Writing for Google

Perhaps it came across as a throwaway joke, but at the end of my previous article — “What to Do When Your Energy Saver Prefs Panel Won’t Load” — I wrote:

Yes, yes — I’ll file a proper report with Apple about this. But first things first — blog it so it gets into Google, the world’s best troubleshooting database.

But it’s only funny because it’s true. I published that article on May 6. As of today, May 11, that article is the number one result from Google for “Energy Saver won’t load”. The Daring Fireball home page is the first result for a similar query at Yahoo Search.

Most of what I write here at Daring Fireball is intended for your enjoyment/edification, where the “you” in “your” implies the regular readers of this site. Neither of the last two articles were meant for you, however. They were written for Google. Or, more specifically, for people using search engines to find an answer to the same problems I had in the aforementioned articles. If you happened to enjoy them anyway, well, that’s just gravy.

I’ve already started getting email from people thanking me for the Energy Saver thing, people who have never read Daring Fireball before, and probably won’t become regular readers now. (Such emails generally include the phrase “stumbled upon your site”.) One poor guy had just finished a complete re-installation of Mac OS X, but still couldn’t get Energy Saver to load, because he’d already reconfigured his custom date format. He was about to re-install again when he found my solution. That’s the reason I wrote it.

When I talk about writing for Google, I’m not talking about how to achieve a high Page Rank score for your site on the whole. What I’m talking about is writing one article in such a way that makes it the most likely that people who are searching for the information contained therein will be able to find it. Here are my suggestions:

  • Don’t get cute with the title. Google seems to place an awful lot of emphasis on what you put in the <title> tag in your HTML headers. Ideally, the title should contain the words you think people will use in their queries.

  • Stick to the facts in the first few paragraphs in the article. I’m somewhat sure that Google doesn’t index entire documents, just the first X words or paragraphs. And even if they do index entire documents, it seems to me they place more importance on the first first paragraphs. The specifics of Google’s indexer aren’t worth worrying about; the point is, get to the point quickly.

    If there are any likely search terms that you couldn’t squeeze into the title, try to use them in the opening few paragraphs.

I can’t even say whether these tips actually help. It’s possible that Google’s indexer is so smart that it would still provide the same search results, even if I had titled the article “The .GlobalPreferences.plist File Can Bite Me”.