Writing For SEO, Your Audience, And Yourself

March 1, 2012

SEO writing is a struggle for many professionals. It’s difficult to be creative in the face of keyword constraints or produce quality when charged with the blistering quantity requirements of SEO action plans.

SEO writing is also a target for non-SEO writers, especially literary traditionalists. Consider the following sentiments:

“SEO writing is for machines – not people.”
“Compelling content and SEO friendly content are mutually exclusive.”
“How do you turn a good writer into a bad one? Make them write for SEO.”

It’s true that some writers don’t exactly prove these statements wrong. But SEO writers overly obsessed with keyword repetition rarely add value to websites. Once you get people on the site, you need to keep them there with good content, or at least make a compelling case for your brand.

Today, quality content really matters on the web. Author authority has become an important concept, and engagement metrics count. Search engines are becoming better and better at understanding if visitors think the content on a page sucks or not.

Now, I’ll never claim to be one of the world’s most formidable literary giants, but I will say this: SEO copywriting has turned me into a better writer. Really. First, it defeated my propensity to succumb to writers block. I no longer have the luxury of getting stuck. The demands on quantity and speed have forced me to forge a deeper, more direct connection to my inner-writer; SEO has actually helped me find my voice. SEO has also helped me write in a more accessible manner: I now use words that people actually use, helpful links, and better headings and headlines.

SEO Need Not be the Enemy of Good Writing

It’s totally possible to write search-engine friendly material you’ll be proud of without making yourself miserable. You must identify the needs of your audience, search engines, and yourself, and focus on where those needs overlap.

Reader’s Needs

First, web readers need to understand as quickly as possible if your content is worth reading. Thus, your content needs to be easily digestible. You should speak the reader’s language, and you should sharpen your message with a strong title and techniques such as headlines, headings, images, bold, links and bullets. Also, readers need the content to be relevant to them, or they just won’t read your content. Readers may also need to be informed, entertained, or inspired.

SEO Needs

The first step in an SEO plan is keyword research – you need to learn what phrases matter to the people that matter to you. Next, you’ll be taking the keywords that are relevant to your readers and making them easily digestible to the search engines through your plain text, your title, headings, alternate text (for images), use of bold, and anchor text of your links. Sound familiar? Well, search engines are designed for people, so you should serve your SEO objectives and your audience simultaneously.

Your Needs

The true writer is not satisfied writing merely for search engines and other people. They need to write for themselves too; they need to write something that intrinsically satisfies. When you write, you still care about something other than getting paid, right?

What does your inner-writer care about? Informing and empowering people? Stringing syllables together in an aesthetically pleasing way? Expressing yourself creatively? Painting compelling pictures with your words? Being the wisest ass in the farm? Brutal honesty?

Indulge your needs as a writer in some way for every piece. It’s the only way you can write inspired work, and your delight in your craft will come across in your work. It’s the only way you’ll find your voice, and readers love an authentic, original voice.

SEO Writing Venn Diagram of Needs

Finding the SEO Writing Sweet Spot

That’s the secret. Find that sweet spot and never stray away. Identify the needs of all three parties – yourself, your readers, and the search engines – for every piece, and devise a tactic that meets needs of each party. Different pieces serve different needs, and every writer needs to figure out their own sweet spot.

For example, suppose you need to attract quality traffic for the keyword “hamster cages” to your online pet store. If you love to enlighten and inform, a piece explaining the pros and cons of several types of hamster cages may be appropriate. But if you have an innate inner salesperson inside you, go for the landing page highlighting the awesomeness of your particular selection of hamster cages. Whichever route you take, write what’s relevant to your target audience in a digestible manner, and it’s “win” all the way around.

You’ll know when you’ve found the SEO Writing Sweet Spot. It gets tricky to maintain the balance of the SEO writing “trinity”, but keep working at it, and you’ll soon be churning out killer content in no time.

Do you write content with SEO in mind? Why not?