If you want to successfully navigate search engine optimization, or SEO – in other words, make it to one of the first few search pages where people will actually see your content – you have to follow a series of onerous rules…
One of them being that you have to keep most of your sentences at 20 words or less.
If you follow my blog posts or have read one of my novels, you already recognize this rule hates me. I’m someone who likes to cram as much information into as many sentences as possible. So doing otherwise on command?
It cramps my writing style something fierce, forcing me to spend more time on my blog posts than I’d prefer.
Blah to SEO.
Consider that second to last sentence. The one right before “Blah to SEO.” It’s made up of 20 words exactly.
And do you know why it’s made up of 20 words exactly? Because it was originally 21 words, like this:
It cramps my writing style something fierce, forcing me to spend much more time on my blog posts than I’d prefer.
However, I took an extra five seconds out of my very busy schedule to catch that SEO-designated error. And then I took an extra five seconds out of my now-five-seconds-behind very busy schedule to see how I could fix it.
For the record, those 10 seconds multiplied by however many sentences I write? They add up a lot faster than you might think.
Also for the record, I rather liked the word I cut out. “Much.” Small addition though it was, I preferred the sentence with it, not without.
But oh well. If it must be sacrificed on the altar of getting an extra click or two… then I suppose it must be sacrificed.
Except, that is, when it might just kill you to do so. For those cases, here are six other tips to shorten your sentences to SEO-sanctioned size… without screwing up your style.
To illustrate this, I’m using the first two pages of my historical fiction novel, Maiden America. It has plenty of long sentences to run with, so let’s see how we could rework them if we were going to republish the spy tale with SEO on our brain.
So you have a long sentence on your hands, perhaps like Maiden America’s opening line.
“Stay back, Abigail. I swear those bloody lobsters are everywhere,” Garrett snarls, looking out the sitting room window through the heavy, floral draperies at what I have to imagine are dozens upon dozens of British soldiers tramping past in their bright red coats.
That’s a whopping 43 words right there, which Google, Bing and every other search engine out there would frown on. To say the least.
But that doesn’t mean you have to necessarily delete 23 carefully crafted vocabulary choices. You just have to get creative.
“Stay back, Abigail. I swear those bloody lobsters are everywhere,” Garrett snarls.
He’s looking out the sitting room window through the heavy, floral draperies. I can only imagine how many dozens upon dozens of British soldiers he’s seeing.
Problem solved just like that.
Here’s another line a few sentences down in Maiden America:
It isn’t the most polite language to use in front of a lady, but I don’t correct him for a whole host of reasons.
Only with this one, I’m not going to change a single word. Instead, I’m going to break a writing rule many of us learned in grade school.
I’m going to cut the sentence in two, allowing the second one to start with a conjunction. (Incidentally, that rule isn’t an actual rule anyway. And I prove it here.)
It isn’t the most polite language to use in front of a lady. But I don’t correct him for a whole host of reasons.
Once again, I’ve now got something on paper that the SEO overlords would approve of.
Oh, happy day.
Depending on the sentence in question, you can achieve the same basic goal with ellipses. If, say, you have something like this on your hands:
Never mind that our soldiers under that command are ill-equipped and downtrodden after being run out of New York and pushed through much of New Jersey.
You can add an extra touch of emotion by allowing in a “dot, dot, dot,” as it were:
Never mind that our soldiers under that command are ill-equipped and downtrodden after being run out of New York… and pushed through much of New Jersey.
This fools SEO filters into thinking they’re looking at two sentences, thereby saving you from additional editing time.
This next tip is definitely breaking a grammatical rule or two. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective when properly employed.
Find a good spot in a long sentence to start a new non-sentence. Then do precisely that. As such, your thought could go from this:
Still burning with patriotic fervor, he is desperate to be down there with our father and three older brothers, taking a stand to free New Jersey and our newly minted country, the United States of America.
Still burning with patriotic fervor, he is desperate to be down there with our father and three older brothers. Taking a stand to free New Jersey and our newly minted country, the United States of America.
This also serves to emphasize the second “sentence,” bringing it into sharper focus than it otherwise would be.
Some SEO-unfriendly sentences are comprised of an idea followed by an explanation or further detail. In those cases, you could try splitting them up with a “this” or a “that.”
Take this sentence on page 2 of Maiden America:
They’ve been encroaching on the Jersey countryside almost since they first arrived in this state on November nineteenth, when they captured Fort Lee.
And here’s what it looks like after this quick fix:
They’ve been encroaching on the Jersey countryside almost since they first arrived in this state. That was on November nineteenth, when they captured Fort Lee.
Last but not least, here’s one of my favorite SEO-tricking tips: dashes. As with ellipses, search engines are going to treat anything that immediately follows a dash as its own separate thought.
This allows “creative” writers to take this kind of sentence:
Like the Biblical plague of locusts, they’re marching through our streets, devouring everything they can and then surging forward to claim the next location, wherever that might be.
And alter it the teeniest, tiniest bit to:
Like the Biblical plague of locusts, they’re marching through our streets – devouring everything they can and then surging forward to claim the next location, wherever that might be.
Without further ado, you’ve got one “sentence” of 11 and one of 17.
One quick note of caution with this one though. Tip #6 clearly won’t work all the time. Of course, none of them will. But with dashes and ellipses especially, you want to be careful not to overdo them.
As nifty as they are, they can be visually distracting, and not always in a good way.
Fortunately for us, we’ve got four other ways to abide by SEO standards. And without having to delete anything we really rather like.