Since entering the weird, wild world of writing for SEO in 2010, I’ve seen plenty of trends come and go when it comes to writing the “ideal” article with organic search in mind.
I’ve also seen a lot of bizarre and dubious strategies that writers try to pull off in order to somehow “trick” Google.
Keyword-stuffing. Cloaking. Excessive bolding. Private blog networks. Scrapers that spin articles.
Spoiler alert: none of it works.
Oh, and news flash: nobody wants to read keyword-stuffed, self-promoting garbage. Nobody.
Sacrificing the elements of quality writing, including tone and style, in exchange for what you think might appease Google represents a lose-lose situation. Nobody links to your content, Google gets no signals of worth and you’ve just wasted your time.
More breaking news: you can’t trick Google.
Despite this, there’s a constant underground search for a way to game Google and artificially boost rankings in the SERPS instead of putting in the required elbow grease. Every now and then, someone will stumble on something that seems to work; however, Google quickly catches up to them and they’re punished accordingly.
For example, think about the controversy surrounding PBNs (private blog networks) a few years back, in which tons of sites were swiftly punished by an update in Google’s algorithm. Such sites went from top of the SERPS to nowhere at the drop of a hat. By relying on blackhat SEO, you essentially have your livelihood and worth living on a thread. Probably not the best way to sleep soundly at night, eh?
Hey, Google Isn’t the Boogeyman (and SEO Isn’t Witchcraft)
Here’s the problem: many marketers and writers treat Google as some sort of vengeful monster that they have no choice but to appease. Likewise, these same people treat writing for SEO like sort of witchcraft that’s impossible to understand.
The result? Businesses walking on eggshells with their content, focusing on rigid, often arbitrary guidelines based on outdated concepts (such as following outdated keyword density principles from 2005) in attempt to craft content the “right” way.
At the risk of sounding like I’ve been guzzling Google’s Kool-Aid, let’s explore a different perspective.:
Google is doing what it believes is best for user experience and SEO is actually pretty simple.
Don’t roll your eyes just yet. Hear me out.
Writing for SEO? Google is (Probably) Your Friend
Given how far they’ve come since 1998, it’s easy to forget that Google represents a search engine. The largest one, by the way, juggling 3.5 billion search queries per day. If your site, blog or product is going to be found organically, chances are that Google’s going to be the source of your audience.
This is something that you should make peace with: the sooner you embrace the concept of Google as a search engine, you sooner your marketing headaches will go away.
Besides, Google isn’t going anywhere; therefore, you’ll need to play by their rules if you’re looking to rank.
Before falling on your knees and begging to the sky for Google to give you all the answers, consider the fact that Google is pretty transparent about what they want.
So, what do they want?
(Cue the eye-rolls and collective sighs of thousands of content writers and Internet marketers around the word)
In short, Google wants quality content.
Okay, sure, fine, right. But what does that mean?
What does that actually mean, backed up by data and evidence?
Google Wants Original Content
The concept of “original content” is nothing particularly shocking or groundbreaking. That is, articles and blogs that represent original ideas and copy rather than something plagiarized or spun. Now, article-spinning remains a gray area for many writers; however, keep in mind that services such as Copyscape exist for this particular purpose.
Google’s disdain for article spinning makes sense; realistically, if you’re spinning an article concerning a topic you have no sense of interest or expertise in, how much quality could you possibly provide in your own article? On a similar note, Google is more than willing to punish sites they suspect are trying to peddle duplicate content.
Consider the potential benefits of breaking through the noise and grabbing people’s attention with your content rather than constantly re-hashing the same information over and over. The responsibility to write quality content is yours; whether or not you take that responsibility into your own hands is up to you.
Google Wants Relevant Content
When Google’s figurative robots crawl your site (and the process is rather fascinating if you’re interested in understanding search crawling in plain English), they strive to figure out the following upon first glance:
- What your website is about (subject, topics covered, scope of your content)
- The optimization of your content (think: length, linking, anchor text, format, structure)
- How relevant your content is to what your site is about (the combination of the above two points)
What’s the key to figuring out all of the above without reading trillions of sites manually?
Wait for it.
Yes, keywords are the bane of many writers and marketers alike; however, they’re an absolute must when writing for SEO.
And yes, you need to understand why they mater and why they’re often a necessary evil.
