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February 15, 2017

Why Your Users Should Come Before Your SEO

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.

SEO-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.

User-Focused Content

  • 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 the founder of Express Writers, a serial content marketer, and bestselling author. A dedicated self-starter since an early age, by age 13, she'd written a 200-page book and taught herself Internet marketing. At 19, Julia dropped out of college and a nursing degree to follow her passion, teach herself online writing, and start her agency. Within two years, Express Writers grew by 400 percent, and today, Julia’s agency serves more than 5,000 clients. Julia is a bestselling author, the creator of The Practical Content Strategy Certification Course, host of the Write Podcast and Twitter Chat #ContentWritingChat. She just published her second bestseller, Practical Content Strategy & Marketing, November 2017.

12 Responses to “Why Your Users Should Come Before Your SEO

    I am new in this platform and love reading all these articles about blogging and SEO…. It helps me to learn about this…. Thanks for sharing this unique post

    And looking for more post like this


    avatar Amyt Dev says:

    How would I earn more if I am targeting a less CPC keyword. A simple reply would be really helpful.

    avatar Remsun Debbarma says:

    Yes I agree with you because we do right content for users not for Google.
    But my question is, if i don’t do a perfect SEO then my page will not rank; so how will readers come to my site to read the content that I have written?

    Blog readers are the assets of any blog. SEO is just to put our site in front of Google but after that readers are the main part to focus on.
    Satisfied readers will come again and create trust, later it will help in conversion.
    Thank you so much for sharing this useful topic.

    This is a very informative guide. I totally agree with you, it is important to write unique and informative content to engage more and more people.

    avatar Asif_Khan says:

    I am new in SEO i like to read this type of post.
    Share more about seo.

    avatar Alpha MD says:

    as usual SEO is the first priority then user profile. how to make a stronger profile for seo point of view?

    I would like thanx to publisher for this article.

    Hey Julia

    Thanks for this informative article, My user have more importance then my SEO plans because user will promote your more than the SEO, they will share your content which will fill the space of SMO also 🙂

    Article is good, but must people try to market their services/products and reach a wider audience. They pay little attention on how appealing it is to the user.

    SEO gets the upper hand with most content write-ups.

    avatar Sabjan says:

    Hi friend!

    As usual,thanks for sharing the great piece of information.Actually,most of the people want to get rank quickly.That’s why they don’t care about the user focused content.But you have nailed it clearly in this article that user focused content is far better than SEO focused content. The technique is how we balance the content between SEO and user value.

    avatar Cheat Engine says:

    Great Stuff Again.
    I personally feel that most of the Webmaster in the recent times has gone more towards “SEO” then providing value to their Readers and Users. Which ultimately harms the site or business.

    Thanks for Sharing.

    avatar John says:

    Writing content only for search engines is a recipe to disaster. Search engines are very smart and have thousands of ways to valuate if the content is useful to readers. Just write great content with useful information and traffic follows.

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