Now I’m no SEO expert but I am a good content writer. Damn good. It pays my mortgage. So when I read constantly that the foundation of good SEO is naturally, well written copy, my heart soars.
Most of my days are filled writing various articles and thought pieces for company websites, blogs, magazines and on behalf of company directors. The question of SEO invariably raises its head. Some clients, whether I deal with the company or agency prefer to let the writing do the talking, and as long as content is industry relevant, they are happy. Other SEO specialists get a little twitchy preferring to control the writing process with their lists of keywords.
Take for example, a recent website I wrote on behalf of a B2B company. I used their original copy as the basis since I was able to identify what they were trying to say and where they wanted to say it, I spent an afternoon taking a brief from them and understanding them as a company with a personality, undertook some industry research and took a look at some competitor sites. I then produced well-written copy for each of their pages, identified duplicate copy, updated some out-of-date industry information, raised some queries about a couple of links and generally pinpointed ways to tidy up their site. However, the web company raised some issues about SEO keywords which was apparently lacking in the copy. But there had been no SEO specifics in the brief.
Compare this example with another client. This time an agency who is often asked to redesign websites. If there is no in-house content resource or the MD feels the current copy needs rewriting, he invariably asks me. This particular client always gives me a well defined site map which makes it easy for me to see where copy needs to appear and what it should contain and he never gives me a list of keywords. He just wants me to write. The relationship works well and he has always been pleased with what I’ve produced.
With two such disparate experiences for effectively the same job, it struck me that one of the differences between the two jobs was the approach to SEO.
Having just written a feature for a B2B magazine on cyber security and website threats and attacks, I have been speaking to other website agencies. One agency highlighted previous practices of back linking common a few years ago when relevance wasn’t an issue. They can still plague websites today and the agency shared a few horror stories including one household name company where they were shocked to find a hacker who was earning affiliate money for a completely different brand who had managed to piggyback this particular company inserting a number of backlinks. As a result, the website had been severely penalised in the organic searches with traffic mainly coming from PPC (pay per click) which should not have been the case for a company of this size.
Good content, they assured me, will take care of SEO. Great! That’s what I want to hear.
A recent report from Alexa, an Amazon company which provides website analytics tools, is in agreement. The opening line of their ebook ‘White Hat SEO Techniques’ reads ‘it’s simply about creating content that people want and satisfies their search intent’. Keyword research, the paper continues, identifies the kind of content people are looking for and you tailor the content accordingly. Give people what they want. Simple.
So the SEO and writer relationship has effectively flipped. I have been writing content for years. In the past I have been given lists, sometimes, reams of keywords to work into the copy. Google now hates those ‘stuffing’ techniques and whilst keywords which work effortlessly in the copy are not an issue, over populating your copy with keywords in an attempt to play the Google game just doesn’t cut it anymore.
SEO experts should be giving writers a guide on the content which is in demand for that particular industry, product or service and allowing writers to come up with the goods. Understanding how people search and the language they use rather than resorting to the standard industry words and phrases means writers can better tailor language and content to the needs of the audience, according to the Alexa paper.
Writing for Forbes Jayson DeMers explores SEO in 2016 and advocates still using keywords in content including headers, sub-headers and main body copy but identifies a shift away from keyword use in particularly high ranking content. He also thinks keyword search helps a business better understand the information customers want to see. Content marketing, he writes, is crucial for good SEO. Long form content which adds value and provides website visitors with the information they want, that is to say, it’s relevant, is essential in getting Google to like your website and push it up its search rankings.
Back in 2012 Neil Patel, who Forbes refers to as one of the top 10 online marketers and The Wall Street Journal calls a top influencer on the web, suggested content as the new SEO and arguably he has been proved right.
So in the stand-off between SEO expert and writer, who has the winning edge? The answer, of course, is neither.
Clearly, they need to work together to deliver the right content using the right language which customers and potential customers are looking for and written in a way that’s accessible. It isn’t a question of the SEO specialist demanding x amount of keywords sprinkled throughout the copy and good SEO strategists are well aware of how the game has changed. The SEO strategist is the writer’s guiding light. Together they will deliver the content which resonates resulting in higher levels of traffic to the website.
In the case of my second example, the agency provides me with a roadmap so I know where I’m going and the kind of content that’s needed on those particular pages including the topics which it needs to cover as well as the tone required. Without a decent map, the chances of getting lost are higher.
Any decent writer will be able to take a website, rewrite it in a new and engaging style and ensure it is current incorporating specific industry areas. However, give the writer a decent brief based on intelligent SEO analysis and the content will generally look after the SEO.