Writing for search engines

Learn how to write content for government websites with users and search engines in mind. Use search engine optimisation (SEO) writing techniques to help users find the information they need.

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

SEO helps government websites get better results in search engines. Content that contains relevant keywords leads to a better user experience and brings more of the right users to your website.

Include keywords that users search for in your content. This raises the authority and relevance of your content.

Successful SEO happens when you write concise, authentic, user-focused content. Focus on creating high-value content that helps answer the questions people are asking.


Keywords are the common terms people use when searching for information. They should be user-focused, relevant and consistent.

Research with users to find out the keywords they will search with and click through to your page.

Keyword research

The first step in SEO is to know what it is you’re optimising for. This means knowing the words people are searching with. These are the keywords you want your website pages to rank for. You can then use these keywords to write content that answers those queries.

Example of

selecting keywords

Your website helps users become Australia citizens.

You have researched with users who are keen to become Australian citizens. You have found they use the keyword ‘citizenship’ a lot.

You will want to include ‘citizenship’ a few times in the opening paragraphs of your content, in your title, meta description and URL.

Be careful not to overuse keywords. This can have a negative impact on your SEO efforts. Make sure your content still reads naturally.

How to work out which keywords to use

You can find out which keywords to use through research with users.

Tools like Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner or Keyword Tool will also suggest keywords you can use. These tools also give you an estimated monthly search volume.

Another useful tool is the Google Search Console. This tool shows what search queries Google is returning and how many clicks and impressions they get. A click is when a user clicks on your link in a search result. An impression is the amount of times a webpage has appeared in search results.

These tools can help support your user research to find out which keywords people are searching for and what to write.

Keyword categories

There are 3 main types of keyword categories. Try writing content to support at least 1 of these areas:

  • navigational — a search for a specific web page (for example, ‘mygov login’)
  • informational — a search for topical information (for example, ‘can I get paid maternity leave?’)
  • transactional — a search for a ‘how to’ (for example, ‘import wine into Australia’)

Some information may relate to a particular location or group of people. If so, make sure you include these details (for example, ‘student placements in northern NSW’).

Writing keyword-based content

After you know what your keywords are, write your page content around those words.

Include your keywords once or twice, if it makes sense, in the first paragraph of your content. Try to also include supporting content that contains related concepts and terms. This helps search engines understand the theme of your page.

Take time to write content that is natural, easy to read and user-centred.

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On-page optimisation

You can help guide people to the content that is relevant to certain keywords through the process of on-page optimisation. This will include things like URLs, metadata, headings, internal links, page content and images.


The URL path should include the keyword phrase you’re targeting the most. Place it close to the start of the URL. The URL should be concise and clear, and make sense to users. While there is no strict guide on length, it’s good practice to keep your URL below 100 characters.

Example of

A SEO-friendly URL


Use hyphens instead of spaces or underscores in the URL to separate the words. This helps search engines to understand each word clearly.


Metadata is often referred to as ‘tags’ that sit in the background of a webpage, within the code.

Title tag

The title tag tells users and search engines what your page is about.

In a search result, your title tag typically appears as the first line, as a headline.

Your title tag should be unique for each page and no more than 70 characters in length.

Words in the title are bolded if they appear in the search query. This is where understanding your keyword strategy becomes valuable. Knowing what users are searching for helps you to make sure that those words are bolded in the results.

Keep your title short but relevant, using keywords. Titles that are too long will get cut off by search engines.

Example of

title in search result

Example search result, with the title line highlighted.
Caption: a title snippet for a Digital Transformation Agency page.

Meta description tag

The meta name="description" tag gives search engines a summary of what the page is about.

Your description can be up to 300 characters in length.

Google may use this description in your search result listing. This makes it a great opportunity to show the user why they should click.

Google increased the character limit for meta descriptions in December 2017 to 300. But you do not need to update your existing meta descriptions.

Don’t focus on the character limit. Aim to write engaging, user-focused, keyword-rich, plain English descriptions. Keep thinking about what will encourage a user to click through.

Example of

meta description in search result

Example search result, with the page description highlighed.
Caption: a meta description snippet for a Digital Transformation Agency page.

Google might also use a snippet of relevant text from the content on your page as an alternative description.

The goal is to write compelling text that will lead people to click on your site. Using keywords in your description will help reassure users that this is what they’re looking for.

Heading tags

There are 6 heading tags.

