Jakob Nielson always teaches me something when I visit his site. Today he taught me what I already knew, but made it clearer, cleaner and more concise. Always write to the people you want to visit. Write to their needs for when they get there and write to their needs and what they seek, so they can find you in search engines.

Familiar words spring to mind when users create their search queries. If your writing favors made-up terms over legacy words, users won’t find your site.

“Speak the user’s language” has been a primary usability guideline for more than 20 years. The fact that the Web is a linguistic environment further increases the importance of using the right vocabulary.

In addition, as my new book documents, Web users are growing ever-more search dominant. Search is how people discover new websites and find individual pages within websites and intranets. Unless you’re listed on the first search engine results page (SERP), you might as well not exist. So, the first duty of writing for the Web is to write to be found.

There are many elements to search engine optimization, but SEO guideline #1 is our old friend, “speak the user’s language.” Or, more precisely, when you write, use keywords that match users’ search queries.

Winston Churchill said that “short words are best and the old words when short are best of all.” Churchill was talking about how to write punchy prose, not about SEO. To be found, precise words are often better than short words, which can be too broad to accurately describe the user’s problem. For example, people are more likely to search for “usability” than for “easy” — at least those people who are in the market for my research reports and seminars.