I’m a big fan of Google.
For example, this post itself is based around keywords like “how to write for search engines” and “content writing.”
But, that’s not all. I’ll let you in on a little secret.
I’m a fan of writing for humans too.
Because even if you get ranked at the top, at the end of the day, Google doesn’t pay you, nor do they subscribe to your website.
That being said, it is an age long debate between SEOs who you should really write for: search engines, or humans?
Well, today, I’m going to show you how you can actually do both.
In this post, I’ll share with you a little about the history behind the conflict between search engines and humans, why there has been so much debate going on around it.
I will also go super in depth into how, by the end of reading this post, you can have a good idea of how to write content that both search engines and humans love.
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How This Post is Written
I was originally going to write this post in the manner of a listicle, when I decided that “Coschedule’s readers don’t need this! They don’t need another list telling them what to do!”
And that’s true. The Internet’s already full of this stuff.
That got me the idea of writing this post to be as actionable as possible.
At every step of the way, I will be listing down particular steps that you can take, and apply immediately to your own blog.
The Test Bed
In order for us to understand this post in detail, we’ll have to use a standard post for our study. In this case, we’ll be using my post on LinkedIn profiles:
The Debate Between Search Engines and Humans
If you want to understand the debate between Search Engines and Humans, first you’ll have to understand how different these two beings analyze the same chunk of text.
For this case study, let’s use the best search engine word reader that every WordPress owner knows and love: the YOAST analyser.
Your SEO Best Friend, The YOAST Analyzer
Installing Yoast is pretty straightforward. First, you’d want to go to Plugins on your WordPress Dashboard.
Click on it.
Then, click on Add new on the top left-hand corner.
Next, on the left-hand corner of the screen, you should see a box that looks like this:
Type in Yoast, and you should see the following option at the bottom:
Click on the blue install button (my button says active because it has already been installed).
To access the Yoast analyser, simply click on Posts on the left hand side of your WordPress Dashboard:
Next, choose a post that you’re working on:
Then, inside the Edit Post section, scroll down to the bottom, and you’ll see the Yoast Plugin.
The Yoast Analyzer displays key SEO information on your post that looks something like this:
Here’s what the colors mean:
Orange: Meh…Your content is good...but not that good
Red: Change it. NOW.
Analyzing your Content for Search Engine-Friendliness
The first thing we have to understand in order to create search engine friendly words, is to understand that how Yoast breaks down your post.
In this section, you will learn all about the different ranking points that Yoast identifies after years of being in the industry as the top plugin for SEO.
Step 1: Enter Your Focus Keyword
The focus keyword is what the Yoast plugin operates around with. It’s this section that helps Yoast to analyze your post, and give you all the useful information that you saw in the screenshot above.
Naturally, it’s also the first step that you should take when you use this plugin to analyze your text for search engine friendliness.
Step 2: Keep Your Slug Short and to the Point
Simply speaking, the slug is simply the end phrase that your post URL ends with.
For example, this is the slug of my LinkedIn article:
Take note that the slug cannot contain stop words, which we will cover in Step 3.
Take note that the slug should be short, concise, and should not contain irrelevant information in regards to your keyword.
If you’re wondering what irrelevant information looks like, it might include the following:
- The date of your post
- The category of your blog
- The time that you posted
One general rule of thumb that you can steal from me is to simply use the objective of your article and effect that it brings for the user.
For the sake of helping you to understand what objective and effect is, here’s a deeper explanation:
Objective: What is the purpose of the article? What is the article based around?
Effect: What end goal or effect does it bring the user? What benefits can the user expect out of the article?
The first step is to go your headline, and identify what your objective and effect is.
For example, going back to my LinkedIn article, my post title looks like this:
As you can see, I’ve identified the objectives and the effect of the LinkedIn post, which then gives me a starting point for my slug.
In this case, my objectives and effect look something like this:
Objective: LinkedIn profiles. Obviously, since the entire article is dedicated to talking about LinkedIn profiles, this part is a no-brainer.
Effect: Simple steps. It’s a list of simple things that readers can do to get their desired effect.
Converts. What’s the point of writing up a LinkedIn profile if it doesn’t convert? This is a sure winner.
When you piece together the Effect and Objective of your title, it becomes super easy for you to come up with a decent slug.
Here are some examples that I came up with for my post:
As you can see, I chose the first one, because I felt that it was more direct, to the point, and more importantly, search engine friendly for that particular keyword.
