Modern advertising has been around since 2000BC.
SEO, one of the most fundamental aspects of modern marketing, has been around since 1994.
A lot has happened in the years since then.
The internet has gotten faster, websites smarter, search engines more like AI than algorithms. The techniques historically used for SEO in 2000 are not viable in 2021, when search engines have become so complicated that there are entire courses taught on how to capitalise on search engine optimisation, and IT professionals who freelance as SEO experts.
Most of the advice given is sound. You should use keywords. You should write content at length, ideally at more length than your competition, but only if you have enough to talk about. The easiest way to a search engine’s heart is through its algorithm.
But there’s one thing we struggle to agree with, the advice that sneaks into every SEO blog as an underlying mantra: you should write for SEO.
What’s the difference?
Writing for people is writing for people.
When you write for SEO, you’re writing to play to the strengths of an algorithm: how many keywords, how much length, when should you break for a paragraph, how often should you repeat your keyword length. Done carefully, SEO writing turns out a little bland, but serviceable.
Done poorly, SEO writing is difficult to read at best, and completely unintelligible at worst.
So why was it ever done?
It’s important to look at SEO writing in context.
At the start of writing for SEO, a lot less was known about how search engine optimisation worked, and the algorithms powering those search engines weren’t as powerful as they are now.
Also keep in mind that most of the SEO advice you got was from people who worked very hard on figuring out correlation between what they saw on pages that ranked. But we all know that correlation and causation are two very different things.
The internet then went on to have a boom of rapidfire escalation and improvement that scientists are still trying to charter. The same internet that was around in the 2000s bears no similarities to what we’re using now.
Ultimately, writing for SEO was not bad advice at the start of learning how to write for SEO. Now that we know better, and the search engines have advanced greatly, the definition of writing for SEO has changed.
You can, of course, still use the old rules: stuff your content full of keywords to rank, formulate your sentences to make it easier for Google, structure your content around the idea that the search engine will do the work for you.
We have a different idea.
You should write for people.
Why write for people?
Your content isn’t going to be read by the search engine.
It’s going to be read by your audience, most of whom is made up of humans, that (we assume) are not an algorithm. Please disregard if they are.
When you write for people, you’re writing content that is readable, easy to understand, and fun. Content that will get shared. Content that will get linked back to you. Content that people will talk about with their friends.
Great content and typical SEO rules don’t really go together, and even Google has started to understand that and to adapt that to their search engine algorithm.
Think about it this way: if you’re going to read a long blog post – 5000 words, at a minimum a 15 minute investment – do you want it to be repetitive, dry, and a little bland?
Or do you want it to be fun?
Do you want that blog to make you think?
Do you want to share that blog with others, get their opinions on it, talk about it with your coworkers?
We like content that reads like music. It’s what we try to write ourselves, and what we look for in other blogs, and what we like reading.
That is content that is written for people.
So, what do I do?
Okay, so you still need to rank, and your page still needs visitors.
There’s a middle ground there.
Write your content for people. Make it as fun as you like, make it the kind of blog people share, make writing it the most enjoyable exercise you can make it to be.
But plan it with SEO in mind.
Top five tips for writing for people, planning for SEO
It sounds hard, on paper: writing for people while also writing for a machine while also making sure to make it sound like you’re writing for people. And it is hard, but there’s a few ways you can make it easier on yourself.
- Think about search intent. When you’re Googling the answer to a question – for example, which coffee shop stocks a particular brand of coffee – you’re going to phrase it in a particular way. That needs to be the backbone of whatever you’re writing.
- Write your content first. Put the keywords in later. Your content is what’s going to keep people on the page, so it needs to be what takes priority. On your second round of edits, go through it again, see where you can work in a keyword or two which will add value to your piece.
- Answer a question. Looping back into the first point about search intent, any good piece of content will have an answer in it, whether or not it’s the answer the buyer is looking for. An answer will keep people coming back, will keep people reading, will keep them interested.
- Add visuals. Visuals are important. Visuals break up text on the page, and make it seem manageable, so if you’re writing at length, giving your reader a break to absorb the information helps. It also makes the blog post seem far shorter.
- Check what Google is doing. Google is in the process of updating and improving all of its services. To write blogs that take advantage of current SEO practice, you need to know what Google is doing with its SEO algorithms.
There’s more to think about when it comes to SEO, but it’s technicalities, little things that can be fixed in post or in editing.
What matters is how you write.
Write for people, and people will read.
Write for a machine, and the machine will have a field day – but that’s not going to keep your audience on your page.
Unless your audience is robots.
Then you should definitely write for robots.