Does Writing for People Work for SEO?

Does Writing for People Work for SEO?

Reader Comments (52)

  1. Hey Brian,

    In honor of SEO not being black-and-white and search engines becoming smarter, I propose a new acronym:


    People and Search Engine Optimization

    As you show, keywords can be used to enhance an article by talking the same language as the readers. And, as long as an article isn’t traffic bait, increased search engine traffic only helps with targeted, relevant organic visitors.

    To to using PaSEO on our sites 🙂


  2. If you think about it, the “endgame” for any search engine is a computer algorithm that can understand pages in exactly the same way a person would. So the better search technology gets, the more writing “for people” and writing “for search engines” become synonymous.

    I love your point about keyword research, Brian. I think a lot of people think of keywords as something spammy or manipulative. But while keyword stuffing is definitely shady, choosing your words to resonate with your target audience is good for everyone.

    Full disclosure: I work at an SEO firm.

  3. I know I’m supposed to keep search engines in mind when I write, but I much prefer thinking about and writing for people. Besides, I’ve noticed search engines never leave comments on my blog!

  4. It’s so funny when I talk to traditional print/ad writers their immediately turned off by SEO. They instantly think that creativity is out the window because SEO corners them into using specific phrases.

    ps. If your a creative writer, don’t complain when you have to be creative.

    SEO is really just descriptive, thorough, compelling content. If you take the time to explain your products/services in detail, you’ll achieve success for your readers as well as the search engines.

  5. What should a SEO copywriter expect from a search engine marketing consultant as a package to write highly relevant content for a web page, article or blog. When mapping out keywords to content what is the best way to approach it as a copywriter?

  6. What about when there IS a discrepancy between what works for search engines and what is natural for readers? For example, people may search for “voluble in a sentence” or “auspicious in a sentence” if they are looking for something similar to what is on my website. But I not going to title every post “_____ in a sentence.” That’s boring and lame.

  7. I’ve got a question regarding the term-targeted landing pages you use on the left:

    If you *weren’t* Copyblogger with a gazillion backlinks (and therefore had no hope of ranking for such broad terms), would you still use that strategy?

    …or would you stick exclusively with the longer-tail-targeted sidebar links like you have on the right?

  8. As always, a great post, & an excellent resource for those of us running web businesses. We’ve always struggled to work out the best balance of writing for people vs search engines, so thanks for some good tips. Can’t wait to check out the keyword tool you mentioned.

  9. Well done Brian. It is, indeed, a skill to write good content that will keep people engaged whilst ensuring the relevancy to search engines to be picked up for valuable traffic. You give great lessons in both.

  10. I’m a real proponent of the “writing for both” concept. You may have the most amazing content on the planet, but if people can’t find you – who are you really writing for?

  11. When you write exclusively for search engines you run the risk of your techniques becoming outmoded almost as soon as they’re published. However, when you write for your audience, it will always remain relevant.

    I think a lot of people have needlessly undermined their copy to lever in SEO techniques that have little or no positive effect for the page’s ranking. Better to have something engaging and readable, than something that might deliver one extra uninterested visitor to your site.

    A great little summary (yours, not mine) and something we can all learn by.

  12. Using keyword research I learned that when my audience is searching for my content, they use the phrase “career advice” instead of “career tips”. That was huge for me because it’s in my tagline.

  13. I’ve always been surprised when writers/clients still make distinctions between SEO and content/copywriting. When you’re writing in the reader’s language you’re automatically writing solid SEO copy. Develop the core vocabulary and its variants, do the logical groupings, thought and line extensions – and bam, there you are serving both the reader and the Google appetite for relevant content.

  14. I think one of the biggest problems is the weight that Google places on the title tag of a page — coupled with the fact that the title tag is displayed in the SERP’s. Because of this many times you have to choose between a “catchy”, interesting title and a keyword stuffed title.

    It’s never made much sense to me to put so much weight on the title tag — its easily manipulated.

  15. Hey Brian! Great post!

    I just found your blog and I love your content already. This was a great article, balancing out the best of both worlds in terms of writing for the people vs. writing for SEO.

    Keep it up bro. I look forward to more!! 🙂

  16. People skim rather than read = tight copy
    People want information = quality content

    This is why honing copywriting skills for the web is valuable. Sharp writing is thought-out, planned, focused and informative AND contains a natural keyword density appropriate to the article.

    I like Oleg’s PaSEO acronym and agree that search engines are becoming smarter.

  17. I have to admit this post convicts me on spending more time thinking about what the search engines want than what people want.

    If I spent as much time writing as I did analyzing what I wrote…

  18. Eventually search engines will better understand what people want so in the meantime I’ll write for people. After all, as smart as search engines may become, they don’t have wallets to purchase what I offer. Great article.



