If You Build It, They Will Come: Creating Content For Humans Over Bots

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“Back in the SEO day…”

In early 2012, I stepped from the world of pleasure blogging into search engine optimization (SEO) copywriting. Upon doing so, my superiors told me to unlearn what I knew about good writing. In those days, writing content was more about appeasing the SEO gods than it was about telling a great story. SEOs crammed keywords into every nook and cranny of every page. Blocks of content read like entries in a thesaurus. Many crammed site backends with every related keyword known to man. On April 24, 2012, Google introduced the Penguin algorithm update. This was nicknamed “The Truth Penguin” by many SEOs. This update penalized websites for deceptive false-optimization and over-optimization practices. Overnight, the rankings of many websites sank like a stone. Many SEO specialists still hadn’t learned their lesson. Though some revised their strategy, many were still using shady tricks to increase site rankings. After repeated slams, most of us learned to accept what we knew to be true: Google is after what humans want in a great website experience. For us copywriters, this meant a return to writing in a way that connected people instead of appeasing robots.

In this piece, we’re going to look at how to use writing to connect with humans and in turn, appease the algorithms.

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Do not manipulate — anticipate.

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Tell a Story With Your Content

Our ancient ancestors gathered around bonfires to tell tales of the day’s hunt. Aside from the scenery and content, this has not changed. We’re still captivated by great storytelling. This ancient form of communication exists in the fabric of our being. Sadly, many marketers have forgotten the importance of connecting with their target audience in a meaningful way. True storytelling connects people with more than a product, but with a brand. Every person has their own stories. When you tell a story that your target audience can relate to, they begin to place themselves within it. This melding of stories fosters trust in your brand. This trust increases the likelihood of your audience choosing your brand over another.

Speaking To Your Audience’s Needs

Too many writers in marketing make the mistake of writing about the product they’re pushing. This makes reading about a brand as exciting as reading the ingredients label on a cereal box. Instead, convey the value proposition of your product or service. Before you start writing about your brand, take a step back. Close your eyes. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. What is paining them that has led them to find your product or service? How does your brand soothe their aches and relieve their anxieties? How will life be better for them as a result of choosing your brand? Speaking to their concern with honest concern will help your messaging — your story — reach out to meet them halfway. Above all else, create this content from an honest place. Do not manipulate — anticipate.

Ditch the Sales-ese — Speak as a Friend

While I pride myself at knowing how to order a drink and ask where the restroom is in Japanese, I only consider myself fluent in two languages: English and Sales-ese. What is Sales-ese? Sales-ese is the language of the old fashioned salesperson. Weaving jargon with feel-good shmaltz makes for confusing, nutritionally-deficient content. Do not serve your audience cotton candy — content that tastes sweet on the tongue, but ultimately not filling. Instead, speak to them like a good friend recommending a product. If you’re not sure if your content is Sales-ese, imagine saying it to someone at a dinner party. Would they want to continue listening? Would they pretend that someone is calling their name from the next room? If it wouldn’t feel right saying over drinks with an acquaintance, you’re not delivering your message like a friend.

Be a Genuinely Helpful Resource

In order to maintain demand, search engines serve up the most helpful websites to users. In past years, it was possible to fool search engines into thinking your website was helpful. Those days are over. Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and “smarter” algorithms are able to sniff out a phony and rank them appropriately. While this is a bummer for web spammers, it means that search engines are more likely to serve up your actually helpful content. So, how do you appease the SEO gods? With genuinely helpful, genuinely relevant content. As you publish more and more truly helpful and relevant content, other sites will begin to cite your website as a resource. With increased trust comes increased rankings, exposure, and conversions.

In Summary

Many don't want to put in the work to write for humans. Telling a great story, speaking to the needs of the audience, and being genuinely helpful takes significant time and effort. Many would rather churn out cheap, thin, keyword-stuffed articles. Still, we must continue to keep this simple truth in mind: search engines are out to deliver the best web experience to its users. When you attempt to do the same, this makes your content nearly algorithm-proof.

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