best word to convey the intended meaning accurately and precisely. Use “because” instead of “as a result of.” Try “saunter” for “leisurely walk.” Incorporate questions: Challenge the reader to think beyond the written word in the story. Include “what if” questions.

People are complex beings with unique perspectives and experiences. So, take time to understand readers and present ideas in a fresh, clear and interesting way that resonates with them and triggers an action. Through the power of words, create compelling messages that captures readers’ hearts and connects with their minds. The SEO results of quality, thought-provoking content will follow.

About the Author: Michelle Wicmandy is a regular contributor to Website Magazine, a lecturer at the University of Houston Downtown and an executive-level marketing and business development professional.

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