One of my writing teachers in college always used to say, “It doesn’t matter what you’re saying — it’s whether you can sell it.” While you can follow proper SEO best practices all day long (and that may help draw some traffic), content is ultimately king. What many people don’t realize is that the most important thing is not just what the content is about or the strategies used to draw attention from the search engines — rather, it’s to ensure that your content is compelling. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this should be your first consideration when writing anything, whether for SEO purposes or otherwise.
What Makes Content Compelling?
We’ve said in the past that SEO is not about tricks and that the quality of your content is crucial, but it’s a point that bears further discussion — discussion for its own sake, before you even consider the SEO value of a given piece. The concept is for the most part pretty self-explanatory — you want your content to offer a compelling read with some kind of distinct value for a reader. So why is this such an often overlooked aspect of SEO work?
It’s worth considering first what exactly makes content compelling. Unless you’re writing about existentialism, literary fiction, my beloved Detroit Red Wings, or a similarly weighty topic, your content probably isn’t intended to be life-altering, world-shattering, or revelatory — and it doesn’t need to be. What makes it compelling is whether or not it answers a question, no matter how simple or complex that question may be. If it holds an answer for someone, then it’s got a good foundation upon which to build.
Passing the “So What?” Test
To put it another way: when I was teaching, I would often tell my students that their writing needed to pass the “so what?” test. It’s simple: if you read a page and are left thinking, “so what?” then the page has failed the test. A given piece of content needs to justify its existence, because the reader is not going to do that work for you — instead, they are going to hit “back” on their browser and visit another search result, and you’ll be left with a higher bounce rate for your page.
An example: take a look at this page about the new Corvette Stingray. It may not change anyone’s life, but it offers a good overview of the vehicle, some interesting details about the car’s history, and an enthusiasm that should help to engage readers. For someone who’s looking for an idea of what to expect from a 2014 Corvette, it’s a good place to end up. The content provides a great foundation for optimization — and when you run a search for “2014 Chevy Corvette Bradenton,” the page comes up as one of the top results thanks to the harmonization of compelling content and optimization practices.
Planning Content That Will Hold Up in the Long Term
Google is only getting smarter, and the same can be said of every other search engine out there. While not every site will see penalties each time Google’s algorithm is updated, the cumulative effect of these constant updates is to place an emphasis on content that’s actually useful to someone. This should be the basic question you ask before you even take SEO into consideration: who will care about the content itself? If you can’t answer that question — if the content’s sole purpose is to draw a click — then that page may struggle to do even that much, and it will only get worse with each subsequent update to Google’s algorithm.
Even if you’ve written something that has started to draw a little traffic, you still have to make sure that these visitors are getting what they need from the page (and ultimately converting). And the best way to do this is to focus on quality writing first. Write good, useful content, and then optimize — don’t do it the other way around.