News

News

12.08.2011

Writing for the Web – Part 4: Search engines

Writing for the Web

If you haven’t heard of Google, you haven’t lived. That may sound a bit exaggerated, but it is actually not very far from reality: website operators often consider a good result in the most popular search engines to be the most important criterion for the success of a website because many visitors access websites via the search results. But how can we make a search engine understand that our content is relevant to the user’s search enquiry? Part Four in the series “Writing for the Web” will provide you with the answers.

A search engine – as the name suggests – is not a person, but a machine. And so it is unable to understand written words. However, it is able to process words according to preset rules. A search engine essentially consists of three parts: the crawler, indexer and search module. The crawler automatically follows links in the Web and therefore continually encounters new Internet pages. In order for the crawler to find a website, it must either have been introduced (registered with the search engine) or accidentally encountered because other pages are linked to the website. All pages visited by the crawler are then indexed, i.e. simplified, to store all words on a website in a database and create a search engine index. The third part of the engine, the search module, is responsible for user enquiries. It uses the index to find the relevant pages for the search enquiry and lists the hits according to importance.

Anybody looking to understand the details of a search engine and its marvels will find a mass of information both offline and online (who would have thought it – all you need to do is enter “How does a search engine work” on Google). But we would like to concentrate on which parts of our website texts can be optimised to enable the search engine to find and list us, and even classify us as really important.

Text elements for search machine optimisation

Title

Each html page has a title that is specified in the <title> tag and is presented to the website visitor in the header of the browser window. The search engine reads the title and estimates the importance of the page for a certain search term. At this stage we need to emphasise that it is a lot of work to give every single html page an individual title containing the most important keyword or the main theme of the page. It is more work, in any case, then simply displaying the company name in every title. But the positive effect on the search engine results makes this effort worthwhile. A title ideally consists of 3-8 words that should attract both readers and search engines.

Sample title: Nougabella nougat manufacturer

  • Negative: <title>Nougabella sales</title>

If a user enters the word “nougat” for their search, the page is not displayed. This title only has a positive effect if users search directly for the company name “Nougabella”.

  • Positive: <title>Nougat pur by Nougabella: finest ingredients, sublime pleasure</title>

Here, the title includes both the product and the company name, motivates web users to click on the link and influences the search engine result.

Meta keywords and meta description
These two parts are not directly visible to visitors and also have less significance than several years ago. But they should still be taken into consideration for comprehensive search engine optimisation. Meta keywords are the entire collection of key terms and synonyms connected with the page – up to a maximum of 20 to 25 terms. The meta description consists of 1-2 short, descriptive sentences that should in turn contain the most important keywords. This informative text is displayed in the search result listing and is also significant for several functions in social networks (e.g. the Share function on Facebook). 50-150 characters are ideal for the meta description.

Example: Website of a coffee roaster

Negative:

  • <meta name=“keyword” content=“Dardusco, coffee, gastronomy, commerce, tradition, innovation”>
  • <meta name=“description” content=“Dardusco offers coffee for the food service industry and retail trade.”>

Positive:

  • <meta name=“keyword” content=“Coffee, espresso, latte macchiato, gastronomy, hotel, restaurant, café, Idee Kaffee, Alfredo”>
  • <meta name=“description” content=“Dardusco offers highest quality coffee for the food service industry and retail trade. Beans, ground, coffee pods, coffee discs and more. Selection of our brands: Idee Kaffee, Alfredo Espresso”>

Headings, subheadings and highlighting
You’ve probably already guessed: if a search term appears in a heading or if it is highlighted in bold, for example, the author of the text believes that this word is particularly relevant. The search engine picks up on this as well. As a rule, headings and subheadings are awarded slightly more importance than highlighting, and the combination of these factors contributes significantly towards search engine positioning. Incidentally: a search engine only recognises headings by their html code: The <h1> tag designates by default a heading, <h2> is a subheading and <h3> to <h8> can be used for further structuring if this is necessary.

Text content and text structure
Not only the reader, but also the search engine is happy if each individual page of a website focuses on just one topic. In addition, the position awarded by the search engine is improved if the content between the two <body> tags is not too long – 300 words are sufficient. When scanning a page, search engines make the following two assumptions: important things are written first and important words are written often. In other words: if possible, keywords should be written in the first paragraph of each page and included many times on the page. In technical jargon, the latter is the search term density: the search engine counts how often a search term occurs in relation to all the words on a page. If a search term occurs too seldom in relation to the overall text length, then this lessens the importance of the page for this search term. A density of 3-8% is recommendable, but some experts assume that pages with a density of only 5.5% are judged by Google, for example, as trying to fool the search engine ranking with the excessive use of keywords. You should therefore bear in mind that search terms should be carefully positioned.

Links
The individual pages of a website are naturally linked with each other. These links have an influence on the search results: if the displayed text in the link contains the search term, then this will positively influence the position of the target page in the search engine.

Example: sourceit Deutschland

  •  Target page
  •  Successful link

The target page provides information on the possibilities for importing from China for service providers. In the link “Beschaffung für Dienstleister” (Procurement for service providers), the word procurement functions both as a synonym for importing and also as the reference to service providers.

Checklist for search engine optimisation
There are even more elements that can be taken into consideration in comprehensive search engine optimisation. One of these is the domain name and the image attribute “ALT” in which keywords can be placed. However, if you focus on those aspects mentioned above, you are already performing the essential fine tuning for effective webpage optimisation – in summary:

  • Include key terms in the <title> and <meta> tags, if possible for each html page individually
  • Integrate keywords into headings and subheadings, and highlight them in the text
  • Practise focussed writing: texts should ideally focus on only one topic
  • Keep it short: 300 words are sufficient for the body text
  • Search term density between 3 and 8%
  • Take care to select good words for links

 

What’s new?
The search engine visits a website more than once. The crawler keeps checking the site now and then to see whether there are any new developments. And we’d also like our customers to keep checking our site now and then! Which brings us nicely to the next part in our series “Writing for the Web”, in which we will make a brief digression into the area of Writing newsletters.