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Forget SEO & Write for Humans

“Get to the top of Google and stay there!”  The notices spam out to thousands of inboxes, probably including yours.  Many people make some kind of living pitching their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) methods to businesses small and large who hope to make a killing off this internet thingy.  But for all the noise and money spent, the vast majority of it is a terrible waste.

Real articles, blogs, or other content are written for humans, not machines.  If you forget this, there is no magic formula to undo your mistake.

The basic concept of SEO is nothing more than an attempt to “game” google searches.  Simply put, if you want to have your website appear in a search for a certain term you have to include that term many times in any given article and viola! You rise to the top of the searches.  Those who are selling their methods make it seem a lot more complicated than that, since they have a skill to sell, but this is the basic idea.

It falls apart immediately when you realize that google exists to provide a service to people, making money off of the paid ads that come with any search.  Obviously, they won’t allow anyone to goose free part of a search with SEO techniques because google won’t make as much money over time.  But let’s leave this aside for a moment as only the most obvious concern about the promises made by SEO.

You are currently reading a blog that has always been a big experiment.  Something you will never find in Barataria is an SEO worked body of text that exists primarily to goose the search engines.  Despite this, I have extremely good results in some interesting searches on google, including: “mea weekend”, “simon bolivar dia de la raza”, “great vowel shift” and “every act of creation is an act of destriction”.  My favorite search term point of entry for Barataria is “make no small plans” because one humble piece from three years ago comes up 3rd in such a search – I totally trash poor ol’ Daniel Burnham in a grossly unfair way, but … I think he had it coming.

These results were not achieved by any deliberate effort on my part.  I write articles for humans and they bubble to the top.  They generate traffic, some of which sticks around and becomes regular readers.  Why?

First of all, google has a mysterious method known as “authority” beyond simple SEO.  A good article on any topic has other phrases that come up naturally if it is written by and for humans.  They also have a tendency to be clicked on more often, and perhaps even “starred” in google’s new ranking system.  You cannot know what will give you “authority” either, since it is a closely guarded secret.  All you can do is write a decent article.

Secondly, consider how you use any search engine yourself.  Any search these daze will give you results that include a top several which are obviously nonsense.  Even if great SEO fools you into clicking on these hollow sites you probably hit the “back” button immediately.  What’s the point of that “traffic”?

Most important of all, however, is the simple and real fact that google takes its time to adjust, rank, and sort out all of the content that goes into its results.  Any strategy on internet, SEO or otherwise, has to be built around the long haul.  Good recommendations from actual humans will always travel faster than google’s more deliberate system.

You may or may not be impressed by the example results I gave a few paragraphs up – after all, these are fairly obscure terms.  But can anyone honestly say what the best search terms are for their prospective customers, aside from the ones where competition is fierce?  A well written article with good examples and detail will find people where they are – and not necessarily where you expect them to be.  It’s always best to let the ‘net surprise you.

There is never any substitute for writing for humans and not machines.  That’s not to say that SEO should never be practiced.  You may want to be sure you have a certain term in every paragraph and that you cover your topic very completely.  But there is little point in sweating SEO far more than that.  A strong social media strategy based around content that humans find interesting will drive business far more than goosing google.

SEO is not a substitute for quality writing, and there is no magic formula for success.  Just be yourself and connect with your readers and the rest will follow.

9 thoughts on “Forget SEO & Write for Humans

  1. Thanks. Not as popular a post as I hoped today – was wondering what the reaction might be. BTW, I did include a little joke in there by doing just a quick SEO optimization sprinkled throughout – this post is already #3 if you search for “forget seo”. :-)

  2. Pingback: Forget SEO & Write for Humans | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare | Reciprocal Link Checker

  3. Pingback: Forget SEO & Write for Humans | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare « Heorj's Search Engine Optimization Blog

  4. Erik, I used to believe that hard work, great content, and some elbow grease would get us to the top of Google. But, it turns out, our competitors can outspend us so we do write content to help increase our SEO. We don’t do any paid search, but we definitely have a science behind what people search for so we pop up first. When we pop up first, we always get calls from prospective clients.

  5. Gini:

    I know that you can do a little optimizing to make sure you get to the top of the search engines – as I do from time to time. But I also know that you write, first and foremost, for humans and not just the search engines. :-)

    I’m not really against a little SEO, as shown in this particular post. But good content always has its own rewards. I think even Daniel Burnham might agree (especially now that I own the poor guy!). :-)

  6. I cannot disagree with all author’s points of view. However, not taking in consideration the SEO factor is like throwing a coin and expecting it to fall only on one side. Today it works since google’s algorithms are built that way. Google itself encourages us to optimize the web content. I’m not familiar well with WP, and probably it provides all the basic needs to set title with h1’s and subtitles with h2’s and links with follow/nofollowlike this one etc.. and therefore it works.
    SEO itself, is not about writing to humans or not. It’s about visibility and accessability for the humans who search through the machines like google.
    In short, – write like a human to humans, but don’t forget about SEO, since it can drastically improve your content visibility.

  7. Pingback: Beware Big ‘Net | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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