Friday, July 17, 2009

Twitter, Meet the Upside-Down Pyramid…Sort Of

You ought to be inverting your tweets. This will make sense shortly. Read on.

The hallmark of informative writing is the inverted pyramid. Think about walking into a bona fide Egyptian pyramid. I've never been inside one myself; maybe you have. But I do know that no real, live pyramid is inverted. The fattest part, the footprint, is at the bottom, flush with the ground. And you probably have to climb a musty, ancient stairwell to get to the top. That's what I'm guessing, anyway. As I said, I've never been inside one myself.

But where's the top of the figurative pyramid when you're reading a news release, the mainstay of informative writing? That's right. The top is at the bottom. When we read, we read from top to bottom, and the most -- and most important -- information appears at the top of this upside-down pyramid, also called the inverted pyramid. Skillful writers can stuff that info into the first sentence, even. This way, if you're the reader, you're sure to learn everything essential in the first paragraph, and if you're the writer, you've imparted the gist of your message in the space where your audience is most likely to pay attention. And if the lead paragraph compels you to do so, as the reader you have the option to climb down into the rest of the news release, just like you have the option to climb to the top of a real pyramid if you are so inclined.

Sure, the analogy is rough. In a real pyramid, for instance, curiosity might compel you to climb to the top regardless of what's at the bottom. I don't know what's inside the fattest part of a real pyramid -- perhaps nothing of note. But the fact remains that you must first enter the fattest part of the pyramid before you can get to the tip, and the same goes when you begin to read a news release.

Take stock of the inverted pyramid's utility, for doing so will help you to write more effectively online. A well-put-together online news release, for example, contains many of its most important keywords in the very first few lines -- again, the fattest part of the inverted pyramid. These very first few lines, in turn, display directly underneath the news release's headline (another critical component) on a SERP (search engine results page).

Put another way, people aren't the only ones who best pay attention to and digest information presented in the inverted pyramid format.

But how do these concepts possibly apply to Twitter? Well, I recently read an article that shares several ideas on how to write tweets, and when it comes to Twitter SEO, one of these ideas cuts to the core of issue: your tweets' visibility online. To squeeze the most possible organic SEO out of your tweets, you must write them as tiny inverted pyramids of information. Include the keywords up front, within the first 30 characters or so, because when search engines index your tweets, these are the characters that will appear on the SERP.

Where, by the way, does this leave shortened URLs, the very basis of many tweets and arguably just as important as a tweet's original content? Place them at the end of a tweet. That's what I do, and this means my tweets take on the form of not just one pyramid, but two: an upside-down pyramid at the beginning joined at its tip to that of a right-side up pyramid at the end.

Yes, that's all pretty complex for a mere 140 characters.

But with just 140 characters at your disposal, do you really need to think about capturing the reader's attention before those 140 characters are up? Shouldn't even the most boring tweet still command some attention simply because it's only 140 characters? Conversely, shouldn't it take at least 140 characters to get someone's attention in the first place?

Yes and no. It almost seems pathetic and silly, the ultimate indictment of our ever-shortening attention spans. And it would be, except that the "reader" in this instance is a search engine, where a large population of your potential followers will learn of your tweets' very existence, let alone take interest in your micro blogging. In key ways, this makes the search engine your gateway audience, and now that Google has announced plans to make real-time search a reality, the time has come to invert your tweets and make them search engine–friendly.