So, back in the day, SEO content had two objectives: 1. optimise for search engines; and 2. be interesting to users.
And that was the order of importance.
After all, writing for the search engines meant more people would see your content. So you did everything you needed to so the spiders could understand what your content was about.
Now if you want your site to rank well, instead of writing primarily for search engines, you need to write for both search engines and users, so that no matter how someone tries to find content, you’ll be there.
Then: Writing for spiders
Now: Writing for users
This is not so much a shift in technique as it is a shift in perception.
Long ago, if you wanted to be found by people, you needed to have content that ticked all of the search engines’ boxes in a fairly consistent, predictable way.
Now, you need to do that in a subtle enough way that people don’t get turned off and in an exciting enough way that they actually tell other people.
How do you do this?
Well, start by keeping in mind that you’re writing for people, not for spiders.
You don’t want your information to be inaccessible to spiders, but at the end of the day, SEO is about getting people to your site.
Sure, search engines want to get people to the right content, but people aren’t just relying on Google to help them find what they want anymore. More and more they’re relying on each other to recommend things. So you need to write in a way that encourages or compels people to share.
Find your target audience.
This is not wait-for-people-to-come-to-us SEO. This is proactive. Search Twitter, Facebook, all those things, and see what your target audience likes and shares with each other.
Figure out what they respond to, and do it yourself.
Does your 18-35 year old single male demographic love lists? Do your mums from Manchester like home decorating tips?
Think about how you can do something like that – just make sure it’s relevant to your industry. Put your own spin on it.
Do pretty much whatever it takes to hold on to their fleeting attention spans, and don’t be afraid to a bit controversial, funny or silly.
Which is pretty much what you did when writing linkbait, right? That’s what I mean by a shift in perception. It’s not just about the links; it’s also about the views, the shares, the likes – what people do when they respond to content, rather than what spiders do.
Then: Keyword-focussed content
Now: Sharing-focussed content
Times were, you could just stuff your paragraphs full of one word or the other, and the spiders would realise that you were talking about that word. Then when a customer looked for that word, the search engine would know which pages on the internet were talking about it.
Now, to be visible to customers, you have to create content that is easy to share.
How do you do this?
Make your content easy to scan and digest.
That way users can quickly know whether or not they find your content useful (hint: if they think your content might be hard to read or understand, they will immediately look elsewhere).
Loads of images, for example, keep people scrolling as photos are easy to comprehend quickly, and they are easy to share with other people.
Then let your target audience know it’s out there.
Just don’t be creepy or overly aggressive.
And always keep in mind the share-ability of headlines and opening paragraphs.
Twitter has its character limit, sure, but you don’t see long-winded expositions on Facebook, either. Much.
So be brief, especially in headlines. Headlines should be short, clear and compelling, so that people who retweet can add a comment without changing your headline.
Then: Repetitive content
Now: Varied content
My grandpappy told me of an era when content needed to stay fairly consistent (read: repetitive) so search engines would know what you were all about. Those were simpler, more innocent times.
Now, of course, people get bored by repetition, and bored users do not return to sites. Search engines have of course gotten much more sophisticated, and they can tell when users act like your content is useless. They do this by measuring things like bounce rates.
So you need to write content that is so attention grabbing that users want to come back.
How do you do this?
You do want to be relevant to your industry, but you need to be unique.
No one cares about a window cleaning company’s take on the US presidential elections, right?
But maybe that window cleaning company can demonstrate a bizarre connection, like showing that window sales soar right before a Republican is elected. That is interesting and totally shareable.
And also made-up, but you get the idea.
But it also proves another point:
Your content can deviate from what your business strictly does.
So a post that shows a correlation between clean windows and elections has little to do with the day-to-day aspects of cleaning windows, but it gets people clicking on your site. And telling other people. And coming back later.
If you put up this interesting, shareable content regularly, and you should rank in normal search results and in real-time, Twitter and Facebook searches. Which means you’re everywhere people look for information online. And even the people who didn’t know they were looking for you will find you.
Google lego by manfry on Flickr
Cheerleader by Rick Scully on Flickr
Man decorating tree by meemal on Flickr
Cutest fight ever by Sarah_Jones on Flickr
Window cleaners by pmorgan on Flickr