Making information findable…what must technical editors do?

I recently re-read this blog post about findability (by Mark Baker on Every Page is Page One) and what writers need to do to their topics to ensure that users get to the information that they want. (Peter Morville popularized the concept of findability in his information architecture book, Ambient Findability.) This got me thinking: As a technical editor, what must I do to make information more findable? Here’s what sprung to mind:

First and foremost, I anticipate how the user thinks about the subject. I need to understand what technical terms in the information are a part of the users’ natural language and which are just confusing jargon. I need to bring the users’ language to the table when editing the information. This is especially true for titles and initial paragraphs, which search engines rely on to determine how to rank order search results. Front-loading topics with the language of the user (with their search terms) makes the information more findable.

Next, I must remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I cannot edit just the text; I must edit all aspects of the information, including all navigational aids such as a contents view, the index, and inline links. Links especially enhance the findability of information, both the information that is edited and the information that is linked to. I need to consider when, where, why, and how writers include inline links to related information. I need to test the links, but I must also evaluate the links to determine if they are necessary or if they provide useful additional information.

Lastly, I need to edit the topics for an optimal length. One of the tricks of search engine optimization (SEO), or making your information findable, is making sure that the content is not too long. Some search engines rank pages higher if their overall word count is between 300 and 500 words.

By front-loading topics with the search keywords of your users, by including links to relevant information, and then by making the topics not too long, you achieve a clustering of search keywords, ultimately making the topic more findable.

Happy editing everyone!

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