Your Keyword: the key to a winning web page

Keywords . . . the bugaboo for a fiction writer's website. Why?

Potential readers Google a specific keyword or two. Up pops a page of would-be matches, and zip, they click onto the site they were looking for . . . say, John Grisham. Or The Firm . . .

But if you aren't famous and your novel is unknown . . . no one will click directly to your page. You're invisible. Your potential readers don't know your name or your novel's title, so they can't Google you or your book. You're not a keyword. Nor is your protagonist . . . villain . . . setting . . . climax . . . or your key scenes. (Not yet.)

We all know the importance of a good hook: that right-up-front line that grabs a reader by the blouse and plunges her into your novel . . . the spark that convinces her your novel is a must read.

Internet search engines, though . . . they're one-dimensional animals. They don't recognize crisp dialog . . . heart-stopping action . . . intrigue. They're blind to prose that sketches a character so vividly you want to grab her up and spirit her to safety.

Search engines want keywords . . . that's it . . . nothing but the words readers type into their Google searches. Narrow minded little buggers, those search engines. Trouble is, they're in charge here. Plus they read 20 zillion times faster than we do . . . and they don't take time to fondle your book and sniff the prose . . . all they care about is delivering on the keywords.

If your book were a biography . . . memoir . . . how-to-do . . . or even a fictional rendering of a famous world event or personality, readers might find you through keywords associated with real people, events, and actions. But it's not; your novel (by definition) is fiction. So what to do?

Tell! Don't show:
Expand your pitch with a few choice keywords

By itself, putting your dust-jacket pitch or your synopsis on your website won't bring readers to your site. Nor will adding your first chapter or two to the site. A well-written pitch captures your style and story . . . and your sample chapters deliver the goods. But that package derives from your need to show an agent or editor why he should take on your work. It may . . . or may not . . . respond to your readers' Google searches . . . or the search engines' hunt for keywords.

Despite the oft-repeated mantra of fiction writing, a fiction website has to tell, not show. So,

  • Expand your pitch . . . add keywords that both tell about your novel and respond to topics that potential readers are searching for.

  • Cast your pitch in terms of what readers want . . . fiction writing tips, for example, rather than an intriguing tale of life in Soda Springs, Colorado.

  • And salt your pitch with keywords. Don't forget: a single mention of one keyword does not a keyword-focused webpage make.

Here's an example. The primary keyword on my homepage is fiction writing. It appears throughout the page, starting with the headline:

    An invitation to fiction writing:
    Tips from the fight for civil rights

Then, we begin the page with the keyword. . . and use it throughout the page:

    Fiction writing your cup of tea? Even if you're widely read, you probably don't know Soda Springs . . .

    . . . I show how you can use Soda Springs to sharpen your own fiction writing

    . . . I'll show you why we made those choices . . . and the questions they raise for your own fiction writing

    Use Soda Springs as your personal writing workshop . . . I've salted the discussion with writing tips, writing hints, writing exercises that will help you with your own fiction writing. Read it. Enjoy it. Criticize it. Learn from it.

    Chapter summaries. One-paragraph summaries of each chapter. (A fiction writing tip we picked up from our writing groups over the years.) Good chapter summaries give both you and your readers an easy handle on your story line.

    The art of cutting: Good fiction writing means deleting entire scenes, pages, themes, characters . . . even well-written ones. View the secrets that published novels never reveal: the parts the author cut out . . . plus comments on why we decided these sections had to go, and useful tips for your own fiction writing.

Okay, plenty of examples there. If you like Where's Waldo searches, take another look at An Invitation to fiction writing. You'll find the page's keyword, fiction writing, throughout the page.

Or search for the keyword on Writing tips for your novel's website. (It's writing tips.) Or for the keyword, writing web pages on Your new genre: writing web pages.

Hooking the search engines:
Use all six basic elements of a webpage

There's more to a webpage than text. In fact, every webpage has at least six components. Each should include at least one example of the page's keyword to maximize the page's ability to get the search engines' attention. The webpage you're reading now, for example, includes the following:

  • File name: keyword
    The file name is the short-hand name you give to each web page . . . the file name, together with your domain name, make up a separate URL for each page.

    Example: the URL for this page is The URL appears in the top left corner of your screen where you would type in a specific web address rather than a keyword. It is used by the search engines, but also in internal links within your web site. The page keyword should appear once in the file name.
  • Page title: The keyword-based web page
    The page title appears on a computer screen just above the web page . . . and on the tab if you have several web sites open at once.

    Notice that it changes each time you click to a different page on a site. Your readers may not notice it, but search engines do. Include the keyword once in the page title.
  • Keywords: keyword, keywords, key words
    Readers don't see your keywords . . . unless they right-click anywhere on your page, then left click on the source code button . . . but the search engines use them to help determine relevance of the page to their search.

    You should have one primary keyword . . . and, optionally, up to three or four secondary words for each web page.
  • Page Description: Keyword-based pages are a must to attract readers to your website.But fiction is about story, not about salting your prose with hooks for the search engines. The solution: a keyword-laced introduction to each web page.

    The page description appears in the search engine's results page beneath the page title. It's the pitch for the page, and is crucial both to the search engines and potential readers. Based on this description, readers choose to click onto your site . . . or not.
  • Headline: Keywords: the key to a winning web page

    The headline is obvious. It has the same function as headlines in newspapers . . . to give the reader a 1- or 2-line summary of what the page (or article) is about.
  • Text body
    The keyword should appear in the first sentence, preferably at the beginning, and should be scattered throughout the text . . . not indiscriminately, of course, but in a context that makes sense to the reader.

Return from Keyword to Homepage, An invitation to fiction writing
Return to Writing tips for your novel's website.
Return to Your new genre: writing web pages.

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