Everyone knows you need to create content that pleases the big search engines if you want to be seen online.
But how can you be sure what you write will get their approval? How can you write SEO-friendly copy that will make you visible online – but not sound as if it’s been written by a robot?
Google releases new guides to help content developers
Earlier this year, the search engine giant published five different guides to help content creators to produce ‘high-quality documentation’.
‘Documentation’ is Google-speak for online content, so it’s clear that the guides are a valuable resource for anyone writing, editing or publishing digital materials.
While some of the guides focus on technical style – with tips for developers on HTML and Java – the Developer Documentation Style Guide has some really useful advice for marketers or anyone else tasked with writing copy destined for the internet.
What is Google's Developer Documentation Style Guide all about?
The guide is a public record of decisions about style made by Google's Developer Relations group.
In their words, it:
- Can help you avoid making decisions about the same issue over and over
- Can provide editorial assistance on structuring and writing your documentation
- And can help you keep your documentation consistent with [its] other documentation
The guide isn’t designed to provide a standard for industry documentation. It’s not intended to compete with other existing well-known style guides; rather, it’s a description of Google’s house style.
It also isn’t designed to provide a comprehensive set of writing guidelines, or provide any advice on acting ethically or legally as regards copywriting. It’s not enforceable – the guidelines are suggestions, not requirements.
What is does provide is a reference document for anyone writing online content. A checklist to ensure your writing is as ‘Google-friendly’ as possible.
Google's tips for winning online content
So what gets the stamp of approval? The guide says:
Tone and content
- Your tone should be conversational and friendly, without being frivolous
- Don't pre-announce future features
- The text you use for links should be descriptive and helpful to the reader
- Your writing should be accessible to all potential readers
- Write for a global audience
Language and grammar
- Use the second person: say ‘you’ rather than ‘we’
- Use the active, not passive, voice
- ‘American’ spelling should be used over ‘British’ spellings
- Conditional clauses should go before instructions, not after – eg, ‘For more information, read out tipsheet’ – rather than ‘Read our tipsheet for more information’.
Formatting, punctuation, and organisation
- Use sentence case for document titles and section headings
- Use numbered lists for sequences
- Use bullets for most other lists
- Use description lists for pairs of related pieces of data
- Use commas in a list
- There are also specific guidelines around code-related text and user interface elements
- You should use unambiguous date formatting – Google’s preferred format is month, date, year
- Make sure you include descriptive textYou should use SVG files; images should be high-resolution where possible
Create content that will be found online
As the Guide says, these are suggestions and guidelines, not hard and fast rules. If you want to use ‘British’ spelling, carry on using it. Similarly with date format, or any of the other recommendations you choose not to follow.
But if being visible on the internet is your Holy Grail, following these guidelines will undoubtedly help.
Of course, the style of your materials isn’t the only thing that dictates where you appear in search engine results.
Factors like whether your site is mobile-friendly also determine how well you rank.
Always remember – you’re writing primarily for your audience, not to please a search engine. Write in a way that your readers find easy to follow, with clear instructions and navigation, and you should automatically tick Google’s boxes for high-quality writing.
And of course, if you work for a regulated business like financial services, you have the added overlay of ensuring your copy isn’t just compelling, it’s compliant as well.
How can you improve your online content?
Follow the guidelines above to stay on the right side of Google
Make it compliant – read our tips on writing content that Compliance can approve and avoid regulatory breaches
Make sure the search for quality doesn’t slow you down. Follow best practice tips to produce quality content in less time
Explore how automated workflows can help you to speed approvals, test your webpages in development, check for mobile compatibility, and more
For more tips on producing compelling and compliant content – online or off – download a free copy of our Marketing Guide to Compliance. It covers all aspects of compliant financial promotions. You can download a copy here.
Nothing in this document should be treated as an authoritative statement of the law. Action should not be taken as a result of this document alone. We make no warranty and accept no responsibility for consequences arising from relying on this document.