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Google webmaster help: Write content that is clear and understandable

Google webmaster help: Write content that is clear and understandable

In a webmaster help video published at the end of February, Google’s Matt Cutts was asked this question:

Should I write content that is easier to read or more scientific? Will I rank better if I write for 6th graders?
– Ben Holland, Phoenix, AZ

Cutts said he struggled with this question and that it took him more time than usual to formulate an answer. Ultimately, he said he came to the conclusion that, “The clarity of what you write matters a lot.” He used an example of a teacher trying to prepare a lecture on a difficult question for a freshman level class, saying that the best way to know whether you truly understand something is through your ability to teach it. He also used the example of frustratingly opaque Wikipedia pages filled with so much technical jargon that the average visitor will learn very little from the content.

Clarity, however, does not require writing for elementary school students. “You don’t have to dumb it down that much,” Cutts said. “But if you’re erring on the side of clarity, and on the side of something that’s going to be understandable, you’ll be in much better shape.” He also said that he believed the key to effective writing is first catching people’s interest – making them want to understand the ideas you are trying to describe. Sometimes writing style can trump substance. It is possible to turn people off by using so much jargon that they do not ever really hear what you are trying to say.

Ben’s question came from the perspective of a scientist, but the advice is easily applicable to attorneys. When writing for a general audience, attorneys must achieve clarity and professionalism, warmth and strength. Website visitors do not want to feel they are being talked down to or patronized, but they will quickly lose interest in content that seems to be aimed only at other attorneys.

Google’s advice on what constitutes good content (or content that will rank well) is less than specific. For example: Write quality content. Since few people set out to intentionally publish poorly written articles and blog posts, this advice can be aggravatingly vague. Or: Write for a human being. This is somewhat more illuminating, as it is referring to the practice of keyword-stuffing, which is primarily targeted at search engines. But questions still remain. What is quality in Google’s eyes? For what level of readership should content producers write?

Your site must be approachable on a broader level, recognizing the role each audience plays in building your online authority.

Here are some additional tips for creating content both humans and search engines will love:

Write about topics others are not. There is value to be gleaned from writing about popular topics due to the high volume of searches. But if you do, offer a unique perspective. Google excludes “similar” results, so you want your articles on any given topic to contain unique information. If you can provide statistics from your own case studies or commentary and quotes from attorneys, you will be more likely to gain the attention of both searchers and search engines.

Develop content that can be stretched to other uses. Not all written content must remain in written form. Articles can become podcasts, videos or infographics. Consider developing a series of how-to posts that can be converted to videos to post to YouTube and your social profiles. Write in-depth articles that can be compiled into downloadable e-books.

Make use of evergreen content. The term evergreen content refers to content that has longevity and will not become quickly outdated. It remains relevant and can be referenced again and again over time and is therefore a useful resource. Some types of evergreen content include how-tos, educational articles, interviews and list posts. Testimonials and reviews offer another type of long-lasting content that you do not even have to create yourself. You may also consider developing a series around a certain topic or writing a yearly review of an issue relevant to your practice.

Google wants you to produce content that people will want to read. Your website must offer some value to visitors. Writing with clarity and an understanding of your target audience can enhance your search marketing efforts.

Kristen Friend
Kristen Friend is a 1999 graduate of Indiana University, with Bachelors Degrees in both journalism and religious studies. In 2003, she graduated from the International Academy of Design. She is a contributor to the Bigger Law Firm magazine, and is the Art Director for Adviatech (Custom Legal Marketing's parent company). When she isn't making law firms look their best, Kristen can be found hiking up Mt. Tamalpais or inventing gluten free baking recipes.