Keywords: Love ’em or Hate ’em, You Need ’em
Roleplaying time. Let’s say that you have a site that sells custom skateboard decks.
Now, let’s say you have an online store: the bulk of your site’s content comes from your product descriptions and blog.
Naturally, you’re probably going to discuss topics on your blog which cover a myriad of keywords related to your business: organic skateboard decks, cheap skateboard decks, how to change a skateboard deck, and so on. Such keywords may appear naturally in your content. Meanwhile, you’ve researched your competitors, spent some time with Googles Keyword planner and everything’s going well, right?
Well, let’s say one of your blog post starts ranking for a keyword completely unrelated to your business, perhaps something like Kim Kardashian or Game of Thrones, something which you mentioned off-handedly in an effort to be topical. You see traffic for those keywords and then decide to start stuffing them all over your site in an attempt to capitalize on the buzz from the keywords.
The next time Google crawls your site, they see this and are ultimately confused. Rightfully so; it’s fishy as the site’s content strategy starts to fall apart in terms of relevancy. As a result, your search rankings suffer.
While this is an incredibly simplified example, you get the idea.
Keywords and keyword research are incredibly important to organic search; however, they aren’t the be-all, end-all of your business’ content strategy. For example, visitors are likely to bounce from keyword-stuffed content. High bounce rate signals that your site isn’t helpful to visitors and therefore is a strike against your content. Nobody wants to read spam, especially the modern blog audience who’s incredibly savvy when it comes to spam.
Rather than force keywords into your content, allow them to appear naturally. Don’t obsess over keyword density: content should push your keywords, not the other way around.
Google Wants You to Have Links
Link-building is arguably the most frustrating aspect of Internet and content marketing, mostly due to the fact that it’s ultimately out of your control. For this reason, link-building is often a hotbed for blackhat SEO as marketers attempt to undermine Google’s efforts to keep SEO scammers from artificially inflating their search ranking.
Getting organic backlinks is the holy grail of Internet marketing and SEO. Backlinks from other reputable sites represent a strong signal to Google that your site boasts high-quality content and information. I mean, it’s good enough that somebody else decided to use you as resource right?
Okay, so how do you get links? How do you get shared when you’re writing for SEO?
The Link Building Roadblock
Unfortunately, there’s no “correct” approach to link-building. The basic concept is this: the cream rises to the top when it comes to shareable content. In other words, the best content gets links, the bad stuff doesn’t. The more reputable a site is (think: high-traffic, authoritative), the more “juice” the link provides us (versus a tweet or a social sharing link, which is often a no-follow link).
Link-building requires patience and occurs over time, often combined with explicit link-building outreach. However, a combination of persistence and quality content can help to expedite the process. For example, the more content that you create, the more chances you have for potential links and shares (granted your content is what readers want).
Now that you understand the essence of what Google wants, take a stop back and take off your marketing goggles.
Think about what Google is doing.
Google is a search engine.
Google’s existence is a constant experiment in user experience. Keep in mind that the Internet is relatively young: it’s not surprise that all of the proverbial “kinks” haven’t been worked out yet.
So yes, modern search engines are still finding their feet and therefore…
Writing for SEO is Simple (Well, Sort Of)
Search engine optimization as a science or technical practice is pretty complicated. Fair enough.
But SEO as a concept is fairly simple, just as writing for SEO is relatively straightforward.
SEO is exactly what it claims to be: the process of making your site friendly to search engines and their users.
SEO represents content.
SEO represents site structure.
SEO doesn’t have to be as complicated as modern marketers make it out to be.
Ignoring the technical side of SEO, by producing killer content and providing legitimate value to an audience, you’re already way ahead of the game when it comes to establishing an online presence. The bits and pieces of writing for SEO, from title tags to images or H1’s and everything in between, can easily be addressed in the short-term.
However, if you’re facing the much larger problem of having no worthwhile content or message, your site is in trouble.
Taming the Search Monster
Perhaps it’s time for businesses, writers and readers alike to acknowledge Google’s goal of a better search experience. Honestly, Google is pretty transparent in terms of what they expect from our content when we’re writing for SEO purposes (although director of web spam Matt Cutts is still the bane of many Internet marketers’ existence).
Instead of looking at Google and organic search as the monsters under the bed, consider how to form a symbiotic relationship with the concept of SEO to grow your audience and give them exactly what they want.