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How Using “The Elements of Style” Can Help Your SEO

Stylish websites show up at the top of search results.

When I say stylish, I don’t mean minimalistic websites with a black-and-white color scheme. I’m talking about websites with great, stylish writing. These sites feature a strong, unique writing voice that showcases their organization’s identity and help it stand out to readers and search engines alike.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is important because some studies suggest that organic search can drive more than 50 percent of web traffic. Showing up on the top page of search results is key to getting that traffic to come your way. To do that, you need style.

William Strunk Jr. published the first edition of The Elements of Style, the premier English writing style manual, almost 100 years ago. E.B. White later expanded and modernized the manual, and  the advice is still relevant today. Search engines are looking for some of the same things that readers have been for hundreds of years: clear examples of great content. (Whether search engines’ oh-so-secretive algorithms do a good job of assessing quality is another debate.) But for now, let’s see how writing by the The Elements of Style will get your blog post/web copy/etc. in the good graces of Google.

1)   Active voice

Search engines analyze a variety of things in the 0.33 seconds it takes to display search results, but the most important is what your website is about. The clearest way to convey that is by writing in active voice.

Always make sure that your subject is the one doing the action. For example, you would want the headline on your page to read, “Organization lobbied Congress,” rather than “Congress lobbied by organization.” (Organization is the subject.) The latter might lead the search engine to believe your post is about Congress, rather than the efforts of your organization.

Search engines also assume that the most important keywords in headlines and titles come at the beginning, so writing in active voice will ensure that the subject is at the beginning of the headline.

In general, it’s good practice to do all of your writing, not just the headline, in active voice because it’s easy to understand on the first read and it cuts down the word count.

Which brings us to the next one…

2)   Omit needless words

Strunk and White are huge advocates for concise writing. Not only does it make for a stronger argument; it also makes a strong case for your post in search results. Search engines usually display a snippet, or description, that helps people discern which site has the information they’re looking for. Many of these blurbs are pulled from the meta-description, but sometimes, if a few sentences of the post particularly match the search query, those sentences might be used as the snippet instead. Those descriptions are usually truncated around 150 characters, so omitting needless words will help make the most of that character limit.

Here’s an example of a snippet that didn’t follow The Elements of Style:

Why Printed Books Matter
Jan 16, 2013 – There is no doubt that people love printed books. The question as to whether these books will survive in a world of electronic readers is…

Now, omit the needless words and another complete thought now fits in the blurb.

Why Printed Books Matter
Jan 16, 2013 – Without a doubt, people love printed books. Whether these books will survive in a world of electronic readers is up to the students who…

It might not look that different from the first example, but being able to fit the extra words, particularly “students” gives the audience a better idea of what the argument will be. Perhaps they are a student, so they’ll be more likely to click on this link to find out why they are important to the future of printed books.

3)   Put statements in positive form

People rarely search for things they don’t want.  That’s why you should follow Strunk and White’s advice to only use the word not when you really mean it. “Why Latin is Useless” is a much stronger headline than “Why Latin Is Not Very Useful.” Plus people who are searching for others who feel disillusioned with the ancient language will not be searching for keywords that include “useful” and “Latin”” in the same sentence.

More proof: positive-form keywords are searched for more frequently. According to Google’s keyword planner, “useful” and “uselessness” average about 33,100 searches per month. The keyword “not useful” only averages 320 searches per month.

4)   Do not overwrite

“When writing with a computer, you must guard against wordiness.  The click and flow of a word processor can be seductive, and you may find yourself adding a few unnecessary words or even a whole passage just to experience the pleasure of running your fingers over the keyboard and watching your words appear on the screen.”

White and Strunk perfectly described my guilty pleasure. Make sure your content is focused. Search engines not only look for the search query within the body of your post, but it also looks for keywords that are commonly related to the search query. For example, if you’re writing about e-books, the search engine might also look for words like “e-reader,” “download,” “authors.” Keep that in mind next time you want to take a couple paragraphs to go on a tangent about pineapples. The search engine might get suspicious of the lack of related keywords and rank your page lower.

5)   Write with nouns and verbs

This is a pretty much a theme throughout the entire Elements of Style guide. Be specific. Those adverbs like “really” and “very” don’t add meaning to your sentence. Using too many pronouns can make it confusing as to who’s doing what.

Now, let’s say you’re writing a sentence to link to a video somewhere else on your blog. You may be tempted to write a link that says, “Click here.” Not only is that language bad for usability, it also does nothing for your SEO.

Instead of interrupting the flow and style of your writing with a “click here,” use specific nouns and verbs to indicate where the link really takes you. “Download file,” “Sponsors list,” and “Video of epic snowboarding fail,” are all much more useful links.

People want to know what they’re clicking on, and the more people that click on your links, the better SEO for the video. Those specific anchor tags will also help put more keywords in the blog post and help establish link relevancy, all important factors in SEO.


The Elements of Style was never meant to be a bible of SEO hacks. It provides guidelines for good writing, and that’s the real way to get an audience.

Strunk, William, and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Book Review: The New Rules of Marketing & PR

TNROM&PR David Meerman Scott was one of the first names I came across when I started this whole social media adventure.

