John Alexander, a search engine marketing expert I respect, says the first rule is to write in a way that’s interesting to humans. Spiders come second.
I agree, of course, that if the page doesn’t have what humans want, all my other efforts were wasted. But I also find that thinking like a spider can help me write better for humans. A spider is a great coach.
Consider, for example, a real estate broker’s site. What are you going to find on the home page? Probably a lot about the great attention the broker gives every client. You’ll learn that the broker is caring and warm and works hard in your interest.
But think about it from a spider’s point of view. A lot of words like “real estate” and “homes” and “caring” and “full attention” and “buying” and “selling” don’t teach the spider much about the web site. But if we add some geographic locators – “Hudson Valley homes” or “Philadelphia area real estate” – we’ve helped narrow it down. And that’s helpful to the humans, too.
Spiders teach us to get specific and not to take for granted that we all know the context of what we’re reading.
I recently consulted to a company that owns assisted living facilities in two cities in Northern Virginia. They wanted to know why they were getting almost no visitors to their web site. It didn’t take long to identify one reason. Most of the site’s pages, while talking about a “friendly atmosphere” and “individualized care” from “licensed health-care professionals,” never mentioned the term “assisted living” or either of the locations.
If I were looking for a place near me for my aging parent, I’d search on “assisted living virginia” or “assisted living northern virginia,” or maybe “assisted living” along with a city name. So I knew one thing I had to do for the spiders. I needed to keep reminding them, on every page of the site, what business my client was in and where the facilities are located.
But doesn’t that make sense for humans, too? Given the short attention span of the web surfer, you don’t want to make it hard to figure out what your business is all about.
Perhaps the worst offenders in the vague-writing category are in the software industry. A small information technology company I know begins its home page describing itself as an IT service provider “committed to demonstrating superior performance and value to all our clients.” The company adds that it has experience in “system and data architecture, design, development, and implementation.” And it never gets any more specific than that.
It’s enough to make a spider – or a human – scream.
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March 1, 2005
Mel Harkrader Pine, ABC, is founder and President of MHP Communications LLC, which combines public relations and internet consulting. Before the Internet Revolution, Mel wrote and edited for newspapers in Philadelphia and New York City, served as an Adjunct Professor of Journalism at New York University, and held executive positions in corporate public relations.
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