On ClientCon, hosted by Liston Witherill, presenter Margo Aaron gave a great presentation on writing for one’s audience. An Inc.com contributing writer and talented copywriter, she had a lot to say on the topic.
During the Q&A at the end, an audience member asked about writing for SEO when trying to write for one’s audience. Her question was:
“There seems to be so much emphasis on writing stuff that will have better SEO, but that’s not really what I want to write about and I get stuck there. Any tips? I just want to be recognized as a trusted advisor in my niche.”
Margo’s response was spot-on.
She said to write for the user, not the search engines. You can go back and edit or “massage” the content to fit SEO later, and I agree.
But to that, I would add this:
Writing for the search engines is actually old-school.
It’s the way we used to write content. We would stuff the content with keywords as we write, refine the jargon to match exact keyphrases, and even rewrite and twist it so much that it compromised its quality, comprehension level, and intent just to appeal to search bots.
(Margo herself mentioned this was a common occurrence at Inc.com, where they would edit her articles into something completely different than what she initially wrote, which diluted some of the points she was trying to make.)
Yes, there is a certain level of SEO that’s intrinsic to the content. But it’s mostly related to signals, and to the assurance that those signals are captured.
Now that is true SEO.
You want to make sure the content is crawlable, readable, and understandable by the search engines. It’s what SEO is meant to do. A part of it is technical, and another is subjective to the degree that the content is contextually relevant to and authoritative enough for its intended audience.
Simply, SEO should not and never be the focus in your writing. At least not in the first draft. Both you and Google serve the same customer. So always — always! — write for the user, and you will automatically write for Google, too.
It’s not about keywords, stuffing content, or making content click-worthy.
Google’s algorithms no longer rely on keywords alone. Its machine-learning algorithm, called Rankbrain, focuses on the topic, relevance, and authority of a piece of content. Its natural language processing algorithm, called BERT, focuses on patterns, context, and intent.
So keywords and SEO hacks are becoming less relevant. Content, particularly quality content, is more important. And context, which helps to match the content with the user’s search intent, is equally important.
So write as an authority on the subject matter and write for your audience.
The rest will fall into place naturally.
In other words, if you write for your audience first, your SEO will be halfway there.
To echo what Margo said, saying “write first, edit later” is not just applicable to content, style, or grammar. It also includes SEO. If you want to improve the SEO, you can apply tweaks after you’re done writing.
As she said, go back and use better keywords, include headers, add images with proper tags, etc. (But even then, these things are minimal and secondary.)
If you focus on the quality of your content, which means the content is relevant, authoritative, and valuable to your audience (i.e., it’s useful or meaningful to them), Google will send more traffic your way as a result.
What you want is to focus on the signals, not the content.
In other words, when your content is done, and if it’s good, then focus on getting it noticed — not on what it says. That’s why, when I create an SEO strategy for my clients, I typically focus on the following three key areas:
- The quality of the content,
- The quality of the user experience, and
- The amplification of the signals to both #1 and #2.
I already talked a lot about the first two. Signals communicate to the search engines that your content and user experience are of high quality. They can be internal and external. They include things like (and this is just a partial list):
- Content quality signals (e.g., credentials, author bios, citations, references, supporting research, fact-checking, article length, website age, etc).
- Content validation signals (e.g., audience engagement, external reviews, backlinks, social proof, brand mentions, domain authority, etc).
- User experience signals (e.g, site architecture, navigation, bounce rates, security, page speed, usability, accessibility, mobile responsiveness, etc).
- Search intent signals (e.g., schema markup, headers, formatting, images, HTML tags, meta information, topical relationships, content proximity, etc).
And so on.
Signal amplification is where you increase the signals so that the search engines can find, determine, and rank your content for its relevancy, authoritativeness, and valuableness.
For example, to increase social signals, you want to share your content on social media, and get others to share your content and engage with it.
Doing so, you are telling Google that your content may be worthy.
In some cases, paying for amplification, such as boosting your content on social media, for example, can help maximize the exposure to (and invite the amplification of) those signals. It’s a kickstart, but not always necessary.
You can also target and engage with specific people, profiles, pages, or personalities (such as influencers and micro-influencers in your niche) to engage with your content and, hopefully, reshare it, too.
Let’s not forget groups, forums, and communities, too, like Reddit and Quora. Answering questions on them and pointing to your content for added support or further learning will also boost its amplification.
You can do it through repurposing, too, such as offering the same (or parts of your) content through email courses, drip campaigns, hosted videos, podcasts, interviews, infographics, carousels, guest blogs, press releases, and so on.
Ultimately, the goal is to increase signals alerting Google that your content is quality content. Often, the best way to do that is to leverage other people’s efforts and assets to amplify your content.
Because, by doing so, you are piggybacking on and leveraging the credibility, clout, and seeming objectivity of third parties (through their backlinks, brand mentions, and engagement levels from their audiences, for example).