Now that you understand what a slug is, it's time to understand what stop words are.
Step 3: Inbound and Outbound links
Links are at the heart of the internet.
They help search engines understand website, and they also help humans to better reach and access information.
In other words, every time you create a blog post, be sure to do your linking correctly, if you want both search engines and humans to love it.
Links consists of two types: inbound and outbound.
Inbound links are links that pointing internally within your site, and are also known as internal links.
In other words, these are links that you point out to the other pages in your website.
For example, if I were to do a post on content marketing, and the work that I have done as a Content Marketing Consultant, I could include a simple line in my post that says “after being in the Content Marketing field for 6 years...”
I could then point a link from the sentence to a page where I talk more about my Consulting career, and how I can help my clients.
Internal links help search engines to better understand where all the information is connected together, and how your site functions. This means that from a technical standpoint, it’s a bonus for the search engines, because they don’t have to run into walls every time they crawl your site.
Also, internal links help your audience to stay on your site longer, because you are hopefully pointing them elsewhere with relevant information, which then helps them to understand what you do, and what your site is about.
Needless to say, your bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave your site without any engagement with it) decreases because your visitors are now staying longer on your site, because they're more engaged with your content.
For example, at Contentrific, I found that by increasing the number of internal links to my site by five, I found out that my bounce rate actually decreased by roughly 7%, which is not too bad for a start.
On the other hand, external links are links that are actually pointing out from your site. In other words, they are links that point search engines from your site to other websites.
To really understand external links, it's best to use an example.
Imagine that you have a new shoe company in town. You’re trying to tell the town hall to put up advertisements on their noticeboards, so that you can advertise your town.
But imagine the town hall doesn’t really understand what you’re saying.
“Is it an apparel shop?”
“Do you sell food there?”
Frustrated, you come up with a brilliant reference for them:
“My shop is like a Nike of this town.”
Now imagine the collective sigh that the town office gives you, when they finally understand it.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, the town hall was Google in my example, and your shop was your website.
By externally linking out to other authority sites like Nike (assuming your site sells shoes and sports apparel), it helps search engines like Google to better understand your site by referring your content and pointing them towards authority sites that have already been ranked highly.
For example, if I were to do a post on content marketing, I’d make it a point to link out to other learning resources on authoritative sites like Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger, and any other sites that have been around for awhile.
Think of Google as a learning baby, and your objective is to teach this baby how to associate red with danger, green with go, and so on.
Although it might not seem like a lot, these changes do contribute to an increased ranking when it all adds up.
Don't worry that you might be pointing to your competitors, because in due time, you'll just rub the authority that they have, establishing yourself as the main voice in your industry as well.
Step 4: Length of Text
The length of your blog post plays a significant role in getting your posts to rank.
Long-form blog posts are also increasingly becoming the most popular form of content of choice, because of the changes in Google’s algorithm in the recent years.
So what exactly is long-form content?
To put it simply, you can assume that you’re writing long form content when your blog posts go beyond 1,500 words.
My personal recommendation is to write content that goes above 2,500 words, since it has been proven extensively that this form of content is the ideal type of content that gets the most number of social shares and engagements (assuming you don't have time to write mega posts of 8,000 words like I do).
At every step of the way, you want to make sure that the content that you put out is not just there so that you can hit the word count, but actively works to elaborate and reinforce your main point.
For example, if you're writing a post on LinkedIn profiles, you'd want to write extensively on the different aspects of a LinkedIn profile, instead of just the usual “create an account on LinkedIn and start filling it up”.
A good start point for elaborating on your main topic is to find related topics and subtopics to write about.
The key point is to fill up the meat of your content, so that it becomes an impressive hamburger that your readers will boast about to their friends.
Step 5: Keyword Density
Keyword density is simply technical jargon which basically means the number of times that particular Focus keyword appears in your content.
For example, if my focus keyword is "linkedin profile," then the measure of my keyword density is the number of times the words “linkedin profile” appears in my entire blog post.
In general, it is best to come up with keyword density of more than 1.5%; if you can't go higher than 2%, it would be best.
Take note, however, that over-stuffing your posts with keywords is a bad thing.
This gives a negative signal to Google that you're trying to flood your blog post with the key word, in an attempt to rank for it, instead of really providing information that shows value to the reader.
