Why SEO is about people, not the search engine

5 minute read

Having good online content is one thing, but having content that’s findable is another. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and online content should come as a package; with consideration given to both during content planning, creation and optimisation. But sometimes it’s easy to get too focused on making the search engines happy, churning out content that’s not considered or targeted, or trying to hit algorithms at the expense of quality and usefulness. All writers should be aware of SEO and Google rewards quality content and writing.

A key part of Google’s mission statement is to ‘organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and usable’ for people. Your aim with content should be the same.

Yes, SEO is about making your content accessible to the Google bots, and getting your content consistently at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). But, it's really about getting that content read by your customers, prospects and audience. Then in some cases, using call-to-actions (CTAs) and gated content to guide them through your buyer journey or nurture sequence.

7 fundamentals of SEO

There are some on-page and off-page technical elements to SEO that you have to get right, and algorithms are constantly changing. But, the fundamentals of SEO remain more or less the same, and it’s about your audience. Here are 7 reasons why:

1. Two approaches to SEO

There are two types of SEO: ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat.’ Black hat basically means using SEO to deceive the algorithms and game your way to the top. Google will penalise you for this as it’s not in the best interests of the community and your audience.

The more accepted ‘white hat’ SEO is about trying to figure out what content your audience wants and needs, and provide it to them—not using spam, tricks or short-term hacks.

Google’s algorithms are designed to promote content that meets people’s needs. You should be well-intentioned in trying to solve your audience’s problems to get them to your website—remember, SEO is supposed to be about ‘organic’ traffic coming to your website. Content should be useful, usable and relevant.

2. Personas and language

When you create content, it should be targeted at a specific type of audience or user. This is where buyer personas come in, which are semi-fictionalised representations of your ideal customer types. If you want to appeal to real people, you have to talk like a real person.

It’s important to make content natural-sounding and helpful. The best way to do this is to think about how your customers think and search. Ask yourself:

  • What difficulties and pain points are they trying to solve?
  • What questions are they asking?
  • Do they use questions, like ‘how-to’ or ‘how do I’?
  • What language do they use when searching?

A great way to get a feel for this is to go to the forums and social media that your audience is posting on, and search for the common language used; look at what people are saying about your industry.

3. Keywords (and keyword stuffing)

Creating content around specific keywords is a really important part of any SEO strategy, and you need to do detailed keyword research to be successful. Think of topics and themes your customers are going to be searching for, and try tools like Ahrefs or Answer The Public to pull up ideas for keywords that are low in difficulty to rank for, but have a high search volume.

That said, there is the problem of ‘keyword stuffing’ which is where companies try to use a certain number of keywords and artificially place them in the text to hit algorithms. The issue here is that content isn’t very readable and its aim isn’t to solve for the customer. People are likely to ‘bounce’ (click away) from your website if they aren’t finding your content valuable or useful, which can affect your overall SEO rankings.

4. Semantics, themes, and context

Since Google is constantly improving to provide users with better search results, it now focuses on the whole page and context, rather than keyword density. It uses something called semantic search and latent semantic indexing, which is where it crawls words that are semantically associated with the general theme of the article.

What this means for content writers is that they have to make articles appear conversational, but tight, with a strong theme and plenty of naturally occurring synonyms, rather than keyword stuffing. Write in plain English, use bold and headings to make content skimmable, and make it human.

5. Searcher intent

Google strives towards displaying the most relevant, high-quality information for the user, as quickly as possible. Its whole model is to improve its response to searcher intent. The snippet and knowledge card you now see when you Google a famous person or a popular question is a result of this, so you should be aiming to get your content in these (which is also known as ‘position zero’ in SERPs).

There are three types of search queries people use:

  • Informational. This is when people are searching for information, so keywords will be varied and they may narrow down into long-tail keywords as their search goes on. These are the queries you’ll have more chance of ranking for in your content.
  • Navigational. This is when people are searching with the intent of finding a particular website, like ‘youtube’, or the name of your company. Make sure you own your company name and appear at the top of the SERPs for it.
  • Transactional. This is when people are looking to buy something, so they might type in a brand name or ‘buy X.’

Thanks to search engines, people don’t follow the linear buyer’s journey. Instead of being sold to, they want to research products and services for themselves.

To understand and satisfy searcher intent, you need to understand your customers. You have to think of how you’re going to draw people in with your content at every stage of their journey—whether they are aware of their problem, considering answers to their problem, or on the way to making a decision about a product or service.

6. Micro-moments, voice, and mobile search

Closely related to searcher intent are micro-moments. What used to be predictable, daily sessions at the computer have been replaced by multiple, fragmented interactions, or ‘moments’ on our mobile or with voice features. We have hundreds of these moments a day—from checking social media to texting a friend, or doing a ‘quick Google.’

Google has categorised micro-moments relevant to businesses into four categories:

  • ‘I want to know.’
  • ‘I want to go.’
  • ‘I want to do.’
  • ‘I want to buy.’

Because of the way people search today, SEO has become about keeping content conversational and to the point, so the search engine can find it, and so people will stay on the page and make their way through your sales funnel.

7. Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness

Google has so many algorithms that are changing all of the time. However, one key overarching algorithm is EAT, or Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. No matter what stage your audience is at, people stay for content from a trusted advisor and click away from the rest. So along with your content sounding natural, it needs to be well researched and written from an expert. Make sure you get subject matter experts involved in the content creation process so you’re not missing tricks.

Getting the SEO fundamentals right

SEO is a long game, and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get your business on the right track. There are lots of ever-changing algorithms to keep up with.

If you understand that it’s about creating content that meets your audience’s needs, then you’re playing it right. Keep Google’s mission statement in mind, and always strive to wrap SEO into your content strategy process, producing content in line with keywords, searcher intent, and the different ways people search today.

About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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