One of the most common challenges content marketers face is choosing whether to write to please Google or people, or if in fact it’s possible to do both.
It’s an ongoing debate in the online world, and treading the line between doing both can often be frustrating. After all, writing content that appeals to a computer algorithm is seemingly at odds with writing for a human reader.
However, as Google becomes more intelligent and human-like in its capabilities, writing for both the search engine and the end-user may not be as mutually exclusive as it may appear. The truth is that writing people-first content that is effective for SEO can, and should be done – and here’s how.
Writing for search
Since Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, content marketing has changed significantly and is continuing to do so. Today, producing unique, natural and valuable content is essential if you want to rank highly on search engine result pages (SERPs) and increase traffic to your site. In fact, Google considers content as one of the top ranking factors.
Although perhaps not as important as it once was, keyword optimisation should still be part of your content marketing strategy. Using online tools such as AdWords keyword planner can help you decipher what people are searching for and target specific keywords.
There are no hard and fast Google rules on numbers of keywords per page. However, for user experience it’s important that keywords and phrases are integrated naturally and not crammed into content with no context.
This brings us onto another key consideration when writing for search – the use of relevant, natural language. Language semantics was first given prominence by Google’s Hummingbird algorithm and later by RankBrain. For example, an article that includes detailed information about a single subject and is written in a simple, comprehensive way will outperform a thin, irrelevant piece of content stuffed with keywords. While still debatable, many digital marketing experts claim that long-form content also performs better on SERPs, possibly because it allows for a more in-depth analysis of a topic.
Having diverse and natural backlinks is also an important ranking factor. The best way to achieve this is through including links to the top content sources used in the research for your content. You can check their domain authority through tools like Moz.
Writing for people
From a user’s point of view, there’s nothing more likely to make you click off a page than keyword-laden jargon. What’s important for an online audience is readability – that is, content that’s easy to understand, answers problems and provides useful information.
When writing for people, it can help to think about what you as a reader would want to see. As a general rule of thumb, articles should be clear, concise and free from overly-technical or complicated words and phrases.
Long blocks of text can also be off-putting, especially for mobile-users reading on small screens. Research has shown that the human attention span for certain social and mobile tasks is now around eight seconds, so you’ll need to think of ways to keep readers engaged. For example, keeping paragraphs short and using subheadings, links or lists can help break the text into digestible chunks.
Using powerful, emotional headlines that draw the eye can also encourage web users to click on your page, while posting regular, high-quality content is a sure fire way to build a loyal audience.
The benefits: writing for search engines vs people
A major benefit of writing for search engines is that it helps to attract people to your site who are looking for specific products or services. SEO content can provide tangible results in increasing ranking factors by lowering bounce rate, while increasing dwell time, click-through-rate and conversion rate. The better aligned your content is with what people are searching for, the greater chances they will spend more time on your website, click on links, purchase your products or subscribe to your content.
People-first content also has plenty of advantages, many of which cross-over with the benefits of writing for search. For example, well-written content that people enjoy reading will encourage them to visit and return to your site, and can help them to feel an affinity with your brand, thus persuading them take a course of action. Human-centric content can also lead to more people engaging, sharing and linking to your site. The latter of which is an important factor in strengthening your own domain authority and lifting it up the SERPs.
How to achieve a balance between the two
Loathe or love Google, if you want your content to rank highly and attract traffic, it needs to be written with SEO in mind. However, search results are inextricably linked to how people respond and engage with your site, meaning you can’t purely write for Google or purely for humans. As Moz founder, Rand Fishkin, said on Twitter: ‘There’s no such thing as “writing for people vs. search engines”. There’s only “writing for people who also use search engines”.
While keywords and backlinks can be used to boost rankings, they shouldn’t take priority when writing content. In recent years we’ve seen a move towards more natural, relevant content that answers questions and provides real value for the reader. This means that Google’s algorithms are now evaluating the words on the page much like a human would.
Long gone are the times when writing for SEO meant ignoring the reader to satisfy the search engine. Today, content marketing is about catering to both, and as algorithms continue to become more advanced, the line between the two becomes thinner.
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