How to Write for Search? A Short Guide With a Downloadable Cheat Sheet.

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Are you new to web content writing and a little confused about what is important for on-page SEO?

I’ve got you covered. In this article, I give you a short summary of what can make your article friendlier for search engines. This article is about small on-page SEO tweaks and tricks. It’s not about how to write engaging content (I keep that for another blog post 🙂 )

Bonus: At the end of the article, download an A6-sized cheat sheet ready to print out and put on your desk.

Summary of «How to write for search engines (and humans!)»:

1. Integrate the keyword you want to rank for in the headings
2. Make your content scannable
3. Use question-based H1 to rank in voice search
4. Add title tag and meta description
5. Add internal links
6. Add alt tags and image title tags

1. Integrate the keyword you want to rank for in the headings

I bet you’ve done all the legwork and identified the keyword you want to rank for. Now you have to tell Google what your article is all about. For this, include your keyword in the heading (H1). Also casually slip the keyword or synonyms of it in the subheadings (H2).

Let’s say, you write an article titled «How to prepare for the Spanish DELE exam». Your subheadings (H2) could be:

H2: Determine your level
H2: Know how the exam works
H2: Use popular expressions
H2: Find a teacher to prepare
H2: Know the grading system
H2: Practice with past exams

It would be more search friendlier if your subheadings (H2) were:

H2: Determine your Spanish level
H2: Know how the DELE exam works
H2: Use popular Spanish expressions
H2: Find a Spanish teacher to prepare for the exam
H2: Know the grading system
H2: Practice with past DELE exams

With these subheadings (H2) you give the Googlebot more context on the topic.

2. Make your content scannable

For a client, I did heat-map tests with Crazyegg to see how users consumed blog articles. I found out that the users were not reading the content linearly. Instead, they scanned the page, looking for the information that was most pertinent to their current need.

Therefore, you have to serve users the content in bits and make your article scannable.

2.1 Include bulleted lists

One way to do this is to break up large text into a bulleted list. On the one hand, the user can scan the information easily. On the other hand, bulleted lists increase the chance to rank in a featured snippet. Featured snippets are at the very top of the search engine results page (SERP), also called position 0.

sample of featured snippet on search engine result page
A sample of a featured snippet.

2.2 Break up large blocks of text into digestible paragraphs

If you have big chunks of text, break the content up. Write 3-5 sentences per paragraph and elaborate only one idea per paragraph.

2.3 Include graphics and photos

You’re writing about stats and figures? Support the text with a graphic. On one hand, the image can help you get the message across. On the other hand, images break up the copy as well.

3. Use question-based H1 to rank in voice search

20% of searches in the Google app are now done by voice. In order to capture those searches as well, it is advisable that you include interrogative words such as What, Who, Why, When, Where in your H1, as voice search tends to be more question-based.

When we use search engines on a desktop, we might type «banana bread preparation time»

When we use voice search, we might ask, «Ok Google, how long does it take me to prepare banana bread?»

Additionally, a recent study from Backlinko confirmed that question-based title tags have above-average click-through rates on the SERP. I’ll explain more about the title tags in the next paragraph.

4. Add title tag and meta description

Basically, title tags and meta descriptions are tiny bits of HTML code in the header of a web page. They help search engines to understand the content of a page. And you want to take good care of them, as they are shown on the SERP.

printscreen of search engine result page with flashs tot title tag and meta description
Title Tag and Meta Description are shown on the SERP – if Google doesn’t overwrite them

What should a title tag contain?

A title tag is the shortest summary of your article. You have a limit of 50-60 characters to tell the user what your article is all about. Google advises using the same title tag as H1 of the article. You wonder why? Users see your title tag on the SERP. They click on it and expect the same or a very similar title for your article (H1). If they see a completely different title they might quickly leave your page. Read more on Googles recommendation on their support page.)

And what to consider when crafting a meta description?

Provide a 120-150 characters long summary of the content of your page and make sure to invite the user to click through to your article. Include the most important keyword of the article in the meta description. The closer the keyword is to the beginning, the more weight it has for the search engine. Again, don’t stuff it with too many keywords. The language has to sound natural and human.

It’s a real challenge to write compelling title tags and meta descriptions, I am telling you.

And, on top of that, you can’t even be sure that Google will display your title tag and meta description on the SERP. Since August 2021, Google has frequently been overwriting title tags and meta descriptions with their own snippets. They base them on content found on your website and adapt them to the search query of the user.

That being said, you should always provide a title tag and meta description.

Have you already published an article about a similar topic? Link towards it.

On the one hand, you keep the user engaged with your site for a little longer. On the other hand, you pass over link juice to other pages of your website.

When linking internally, include the keyword of the target site in your anchor text. You shouldn’t use «here» as anchor text for an internal link.

If I want to link to another blog post of mine, the anchor text of the link should include a relevant keyword. This helps Google to understand what your website is about. For instance:

(…) want to know more? In a recent article I walk you through the SEO Audit steps (…)

6. Add alt tags and image title tags

If your article includes images, make sure you provide an alt tag and an image title tag. Both are again HTML attributes.

What are alt tags?

Alt tags are used to describe what is shown on an image.

On the one hand, alt tags help people with vision impairment to understand what is shown on the image. The person’s screen reader will read out the alt tag aloud.

On the other hand, alt tags also help search bots to understand what is on the image.

The alt tag should be about 125 characters long.

What are image title tags?

Title tags can be seen as tooltips when hovering over an image in some browsers, such as Safari. Therefore, a title tag enhances the user experience.

It’s good practice to have an informative title tag, but there is no proven impact on SEO.

Let’s try an exercise: An example of an alt tag and image title tag

Below we have an image of a cute hut in the Swiss alps on a rainy day. How would you define the title tag and the alt tag?

brown mountain hut in village with cloudy sky
A mountain hut in Saas Almagell

I defined the title tag and alt tag as follows:
title=”swiss mountain hut”
alt=”brown mountain hut in village with cloudy sky”

A6 cheat sheet to print out

With that, we’ve covered the basics and you’re ready to go. I prepared a little cheat sheet to print out and pin next to your desk: writing-for-search-cheatsheet-a6.pdf

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. crocodile

    Hi! Do you ᥙse Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be
    okay. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and ⅼook forward to new
    updates.

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