Who Are You Writing For?

June 20th, 2007

This is probably the most crucial question content managers must ask themselves.

Who are you writing for? People? Or Search Engine spiders?

There’s no easy answer. After all, good search engine placings are essential to get people coming to see your content but overdo the SEO and you risk making those visits downright painful.

We’ve all seen examples of pages aimed at spoofing the spiders — hidden text, repeated phrases, endless links — and thankfully search engines are now much better at spotting them and penalising them; however, some other genuine pages are so heavily SEOed that they come close to being unusable as worthwhile content. It’s a fine balance.

Thankfully, good well-written text is as attractive to search engine spiders as it is to human beings. It has to be. Why do search engines exist? To point people in the direction of the websites best suited to their need. And, in an ideal world, the most suitable websites are the ones who display the best information in the best way. So in giving some guidelines for good SEO-friendly content I will hopefully be giving you good guidance for writing interesting content too.

Phantom Keywords

If content is king, then keywords are the princes of content. Good keyword research is essential to attract good rankings but for the purposes of content good keyword research is no more that knowing your subject and not padding out your words: on the web — as in most writing, frankly — keep your text tight and to the point. For instance, if you were trying to get a good ranking for “serviced offices”, your text must have that phrase in it. There would be little point in composing the sentence “it’s good to find an office that is serviced” when what you want to get the spiders to spot “serviced offices”.

Incidentally, the phrase: “His car was regularly serviced. He parked outside his offices” would do quite well for SEO for “serviced offices”. If you can’t use the exact phrase, then keep its components close by.

Many people find SEO difficult for the reason that they are not really passionate about their subject

For SEO purposes, a well-optimised page should contain at least 250 words of text of which the term you are targeting should make up about 5-15%. More than that and you actually risk denting your score. Look at it another way: as a reader, how many times could you cope with variations of the phrase “serviced offices” in a sentence before you started tearing your hair out.

You should also load the most important search terms towards the front. There’s a rule which budding reporters are taught about good writing: put the most important facts as high up the story as possible — many readers only ever read the first few paragraphs. I’m sure you can see the parallel.

Keep mentions of your phrases to around five per block of text: more phrases means more text for high frequency and, if you can, link one of the search phrases to the most relevant page on your site: this will give your rankings a boost.

You can find a handy tool which gives you an idea of good keyword density elsewhere in this site.

SEO and content is a vast subject — possibly the raison d’être of this site — and much too big for one posting, so I’m going to leave the topic here for now. Yet I have one final thought: many people find SEO difficult for the reason that they are not really passionate about their subject (they probably only do it for a living); enthusiasts, on the other hand, live their passion.

For most enthusiasts writing about a hobby or a band or a pastime or an interest, keyword density is not a problem. No, the main hindrance there is jargon … but that’s for another posting.



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