February 15, 2017
In the content marketing industry, we’re all familiar with the argument that content should be written for people rather than search engines.
But how many of us abide by that?
As a copywriter myself, I can remember hundreds of times I’ve been confronted with clients who want keyword-stuffed, SEO-focused content that doesn’t do much of anything to consider the reader. Unfortunately, this approach is more common than most of us would like to believe.
Search engines and readers have both become much more discerning in recent years, but this doesn’t mean that crappy, SEO-obsessed content doesn’t still exist. And to some extent, we can’t blame the people who create it.
While the warnings about Google penalties and algorithm updates that penalize crappy content are everywhere, ranking in Google is harder right now than it’s ever been. Instead of investing in quality copy and understanding that SEO is a long-game thing, many people get a little desperate and write their content for SEO first and users second, thinking this will produce faster results.
Although this approach is a little backward, it’s easy to see how people can get tied up in it.
Today, we’re going to talk about why it’s so critical that your users always come before your SEO, and how to use this to produce better content marketing. Read on.
The Difference Between SEO- and User-Focused Content
Sometimes, I think people who put out search engine-focused content think they’re getting away with something. Like nobody can tell that they’re writing for search engines rather than people. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true.
While the best content considers both users and search engines, material that focuses too completely on one or the other is very obvious. Here are some of the primary differences between SEO- and user-focused content.
- Targets keywords more than value.
- Isn’t cohesive.
- Doesn’t offer relevant resources and back-up material.
- Often features low-quality writing.
- Is created on a “fast and furious” basis, without the attention to detail, accuracy, or quality that it deserves.
- Takes longer to produce.
- Includes keywords, but relies on intent rather than literal interpretation of keyword phrases.
- Clusters around topics rather than terms.
- Offers outbound links and links to other internal information that will help the reader understand the topic more deeply.
- Features high-quality writing.
- Is grammatically-correct, with intense attention to detail and accuracy.
With these fundamental differences in mind, you can see how there’s no mistaking SEO- vs. user-focused content. The two are entirely different animals and they’re not interchangeable.
5 Smart Reasons to Focus on Readers First
We’ve always centered our content strategy around our readers. We’ve never paid for a PPC ad and our content is created without a thought to a sales funnel. While this may seem backward to some people, it’s worked like gangbusters for us.
Today, we beat every single one of our major competitors on Google by a ranking margin of five percent. We’ve also earned upward of 4,100 Google keyword rankings and our organic traffic is worth more than $13,200.
While we certainly target keywords in our posts, the keyword comes after the value of the post. As in: we write a post, and then, once it’s drafted and complete, we identify a keyword to rank for. In other words, it’s always users-first around here.
Here are five reasons this approach makes a whole lot of sense:
1. Trends Are More Important To People Than They Are To Search Engines
One of the things we write about most often is digital marketing trends: how Google is changing its algorithm, what Facebook is releasing in the way of live-streaming, etc. While our readers are generally really interested in these topics, search engines often aren’t until much later.
If we were to look at these topics from a keywords perspective, for example, we’d have a tough time coming up with anything because the search terms surrounding those topics would be virtually unheard-of to Google and similar search engines.
While we might get a kick-back later, when search engines caught on to those search terms, it’s most important in these situations to serve readers first. In addition to positioning us as a leader in the industry, it’s also a great way to give our readers what they want, when they want it.
2. Some Topics are Just Too Competitive
If we approached our content from a keyword-only basis, we probably wouldn’t write a lot of the content we do, since the keyword phrases we’d be targeting would immediately seem too competitive. That’s never stopped us from creating posts, though, since we write them for our readers first, and search engines second.
When you seek to provide value above all else, you’ll typically succeed at creating a unique, widely-read piece that pleases both your readers and the search engines. This holds much more weight than a piece that’s been crafted solely to fulfill the needs of Google.
3. SEO Isn’t the Only Way
While SEO is indeed critical to a good content marketing strategy, it’s important to remember Google isn’t the only way people find your content. So if you’re only creating content for Google, you’re in big trouble. In most businesses, people come to content through a mixture of social media, links their friends and family share, media, paid promotions, and e-mail messages.
Because of this, it’s critical to create content that this diverse audience will find valuable when they stumble upon it. As such, focusing on relevant, informative, exciting material is key, because it will please all your readers rather than just the ones who find it through a Google search.
4. Sometimes, You’re Already Ranking Well
If you’ve done a good job of creating targeted, relevant content that speaks directly to your readers, you might not need to focus on SEO because you’re already ranking at the top of Google’s SERPs. When this happens, you basically “own a keyword phrase,” as Content Marketing Institute points out, so there’s no point in continuing to hammer your content for SEO.
In these cases, the best thing you can do is create quality, relevant material that appeals to your audience. In addition to helping you maintain your spot at the top of the SERPs, it will also go a long way toward helping you earn new rankings down the road.
5. Some High-Value Topics Have Low Search Value
Again, if you looked at your content creation from a SEO-only standpoint, you’d breeze right by many important topics because they might have low SEO or search value. That doesn’t mean these topics don’t deserve attention, though.
In many cases, topics with low search value stand out as critical building blocks in your content strategy. While they might not be the ultimate evergreen pieces that draw all the people to your material, they could easily be a critical reinforcing beam for your existing content strategy, or an essential back-up source for a larger piece you’ll write down the road.
Leave these seemingly unimportant topics out of the fray, and you’ll risk creating a lopsided content marketing approach.
The Case for Always Putting Your Readers First
Content marketing is a dynamic field, to be sure, and there’s lots to look at in any given moment. In such a busy industry, it’s understandable that some people lose track of what’s important and get caught up obsessing over SEO, instead. The one thing you can’t afford to lose focus of, however, is your reader.
While SEO trends come and go, your readers are the foundation that gives you a business to work with. Lose them, and you’ll lose the entire structure of your company. When you think of it this way, it starts to make a lot of sense to focus on your readers first and SEO second.
While it’s important to understand the basics of good SEO and include things like keyword phrases and meta content in your material, it’s more critical to understand what your readers want and need, and develop an approach to give it to them.
When you do this, you can create a successful content marketing approach that sustains your brand now and in the future.
Julia McCoy is a bestselling author of So You Think You Can Write, podcaster and an expert content marketer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Express Writers, a leading online content creation agency, with more than 60 content writers and strategists. Julia leads her team to serve hundreds of worldwide businesses with the highest-quality content for their online presence. Follow Julia's blog.