In 2006, I had a boss who would call monthly meetings with the communications staff and every agenda included a 15-minute segment on how we could become better storytellers. My background included more traditional marketing and advertising (radio and TV commercials, ads with grabber headlines and engaging body copy) but was now working for the organization’s digital/online division. The online world then was stuffed with keywords on top of keywords, and I couldn’t help but think how outdated the VP’s “storytelling” tips were at that time. My job had forced me to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid on what copywriting (aka content writing) was in the mid-2000s. As much as I thought then that storytelling—writing engaging copy for humans instead of bots—was in the rear-view mirror, it appears that writing for people has made a comeback of sorts. Some say, it never really left; it just morphed.
Keyword stuffing had its 15 minutes of fame and, thankfully, that time has come and gone. No more variants on plural phrases of singular terms and vice-versa. No more writing that makes you hate the English language. This style of writing for SEO is dead:
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Also gone are jamming keywords into tags, domains, and subdomains. Ironically, as recently as 2015, many major marketing publications’ cover stories touted how digital disruption and sophisticated algorithms would change copywriting as we know it…forever. In some ways this is true. But in the last months of 2018 it appears that writing to engage audiences by their intent, needs, and interests—without an overabundance of keywords—has made a triumphant return. SEO content is seeing a resurgence of storytelling. Still, the process has evolved as have the search engines we still bow to.
But let’s be clear…
Do we still want to write in a way that gets our site picked up by SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)? Absolutely!
Know that search has grown up a lot. Search engines are more sophisticated now and respond more like humans than ever before, understanding content contextually, not just keywords and phrases. Google now evaluates what the searcher’s intent may be when displaying SERPs. However, you still want to include—not stuff—keywords in your body content and your title element. Obviously, search engines still crawl for the terms, but do this also because searchers will click on a page when they see your title has the term they searched.
So then, what writing chops should we hone now to engage people, and at the same time, keep the algorithm gods happy?
Here are 10 essential pointers designed to help put your writing for SEO back on track with today’s standards.
- Writing without a story to tell is just typing – Again, the digital space is maturing at an exciting rate. Every day, your virtual blank page awaits. You can fill it with keystrokes or you can leverage it to tell a story, make someone new take notice and maybe become your next client or customer. At the very least you have a chance to get into their head for a few minutes with what you’ve written, and if it’s valuable you’ve then planted a seed to nurture. Think of how unique an accomplishment this is!
- Forget about what you want, or what your boss wants you to want – When drafting copy don’t let the pressure of internal meeting speak about sales goals and quarterly projections influence your voice – your audience doesn’t care. Instead you need to put yourself in your audience’s shoes—figure out what they want, and craft copy that appeals to that need. Indirectly, it will still do its part for your sales funnel and be a win-win!
- Think about how much content you are willing to read – Give thought to how much time you’re willing to invest reading something online – not because you have to, because you WANT to. Then, consider the mobile screen to help you refine the length of your copy. So much content is presented in mobile-first environments you must consider how your content will fair in this space.
- SEO-strong blog posts -- When writing blog posts, be sure to include links to other relevant blog posts from your organization to increase the amount of time spent on your website. This also allows the visitor to learn more about your thought leadership and hopefully helps build a stronger bond with your organization. For instance, in addition to SEO you might also want to assess your website’s accessibility compliance with WCAG 2.1. Maybe it’s also a good idea to establish a content governance plan to keep your site relevant longer.
- Writing for SEO isn’t just about web content and blog posts – It may also involve scripting video. Be ready to tell your brand’s story in 15-seconds. And remember video captioning—your transcripts and your own uploaded captioning—get crawled by Google. So, you are indeed writing for SEO when you write for video.
- We are in the age of SKIM – Use infographics or quick bulleted copy to get your message across. This will also help you keep your content shorter and sweeter.
- The truth will set you free -- Be authentic, get personal with your audience and write in a way that resonates with them.
- Be a thought leader and a thoughtful leader – Especially on social channels, use proprietary content to show how you set yourself and/or your organization apart but also leverage curated content to incite thought and keep conversational fires burning. Keep your referring links relevant and strong.
- Answer the burning questions – Another way to increase your search relevance and pop up near the top on search is to know what the most popular questions are about a topic relating to your brand, industry, or service. Answer these key questions through your web content. Google populates a series of “People also ask” questions when someone searches, and attributes answers to various websitesEven if your web content isn’t attributed it’s still a good practice to know the burning questions out there and supply succinct answers for visitors on your site.
- ABW (Always Be Writing) – It would be great if the red “easy button” in content marketing existed. You would write one silver bullet blog post and the leads would come pouring in. If that was the case, your organization wouldn’t need you. Develop an editorial calendar for social channels, blog posts, and web content and schedule near-and-mid-term as well as long-term writing assignments that cater to your audiences and frequently reacquaint them with your organization. Remind them how you can solve their problems, answer their questions, and make a portion of their life better.
Even if you apply just a few of these practices to start with or keep the list nearby and check in with it periodically, you will not only improve your digital storytelling but you'll also...
- improve the stickiness of your writing
- build brand affinity
- strengthen trust with your audiences
- create longer website engagement
You’ll be giving the search engines more of what they’re hungry for today and improve your site’s SEO.
I’d love to hear how you are adapting to changes in SEO. Let me know what you're doing to maintain success. What SEO areas are you finding difficult? Shoot me an email to discuss this blog post or to learn more about adding SAI Digital's services as an extension of your team. I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.