As I edited something for SEO purposes the other day, I found myself staring at a set of sentences. They featured something shocking.
To put it bluntly, they involved to-be verbs.
Both of them. Right there. In my face. As if they belonged there.
I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details of why they actually did belong there should the author so choose. I wrote about that way back on January 2 in “Is Passive Voice Always Wrong?”
While I do think it’s a great piece to read if you’re completely against using such verbs – or even if you’re just on the fence about them – for the purpose of this article, I’m only going to quote a few passages:
… even if you are using the passive voice, it honestly isn’t always wrong. It’s true that sometimes you just don’t need it. And it may very well bog your sentence down with unnecessary words.
You could even argue that’s true in most cases. But I’d also argue that most people wouldn’t utilize the passive voice in most cases.
Hardly the most compelling case ever made to use the passive voice, I know. That’s why it wasn’t the end of the article though.
After listing several examples of using and not using the passive voice, the piece concluded that it can:
add additional weight depending on the sentences that come before and after it”… [Sometimes leaving it out] doesn’t push the same emotional buttons.
Truly then, it all depends on context and intent. So next time you’re wondering about whether to use the passive voice or not, how about you forget the question altogether.
Instead, ask whether what you’re writing reads naturally and intentionally.
Despite the chaos of Covid-19 where the world doesn’t make sense anymore, I still stand by those statements. I just have one thing to add about SEO, which stands for search engine optimization.
SEO is every bit the bundle of chaos and confusion the coronavirus is. It’s more of a behind-the-scenes force, but it definitely benefits the big guys, not the average mom-and-pop entrepreneur.
That’s another topic I covered earlier this year in, “How Important Is SEO for the Website You Now Have Time to Build?” My conclusion in that one was basically this: Don’t bother except in select circumstances.
However, if you are working for a big guy or you are determined to be above average in this regard… you should know that the search engine gods (i.e., Google, Bing, etc.) penalize you for long sentences and long segments.
At last check, anyway. They change their rules all the time.
At last check, sentences over 20 words and segments over 300 push you down on the search algorithm. (Segments are the sets of paragraphs marked off by a header. In which case, there are three in this published blog post.)
Either way, you want to be watching how wordy you get. So this is where recognizing the passive voice can really help.
Take the following sentence:
And, knowing that, we wanted to check out one of the most fascinating forms of fauna ever found on the earth.
There are many ways to cut that down, but one is to actually add in the passive voice. That way, it reads: “And, knowing that, we’re checking out one of the most fascinating forms of fauna ever found on the earth.”
It therefore goes from 21 words to 19.
Then again, sometimes eliminating the passive voice can do the same trick, as with this sentence:
Now, they are faced with a serious decision.
On the one hand, you can eliminate one word by contracting “they are” to “they’re.” On the other, you can eliminate two by changing “they are faced” to simply “they face” – which removes the need for “with” as well.
This brings me right back to the bottom-line conclusion, which we’ve already stated: that it really, trully “all depends on context and intent.”
Never forget that, passive voice, SEO and all.