It’s Time to Stop Writing for SEO

If you regularly write for the web, you likely have fallen into the trap many copywriters face: writing for search engines. Writing web copy with technology in mind makes sense. After all, in terms of unpaid web traffic, we’re largely at the mercy of our search engine overlords. But should you write with SEO in mind? 

Why Do We Even Search Engine Optimize? 

It’s important to consider the origin of Search Engine Optimization. When we’re talking SEO, what game are we trying to win– and more importantly, why does that game exist? Simply put, SEO is an attempt to make your site more visible in the search results. That’s because search engines like Google leverage an algorithm to determine which sites most accurately answer a specific query or keyword. That puts the “O” in SEO– Optimization. As SEO-focused marketers, we’re doing our best to play into that algorithm, to make sure our site lands at the top instead of, say, our competitors.

There have been a number of changes in the algorithm behind search engine ranking over the years, though. For example, in 2017 Google announced a new update called mobilegeddon that penalized sites with low-quality mobile experiences or poor user experience on desktop devices. The changes also penalized so-called “thin” content–pages which are largely comprised of filler text without substantive information about what their subject actually is.

Writing “For” SEO

Search engines are now more and more concerned with the experience on a site, as opposed to just how well it answers a specific query. This means things like site structure and content clarity are incredibly important. Today’s search engine algorithms take into account details far beyond keywords. They consider the way we, as humans, understand content. So, if you’re writing for search engines, it might be time to stop.

Does this mean abandoning SEO entirely? Absolutely not. SEO Should be an editing tool, not a writing tool. Focus less on smashing in those keywords and more on delivering quality content. Focus less on building SEO focused URL slugs in favor of something memorable.

If not for search engines, then who?

There isn’t much guaranteed when it comes to SEO, but the one thing that will always be true is that the algorithm will be designed to deliver a better search experience. Instead of focusing on search engine algorithms, focus on how people are using those algorithms–on what users want from a website and what they expect when they arrive at one. If you make user experience central to everything else about your content-writing strategy, future search engine changes won’t likely impact you. Major algorithm dings are things you should pay attention to anyway: if the first thing someone sees is confusing or unclear, chances are the algorithm (and users) will think so, too.

If you want to rank high in SEO results, start by writing from an audience perspective instead: keep readers’ needs at heart, focus on generating good content rather than keyword-happy crap, and always remember that optimization is always secondary to serving your readers and visitors!

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