Write for People, Not for Search Engines

November 12, 2017

Have you ever read an article that left you wondering, ‘What was the point?’ The author never revealed a useful solution or an innovative perspective. He simply led you in circles, repeating the same, tired concepts you’ve heard a hundred times before. In fact, you question whether he actually has any expertise at all on the chosen subject.   

Often these articles repeat the same word or phrase five times within the first two paragraphs. The sentences are short and disjointed and sometimes the paragraphs are all one or two sentences long. Here’s an example:

Do you care about your dog?

If so, you should feed your dog healthy dog food.

Healthy dog food will make your dog happy.

Healthy dog food will lower your vet bills.

Who doesn’t want healthy dog food that does those things?

Here are five ways healthy dog food will help your dog.   

Like a misguided sprinkler that waters more of the sidewalk than the actual grass, the author is just spraying keywords back and forth across the page. He’s not thinking about how to provide value to his reader. He’s simply hoping that the search engines will notice one of his many keywords and automatically award him the content badge of honor: the number one slot on the first page of Google.

Do you think he’s going to get that ranking with such useless content? Fat chance.

Search engines no longer base rankings on keywords alone. They’re looking for well-written content that people share on social media and link to on highly-respected, relevant sites. The rogue sprinkler writer has forgotten the cardinal rule of all writing: Write for people first.

How to politely ignore your SEO plugin

Creating content for people seems obvious, right? It’s very tempting, however, to get sucked into checking all the SEO boxes until your writing loses its soul. Until it no longer sounds like an empathetic human but takes on the hollow personality of an artificial intelligence like Siri. I guarantee you, no one wants to read an article written by Siri.

Yet, when you follow SEO guidelines without keeping your readers in mind, this is exactly what happens. Your relatable, conversational human voice turns into a meaningless jumble of keywords and repetitive phrases.

Now, before you get defensive and argue that SEO does matter and those guidelines serve the very useful purpose of getting your content found and ranked, don’t worry, I agree.

When you blindly follow the suggestions of SEO plugins, your writing suffers.

There are definitely some SEO guidelines you should heed or you risk falling into online obscurity. It’s when you blindly follow the suggestions of SEO plugins, like Yoast for WordPress, that you get into trouble. That initially useful checklist can quickly damage the quality of your writing when you start taking the readability score and keyword suggestions too literally.

Here’s what I want you to do: 

Throw all thoughts of SEO out the window when you first sit down to write. 

Write as if you’re writing a letter directly to your ideal customer. Would you worry about keywords or links? No, you’d write like one human to another. This is how you should start every piece: write for people first and worry about search engines later.  

Keywords are only as valuable as your content

Keyword stuffing lost its effectiveness years ago. Yet too many businesses still believe that ranking for the right keywords is the key to growing their business.

While it’s true that you can attract more visitors to your page using keywords, this provides zero value if when these visitors arrive, they immediately turn around and leave because the content didn’t deliver any value. Parroting the same words over and over, making your content sound less intelligent than your child’s Furby, does not provide value. This practice will get your content labeled as spam and actually hurt your search rankings.

The only way to convince visitors to take action is to earn their trust with high-value content.

Your end goal should always be to convince your site visitors to take an action, whether it’s subscribe to your newsletter, sign up for a free course, or buy your product. The only way to convince visitors to take that action is to earn their trust with high-value content.

The question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I helping my ideal customer solve a problem?” If the answer is no or I’m not sure, then you’re probably only thinking about how to please search engines.

Google rewards customer-focused content

The more useful your content is to your audience, the more likely your search rankings will improve and your target audience will find you. Conversely, Google will sniff out useless content and eventually lower your rankings, pushing your content into obscurity. This is because Google puts your customers first, and so should you.

When you get hung-up on pleasing search engines, you risk sacrificing both your unique voice and the flow of your piece. Write like you speak and don’t worry so much about too many long sentences, not enough transition words, and overusing the passive voice. Worry about providing value to your readers first and foremost. Not only will your audience thank you, the search engines will reward you as well.

Throw the search engines a bone

Once you start writing for people first, your content will increase in value and your customers will gladly listen to what you have to say. You have to reach them first, however, so don’t neglect to promote all your hard work.

Google rewards content that’s widely shared and linked to, but no one’s going to discover it if you don’t spread the word. Share your posts on social media, start a newsletter, ask relevant bloggers to link to your posts, and reach out to relevant media sites or blogs you admire and ask about guest posting.

Help the search engines find, analyze and rank your site by also checking a few standard SEO boxes. These include accurately titling and labeling your images, setting a long-tail focus keyword, and writing a meta description that is both compelling and searchable. (I’ll cover these basic SEO practices in more detail in a future post.)

You should also use article titles that clearly state the purpose of your post. Think about what your readers would type into a search engine if they were looking for your product or service. Use this as a starting point for your title and add your own clever spin from there.

Make it worth it

The bottom line is, create content that provides real value to your ideal customer. Create content that’s worth reading and sharing. Ask yourself honestly, if you came across your article, would you share it with your friends and colleagues? Is it worth their time?

Be genuine. Be remarkable. Be worth connecting with. Seth Godin

Respect your reader’s time and create content that will make them smarter, happier, or more successful by reading it. Find your voice and share your unique perspective with the world. In the words of Sonia Simone from Copyblogger, “Create content that deserves to be found.”

Do you deserve to be found? Of course you do, but you have to prove it to your target audience first.

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