Optimizing your web content for plain language

Posted on Sep 16, 2015 in Board News, Plain Language Blog Articles

How do I know what people are searching for?

There’s an easy way to know what people are searching for. Use the Google Keyword Planner.

Keyword planner is a great way to confirm you’ve got the right vocabulary in your content.

I recently checked “Poison Ivy” in Keyword Planner and found an average of 368,000 monthly searches.

That’s a lot compared to the results for “toxicodendron radicans,” which has an average of 590 monthly searches.

As the results show, plain language is clearly the winner in a popularity contest.

When you search for something on the web, do you search for clinical terms and technology? Or do you think about a problem you need solved?

If you’re like most people, you think about your problems in plain language.

You’re more likely to search for “Do I have poison ivy?” than “Have I suffered exposure to toxicodendron radicans?”

That’s why it’s important to keep natural, everyday questions in mind when you’re creating content for the web.

If you’re building a website with hundreds – or possibly thousands – of pages of content, using plain language will make or break the success of your website.

Understanding what your customers are searching for, the plain language they use to search for it, and creating content that meets their needs, is an essential part of search engine optimization.

While search engine optimization often helps new customers find information about your company or organization, it’s also is a key part of building customer loyalty.

That’s because some web users rely on Google or onsite search engines to access favorite content, instead of using the bookmarks feature of their browsers. They’ll go to their favorite pages on their favorite site directly from Google. I often do this myself. When I’m searching for sports scores I search “baseball scores ESPN” for a link to ESPN’s scores page.

If you’re planning content for your website, here are some tips to help you successfully optimize for plain language.

1. When planning your keywords, find out what your customers are searching for. Look at Google Trends, the Google Keyword Tool, and review competitor sites. Just remember to focus each page of content around one primary keyword.

2. Use natural language. This is the Center for Plain Language blog, so you know what I’m talking about, right? Just don’t fall into the trap of going overboard with your keyword optimization. Use your keywords naturally.

3. Use your keyword in the page title.

4. And if your site’s URLs are built the right way, the keywords from your title will also be in the URL, which is what people see when they’re looking at the address bars in their web browsers.

What’s here are just a few tips for getting started with search. If you’re interested in learning more about search engine optimization, check out The Beginner’s Guide to SEO on Moz.com.

Jeff GreerAbout the author: Jeff Greer is a Digital Content Strategist and a board member of the Center. Over the past 17 years, he’s helped major brands such as Disney, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Kellogg make better experiences for their customers on the web. He earned his Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. He also holds an M.F.A. and B.A. in English from the University of Maryland at College Park. He lives near Detroit with his wife and two children.