Caption: HTML heading tags from h1 to h6.
Example of

HTML heading tags

This Content Guide uses h1, h2 and h3 heading tags to break up content and make it easy to read.

For example, in Writing style:

  • h1 = Writing style
  • h2 = Tone
  • h3 = Pronouns

A heading tag (h) denotes a section heading and the numbers refer to their overall importance.

Short content should only use 2 subheading levels (h1 through h3). The h1 is the main heading and the h3 headings would be the smallest and have the lowest priority.

Heading tags help search engines understand the topic that you’re writing about.

The h1 tag is a great place to input your target keywords. There should be only 1 h1 per page.

For more on how to write headings, see headings and subheadings.

Page content

The page content needs to be optimised for users first and search engines second.

Write in a way that targets the specific needs of users.

Example of

writing SEO-friendly page content

You are writing content to help users claim for family tax benefits.

Your user research shows users search for ‘child care’, ‘income’ and ‘payments’ when they need help with family tax benefits.

So you write useful content that includes these terms and topics.

To optimise your content, write the way you would write for a human.

Search engines are looking for your main keywords and similar other words.

Be careful of duplicate content. This is when large blocks of content are completely the same or very similar. Where there is duplicate content, search engines don’t know which content to link to.

Linking is the fundamental basis of the web. Search engines want to know you’re well connected with other pages and content. This is why linking out to other pages matters when it comes to search engine optimisation.

Tips for linking:

  • Link to relevant content fairly early in the body copy.
  • Link to relevant other pages of your site or other sites.
  • Link with relevant anchor text (the clickable text in a hyperlink). For example, don’t use the word ‘here’ as your link text — use your keywords and link from them.


When optimising images, use words in the alt text or caption that clearly describe the image.

Image optimisation techniques:

  • Use alt tags on all images, especially those that act as links to pages within the site.
  • Use a main keyword in the alt tag, ensuring it describes the image.
  • Keep alt tags short but accurate and avoid repeating words.

If the caption clearly explains the image use a blank alt text (alt=""). Try to include keywords in the caption, don’t create an alt text just for keywords.

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Useful SEO tools

There are many tools to help improve your content and make it more friendly for SEO:

  • Google Keyword Planner — Google’s own keyword research tool, designed mainly for AdWords (pay per click) but useful for SEO.
  • Google Search Console — gives insights into what search queries caused your site to appear in search results and how much traffic they affected.
  • Google Trends — shows the popularity of search terms over time.
  • Google Autocomplete — shows similar searches other people have made. You can use tools like Ubersuggest to find large amounts of autosuggest keywords.
  • Readability tools — to encourage plain English and clearer writing.

SEO and analytics

Tools such as Google Analytics are used to understand many things:

  • keywords and phrases users are searching for
  • how users are discovering content related to your keywords
  • pages users are landing on
  • how long users spend on your site
  • how many return visitors you get
  • overall volume of traffic and where it’s coming from
  • how many first time visits you get
  • bounce rates
  • most popular pages and least popular pages
  • referring sites

Understanding this data can help you get clearer on what content you need to be writing. This will help improve your SEO efforts and get the best results for users and your agency.

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Quick SEO checklist

Page content

  • Use clear introductions, conclusions and topics to organise content into paragraphs.
  • Check for correct spelling and grammar. Cite any sources properly using internal or external links.
  • Use keywords naturally throughout your content.
  • Use synonyms that Google uses to determine a page’s relevancy.

URL path

  • The website page’s URL should include the main keywords for that page.
  • Each word in the URL should be separated using dashes (-) and lower case.
  • Length: try to keep it below 100 characters.

Title tags

  • Describe what the page is about and use tags that are unique to each page.
  • Use your main keywords.
  • Length: about 60-70 characters.

Meta description tag

  • Use a description that accurately summarises the page content and is unique to each page.
  • Use keywords to create a compelling description that a searcher will want to click on.
  • Length: up to 300 characters long.

Header tags

  • The h1 heading tag gives users a quick overview of the content on the page. It should support the keyword theme from the metadata and use the main keywords.
  • Adding h2 and h3 heading tags helps structure your content more clearly. Try to include main keywords in at least 1 subheading and keyword variations in lower headings.


  • Include descriptive captions and keywords in the image alt tag, caption and file name.
  • Link to other pages on your website as appropriate.
  • Try to include 2 to 3 links in every page.
  • Make sure your links use keywords in the link text that is relevant to the page it’s linked to.
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