Step 6: SEO title
Your SEO title is something that you want to pay particular attention to, mainly because your headline is a key make or break factor that determines whether or not a reader clicks through to your article.
Now, this is where it gets a little bit tricky.
It's tricky because marketers and bloggers like you have to come up with SEO titles that are both human friendly, which means it intrigues, persuades, and excites, but it also has to be easy enough for search engines to understand it at a glance.
Fortunately, Yoast makes this extremely easy for us. Just follow the green button!
Step 7: Length of Page Title
The next step that we have to take is to make sure that your page title isn't too Long.
It's important for you to pay close attention to the length of the page title, since you wouldn't want your title to cut off mid way like so:
Step 8: Focus Keyword Appears in URL
Next, you have to make sure that the focus keyword that you've selected earlier is included in the URL.
In other words, make sure that your focus keyword is included your slug as we've mentioned in step 2.
This might actually get a little confusing, since we just covered the topic of effect and objective, but if you get your objective right, it’s a piece of cake.
For example, if I were to do a blog post about tennis balls, and the main objective is tennis balls, why wouldn’t you place the words tennis balls in your URL? Chances are, you would.
Step 9: First Paragraph of Copy
Search engines tend to prioritize the words that you place in front of your copy, as opposed to the words at the back.
More specifically, by placing your focus keyword in the first paragraph of your content, you’re telling Google “Hey! This keyword has been repeated in the page title, the URL, as well as the first paragraph!”
What does that tell you? It tells you that the keyword is something that Google should pay extra attention to.
For example, if I were to do a post on blogging, but I only mention the keyword “blogging” at last paragraph of my blog post, how relevant do you think my article is?
Well, search engines work in roughly the same way as well.
Step 10: Meta Description
Although the meta description has been widely debated by SEOs whether it is a ranking factor, it is generally agreed that they are relevant for driving human interaction with a site.
This is because when a searcher searches for information about a particular topic or question on Google, the queries come back to him/her looking like this:
The shaded portion is where the meta description is located.
Can you see why it is still considered important, even though most SEOs think that it’s not considered a ranking factor?
Think of your meta description as an elevator pitch of sorts. Its job is to condense the information in the post into either a question or a sentence, to attract the attention of the reader, and convince them to click through.
The important points that you must have in your meta description are:
- A value proposition of the article
- Clear, concise summary of the article
- Create points of intrigue about your article, so that the prospective reader is incentivised to click through
- Make sure that your keyword is also included in the Meta Description. You don’t need to place your keyword at the front of your Meta Description.
Step 11: Single Instance of Keyword
This might come as a shock to you, but when I first started out in SEO, I initially thought that the way to rank for keywords on Google was to create a ton of content around the same keyword!
Boy, was I an idiot.
But, now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense why I would think this way.
It’s because most gurus online didn’t explain it clearly, or didn’t bother to explain it at all.
When they say “create more content around your keyword”, it doesn’t mean create more content that are around the same keyword.
Instead, what you should do is to create content around related keywords to your main keywords.
For example, in my LinkedIn profile writing article, my main keyword is obviously on LinkedIn profiles, but the topic is about LinkedIn in general.
If I want to “create content around the same keyword,” what I should instead do is to find related keywords around the general topic “LinkedIn”, and find other keywords that are related to it.
In this case, I can create come up with keywords such as:
- LinkedIn Publishing
- LinkedIn Sales Emails
- LInkedin Groups
You get the point.
When you create related content around a certain set of keywords (or keyword groups), you are in fact re-emphasising to search engine that your blog and website is about those particular group of keywords.
Just don’t make the same mistake I did by using the same keyword over and over again—that’s suicide!
Before We Proceed to the Human Side ...
Whew! We just covered what it takes to write for search engines.
That’s a lot to digest (I know, my content gets comments like that all the time), but it’s information worthy to know.
But, since this post is also about writing for humans, let’s cover that in the next section.
What About Human Readers?
Obviously, since this post is about search engines and human readers, we can’t continue without defining what human reading is.
For those of you who are experienced bloggers (as I know you are, because you use CoSchedule :P), you’ll know that YOAST provides another section that helps you to analyse your post, and see if it scores well in the human’s eye too.
This section is called the Readability Section.
Again, access your Yoast Analyzer in your Edit Posts page, then click on Readability.
You should see the Analyzer display a completely different set of information on your post.
Again, the colors green, orange and red mean the same thing as I’ve mentioned above.
