Are You Writing for Search Engines … or for People?

Oh, dear, it’s happened again.

I just got another inquiry from a marketer who wants a guarantee that our services will catapult his website search traffic into the stratosphere.

Hey, I get it. I really do. Search engine optimization (SEO) is important. If people in our target audience are going to find us, we need traffic. We need eyeballs on our websites.

And yes, good content will drive traffic to your site.

But you know what can also drive traffic? Bad content. Content that’s written for the Googlebot instead of for your future customers. Content that will get those traffic numbers up … but that will have visitors hitting the Back button faster than J.J. Watt can smack down a pass.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

SEO will drive visitors to your website … but only quality content will keep them there.

So, yes, we need to keep the Google gods fed with the keywords they crave, but more importantly, we need to engage and appeal to the visitors they bring us. How can we do that?

Start a Conversation

Nothing turns visitors off faster than a site that’s written in a stilted, “capital-P-professional” tone. We expect that from textbooks, not from human beings who say they can solve our problems.

No matter what product or service you sell, you can’t go wrong with a friendly, conversational tone. Write the way you would speak to people in your target audience. If you bend a grammar rule here or there in the name of audience-focused content (within reason), it’s OK.

If you have a hard time with this, grab your smartphone, fire up the voice recorder, and start talking about how you solve customers’ problems, just as you would at a dinner party. Then play it back and use it as a foundation for your newly conversational website content.

Keep It Simple

You may have heard me tell a certain story from the early days of my job as a copywriter for a large Houston advertising agency. I waltzed in with my master’s degree from Columbia, and dangit, everything I wrote was going to show it: words you haven’t seen since the SAT, sentences you’d need a diagram to follow, you name it.

My first piece of writing came back from my editor a bloody mess. And I’ll never forget the words she’d scrawled in the margin: Dammit, nobody cares how smart you are.

She was absolutely right. We’re not writing to impress — we’re writing to connect. So keep it simple. Streamline your message down to its very essence, then drive it home.

Write for Online Readers

Reading online content is a very different experience from reading print. While we might approach a brochure as we would a book — start at the beginning and read through to the end — when it comes to websites, we tend to scan.

(By the way, this is one reason why copy-pasting your brochure content onto your website is such a terrible idea.)

In addition to writing conversationally and keeping your message simple, keep these online writing tips in mind:

  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Insert a subhead every 2-3 paragraphs.
  • Use bullet lists wherever possible.
  • Bold key words and phrases.

YOUR TURN: How does your team keep people at the center of your content? Tell us about it in the Comments. We’d love to hear from you!