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Should We Write Content for People or Search Engines?

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Should We Write Content for People or Search Engines?

All high-quality content pieces in written form have two things in common: they offer real substance to the reader, and each is well-written (or at least decently written 😊).

But all too often, digital content writers worry too much about “writing for SEO,” mistakenly focusing on writing for search engines instead of the human beings who are actually reading the content.

They worry too much about content length, keyword density, using keyword variations, and adding local modifiers. And not because it helps the user — because it could potentially help SEO efforts.

This is problematic for a number of reasons, but most importantly because Google and other search engines don’t need us to write for them.

They need us, or the brand we represent in our writing, to understand a topic well enough to be able to offer a thorough, easy-to-understand answer for its audience (i.e., people) to be able to read, understand, and, yes, find on the web.

Google Is Built to Understand Good Content

Google has ever-evolving, highly sophisticated search algorithms that are getting better every day, and drastically better each year.

This isn’t limited to solely its traditional search results.

The growing number of search features that improve usability and accessibility are big additions to the overall experience Google offers its users.

All of this is helping parent company Alphabet generate billions of dollars in revenue every quarter.

A large driver of that revenue is Google’s extensive advertising network, but it starts and ends with Google search and its pay-per-click advertising there.

Google is the most-visited website in the world, and its success to continue to be No. 1 hinges on the success and accuracy of its search platform in all other capacities. That drives the traffic, advertising, and 3.5 billion searches done daily in Google search.

Google has become what it is today – essentially a synonym for search – because of the quality of its results.

And let’s not forget: Google wasn’t the first – there are plenty of alternative search engines.

But it is the best search engine.

While we wouldn’t go so far as to call it perfect, Google has been the most accurate and useful search engine we’ve ever had to date – and thus the longest-lasting – much due to its dedication to getting it right.

The proof is in the numbers (daily visits, users, revenues, etc.). That’s why Google serves more than 2 trillion searches annually.

And its role in the everyday lives of humans across the world becomes greater each passing minute, deeply rooted in Google’s dedication to ensuring its search engine is giving users the best-possible answers to specific search queries, anytime and anywhere.

For these reasons, Google (or any other search engine) doesn’t need us to write content that is specifically designed for it. Google serves its users, and it wants content to serve them as well.

If you write good content for people, Google will reward. The same cannot be said for content that is strictly written for search engines.

What Exactly Is Good Content?

Google knows how to identify high-quality content.

We know its algorithm and ranking signals help find the right content to satisfy any given search query.

But what does Google deem is good content? What makes bad content bad? And how come well-written content doesn’t always rank well?

For information about “good content,” Google suggests reviewing its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.

And, while Google’s John Mueller made sure to point out that the quality-rater guidelines are not directly related to its ranking factors, he said the document, which was not released to the public until 2015, offers useful information for creating good content nonetheless.

The 164-page document is made up of guidelines given to quality raters (people hired by Google to rate its search results) when manually evaluating the performance of Google’s algorithms.

The document doesn’t just talk about what Google considers good content; it also points out the qualities of bad content.

Here are the most important factors to consider when selecting an overall Page Quality rating:

  • The purpose of the page: The first step in understanding a page is figuring out its purpose.
  • Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Learning the reputation and credentials of a certain piece of content should not be hard to achieve.
  • Main content quality and amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
  • Website information/information about who is responsible for the main content: Find information about the website as well as the creator of the main content.
  • Website reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the main content: Links to help with reputation research are provided to reviewers.

In addition to being well-written and researched content with a purpose, relevancy is incredibly important for visibility in search.

As simple as it sounds, one of the most important ranking factors for content on the web is relevancy to the query. No matter how good the content is, if it doesn’t answer the search query, it’s not the right result.

These aren’t signals triggered by keyword usage, exact-match phrase inclusion, or any other “gamey” search-marketing tactics. This is just good content being delivered for the right search queries. The only way to achieve that is to create good, wholesome content.

Basic Guidelines for High-Quality Written Content

Don’t fret. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and doing it well.

The one thing working in our favor is that if you write well currently, you know how to write well for people. Don’t change that position and think too much about creating content for search engines.

The brands and marketers that rush to publish content just to try and give their website some life with no real purpose aren’t hitting the mark, and they won’t win the click, either.

Here are the basics for writing quality content:

  • Define a purpose: All content should have a purpose. In turn, it should have a topic of focus, an audience, and even an intent stage for that audience.
  • Research thoroughly: Get the whole story before you start tearing stuff apart. What’s the beginning, middle, and end? Personally, I like to outline my content first so that I always know where it’s heading and what I need.
  • Write well and make sure to edit (and edit again!): It doesn’t need to be Hemingway. But use punctuation, check grammar, and try to keep it to the point and on-topic. Give background when necessary.
  • Have a byline: Google cares about where content comes from. Who is the brand or person behind the content? It wants to know. Make sure it can find out. The more authority a person’s reputation has, the better.
  • Make it informative, thorough, educational: Make sure there is substance in the content. We have a purpose. Does it satisfy the purpose? And does it explain it thoroughly? Educate your readers and they will appreciate and depend on you.
  • Cite sources: Always cite your sources. Statistics and data mean nothing if we don’t know where they came from. Be sure to always cite the original source whenever possible.

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Sam Hollingsworth

Director of Search at Elevation Ten Thousand

Sam Hollingsworth is a native New Yorker currently leading all search efforts for Elevation Ten Thousand marketing agency as its ... [Read full bio]

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