During my humble beginnings at Launch Digital Marketing, I was fresh off a stint in retail at Nordstrom (which I am still actively trying to block out of my memory) and only had the vaguest notion what “SEO” even meant.
I’m a writer at heart, and to be honest I struggled marrying copywriting and SEO during my early LDM days. It felt a little like I was giving in to the machine and writing for robots, which was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to be doing. I’m a writer – I want people to read my writing.
So how do you effectively write content for people that is also effective in terms of SEO? I came across an old tweet from SEO expert Rand Fishkin a while back that really resonated with me (and made feel like I wasn’t selling out to the robot overlords):
There’s no such thing as “writing for people vs. search engines.”
There’s only “writing for people who also use search engines.”
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) February 22, 2016
Now, this seems wildly simple and like I could have come across this conclusion on my own. But alas! I was too worried about losing my content integrity to realize that the situation could not be less black and white.
Let’s Break it Down
I’d like to start by saying I love Google. And chances are, you do too – or at the very least, you probably rely on it heavily in your daily life. I like finding answers, directions, reviews, etc. with little to no effort on my part, and that is exactly why it’s essential to take search engines into account when writing for people. I wouldn’t have my easy access info if people weren’t writing for both people and search engines.
Your users love Google and the information they can access instantaneously. And how did that information become a page one result? BY APPEALING TO SEARCH ENGINES! Looking for the dealership with the best service specials in the area? You’ll probably take out your phone and search. Wondering how to change your air filters or check your coolant? Search again. Still agonizing over why Chris Pratt and Anna Faris broke up and need to pore over the details of why they had to ruin your life like this? SEARCH ASAP.
Is It Really That Simple?
Yes and no. To begin creating content that will be relevant and accessible to your users by appealing to search engines, you’ll need to do your research. Starting from square one and seeing what questions people are searching is a good place to begin.
Sites like Answer the Public show you what kinds of questions people are asking about specific keywords and provides a good higher level overview. Traditional keyword research is also an essential first step, and you can use AdWords’ Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or plenty of other avenues to find out what your users/people in certain areas are searching and how much they search for it. This is ALREADY a great example of how we write for both people and search engines – we’re finding out about our audience, and we’re also collecting data on what kind of content shows up in the SERPs.
Now that you’ve done your initial research, you get to put on your creative and analytical hats on at the same time (it’s a good look on you!) while analyzing your findings and using your human brain to figure out how to turn this research into kick-ass content that will be useful to searchers.
Easier said than done? Let’s walk through an example.
Using Concrete Data to Create Search Engine-Friendly Content
Let’s say I want to write service-related content for my client and found via SEMrush that oil change keywords have particularly high volume.
I cross-referenced with AdWords’ Keyword planner and found that “oil change near me” and other semantic searches and long-tail keywords seemed to have more volume in the location I entered. Armed with data, I visited Answer the Public and found a variety of question-based keywords users were inquiring search engines about, including:
- where to get oil change
- can oil change affect gas mileage
- when best to change oil
- are oil change places open on sunday
- how oil change
Now that I have some hard data, what do I do with it? Spoiler alert: the answer is the weird double hat metaphor I used earlier. Combine the left and right sides of your brain!
So we know that oil changes seem to be a high-priority search in terms of service related content, but we also want to make content that’s specific to our dealership’s area (because of searches like “oil change near me”). People clearly seem to be trying to be looking for places to get oil changes in their area as well as general information on oil change upkeep, so let’s start from there. Based on our findings, we could:
- Create a conquest landing page about why choosing a dealership is a better choice than service competitors like Jiffy Lube.
- Create a blog walking users how to change their oil and end by offering options to those in your area who need further advice/assistance.
And these are just a few ideas based on our research! But whatever we choose, we want to rely on our data and optimize for SEO with relevant keywords (depending on the page, you might want to do more extensive keyword research), compelling meta, and good internal linking structure so search engines can find and crawl your page. It’s important that technical SEO comes into play so you can ensure that you’re offering a good user experience – this will affect how Google judges your content.
So We Do Some Research and Publish a Page… Is That It?
Again, yes and no. As in, technically yes, but the internet is forever and you need to commit to upkeep! Once a page lives on the interwebs, tracking a page’s performance via Google Analytics and Google Search Console will continue to give you insight on how much Google likes your page and if users are actually finding and visiting it. While content may be key, ongoing optimization of that content over time will help you further understand what both people and search engines want to see.
The takeaway? By optimizing content for search engines, you’re actually helping your users by providing the with content they can easily access. Google used its monumental, scary computer brain to put content in front of someone’s eyeballs in the SERPs because it analyzed the searcher’s intent as well as the answers you were providing, and voila – search engine magic!
So, don’t fret like I did in my early days – we aren’t forgoing writing for humans to appease the robot overlords (at least not yet, anyway). Creating content these days is all about providing easily accessible info that answers user’s intent, so learning more about how people and search engines interact is always worthwhile – and crucial – to content marketing.