Editing / Et Al / SEO / Technical Writing

Format Your Text | SEO for True Beginners

Screen capture of Google search results page with a label that says 'SEO for True Beginners'

I am really excited about today’s blog post because the search engine optimization strategy we’ll be discussing is easy peasy lemon squeezy. In this series, we’ve already talked about writing content for human beings, researching and implementing keywords, and optimizing your images. Today, we’ll be formatting your content.

I know what you may be thinking: “Sarah, search engine spiders cannot see how my content is formatted — just like they cannot see what my images look like. How can this possibly help my SEO efforts?”

Formatting for Spiders

Remember how we’ve used XHTML to encode title and meta tags and image attributes into your web pages? Well, we’re going to add formatting tags to the text of your web pages. By formatting your content with headings, lists, boldface, and italics, you will tell the spiders what content is important. Ideally, much of what you format will contain the keywords you are targeting for your respective web pages. Once again, if you want to edit the XHTML, you’ll need to have administrative editing permissions for your website. But if you’re using WordPress, like I recommend, you can edit your content using the Visual tab on your Edit Post page or you can edit the XHTML using the HTML tab on the Edit Post page.

Formatting for Human Beings

Another benefit to formatting your text is that you pass an increase in scan-ability to your readers. And when your readers — those human beings that are so important when you are SEO-ing — can better scan your text, they can more quickly find the information they seek. The time threshold for how long a reader will stay on a web page looking for the information they want is getting shorter as Internet connection speeds quicken, so the faster you can put that information in their pockets, the better. (There is also value in crafting your content to keep your readers on your web page and the rest of your site, but for today, let’s just focus on getting them the information they want quickly.)

XHTML Tags for Your Text

Here are the four types of formatting I recommend when optimizing your web site for search engine spiders. These are prime locations for incorporating keywords into your text without coming across as a robot.

  • Headings. In XHTML, there are six levels of headings: H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6. Use these headings to establish a hierarchy of information — an outline, so to speak — of your content. If you’re using WordPress, note that H1 is typically reserved to display the title of your post or page, so when using headings within your content, start with H2.
  • Lists. In XHTML, there are two types of lists: ordered and unordered. Or you might think of them as numbered and bulleted lists, respectively. Lists are especially useful for breaking an information set out of its paragraph and giving each item its own block of text while keeping the whole set of information together. Ordered/numbered lists are best when you are describing a process; unordered/bulleted lists are best when the order in which the information appears is of secondary importance.
  • Boldface (aka strong). In traditional word processing programs, we commonly use the term boldface, but in XHTML, boldface is referenced using the strong tag. Whatever term you use, you’re making the text bold. Use this formatting to draw attention to important text, but use it sparingly. Only bold text that is important or that is providing additional structure to your content. For example, I am using bold in this list to make the first words in each list item stand out to you.
  • Italics (aka emphasis). In traditional word processing programs, we commonly use the term italics, but in XHTML, italics is referenced using the emphasis tag. Use this formatting to — big surprise — add emphasis to your text. Like boldface, use it sparingly, and only italicize text that is important or that is providing additional structure to your content.

Honestly, can this SEO strategy be any simpler? It requires zero special skills, so you should be able to start implementing this trick today! But tell me, have I missed anything? Are there any other formatting tags you can add to your text to make it friendlier to the search engine spiders?

Read the entire “SEO for True Beginners” series:

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