At the time I was writing white papers and press releases for the launch of a new web site. This was something I had never done before, and I found the whole experience rather boring. If I was bored, then what I was writing had to be even worse.

There had to be a better way of doing this.

So, doing a quick search on marketing and PR I came across something called The Gobbledygook Manifesto. Immediately the light bulb went on, and  I connected with what David was trying say  – that things had changed.

“The web has transformed the rules, and you must transform your marketing to make the most of the Web-enabled market place of ideas.”

Recently, I received a copy of David’s revised edition of, The New Rules of Marketing & PR. I don’t read a lot of books on marketing, but this is a must have.

David’s book does a great job describing the old school marketing mentality, and why it was forced to change.  He stresses that companies, organizations, and people need to become creators of content. More importantly, that the content must have value to  the audience who now have significant influence on the success of a marketing campaign.

Having read many of David’s publications, I was pleased to discover new information in this revised edition. The big value is the case studies. David provides real life examples that cover just about any facet of business and niche. Including:

  • Why Zemoga gives flip cams to all their employees and customers.
  • The importance of a company blog, and why companies need to interact within the blogging community.
  • How CollectSPACE leveraged the importance of participating in community forums. (Notice I said participating, not promoting)
  • Why Wikis shouldn’t be overlooked.
  • What Conrete5 learned by providing their software for free.
  • How Mignon Fogarty’s podcasts helped sell her book.
  • Why groundbreaking, industry standard, and cutting-edge are words you should avoid in your press release.
  • That Search Engine Optimization isn’t just about keywords.
  • How the National Community Church has embraced the social web to reach thousands of people.
  • The new rules for finding a job.

“You can trigger a World Wide Rave, too – just create something valuable that people want to share, and make it easy for them to do so.”

A big thank you to David Meerman Scott for sending me a copy of his book, and for including the story on how I found my job here with The Bivings Group.

The New Rules of Marketing & PR provides a solid foundation for people who are having difficulty getting their heads around the social web. From CEOs to the entrepreneurs, anyone reading this book will come away with something they didn’t know before. It’s a great read and I highly recommend snagging a copy.

Some Facts about the Internet

This is a great video that throws out random facts about how the Internet and technology are changing our lives.  A couple to whet your appetite:

  • The average America teen sends out 2,272 text messages each month.
  • There are 240,000,000 televisions in the United States.  2,000,000 of those are in bathrooms.
  • 40,000,000 people have been Rick rolled.

Top 5 Author Blogs

Everyone knows about author bloggers like Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin. But outside of the Technorati Top 100, there are a lot of authors that have used blogs to create fantastic communities of users. Here are my five favorite, slightly lower profile author blogs:

(5) Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point and Blink, started his blog in March 2006. Most of his posts expand on his New Yorker articles or comment on interesting stories he comes across. He has a very engaged community that posts hundreds of comments to every entry. He’d be hire if he posted consistently (nothing new since January).

(4) Tim Ferriss

Ferriss is the author of the book the Four Hour Workweek and just started his blog a month or so ago. His writings, which focus on how to streamline your life and increase your own efficiency, have really struck a chord with folks. The blog has been really entertaining so far although it is possible that Ferriss is a bit of a one trick pony. Plus he doesn’t work much so we’ll see if he sticks with it after the promotional aspect wears off.

(3) Scott Adams

Dilbert author Scott Adams writes daily posts about whatever is on his mind to his surprisingly fantastic blog. I’m a much bigger fan of the blog than I am of the Dilbert cartoon. Adams just has an interesting take on life that really comes across in his blogging.

(2) Freakonomics

I’m a big fan of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book Freakonomics. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a year ago that not only were they blogging, but were doing so quite well on a daily basis. On their blog, they provide theirs takes on whatever topic strikes their fancy.

(1) Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a bit of a jack of all trades – he has written books, comics and films, among other things. He is also one of the first author bloggers, having started blogging in February 2001 in an effort to promote his book, American Gods. These days Gaiman blogs about his work, his life and spends a great deal of time answering reader mail through the site’s Ask Neil feature. Gaiman was born for the blog format.

This post is part of ProBlogger’s most recent group writing project, with the theme of “top five”. Be sure to check out other entries!

Try Clicky for Blog Statistics

We’ve had a bumpy history with blog statistics programs here at The Bivings Report. Services we like keep getting shut down.

Here is a quick summary:

  1. Industry leader Measure Map got bought by Google a year ago and since then has closed registrations for new users. I’ve been on the waiting list for over a year now with no luck.
  2. The excellent (though buggy) Blogbeat was bought by Feedburner around six months ago and was simplified to the point where it is no longer useful except for the most basic analytics.
  3. The excellent Performancing blog stats programs shut down in December for some unknown reason.
  4. I’m not a fan of SiteMeter, MyBlogLog or Google Analytics for blog tracking.

So I was shocked and happy to come across a new service called Clicky the other day. It is the best blog stats program I’ve used. Clicky has all the basics like site visitors, page views, incoming/outgoing links, and search keywords.

It also has a bunch of goodies like RSS feeds of your stats, a Spy section that lets you watch your users come in real time and a Google Map that show the location of your fifty most recent visitors (screenshot above right).

You can check out a demo on the Clicky website. If you are a blogger, I’d give it a whirl.