In the digital marketing world, there’s long been debate about who content should be written for: search engines or humans? In the past, when Google and other search engines had less sophisticated, more easily gamed algorithms, a lot of people catered to them. But what does it matter if you rank high in results if the people who click on your content hate it?
The answer, of course, is that you should be writing content for search engines and human readers simultaneously. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in most ways, what’s good for SEO is good for web readers, and vice versa.
That’s because search engines are in the business of delivering relevant, valuable, appreciated results to their users. So, search engine ranking algorithms have continuously evolved to better identify and prioritize the same things that people like in their content.
Below are some important, simple ways to please both the technology and humans who read your content.
How to Write for SEO and People at the Same Time
- Devote each piece of content to a single, well-defined topic. Search engines and humans want focused, cohesive writing that covers one question or subject.
- Use as short a title as possible that clearly tells everyone what that topic is and what they’ll take away from reading the piece.
- Include a main long-tail keyword in the title. It should be something many people would type into their search bar when looking for the information you’re providing in the article or post. But don’t make it awkward or use bad grammar in an attempt to mimic search; the title must make sense and be correctly crafted if you want anyone to read the piece.
- Use the long-tail keyword from the title in the body once or twice and make ample use of synonyms for the main keywords.
- Do not keyword stuff. Once upon a time, keyword density—using your main keyword or keyword phrase repeatedly throughout the content so it appears as a certain percentage of the text—had power to elevate content in search results. Human readers hated it and it was easily taken advantage of, though. So, search engines devalued it. Now, rather than get you higher rankings, it can get your content and your website penalized.
- Write short sentences, mostly 20 words or less. Neither search engines nor web readers want complicated sentence structures. They want simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Also, use short paragraphs averaging three or four sentences.
- Use bold subheadings that include keywords related to your title’s keyword phrase. This helps search engines get a better idea what your content is exactly about. It also make it conveniently scannable to the people looking for something specific.
- Include links in your content. Inbound (pointing to other internal pages on your site) and outbound (leading to external pages on other websites) links are a great way to provide additional information to your readers, which they appreciate. Links are also pathways for the bots that make sense of the internet for search engines, helping contextualize things for them. Make sure people can tell what information links take them to, and it’s nice to indicate if a link sends them off site. Also, set links to open in new tabs so people don’t get ejected from what they’re currently reading.
- Avoid fluff and passive voice. All those extra words and weak constructions are less engaging to human readers and confuse the message search engines take away.
- Write each piece as long as it needs to be to address its topic or question concisely. For a long time, most experts said to keep most blog posts and online articles to around 400 words. Nowadays, there can be great SEO and branding value to long-form content of 1,200 words or more. A solid content strategy incorporates short and long content. But what’s most important for SEO and for human readers is that the content succinctly delivers what it promises. Sometimes that doesn’t take many words at all, and sometimes it takes lots of them.