Understanding the Different Factors that Make Up Human-Friendly Words
In the next section of our post, we're going to take a look at the different factors that give us an understanding of how to write persuasively toward human readers.
But before we proceed, let's take a look at the objectives of writing for humans:
- We want readers to subscribe
- We want to persuade readers to take a specific action
- Readers of our content have to be convinced that the content has value
- They have to find that the information on the blog post is easy to consume
Now that we've defined the objectives of writing for humans, let's see what Yoast gives us.
Step 1: Subheadings
Do you like to read chunks of messages that are lumped together?
I didn’t think so.
That’s where subheadings come in handy.
Subheadings are headings other than the H1 tag in your blog post:
Generally, you’d want to make sure that you follow these steps when you write content on your blog:
- Have a subheading every 300 words
- Include your focus keyword in your subheadings - this keeps things on track for the reader too
- Include only 1 H1 in your content
Step 2: Write Sentences No More Than 20 Words Long
This should be a no-brainer too.
Generally speaking, when you write sentences that are short and concise, it's easier to read your content.
Step 3: The Reading Test
Recently, I started seeing plenty of bloggers and writers trying too hard to write like the “big boys”, where they staff a ton of technical jargon and hard to understand sentences into their posts.
While it's important to show that you know your stuff, it can hurt readability in the Long run, and lose you more readers than you would otherwise.
For example, this post could have been explained using terms like canonical keywords, technical on-audits, and so on, but I deliberately chose to right in a simple way.
But why? Shouldn't we write to impress?
No. You should instead write to achieve your blogging goals, which most of the time means getting new subscribers to your website.
Think about it this way.
How are you supposed to convince new visitors on your site, sign up for your newsletter when they don't have a clue what you're talking about?
For that reason, I always make it a point to write in a way that even a high school kid will be able to understand.
As a rule of thumb, you should always assume the majority of your readers are total beginners.
In fact, Copyblogger did a case study, and they found out the number of beginners visiting their site was a staggering 80%, while advanced users were at 20%.
How much traffic did you just lose?
In fact, total beginners are the people who are trying to search for information the most, and the most desperate for a solution.
If you can put across a concept or technique easily, in a way that is able to relate to that pain point, why won't they subscribe to you?
Step 4: Paragraph Length
With the attention span of a reader significantly reducing, it becomes harder and harder for marketers and content creators to maintain the level of attention to the words that we are saying.
This means that any small mistake with the formatting of your content will turn off your readers, and significantly increase your bounce rate.
And when it comes to keeping the attention of your readers, one of the most important aspects of overall readability of your content is the length of your paragraphs.
Why is it so important to have paragraphs done right? Because the length of your paragraph creates an overall look and feel of your content.
Which would you rather choose to read?
Chances are, you’d choose the one on the right.
Step 5: Transition Words/Phrases
Transition words are words that help to guide readers along your content. They make reading your content easier, in short.
When you write blog posts, especially blog posts that are actionable in nature, you’d want to use words like these:
Step 6: Passive Voice
If you take away one piece of advice today from this post, and it'd be to never write in a passive voice.
I say this again. Never write in a passive voice.
But, what exactly is passive voice?
I'll give you an example. Say for example we are writing a simple sentence describing an elephant in a forest.
Can you guess which voice is passive, and which is not?
“The elephant went through the forest and came out a teddy bear”
“An elephant is the best companion that you can have when you go to the forest, because it’ll become a teddy bear”
The first one is the passive voice.
Passive voice makes your content dull, monotonous, and irritating to read, because the reader is not a part of the action.
This keeps his content engaging, and is the main reason why readers read to the last sentence.
Four Additional Tips
So… the key idea is to follow whatever Yoast tells us, and we’ll be alright, right?
Well, not quite. You see, much as Yoast is a great plugin, it can only do so much by analyzing our text.
The truth is, there are many other ways that you can improve your content, so that both search engines and your readers will love it.
Since there are an endless number of ways that you can go about doing it (maybe I should come up with a blog post about it in the future), I’ll just list down four simple steps in this post that you can take additionally to improve your content.
Additional Tip 1: Write Powerful Headlines
As the famous saying goes, out of 10 people who chance upon your post, 80% of them click through into your article because of your headline.
And, from my five years of writing content, and being a content marketer, I can vouch for this personally.
