How to Find the Balance: Writing for Robots and Humans

If you want to get the most out of your content marketing efforts, you need to optimize your content for search engines, choosing target keywords and producing qualities that search engine crawlers deem authoritative. However, you also need to write content that’s appealing to your target audience, so they think more highly of your brand and are more likely to buy your products.

Ultimately, that introduces a dilemma: to be an effective modern content marketer, you need to write for search bots and for human beings simultaneously. Both sides of this equation have distinct goals, with human audiences favoring appealing, easy-to-read, and informative content and search bots favoring targeted, information-dense, clean content.

So how can you find the balance?

Prioritize Headlines

Don’t underestimate the power of headlines, for people or for search engines. Your headline is the first thing your readers will see, and will often determine whether they click through to read the rest of the article or whether they ignore it. It’s also the first and most important area that search engines evaluate when trying to figure out an article’s main subject. The words you choose here will ultimately matter more to your strategy than all the words in the body of your article, so spend more time crafting the perfect headline; you’ll want something that includes the keywords you intend to target, but also captures the interest of your target demographics.

Segment Articles by Main Intent

Instead of trying to write all your articles for both human readers and search bots, you could segment your strategy by using different articles for different targets. For example, you could write most of your important conceptual pieces to target human readers specifically, while writing a separate slew of ongoing articles to cater to searches.

Use Different Sections to Accomplish Different Goals

According to recent data, search engines pay more attention to words and phrases that appear near the beginning of an article, and those that exist in sub-headlines and section headers. Knowing that different sections of content are prioritized differently allows you to spend your efforts intelligently; for example, you can optimize your section headers and the introduction of your article primarily for search engines, and use the rest of your article to focus on human readers.

Ignore Keyword Density

Keyword density was a popular, arguably necessary concept before the Panda update of 2011. The idea was that the number of keywords in your article would have a direct effect on the article’s propensity to appear for searches including that keyword—up to a point. Keyword stuffing, the practice of overloading an article will keywords, could end up penalizing your site. Instead, marketers would aim to include keywords as a certain percentage of the total written content of an article, such as 3 to 5 percent. Today, this rule is obsolete; it’s much better to write using natural semantics, both for search engines and for human beings. Include your target keywords in your headlines, and maybe once or twice in the body, but don’t try to artificially include your keywords more often than necessary.

Create Original Data

Though paying attention to keywords and formatting can help your content rank, the most powerful thing your content can bring your site is inbound links, which pass authority to your domain and make it more likely to rank for a variety of different keywords. These links aren’t easily earned, however; in addition to offering well-written content on a practical topic, you also need to offer something original, such as new data points or fresh research. Dense, detailed articles presenting some kind of new information tend to be the ones that attract the most links, so consider emphasizing original research in your content moving forward.

Write as Concisely as Possible

Finally, you’ll want to write as concisely as possible, both for search engines and for human readers. People don’t want to read any more content than they have to, and search engine bots will lower the quality rating of pages that seem to have lots of text but no real valuable content.

When in Doubt, Write for Humans

The strategies listed in this article are helpful for making the most of your search engine optimization tactics while still catering to your human readers. However, if you come to a crossroads and feel like you can’t do both at the same time, it’s always better to favor your human readers. Trying to exploit search engines almost always comes with negative repercussions, whether that means facing lower rankings or alienating your human visitors. Focusing too much on human readers, on the other hand, rarely comes with repercussions; even if your piece isn’t perfectly optimized, its quality and popularity will help it succeed.