Write Good Content, Not “Seo” Content

Good website content serves two purposes: it brings people into the site and it engages them once they’re there. 


For many sites, organic search is the primary channel through which new visitors discover your content. There was tension between this reality and the engagement goal of content in the past, as on-page content went all in on SEO and left users behind.


A short history of content and SEO

Content that ignored users and focused solely on ranking factors became less effective with Google’s 2011 Panda update, which made Google better at filtering out spammy content. 2013’s Hummingbird update then improved Google’s ability to answer queries with appropriate, in-depth content. 


Fast-forward to more recent times and a string of core algorithm updates, bringing with them an increased reliance on natural language processing, the search engine landscape’s biggest player is almost as good as a human when it comes to deciding what makes content ‘good.’


The upshot for writers

There is now no excuse to write content ‘for SEO.’ Google will attempt to parse your text like a human and will reward websites that meet the human needs expressed in search queries, from finding a barber to researching plate tectonics.


Importantly, however, there are still techniques that will give savvy content writers the edge when it comes to ranking well and engaging their site visitors.


Tips for writing good content that still ranks

In all that follows, remember one golden rule: write for humans first and worry about rankings second. I guarantee that doing so will improve the effectiveness of your content and rarely leave you in a worse position than focusing on search engines.


1) Text position for keywords still matters

When it comes to ranking well, keywords haven’t gone out of the window. Search engines, like humans, rely on textual cues to understand the core topic on any given page. It’s our job to make sure that our writing communicates that topic clearly.


Let’s say you’re writing about how wind turbines work. It’s a good idea to carry out keyword research and find popular phrases within that topic. You should then include these phrases in the natural flow of your content, paying particular attention to prominent positions in the text, such as the introductory paragraph, subheadings and lists.


Don’t bend over backwards to include keywords, but do be aware of popular phrases that signal to search engines and humans that your content matches their topic of interest. This applies to everything from product descriptions to 3,000 word guides.


2) Write as much as the topic needs

I’m often asked how long content needs to be to rank well. The answer is always, “As long as you need to provide the information.” There is no magic word count; ranking requirements differ depending on what serves the query.


For example, ecommerce category pages tend to require a small amount of content because users simply need to be pointed at the products, but one industry I’ve worked in has rewarded extensive informational content on the category pages, as they promote considered, high value purchases.


On the informational side, I’ve worked on FAQ content for a law firm that ranks very well across completely different content lengths. The core FAQ page is around 1,500 words long and ranks for broader search queries and questions, while its child pages can be as short as 200-400 words long and still rank highly when people ask their specific questions. Both parent and child pages have also achieved featured snippets for top target keywords.


3) Use internal links effectively

Internal links highlight related and supporting information on your website. In the age of human-first SEO, they act as pathways to similar topics.


As soon as a piece of information is covered more extensively elsewhere on your site, link to it. Doing so provides a clear path for interested users and helps search engines to rank your pages for the right topics. Sites without a good internal linking structure can suffer from keyword cannibalisation and a lack of rankings.


Links to other sites are also worth including, especially if you’re citing a source. Doing so is a sign that your site is committed to providing users with the best possible access to information, which is recommended at a time when E-A-T (expertise, authority & trust) is rewarded.