Digital content is like the question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
If your content is online, but no one can find it, does it exist?
This is why, when we create content, we think about search engine optimization, more commonly known as SEO.
SEO helps people find your business/brand/product organically and reach new audiences; in other words, it directs potential customers toward your website without you having to pay for that traffic through paid ads.
Various SEO tactics address different ways to improve your website’s ranking on search engines (this article from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does a great job of breaking it down). Here, we’re going to focus on on-page/content SEO.
On-Page SEO 101: The Basics
On-page SEO means optimizing your pages on your website to get them to rank higher on search engine result pages. While there are a few different ways to leverage on-page SEO, let's zero in on an easy place to start — keywords.
There are two types of keywords: short-tail and long-tail. For example, if your business sells all-natural beeswax candles, a short-tail keyword would be "beeswax candles." It's concise, broad, and draws a large audience. However, it also faces intense competition.
Long-tail keywords, such as "all-natural candles for relaxation" or "handmade beeswax candles for home decor," are more detailed and specific, attracting users with a clear intent and lower competition. While short-tail keywords have higher search volumes, strategic long-tail keywords tailored to your business help you reach a targeted audience and enhance your visibility online.
Balancing short- and long-tail keywords is vital to your content and SEO strategy. Ryan Whitfield, Partner & CEO at SparkLaunch Media, explains why. "While long-tail keywords have lower search volumes, they usually provide a higher percentage of business actions per visit such as form fills, calling, etc." he begins. "A short-tail and long-tail keyword strategy is extremely important for a well-rounded SEO approach to help drive traffic and traffic that converts."
Finding the keywords that are right for your business requires some work upfront to find out what terms people are searching, how often they're searching them, and who you're competing with for those terms. Moz or SEMRush are great tools to use to conduct keyword research.
A Delicate Art: The Science Of SEO and The Humanity of Writing
SEO speaks to the machine people use to conduct their searches, but the one searching is still a human — and that’s who you need to speak to.
When SEO first came about, people jumped on the opportunity to pack content with as many keywords as possible to rank higher on search results (you’ve probably still encountered content like this today, where you land on an article or blog post that repeats words over and over again).
But as search engines became more intelligent and evolved, this type of content started to get flagged. Ever since the BERT Google update in 2019, the algorithm has been much better at understanding contextual language and favoring engaging and valuable content, which is measured by metrics such as how much time someone spends on a page, how much unique traffic the page receives, and how often it’s shared, for example, via social media or as a backlink on another website.
In other words, don’t repeat a bunch of keywords and expect it to hit the number one spot on Google. Not only is that a surefire path to a piece of content that isn’t very compelling, but it also isn’t very human. Prioritizing the human experience - both yours and the reader’s - is what’s most important, AND what will get you better results.
Here are our tips for how to write for SEO while still sounding like a human.
Lead with value.
It might seem like a no-brainer that any content you put into the world should provide value, but it should also provide unique value. We all know the internet is full of noise, so your best chance of standing out is creating something that leaves a lasting impression.
So before you get started, ask yourself: What message do you want to share with the world? What problems can you solve? What do people need that you can offer them?
Use variations of your keywords.
Once you have your keywords, think about other ways they can be expressed. For instance, if you’re targeting the term "beeswax candles," you want to think of ways to vary the language so you’re not just saying “beeswax candles” over and over again. This could be "candles made with beeswax", “candle making with beeswax”, or as mentioned earlier, targeting similar keywords like “all-natural candles”.
The point is to ensure you diversify your language to convey the product without repetitively using the exact keyword; there’s no quicker path to boring and robotic content.
Look at the competition.
When you’re conducting your SEO keyword research, it’s good practice to also take a peek at what keywords your competitors are using and their rankings. Once you’ve done this, you can examine their content strategy and begin to identify gaps so you can create content that provides unique value to your readers.
Use keywords in other places.
SEO keywords should also be in your picture descriptions, meta tags, subheadings, and web addresses. Another thing to keep in mind when creating content for SEO these days is the increase in voice searches. Note how people talk then they do a voice search and incorporate longer phrases and natural language in your content to capture spoken inquiries, too.
Sharing your content reinforces its human-centric nature, reminding us that it should resonate with people first and foremost.
Get a conversation started. Ask questions people can answer about your content to increase engagement. REPLY to their comments. Remember, you’re speaking with real-life people. As a bonus, sharing your content boosts SEO by generating backlinks and increasing visibility through social signals like shares, likes, and comments, improving search engine rankings and broadening your audience.
Effective SEO not only boosts visibility but also reinforces the human connection. Standing out online requires crafting compelling content that resonates with people. So, embrace SEO without sacrificing your human touch, and you'll land on the sweet spot of improved rankings and meaningful engagement. If you need support in your content marketing efforts with copy that drives traffic to your website, converts, and sounds human (because it is) reach out to our team to see how we can help.