Writing for Search Engines

Good search engine results are the product of your word choices in both the page content and other regions of the HTML files. These words need to correspond to the keywords that web visitors use when they seek content.

Content Writing

Make sure search keywords appear frequently in your page contents.

Carefully choose words with an external audience in mind:

  • Define jargon for users who might be using more generic key words. (Ex: WildCARD vs. Identification card)
  • Write out acronyms (Ex: Both SESP and School of Education and Social Policy)

Non-body Content

In addition to page content, search engines use the following areas of the page to determine relevance:

1. Page title


Page title usually appears at the top of your browser window and is controlled in the HTML code by what exists between the <title></title> tags in your document.

Be sure to put your most important keywords in the title using natural language, followed by Northwestern University. For example:

Page Title: Unit Title - Northwestern University

Depending on how you write the content for your pages, you may need technical assistance setting the page title.

2. Page URL

Search engines concern themselves with the words they can identify in a page’s URL, so use good wording when naming pages and folders:

  • Use hyphens to separate words. (Failing that, use the underscore.)
  • Avoid one-word page names.
  • Prioritize page names over folder names.

(Ex: A good URL for a page attempting to market a graduate degree in psychology counseling might be: www.northwestern.edu/programs/psychology-counseling-graduate-degree.html)

3. The page META regions

Information in a page’s META regions are embedded into the code and read by search engine crawlers, but are otherwise invisible to someone reading your page in a browser.

Search engines no longer weight META keywords, but the description can be useful because engines sometimes print the contents of this region in the search results (below the page link), which can guide users trying to determine which link to click.

Again, consult with your CMS manager or content administrator on how edit this region.

The World at Large

If you are competing for ranking in world-wide search engines like Google and Bing, you must maximize the number of links to your site.

The PageRank algorithm ranks the importance of a page based on how many other, off-site sources link to it. To increase the number of links to your site, you can:

  • List your site in several online directories.
  • Use organizational or political connections to get sites to link to yours.
  • Seek out forums where you can post links to your site.

If your visitors are an internal, Northwestern audience, you do not need to worry about the number of links to your site.