  19. I await the day we have a true linguistics parsing search engine that can understand derivations of word choice and tangential meaning. Until then you have to write for people and every so often throw a bone to the search engine because it’s not much smarter than a good golden lab, even though the Goldie is pretty darn smart.

  20. Any effective communicator should know their audience. If people are searching for business jargon, then they expect to see business jargon on the site they land on. If they search for more entry level terms, then they don’t want to see jargon!

    There’s really two questions:
    1) Who do I want to target?
    2) What are their expectations (as manifest by their search language)?

    If I can align the two, then everyone wins.

  21. Nice post Brian,

    I am going to send this one along to one of my favorite SEO writers. They’ve seen the changes occurring for some time.

    Oddly, I’ve always seen the issue much like you. It’s really is the same writing, when you pause a minute to write about it.


  22. SEO is really just descriptive, thorough, compelling content. If you take the time to explain your products/services in detail, you’ll achieve success for your readers as well as the search engines. I perfectly agree this!

  23. This is a great post! I’d much rather write for people than for a robot. The smarter search engines become, the easier it will be to do this.

  24. Excellent post Brian. It seems obvious that the search engines will endlessly head in the direction of relevance and a better user experience. One thing that confuses me is the “keyword stuffing” thing. I find it very difficult and unnatural sometimes to avoid repetitions of the keywords. Eg. if my site is about comparing dive watches, it’s almost impossible to not to keep using the keywords watch and watches or dive, diver and diving. That gets frustrating.

  25. Always got to write for people. They are you ultimate audience always write for them first then review the copy for SEO optimisation. Never write just for the search engine your copy won’t read correctly.

  26. I think if you first write your heart out and get your point accross there’s nothing wrong with going back and making sure you place akeyword at the beggining and at the end. as long as it is natural.
    Great article thanks

  27. Frequently updated, relevant content. That’s the key. If you have laser-focused content towards a site that is primarily focused around one or two keywords, you can easily knock the socks off people that pay a lot to get their site noticed. This is why blogs are so popular with the search engines.

  28. Yes, think the truth and reality. Bloggers who do not understand about SEO will give up, they do not get the sympathy for the reader.

  29. Why these myriad false dichotomies with regard to SEO? Are there a lot of passive aggressive SEO pros (my definition of “pro” is flexible here) out there that only feel comfortable shouting behind a keyboard?

    It’s refreshing to hear that there are no tricks. And it’s the truth. And there’s something great about the fact that those that keep this in mind, live by it and let others know seem to be the ones that are being rewarded by the search gods.

  30. I started writing SEO a little over a year ago, and by SEO I mean garbage.

    Then I actually learned what SEO meant: thorough, descriptive content written in the language of the target market.

    The difference is amazing.

    Let’s say that keyword stuffing wasn’t getting less effective by the minute. It still wouldn’t matter for the bottom line. People need to understand the information on the page and it needs to read well. If it’s built around a formula of keywords, then it has little chance of being effective copy.

  31. “I started writing SEO a little over a year ago, and by SEO I mean garbage.”

    Well put, my friend. SEO too often reminds me of acai berry. Everyone’s selling it, no one knows what it is, and business is brisk.

  32. Ian,
    Your comment is funny but true. I just read a prominent blogger say new bloggers just ignore SEO altogether (pretend its a mythical beast). Do you agree?

  33. E,

    No, not really. It’s fine to be mindful of SEO, and keywords DO matter, but when all that comes at the expense of good content that PEOPLE LIKE, these are futile activities that ultimately lead to failure.


  34. There’s a fine line between SEO and good copy. Bad copy will get plenty of bad traffic, while great copy will get no traffic.

  35. Great post. You can lure in a lot of traffic with a well optimized, keyword-rich page. But that traffic’s just going to bounce if the page isn’t well-written for the reader. So what are you really achieving?

    –Casey Boccia
    Carton Donofrio Partners

  36. There’s no doubt you write for people. As you said, search engines are used by people. Regardless of the algorithms search engines will become even more accurate and relevant…may I introduce Web 3.0. Anyways, as always, content is King.

  37. This question of writing for people vs. writing for SEO keeps on coming up. I feel as though we seem to forget that we are writing for people above all. Your post really emphasizes the importance of good online writing!

  38. I have had the same mental fight as you when it comes to writing for the search engines verses for people. Then in hit me one day. I realized I only clicked on a link from someone’s comment on a blog if they provided relevant content. Wow! What a novel idea, right? In the end writing like you’re giving freely to a friend and not worrying about trying to repeat a certain phrase (keyword) a predetermined number of times is the best. Quality verses quantity really is the best practice.

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