It seems obvious, but in an SEO world where content creators and copywriters are constantly bombarded with technical tips and grey hat copy hacks, it’s easy to lose sight of whom (not what) you’re writing for. Search engine algorithms are constantly being updated with a single end goal in mind: to deliver the most relevant search results to the user. That is, search engines want to show results a searcher ultimately chooses to read or view because it’s relevant and engaging, and not content that reads like it was written by a robot.
Sometimes content can look and feel right, but something about the language can turn the reader off, or make the copy ‘read’ as unnatural or over-SEO’d.
Most SEO content writers ditched keyword stuffing (if they ever even used it) long ago, as search engines quickly addressed a loophole that allowed less-than-relevant pages to rank higher than informative pages a searcher would prefer. Still, the algorithms aren’t perfect, and you may yet find some content pages that are awkwardly “SEO stuffed” with keyword-only titles and headers that don’t make a ton of sense, keyword questions that are written out and immediately answered in the first sentence of every paragraph, keyword-based sections that are short and lack substantive information, and overall poor writing.
It may be only a matter of time before these poorly written pages see an algorithm update that penalizes content that’s not as helpful to the reader. So how do you avoid such a penalty? Write for the reader. (Did the title give away the answer?)
SEO Is a Science, Content Is an Art
Many factors on a page can help improve the readability of content for a user. Some pages require a scientific, math-driven analysis, some need the touch of an artist with a background in language or design, and others require a little of both. Good content that’s readable, requires skill and talent in all aspects, including:
- User Experience (UX): Is your site designed well and does it load quickly? (Science & Art)
- Technical SEO: Are your title and meta tags accurate and descriptive? (Science)
- Body Content: Is your copy structured well and written to engage, and are there interesting graphics to support it? (Art)
When writing content, focus mainly on the body of the page, with some additional technical SEO added for support. It’s important to note, however, that with UX becoming a major factor in SEO, it’s now apparent that even content creators and copywriters should be aware of the overall UX of their pages, and not only of the body content.
Create Readable Content
Readable content requires a good writer, plain and simple. If the content isn’t enjoyable, engaging, or at least not intolerable, real people (searchers) will bounce from your page and your rankings will reflect that. To keep your content readable, remember your K-12 English lessons:
- Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation
- Get to the point
- Be creative
- Use structure that guides the reader
- Keep the tone and language natural
- Follow a style guide (specifically AP, as it’s designed for the widest audience)
If you read enough online content, you’ll find writers often violate these basic rules, and as search algorithms improve, you’ll hopefully see less useless or ineffective copy.
When hiring at EightOhTwo, we look for strong writers first, and SEO experience second, because strong writing skills and talent are so important to creating solid content and search-optimized copy. As our Founder and President, Ken Reig, puts it, “You can always teach a writer and a linguist the fundamentals of SEO, but you cannot teach a technical SEO person how to be a strong writer.”
Beyond being bad for SEO, poor writing is also bad for the brand. Ken adds, “a great SEO should be able to conform to brand style guidelines seamlessly. Subpar SEO copy isn’t just a hindrance to search, it probably won’t see the light of day if you can’t get it past your brand managers in the first place.”
SEO Is the Skeleton (Not the Exoskeleton)
You need to search-optimize your content—there’s no doubt about it—but helping your rankings is not its only purpose. Using an SEO strategy can pull double duty, by helping search engines understand the relevance of your page to a search, and helping writers outline and build a content skeleton, which they can then flesh out with engaging writing.
As you conduct keyword research, use the actual keywords and what you learn about searcher intent to help outline the structure of your content. Use high search volume queries to determine your page topic and concept, and then outline your section headers and create the focus of paragraphs using longer-tail and lower-volume supporting queries. As mentioned above, avoid keyword stuffing your titles and headers. Also, there may be cases where low-volume, long-tail queries warrant their own concept and page, but that’s where keyword research can help you delineate search intent and which topics belong where.
It’s important not to stop there, or to “mail it in” by simply filling in space or repeating keywords excessively to fill space. Flesh out your page with engaging writing so the SEO skeleton is hidden, and you’re not left with an exoskeleton that screams “SEO” and is unpalatable to the reader like most exoskeleton animals, except crustaceans for some reason.
Plant Quality Content Seeds and Watch Them Grow
As search engines continue to refine algorithms with the goal of delivering the most relevant results for searchers, and those searchers (consciously or subconsciously) desire readable, engaging content, it only makes sense to craft content to those standards now, without getting too hung up on SEO loopholes. Then, watch your content and rankings grow, with some updating and stewardship along the way. A strong foundation in writing is the best tool a content creator can have. From there, SEO strategy can help add layers of structure and refinement, but writing is writing. And great writing is great writing.