Writing for how people search and writing quality links are the two fundamental skills of web writing. Think carefully about search behavior and make sure your links are always clear and logical. Search changes the way we write. We now have to think carefully about why and how people search. We need to use the words that they use, rather than the words that we might like to use. This is a major challenge for many writers, and it is a particular challenge for large organizations.
Most organizations are full of self-love and the larger the organization the deeper that obsession becomes. Many websites are, quite simply, vanity-publishing exercises. They are full of organization-centric content that is written in organization-speak.
Most writers don't set out to write organization-centric content. However, there are a lot of internal forces that drive writers to create content that uses organization catchphrases, buzzwords, and acronyms.
This sort of content is not nearly as effective on the Web because people don't search using organization catchphrases, buzzwords, and acronyms. People scan-read your webpages, and scan-reading is actually another type of search, where people are searching on the page for the words that they care about.
So, the need to understand search behavior is much wider than simply understanding search-engine search behavior. It has deeper implications that affect the very writing process itself. Before you write web content, you should always find out the words that your readers search for. You should then use these words prominently in your content.
Linking is a crucial skill of the web writer. The Web is a network, and it is links that make a network a network. Web writers are constantly thinking about the links between their content and other pieces of content. They think about the context of their content. They wonder about things such as what part of the classification their content will fit best into.
Web writers wonder whether "Edit your address" or "Change your address" would be the most effective link. They wonder if they would get better results if they used "Buy" or "Buy now." They wonder whether it would be better to use a button or text for "Buy."
Links are a call to action, and the Web is a very active place. People come to your website with a task in mind. They want to do something, and to complete that task they will probably have to visit several pages on your website. They get to that next page-the next step in their task-by clicking on a link.
Your links are signposts. Your readers are asking you directions and they are following your signposts. If you send them in the wrong direction, you have wasted their time, frustrated them, and they will not be happy.
I find that most websites do a very poor job of writing links. I would advise you to go to your website as a customer with a specific task. Try to complete that task and pay particular attention to the simplicity and clarity of your links. Make sure that your links are using your customers' words, not yours.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.