How to Write Great Content for SEO

The current wisdom is that we should be writing content for our website’s visitors, and not for search engines. That great content is great, no matter what we do for SEO.  I agree with that – for the most part.

The point that that particular wisdom is missing is that search best practices, by and large, are a checklist of how to write articles that are great for web users.

Search Engine Best Practices Are Meant for Web Users

Where best practices are concerned, they are talking about making content user-friendly, meeting user intent, answering a question completely, and having the design of the site be so intuitive it doesn’t cause friction in the user’s understanding.

The title of this page is wrapped in an “H1” HTML tag, which should be used to signify the title of a page.  The bold subheading above is wrapped in “H2” which says that’s a section break, subheading, and less important than the title.  Were you, the reader, at all confused by this use of H1s and H2s on this page?  Nopity nope. In fact, it made perfect sense to you.

I tend to type in short bursts of sentences and paragraph break more often than I would in fiction or academic prose.  That’s really common for web writing, because we are using a different visual medium, and internet users tend to skim.  In fact, they skim a lot. They will jump to bold words and bullet points!

How People Really Read the Web:

  • Skim titles, things in bold
  • Read the first few sentences of the first paragraph
  • (Or the TL;DR if there is one)
  • Jump to pulled out quotes, photo captions and bulleted lists
  • If they are really interested, they might go back and read the whole thing
  • … but probably not.

Writing your content to get the maximum depth of understanding based upon people’s web skimming tactics is a great way to ensure you’ve covered all of the topics you need to cover.  Oh, and before I forget to mention it, all of these things are also on that list of best practices that your SEO person gave you.

Don’t Be Intimidated By the Word Jumble Game, Please

Google has read everyone’s content, and they have graded all the papers. They know which content includes all of the details necessary to show a complete answer to a user query.  That’s their job.

If we want to compete, then, we need to also use all of the pieces of a complete answer to a question.   Tactically, an SEO whiz can tell what words, phrases and questions should be included in an article by gazing at Search Engine Result pages, the pages of top-ranking competitors, and by brainstorming all of the things we need to know about a topic.  They then hand a list of words to a writer.

This is like the writing exercise in school where you have to fit those words into a page. It’s a creative challenge, not a constraint.  Synonyms are our friends, and we don’t need every one of them jammed on a single page.

What the word jumble does is allows us to ensure – checklist style – that we’ve answered all of the facets of the questions that people have about a topic.

But What about Keywords?

You know how we call it “rolling down the window” in the car, but we’re talking about pushing a little button. Or the meaninglessness of the “save” icon to a kid who has never seen a 3 1/2″ floppy diskette?  What about the phone receiver icon that we press on our smart phones to pick up or “hang up” a call?  Those symbolic anachronisms are about as relevant to modern SEO as the word “keyword”.

Yes, we still research volume of queries to specific topics, and make prioritization and decisions based on that.  But we don’t use a single keyword or phrase to be the end-all-be-all for the questions that web users have about a topic.  Often, you’ll here “topic” or “semantically related” ideas being bandied about in the SEO world way more than keywords.

The problem is that everyone knows that word, and just like the save icon being a relevant symbol for an obsolete technology, the word lives on.

It’s a Tool – Like a Checklist – Not a Formula

An obsolete SEO joke:

An SEO walks into a bar, tavern, pub, drinking establishment …

A more current SEO joke:

Q: How many SEOs does it take to change a lightbulb. 

A: Well,  it depends. 

Search is holistic, fluid, and really specific to each site’s industry, goals and visitors. Much of SEO is about finesse and improvisation.  The problem comes in when people still mistake it as being formulaic.  “Put this keyword here, and here, then synonym 1 goes here.”   I find that people who want to reduce search to always-do and always-don’t sorts of rules end up being frustrated by the job.  It’s always about trade-offs.

So how do you write great content for SEO?

Well, it depends. What are your visitors asking questions about?

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