One of the biggest challenges that professional writers face is the struggle between writing content that is good enough to rank on search engines and sounds natural for their human readers to grasp.
The prospect of search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved constantly with time. Do people still believe in and practice the “Content Is King” principle or is it now just a bygone tactic in its slow demise?
I’m sure we’ve all encountered throwaway articles around the web that contain nothing but gibberish, insubstantial content stuffed with too many keywords—so many that you just throw your hands up in the air because you can no longer comprehend it.
With all the fluff that comes with complex pieces of advice on the best SEO practices from supposedly “authoritative” sites in this era of digital marketing, we forget the fundamentals and the essence of why we’re writing in the first place.
There is this lost concept where content is meant for humans to devour, and search engines are merely tools to make it more accessible.
So why are we so bent over backward to please these search engines, instead of the other way around?
“SEO” is something that is often tossed around in the marketing world. To put it simply, SEO is a process done to optimize a web page so people will find it first when they look for information on search engines like Google.
Therefore, stitching the concept of SEO and content writing together gives us an idea that by implementing these strategies, people are able to find your content when they hit “search.”
What happens to content you’ve crafted meticulously to be informative and useful if your audience can’t even find it? You lose the potential—not just to rank higher in search results—but to engage with people who might be interested in your content, and by extension, the products or services you might offer as well.
Google defines “keyword stuffing” as the practice of placing keywords all over a web page in a manipulative attempt to increase its site ranking. Sites that practice this kind of method aim to boost their ranking signals so search engines know that they exist in this specific niche, thus ranking higher in search results.
However, this kind of practice not only makes your content sound unnatural and redundant, but also, contrary to what these SEO gurus seem to believe, could actually do more harm than good to the site’s search engine results page (SERP) ranking.
Imagine reading content like this:
Our company offers content editing and proofreading services tailored to fit your needs. We provide solutions for your content marketing materials through our content editing and proofreading services with the help of our professional writers and editors. Build your business through our content editing and proofreading services as we help refine your brand’s voice and strengthen your copy further.
Annoying, right? The copy is there, but its message gets lost among the sea of keywords stuffed together to prove a point to Google that, “Hey! I offer content editing and proofreading services—I should rank higher so more people would know that.”
Believe it or not, during the early days of search engines, a lot of “SEO rules”—including keyword stuffing—focused on repetitive keywords to acquire that most coveted spot on the first-page results.
Thankfully, Google’s mission statement is all about the pursuit of “organizing the world’s information” and making it “universally accessible and useful.”
The internet tech giant wanted to build more of their customers’ trust by providing reliable and useful information right at their fingertips (or at a click of Google’s homepage), so they made changes to step up their game.
With the rollout of the Panda algorithm update in 2011, Google started gauging the quality of a site by assigning a “quality score” to determine whether a site is “spammy,” has low-quality or thin content, or is bombarded with too many keywords.
Its resolution here was to reward sites with high-quality content by bumping them in the SERP or penalize sites with low-quality content by downranking or completely removing them from the search engine index.
In 2012, the Penguin update followed, which was more specific to the quality of links on a website. Therefore, to weed out these substandard sites, the algorithm looks into the backlinks and determines whether or not they are linked to spammy and irrelevant sites and private blog networks, or involved in paid link tactics.
Another update launched in October 2015 called RankBrain, which was bound to change the SEO landscape moving forward. With this update, the search engine focuses more on the semantics of a search query to determine the best-matching result. It uses relevance features to display sites upon understanding the searcher’s intent.
Due to its machine learning aspect, RankBrain stood out among other updates, since it can “teach” itself and get better over time to tailor-fit search results based on a user’s precedent activities, current location, and even interests.
OK, enough with the technical jargon. How are all of these relevant to creating good SEO content?
These Google algorithm updates addressed and eliminated the problematic search engine ranking procedure to pave the way for high-quality and informative content to appear and rank higher on the SERP.
What does this mean for professional writers?
Google no longer factors into its algorithm how many times a keyword is stuffed all over an article, or if you publish a lot of 200-word posts every day just to say you’re doing it consistently.
These old-school strategies, which once served as crucial guiding principles to rank better on search engines, are the exact recipes to merit a penalty from Google.
That nice, well-thought-out article you found on page 6? Yup, the more people spend time reading that page and engage more by commenting and sharing it on social media, the higher Google will bump it in search results.
Now, while all this may seem too technical, this is crucial information if you want to write content that your readers and search engines will love. The key is to strike that perfect balance between well-written content and making sure that your potential readers (and maybe, customers) can find it on search engines, too.
Below are some things worth keeping in mind:
Keyword research involves determining what the intent of a user is when searching for a particular word or phrase. It is an essential strategy if you want to make people read the useful content you’ve created.
Even with exceptional content, without anyone reading it, how can one spread and share its awesomeness, right?
Conducting keyword research comes in a no-frills formula that’s easy to implement. How?
By putting yourself in your target readers’ shoes. Ask yourself: What would you type in that search box if you were looking for a certain piece of information online? If you search using that keyword, will you find those pieces of information in your own content?
That is how you start assessing what keywords to incorporate into your piece and optimize it for search engines so your target readers can find it.
Furthermore, the use of long-tail keywords (a variation of the main keyword you’ve established) is highly encouraged instead of using just a single keyword.
Say a user wants to know more about doing research papers. If you’ve set your main keyword to only “research paper,” you’ll have lots of competition on the search results, thus lessening the chance of your content being found and read.
On the other hand, if you use long-tail keywords such as “how to write a research paper for college,” not only will your reader know what topic your content covers, but you’ll rank higher on search engines and attract more traffic. (Which is kind of the point of striving to write awesome content, right?)
Using long-tail keywords instead of keyword stuffing is better, because these words are semantically related to the user’s search intent compared to keywords that only appear spammy and detrimental to the site’s SERP ranking.
After doing some keyword research, it’s finally time to incorporate them into your piece.
When readers see your headline or title, they should easily answer two questions:
For example, you’re writing an article on how to create newsletters. The objective or purpose of the article is to create a newsletter, but what would be the takeaway for your readers?
Well, you can perhaps use 6 Tips for Crafting Effective Newsletters (contains tips on writing an effective newsletter), or How to Create Newsletters That Build Your Email List (shows steps on how to build an email list by creating newsletters).
Based on the headline you’ve put together, your readers will know the end goal of your article, and whether or not it resonates with what they’re looking for or need. If it is the kind of article they are interested in, it should prompt them to click on and read it.
Lastly, after making your headline “click-worthy” by putting in the important elements mentioned above, it’s time to add the critical keywords to optimize it for search engines.
Again, it’s a matter of compromising and finding the sweet spot in ranking higher in the SERP (through the critical keywords) and getting your readers to click (by including the objective, plus the benefit of reading it).
Finally, you can write compelling content that’s hopefully powerful enough to persuade or educate your readers. This is the part where you provide in-depth information to meet their needs, or captivate their emotions with your witty remarks and humor.
Let go of the constraints of plugging keywords for a moment and just write naturally, as you normally do. By doing so, these keywords will also just naturally appear without having to force them in there.
Why is long-form content good for human readers and search engines? See, sites with in-depth content send Google signals that indicate they’re made up of high-quality content. This helps boost your ranking on search engines.
Arnela Gonzales is a travel and food photographer and blogger at Chasing Bleu from Cebu, Philippines. When she’s not learning web programming, she pursues creative projects and travels as much as she can all across the country—continuously wandering and soaking up herself in new experiences and beautiful scenery.