There’s a deadly myth about search engine optimization and writing for the web: that good SEO and good writing don’t go together.
As a website copywriter, I hear this myth repeated back to me all the time by new clients and prospects. “Don’t bother search-engine-optimizing the content,” they say. “Just make sure it is well written and the keywords will flow naturally into the content.” Or, they repeat the words of so many self-styled gurus: “don’t write for the search engines, write for the people who will be reading what you write.”
If you’re one of the people who believe there’s a conflict of interest between search engines and humans, you’re operating under two misconceptions:
* Misconception 1: you know more about what people want to read on the web than the search engines do.
* Misconception 2: you or your writer will just naturally write the content that people or search engines want, without consciously trying to meet their demands.
Why Search Engines Know More about Your Website Visitors than You
“I want a well-written web page, not a list of keywords.” It frightens me a bit when I hear this, since it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what search engines do.
A search engine is not simply a massive find function, like the one in the “Edit” menu of Microsoft applications. It does not just pull up any page that has the keyword in it X number of times. If it did, all pages that show up on search engine results would simply contain a list of the keywords.
Ultimately, writing for the search engines means writing for web surfers. Think about it: services like Google thrive on giving people the pages they want to read. If they consistently failed to give people what they wanted, people would stop using them.
What Your Website’s Visitors Want to Read
Most of the time, people don’t want to read on the web. Reading on a screen hurts the eyes. It doesn’t help that a lot of web pages make it harder with text that’s too small, backgrounds that are colored rather than white, and lots of extraneous graphics.
Besides, when it comes to reading matter, there is an overabundance of choice on the web, more than any library on earth. Of that, an unfortunate amount isn’t worth reading. Time must be rationed.
In fact, people treat a web page much as a search engine does: they scan it. In particular, they scan it for the keywords they entered into the search engine. If they arrived via a link from another website, they are still looking for words and phrases related to their interest–which are generally the same as the keywords people enter into search engines.
In short, Nobel-prize-winning literature makes bad web content. You have to write specifically for the web. That’s why the web hasn’t fueled much of a resurgence in the short story or other literary writing, dashing many hopes. Ebook versions of paper books have also disappointed expectations.
Newspapers are the only paper publications that have made a smooth online transition, precisely because they are written in short, to-the-point paragraphs that are easy to scan.
Still Think Good SEO Web Content Makes for Bad Reading?
You’ve just read almost to the end of a piece of search-engine-optimized web content. This article was optimized for the keywords, “SEO,” “search engine,” “search engines,” “keyword,” “keywords,” “search engine optimization,” and “writing.”
The keywords were present in headings and throughout the content. The content itself is easy to scan: paragraphs of one-three sentences, broken up by sub-headings every four paragraphs or so.
Naturally, those keywords are too broad for this page to have a chance of ranking high in search engines for them. But this page will get some of the atypical search keywords that account for as many as half of all searches. So, if someone types in a phrase like, “keyword writing search engine optimized content,” this page would have a pretty good chance of showing up.
To be sure, this article is on the long side for a web page. Most people won’t even scan more than 600 words of text; 250-500 is ideal.
But this article is destined primarily to be shown in an email newsletter, where attention spans are longer since people are more confident the source of the content can be trusted to repay their investment of time. Besides, as a well-structured page, it can be split into two or three pages according to the subheadings.
In short, there’s much more to writing well for the web than just writing well. If you’ve had enough sense to have your web content written professionally, have enough sense to take the advice of most website copywriters: search-engine-optimization for keywords and good web writing are the same thing.