Content for Humans vs Content for Search Engines
To the inexperienced (and indeed to those who call themselves SEO experts) mastering the vagaries of SEO can seem like an impossible task. Kind of like snake charming for the modern world, no sooner do you think that you’ve mastered the art than the snake decides it doesn’t like the tune you’re playing any more.
When it comes to improving your SEO ranking through content marketing, it seems that there are two distinct camps you can be in. You can create content for search engines; filled with keywords to make them easier to find. Or you can opt for content writing designed to appeal to humans; valuable content which will drive traffic to your site by being both share-worthy and link-worthy.
Both strategies share the common goal of improving your site’s visibility, but employ very different tactics.
Ye Olde Black and White Hat
For decades we’ve been trying to tame the mighty search engines with different techniques; some of which were more successful than others. Going back 10 or even 15 years, content was created en-masse primarily for SEO consumption to improve your website’s search engine ranking.
Back then, so-called black-hat SEO was quite a thing amongst those looking for a quick win; using techniques such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, hidden texts, link farming and content spamming to artificially increase their SEO rankings.
The saintlier white-hat SEO approach played by Google’s rules. The long-term tactics involved took longer to produce results, but this white-hat approach to content marketing made people focus on the use of quality content. Content that is valuable for your target audience with effective keyword usage, relevant backlinks and internal links to other pieces of great (and relevant) content.
Google Doesn’t Like Hats Anymore
White-hat is most definitely better and more ethical than black-hat, but Google doesn’t want you to wear a hat at all. In truth, Google doesn’t like the idea of being conned or manipulated whatsoever. Hats can act as disguises and it is the same here – a white-hat approach to SEO may be more ethical and play by the rules, but it is essentially still playing, isn’t it? You may act like you’re all about sharing good content, but in honesty this is just a disguise because your ultimate goal, and quite rightly so, is to achieve higher SERPs and attract more custom.
Today, with Google’s algorithms and penalties becoming increasingly more sophisticated, these unethical techniques are incredibly risky to implement. It doesn’t matter what colour hat you wear, if you are using obvious or unethical techniques to manipulate search-engine rankings, it may result in your website being ranked lower or even de-indexed. Although it can sometimes pay to adopt the role of a gun-slinging outlaw to achieve quick, short-term success through increased traffic; being de-indexed is definitely not an outcome you want.
Give Your Audience What They Want
The way to approach your SEO nowadays? Don’t just pretend that you’re all about content, be all aboutit! Give your audience, and any connected audiences, exactly what they want or need to know. Searching for information has become part of our daily lives and, let’s face it, Google is the king (and probably queen too) of search engines. So often do we find a much-needed nugget of information, or the elusive answer to a question that was on the tip of our tongue by searching the internet, that the very act of using this search engine has become a verb in its own right.
Whether Google likes it or not (they probably love it) ‘Google it’ has become part of our everyday vocabulary when it comes to finding information we need on the web. Despite arguments as to whether their entry in the Oxford English Dictionary diminishes their brand, just like ‘hoovering’ did for Hoover, this lexical achievement also validates the quality of the information Google provides.
We Google things so often, and with such regularity that we must be finding relevant results that take us where we want to be more often than not; otherwise why would we use it so much? In this respect it stands to reason that Google must be serving us high quality content that appeals to us humans rather than robots. There’s no doubt about it; Google loves high-quality written content.
What is Quality Content?
Once upon a time content was the hottest SEO buzzword of the moment; now it’s not just content but quality content that is the holy grail of the content marketing world. But what is quality content exactly and, more importantly, how do you get it?
Regardless of subject matter or the objective of the piece of content itself, quality content can be described as material online users find valuable. Whether this piece of content inspires them to act or buy your product/service is almost irrelevant, sort of. Hear me out…
The most important consideration is that your piece of content ticks a box for someone; and not just someone, preferably lots-and-lots of people who are going to like and share your content lots-and-lots of times.
The other most important consideration is your content is human-centric; and humans like to see lots of new, unique and relevant pieces being regularly added to the sites they frequently look at. If your site is content-rich and engaging, it will make it more valuable to your audience, which in turn makes it more of an attractive prospect for search engines. Rightly so, too. This is the way the internet should work. If your site is producing lots of good content, on its own platform and others too, with plenty of interested visitors – then it deserves to rank higher. Simple!
But What About Algorithms?
This doesn’t mean that SEO is dead, not at all, despite common rhetoric along those lines. There are various elements to an SEO strategy that are just as important as they always were and will continue to be. It is still also just as important that digital marketers keep up to date with Google’s latest algorithm updates.
Unfortunately for them, things don’t stay the same for long in the world of SEO. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, along comes a change to Google’s way of doing things that keeps everyone on their toes. Some changes even cause sudden drops in page rankings for thousands of websites.
Is this a punishment by Google? It can be seen that way. What it should really teach us is that we need to get back to basics with content writing and give our audience something that is of real value to them.
For example, when Google Panda was released in 2011, its primary aim was to lower the ranking of ‘thin sites’ (particularly those from content farms) and boost higher-quality sites with rich-content near the top of the search results. This can only be a good thing for your audience, right?
More recently, algorithms such as the Maccabees update has made writing for humans equally, if not more important than writing for search engines. Targeting sites who use multiple pages for the same product or service in order to rank highly for as many permutations of keywords as possible, it seems as though Google is drilling down more-and-more into websites who present their audience with low-quality, thin content.
Humans vs Robots?
Although adopting a style of writing which targets search engines will give you quick, short-term success due to increased traffic, in a world where ‘Google it’ has become part of our everyday language, it might be worth playing by Google’s rules and taking a long-term view of your content marketing strategy.
So, all we have to do to stay one step ahead of these most recent algorithm tweaks is to write fresh, engaging, quality content that is relevant to our audience, and which they will want to like and share amongst their like-minded friends.
Seems like the path is pretty clear. At least for now.