A Quick and Easy English Lesson for SEO
You don’t need to freak out about your latest web content mistake – it’s totally editable (yes that is a word)! Don’t cry over spilled milk. Let’s move forward: if you have some misspellings and typos, get in there and clean it up stat.
Of course, it’s easier and less embarrassing to have it right from the get go. I would never post a blog without letting it sit for a couple of hours before I come back and fix my inevitable mistakes.
When you are writing web content for a company, grammar errors can both tarnish their credibility and their rankings on search engines. Always run your work by another writer, or look at it with fresh eyes. If you feel that you need some extra help with your grammar, keep reading to learn how to recognize some errors that make readers (and Google) cringe.
There are plenty of typical grammatical errors like mixing up their and they’re, meet and meat, or to and too. These are easy to catch with a quick run-through because your common knowledge will pick up on typical misspelling and word misuse. However, there are additional grammatical errors that you may not recognize as an issue. For clear, concise, and easy-to-follow content; understand the following grammatical concepts.
1) Comma Misuse
A comma has several main purposes in a sentence: to separate a list, to connect 2 independent clauses in a compound sentence, or to separate short interior phrases. Below is an example of each instance.
My favorite ice cream flavors are chocolate, cherry, and pecan.
Although the 3rd comma is not necessary, it can help avoid confusion in some cases. If it were left out, the sentence would read:
My favorite ice cream flavors are chocolate, cherry and pecan.
It may appear to some that “cherry and pecan” is one individual flavor.
I went for a swim, and I laid on the beach.
In these instances, the phrase before the comma and the phrase after the comma should be able to stand alone as complete sentences. If not, you should remove the comma.
Incorrect: I went for a swim, and laid on the beach.
“I went for a swim” is a complete sentence, but “laid on the beach” is not. The comma should be removed in this sentence to read: I went for a swim and laid on the beach.
Separating Dependent Clauses
A fragment of a sentence that does not belong with the rest of the sentence requires a comma to set it apart. A good rule of thumb is to say the sentence out loud or in your head. If you change your tone of voice for a specific fragment, it is typically set apart by commas.
Incorrect: My parents who are in their forties love playing golf.
Correct: My parents, who are in their forties, love playing golf.
2) Passive Sentence Structure
Moving on to the not-so-obvious, passive sentence structure can be difficult to recognize. When the subject of a sentence commands the verb, it is active. When the verb commands the subject, it is passive. Passive sentences can make for an awkward, choppy structure. Try switching sentences to the active voice to ensure that your writing flows.
The best way to understand when a sentence is passive vs. active is to look at some examples. Notice that passive examples include the sentence structure: “verb” + by.
Active: Katie is eating the candy bar.
Passive: The candy bar is being eaten by Katie.
Active: Kyle hugs his sister.
Passive: His sister is being hugged by Kyle.
Here is an example where both versions sound okay. I would consider this acceptable!
Active: My mother wrote the book.
Passive: The book was written by my mother.
I doubt Google will doc you for writing in the passive structure, but it can be annoying to readers. Be an active writer for stronger wording.
3) Parallel Structure
When making lists, it is important for each part of the list to follow the same structure. Can you find the mistake in this sentence?
Incorrect: She is baking bread, cooking pasta, and ordered desserts.
^^It probably sounds funny.
Correct: She is baking bread, cooking pasta, and ordering desserts.
Each verb in the sentence should be in the same tense, and each list element should follow the same pattern. Notice that when combing the first part of the sentence “She is” with each list item, it creates grammatically correct sentences:
She is baking bread. She is cooking pasta. She is ordering desserts.
Here is another example of a sentence without parallel structure.
Incorrect: We like to run, swimming, and shopping.
Now separate the sentence out:
We like to run. We like to swimming. We like to shopping.
Here are a couple of ways to fix this sentence:
- We like to run, swim, and shop.
- We like to run, to swim, and to shop.
- We like running, like swimming, and love shopping.
- We like running, swimming, and shopping.
Do you see how each part of the list matches?
4) Run-on Sentences
Just don’t do it! Read your paragraph out loud. If you have a sentence where you are gasping for breath by the end, splice it up. Either make it 2 sentences, or make it a compound sentence.
You may also run the risk of having too many choppy sentences in a row. In these cases, combine shorter sentences into 1. Make sure your writing has a healthy mix of short, medium, and longer sentences.
5) Use Semicolons for Lists within Lists
When making a list within a list, use a semicolon for the larger list and commas for the interior list. Here are some examples:
- We are making dip, quiche, and salad for appetizers; spaghetti for dinner; and cake for dessert.
- We want to go to the movies on Friday; the pool, mall, and grocery store Saturday; and the carwash on Sunday.
How many of these mistakes does Google actually catch? How much do they really care? I’m not sure, but clearly written content that is grammatically on point enhances user experience. Even if Google isn’t picking up on these detailed grammar mistakes now, they will in the future! You may as well start practicing good grammar today.