Most people subscribe to the notion that in order to rank with SEO efforts, you need to suck up to the search engines and spam your desired keywords over every page element that you possibly can. While this might have been a winning tactic in the early days where search engine sophistication was limited, these tactics can now be labelled as “black hat.” Black hat SEO tactics can cause penalties, or at worse, deindexation.
Though search engines take some significance from specific keyword use, there’s another element to consider when it comes to pleasing Google: their human Quality Raters. As Google works to develop their algorithm to near-human intelligence, their trained human team helps to manually check assumptions made by their robots.
Though kept under wraps for quite some time, the guidelines Google set forth for Quality Raters to use were eventually released to the public. Even with access to this document, it’s still impossible to know for sure every little thing that Google considers when it comes to ranking, and the weight of each of these pieces—especially because there are usually multiple versions of Google’s algorithm in play at any given time.
So even when it comes to technical SEO, there’s a human element that must be considered. Unfortunately, many people these days are so obsessed with ranking on search engines that they fail to see the bigger picture: humans are the ones who will be reading your content.
So what’s a content marketer to do? Here’s how to bridge the gap writing for humans and computers.
Why Write for Humans
Assuming you’re not yet convinced of the important human element involved in content consumption, here are a few additional reasons to care.
Let’s consider a fictional scenario where search engines only rank with keywords in mind. If search engines only ranked for keywords, then sure, your keyword-stuffed content will appear at the top of the search engine results page (assuming all other technical elements are in place). But if you’re writing for keywords, what happens when a human decides to click through and read your content?
More than likely, the scenario plays out as follows:
- Person searches a specific query, in search of an answer
- Person clicks on one of the top results, assuming that it’ll be one of the best fits to answer their query
- Person lands on a keyword-stuffed page that’s practically illegible
- Person bounces from the page without trying to understand what the business is about, perhaps permanently with a bad taste for your company in their mouth
- Person goes back to search and finds a better match for their query, forging a positive connection with one of your competitors
Not exactly ideal, is it? And definitely not the situation you were hoping for. Trying to rank first for a certain keyword is a great goal, just make sure you have high-quality, human-centric content to back up your ranking.
Knowing how many people think of keywords first, and content second, Google’s search engine algorithm continues to develop in a way that displays the most relevant results that provide the best user experience. “Search engines are built to serve people” says Neil Patel, a successful internet marketer. Can your content make the same claim?
Another way to look at the idea of writing for humans is the fact that f your content isn’t worth reading, then it also isn’t worth linking to. Search engines consider backlinks as a top ranking factor. No matter how hard you beg and please, nobody is going to waste a valuable backlink on something that’s clearly search engine spam.
Ultimately, humans are the ones making decisions, not the search engines. Say the goal of your content strategy is to increase conversions. Can writing purely for search engines actually increase that? (No.)
Search engines help people find you, but they can’t influence those people’s next actions. It’s up to you to create content engaging enough to serve whatever business purpose commissioned its creation. At the end of the day, you’ll only get return visitors if you have content worth returning to.
Writing for Computers
Before giving search engines the boot, it’s important to acknowledge the importance of using a search engine to connect humans to your content. So while it’s tempting to ignore technical SEO and content structure, it’s foolish to think that you’ll still be able to rank by doing so.
The benefits of catering to search are numerous. The top 4 search engine results get 70% of the traffic for that term, with the top ranked result getting 33% of that traffic. Increased traffic that lands on a well-optimized page can mean an increase in conversions, leads, and ROI for your efforts.
Though writing content for humans trumps writing for search engines, embrace and acknowledge that content has a better chance of being seen/noticed and appreciated if you optimize with both in mind.
How to Write for Both Humans and Computers
The hardest part of content creation is the fact that there’s already so much out there. 1,481 blog posts are published on WordPress every minute, adding up to over 2.13 million blog posts per day! And that’s just on the WordPress CMS, which powers only about 27% of the Internet. Additionally, humans have an attention span that moves from topic to topic quicker than a goldfish’s. On top of that, you also have to think about optimizing for SEO, another huge consideration for your content. How do you create something unique and engaging while facing these odds?
Search Engine Journal advises to write for humans first, and to let the SEO take care of itself as your content comes together. Before delving into the basic items that need to be taken care of, here are a few things to address when writing for humans:
- What’s the goal for the post: to gain a new subscriber, to make a purchase, or perhaps to encourage a share? Make sure that the content is actionable in some obvious way, considerate of your specific goal.
- Grab attention early on. Write powerful headlines to grab attention right off the bat. Copyblogger’s data shows that 80% of people will read your headlines, but only 20% of those people will make it through to actually read your content.
- Make the post easy to digest and absorb. Divide up long posts with heading formatting and use keywords when appropriate. These things make content easier to read, which is important for both humans and search engines, as readability is an SEO ranking factor.
- Be realistic with expectations. Quality readers don’t happen overnight, they come over time. Continue creating great content to boost your chances of success over time.
Writing for SEO
The basic SEO dimensions that should be considered a must include:
- Using smart permalinks. Targeted keywords must be included in the post slug to signal relevance to Google.
- Incorporate an XML sitemap to make it easier for search engines to crawl your pages and create connections between them. WordPress software creates this automatically, and is considered as one of the best CMSes for content creators because of it’s built-in SEO benefits.
- Put a few keywords in your headline and throughout the post. Doing too much of this may cause suspicion and subsequently, a Google penalty. The metric to look at is keyword density, the measure of the number of keywords over the total number of words in the article. Though opinions differ between SEOs, a good keyword density is at around 1.5%.
- Use ALT tags for photos. Google cannot “see” photos, so these alt tags help Google to identify if a photo is relevant to a search query. The equivalent for words is the meta description, which shows up as the text below the title on search engine result pages. The people looking for content will know at a glance what the post is about when they read the meta description, so optimize for that as well—for the human, not the search engine.
- Consistent posting. If you post once a month or less, search engine spiders that crawl through your website will forget you.
Another important consideration when writing for SEO is content length. Write for your business and specific audience, Google considers “helpful” posts as 1000 words and above, with at least 2500 words needed to rank for evergreen content. Don’t push for word count if it’s just not going to happen for a given topic, but aim to create a great resource to assist with ranking.
Also, don’t forget about linking. Well-written content usually incorporates information from a number of trustworthy sources, so make sure to link back these sources so that Google can understand more about the topic you’re writing about. Linking works the other way around, too. Getting inbound links from other sources serves as social proof that lets Google know that you’re trustworthy, and that others consider you an authority on a subject.
Finally, don’t forget to optimize your site for mobile, which is an important tenet of Google’s mobile-first indexing policy. In general, you can use plugins like Yoast to help you write better for SEO.
How to Bridge the Gap Writing for Humans and Computers
Remember, it all comes down to writing for humans over search engines, and not primarily for search engines over humans. Get your priorities straight before writing a single word, and you’re content is sure to be great.
If you already make it a point to write for humans, search engine optimization can lend a hand in making content more discoverable. It is possible to write for both, but never sacrifice human understanding and enjoyment for search engine technicalities.
What are your best tips when it comes to bridging the gap writing for humans and computers? We’d love to hear what’s working! Tweet at @DigitalRDMS with your thoughts, and we’ll share the best insights! Contact the experts of Results Driven Marketing at (215) 393-8700 for more information!