You’ll hear plenty of SEO specialists and your friendly neighbourhood search engine hobbyists touting the phrase, “Write for people, not search engines”.
What a load of crock. What’s the point of writing for visitors if you have none?
I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m doing an SEO review for a potential client I often take mental notes about what kinds of content and pages I’ll likely be recommending to add to the site in order to give us more SEO ‘real estate’ to play with.
However, just because the original recommendation comes from an SEO standpoint does not mean that the readability and human interest considerations are undermined and left on the back burner.
We don’t need to lie to ourselves. We can write for search engines and still have satisfied visitors.
It starts with keywords
If your original intent for an article was search engine optimisation, you probably already have the gist of the keywords you want to focus on in mind. I always prefer to optimise each article for one or two major keywords and others can be sprinkled in if the opportunity arises. I decide on my keywords and quickly jot down some synonyms and similar terms that could come in useful as well.
For example, if I’m focusing on ‘SEO copywriting’, I know mentioning ‘optimisation’, ‘search’, ‘writing’, and other similar terms is to my advantage.
Google isn’t stupid, guys; you don’t have to stuff ‘SEO copywriting’ into your article twenty times to target the term.
Write the first draft
When I write copy, even though the original intent was to produce content for SEO, I put keywords and optimisation out of my head for at least the first draft. Granted, this can be tough and even I sometimes can’t resist creating a perfect little nest of words ideal for popping in a targeted phrase. If that opportunity comes, if you find something perfect, roll with it. After a while sentence structures that allow keywords to fit in just right start to come naturally.
In other words, don’t worry about optimising the content until you have a great, useful article that people are going to want to read. Sure, the original purpose for the article is SEO, but the fact of the matter is you still need to make it appealing to people (you know, the ones who might actually buy from you one day?).
You have your article. It sounds great, it feels great, and your visitors are going to love it. Let’s make search engines love it, too.
This is where you go back through and carve niches out for your keywords. Don’t force it. I think of this step as moulding and picking gently at the copy, coaxing it apart to accommodate the keywords; not prodding at the article and prying it open to force in your targeted terms.
Read through your article a few more times, ensure grammar and spelling is flawless and that the keywords sit just right. Make sure your article sounds natural and flowing, not beaten to death with the keyword stick.
Yes, I write for search engines.
That’s what I’m hired to do. And I have long ago come to appreciate the art of tastefully optimising copy for search engines while keeping those pesky humans satisfied and happy at the same time.
Liza Shulyayeva runs Techalite Web Consulting in Perth, WA. She offers web consulting services to small and startup businesses, specialising in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), online identity, and web design.
Image by Danard Vincente