Did that sentence make your head hurt?
It should. And that tends to happen when you write (or hire writers) for robots first, readers second. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider SEO, but letting it dominate your prose is a sure-fire way to make readers squirm.
But don’t take my word for it, just ask Google.
Specifically, ask it about Hummingbird. That’s the algorithm that the search giant has rocked since last September, when it began to focus more on the context around keywords and content than the specific matches of certain words.
Along with earlier updates penalizing low quality content, it’s clear that Google is looking for meaningful, well-written web pages. The keyword-crammed crud that once passed for company insight is coming to an end.
Writing for Readers, Not Robots
It’s actually far more difficult to write for search robots than for real readers. There are any number of SEO tips and tricks (keyword alert!) to be learnt and they change often, where as writing well for people is a timeless skill. Once you master your style, writing for readers flows far more naturally than writing for robots.
To reach that point – and to shake off any bad habits you may have picked up from SEO ‘experts’ wearing those telltale black hats – adapt the old adage “write drunk, edit sober.”
Adjust it to “write for readers, edit for engines.”
Allow yourself the freedom to construct a first draft free of keyword constraints or second-guessing reader search queries. Instead, pour personality into what you write and let the words flow as freely as you mind permits. The goal is to capture the passion to create a rough and ready piece that you can next smarten up for search.
Making It Good for Google
The editing process fits naturally with optimizing content for search, as it’s more analytical and pragmatic. At this point, factors like search terms, word count, and keyword density can all come into the mix.
Use some of the following checks to make sure your writing gets in Google’s good books:
- Run a list of your preferred keywords and phrases over your first draft to find areas where they can seamlessly slot in.
- Look for natural breaks in your piece and insert sub-sections that help to guide the reader. Use those <h1> and <h2> tags for the sub-headings, which are another perfect place to slip in your keyword(s).
- If you have trouble including a priority keyword, consider an alternative way to phrase or rearrange it that fits more comfortably.
- Consider long-tail, niche keywords in addition to those with a higher volume.
By editing your writing after you’ve poured on the passion, you stand a much better chance of coming out with a piece of content that’s both good for Google and perfect for people.
(And if you’re tempted to cram in just one more keyword then remember, Hummingbird is watching!)
Steve B is a freelance writer and content marketing consultant who lives in Brooklyn, hails from England, and harbors a secret scribe’s crush on Paris. He believes in the inevitable domination of Google but isn’t ready to give in to the machines just yet.