Headlines are to blogging as what headlines are to newspapers: if it doesn't attract or intrigue me, I'm not buying it!
Of course, there are famous examples of how you can go about writing headlines for your blog post.
For example, Upworthy’s famous editorial guidelines require their writers to come up with at least 25 headlines, before they decide which one to choose for their posts.
Fortunately, there is a better way that you can go about doing it.
With Coschedule’s headline analyzer, it's quite easy to come up with a set of powerful headlines that you can use for your blog posts.
Firstly, go to the headline analyzer, and then copy and paste your post title into the search bar like so:
Next, click on the Analyze now button, and the tool will analyze your headline, to churn out a report that looks like this:
For more in-depth help about how you can use the headline anlayzer, you can check out Coschedule’s own write up here.
After analysing contents of your headlines, it’s important to make the tweaks in your headline, so that it scores a higher and better rating by the tool.
For example, in my own title, I need to place some more uncommon words, as well as power words to make my title more compelling and intriguing.
Additional Tip 2: Use Power Words
Another method that you can use to improve your writing to appeal to both search engines and humans is by using trigger words, or power words, as CoSchedule calls it.
Trigger words and power words are strongly emotive language and selective words that trigger the emotional hot button of readers.
Some examples of power words might include something like:
You can use power words in both your headlines, as well as within your content.
By using power words in your content, you are essentially scaling the effectiveness of your content and its appeal towards your readers, while at the same time not affecting your SEO.
Additional Tip 3: Improving Your Overall User Experience
A point that I seldom see other bloggers talking about, but can hugely improve your overall searchability and reader experience is by improving the overall site design and layout.
I can’t remember how many times my readers and new visitors have complimented me on the design and layout of my site (I should be a web developer instead), but it goes to show the importance of having a memorable web experience.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of a website is your choice of color.
When it comes to choosing a color for your website, you’d want to keep it relevant to your main topic.
Relevant to what, you ask?
Well, here are just some things that your color has to be relevant to:
- The emotion that you want your readers to feel when they see your brand
- The age and type of readers your site attracts
For example, there’s a very good reason why most, if not all social media websites have the same color choice of blue.
It's not because they like the color blue, but because the color blue represents friendliness, approachable, and in general, is associated with being social.
That being said, you can follow these steps to choose a color for your site:
- Go to a color meaning site like Color Wheel Pro
- Choose a set of emotions that you want your readers to feel when they interact with your brand
- Choose the right color for your site based on the color that has the same meaning, or has a meaning that is closely related to the emotion that you want to portray
For example, I want my site to look friendly, but at the same time, smart.
That’s why I eventually chose the color orange, because the meaning of the color is this:
Next, you’d want to pay close attention to the layout of your site.
A sitemap is basically a file on your website, that helps search engines to understand where everything is, and how your site is structured.
Simply put, when you arrange your site in a way that is structured well, your sitemap flows well, and your website will be arranged in a logical, and more categorised way.
This also means that search engines can better understand your website and how it flows, thereby increasing your rankings as a result.
Refine Your Customer Experience Journey
At the end of the day, when you are deciding on a design for your website, you’d want to keep in mind the overall customer experience journey, that is, the collection of experiences that your customer has when they interact with your brand overall.
Additional Tip 4: Post Consistently
This might be a no-brainer, but you might be surprised that most of us don't pay much attention to the consistency that we post our content.
However, keeping a consistent schedule on the content that we release serves two purposes:
1. It allows search engines to be alerted about new content on your site, crawl your site, and thereby giving you higher rankings as a result because of fresh information
2. It builds a certain level of expectation and trust in your brand with your readers, thereby increasing the effectiveness of content marketing for your site
But, if you’re paying attention, you’d know that that is not the real question.
The real question is: How often should you post content?
As a general rule of thumb, I always advise my clients who are new to contnt marketing to post roughly two to three times per week, though if you can write a 4000 word blog post in one hour like I can, you can take it up a notch and post content every single day.
Coschedule also conducted an extensive case study on the number of times that you should blog, which I find to be quite informative and useful. You can find it here.
Bringing It All Together
At the end of the day, it's quite easy to see that it is extremely possible to create content that both search engines and humans love.
It just takes a little bit of extra effort, as well as a little bit of tact for you to create content that both convert and ranks highly.
Did you find this post useful? If so, comment in the section down below so that I know!
What other methods of writing content for both search engines and humans did I miss out?
I read every comment.