Are you asking the wrong question first?

I cringe every time I hear this question before anything else is discussed. Maybe you do too.

“How will (insert SEO copy idea here – usually a bad one) help with the search engines?”

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like such a bad first question to ask. After all, “SEO copywriting” stands for “search engine optimization copywriting.” Good writing = higher rankings has been a common mantra since the beginning of SEO time. It makes sense that folks would be considering the search engine implications.

But it also ignores a major part of the equation.

Aggressive SEO copy techniques don’t mean a thing if your audience isn’t buying from you – or taking whatever action step you want them to take. If your online content isn’t resonating with your audience, it’s failing your company – even if it has a top ranking.

Instead of focusing on search engines, there’s another question to consider: How does this content (or SEO copy technique) serve your customers? When that piece of the puzzle is solved, then you discuss how to maximize the SEO opportunities in a way that doesn’t detract from the message.

Not the other way around.

See how this changes the discussion? When you’re asking, “How does this serve our reader,” certain spammy SEO copywriting techniques don’t make any sense. You don’t think about bolding and hyperlinking every keyword (and making sure that keyword is on the page 20 times or more.) Writing a keyphrase-slammed post sounds like a stupid idea.

Because you know that wouldn’t work for the reader. Even if you could get those pages to rank, you couldn’t make the readers buy. Or read. Or even stay on your site.

Plus, focusing on your readers first provides a good reality check for other SEO content ideas. You may think that Twitter is fun and a fantastic free marketing idea. But if your customers aren’t on Twitter – and your carefully-worded tweets aren’t getting read –  it may not be the best marketing channel for you.

So consider your target audience the next time you’re examining a SEO content technique. Ask yourself if your idea serves any purpose other than possible search engine juice. If the answer is “no,” reexamine your technique.

Your readers will thank you.

8 replies
  1. NEWTRAFFIC says:

    Hi Heather,
    Fully agree with the message you are giving us here. Your target audience comes first and then the Search Engines. Especially my blog posts are specifically written for my visitors as I am trying to build up an audience of PEOPLE :-). However my ‘normal’ pages are SEO influenced.

  2. Josh Braaten says:

    Every creative brief from an SEO should include primary keywords to focus on but then should go further to explain what intent is behind the keywords being used.

    I don’t know what SEOs you work with but to me, SEO is about much more than just keyword prominence on the page. It begins with a full study of the information needs of the target audience.

    It shouldn’t be squarely on the shoulders of the writer to make sure the audience is served. It should be a joint effort fueled by the research of the SEO and the messaging prowess of the writer.

    Any SEO that doesn’t value the user and is worried simply about traffic needs to find another profession.

    • Heather says:

      I think you’re exactly right. It’s amazing, though, how many SEOs are “hands off” of the content creation process. They’re really good at adding keyphrases, but not so good at the whole “customer conversion” aspect. Your point of it being a “joint effort” between the SEO and the writer is spot on.


  3. NEWTRAFFIC says:

    Hi Heather, I am trying to write posts about current topics. I do an extra check what’s the search volume of the important keywords around that topic but besides the title, the h1 and some keyword density I write the article just as I think it fits for the audience.

  4. Q.T. Getomov says:

    I recently worked for an SEO who had absolutely no regard for readership needs or my talent as a writer. If it didn’t fit in with his technique he wasn’t interested. He wanted press releases, I asked what there was going on with the client that was newsworthy, he told me it didn’t need to have any news since he was paying to have the PRs placed anyway.
    Another trick he had was to pitch headlines and then get me to write up the story. One fabled H1 was “Top Five Tips To Deal With Adult Bipolarism” I felt terrible about dealing with mental health issues in such an off hand way but felt much better when he told the guy subbing me to “just delete any of the sentences you don’t understand” especially when the sub then asked me what Prozac was.
    But to answer the underlying question, I always try to check the news, find out what people are talking about and write something insightful or controversial. (Provided you avoid libel!) Keeping on topic about something that is trending means that you can slip in a slightly heavier keyword load without appearing spammy too, if you’re careful.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Q.T. – it’s always a shame when an SEO company doesn’t value the writer’s skills and expertise. Writers and SEOs certainly look at things a little differently – but we have a common goal (more money for the client.) Sounds like you made the best out of a weird situation…

      Thanks for your comment!


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