When developing content creation, many site owners have a hard time understanding whether they need to focus on search engines or users. While the answer is obviously nuanced, a person-first approach—understanding searcher intent and building content with a user in mind—is the best way to satisfy search engines and rank higher in the SERPs.
Tactics for Developing User-Focused Content
Ron Lieback, a digital marketing industry expert with over a decade of experience ghostwriting for C-level executives, writes in Search Engine Journal that the importance of marrying user-focused writing with SEO-optimized content is due to the “Online engagement ladder.” This ladder illustrates the steps an online user takes from entering a search query to eventually engaging with content or a product.
By optimizing your content to rank higher for specific keywords, you position your work to be more visible to audiences.
Once you’ve increased your content’s visibility, it’s up to the quality of your content and the value it provides to keep your site ranking high. There are a few tactics you can use to provide content that is well-optimized for search engines as well as valuable to actual humans.
Keyword research is the ground floor of successful content creation. There are two common pitfalls when it comes to keyword research: not doing enough (or any) research, and alternatively, focusing too much on your keyword research.
Properly optimized keywords signify to search engines that your page can provide information to users searching these common words and phrases. By skipping this step, content or pages lacking in keyword research immediately place themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors. By capitalizing on keyword trends related to your product or piece, or site, you can take the first step in driving organic online traffic toward it.
On the other side, content that is overly focused on hitting keywords can fall prey to “keyword stuffing” and other spammy-looking practices. As the Google algorithm gets more sophisticated, it’s important to remember that your content must appeal to a human audience.
Healthy SEO growth comes from an organic blend of understanding your target audience’s questions and needs and providing them with genuine solutions.
Optimized Title Tags and Headers
While this one may seem small, optimizing your title tags and headers is incredibly important in a world with diminishing attention spans. By effectively optimizing these parts of your page or content, you both signal to search engines what your article is about and provide an opportunity for users to quickly scan your page for the information they need.
For SEO, it’s important to implement your keyword research early on and do your best to include your keyword in your title tag. For the humans engaging with your content or page, be sure to provide clear and engaging titles and headers.
Understand Searcher Intent
Keyword research and search intent go hand and hand to a certain degree. Search intent can almost be seen as an extension or deepening of how we understand keywords. User search intent refers to the actual reason that people are entering specific keywords in search queries, and can be broken down into 3 different categories.
Informational Search Intent
Informational searches result from simply that; a desire for more information. People who search with informational intent are seeking answers, expanding their knowledge, and looking to learn more about a topic, product, or service.
In terms of customer bases, these are people who aren’t sure exactly what they’re looking for yet or haven’t decided on a brand or company.
You should ensure that pages ranking for informational keywords show strong authority, provide high value, and display cohesive branding practices, as this is an important opportunity to convert future customers. These searches describe an early step in the search process.
Navigational Search Intent
Navigational search intent, also known as comparative search intent, results from users who are comparing two different products or sources of information. These customers have an idea of what they’re looking for or who they’d like to purchase from, and they’re trying to learn more about what is the best option for them.
Transactional Search Intent
Transactional search inquiries come from those who are deep in the decision-making process, and ready to commit to a decision or purchase. This is where it’s important to make sure that product pages are keyword optimized so that Google’s algorithm is encouraged to place your product or service in front of the people who are looking to purchase it.
Don’t Ignore Long Tail Keywords
While everyone wants to rank for those coveted and snappy one to two-word keyphrases, long-tail keywords are an often overlooked opportunity to rank highly and drive traffic.
As humans become more conversational in the way they talk to search engines, the algorithms that determine what ranks learn to value these longer phrases. Many long tail keywords have a lower search volume, but the specificity of these searches results in higher actual conversions.
Meta Descriptions Matter
While keyword optimization can start initial rankings in the SERPs and quality content that provides value will keep you there, what about the middle step? How do you hook readers or customers that come across your site on a results page and convince them to click through to your page?
This is where meta descriptions come in. Meta descriptions are the short blurbs you see on search engine pages that are used to communicate the intent or topic of a specific page to users.
While Google has gone on record as saying they don’t take meta descriptions or tags into account for SEO ranking, they are still an important part of signifying to consumers that your page has the information they are looking for. By properly optimizing them around your keywords and user intent, you can boost the traffic to your page.
Keep Internal Linking Structure In Mind
Internal linking supports user-focused content in a number of ways. It provides value to audience members who are navigating your site. By internally linking in meaningful ways you provide an easy and informative way for them to follow knowledge pathways on your site. Internal linking also supports assistive technology. Those who use screen readers often use links on a page as anchors to move through content, and it can provide an easy route to the next piece of content or step of a sales funnel that they may be looking for. Internal linking is an important opportunity to demonstrate quality SEO practices while showing site users that you have even more value and authority to provide.
Creating a Content Strategy Focused on Search Intent
Your content strategy should include all the previously mentioned tactics, and then some! Start by implementing strong keyword research. Make a list of all keywords you rank for, have the potential to rank for, and any related keywords that your competitors might be ranking for as well. Plan your content strategy, topics, or projects accordingly around these keywords, and don’t forget to focus on user intent while doing so. This is a good time to begin coming up with topics, creating outlines, and brainstorming engaging titles and headers.
Write for Humans
Once you’ve done the initial research and planning stage, the next step is to write and write well. Set aside the part of you that wants to hyper-focus on making sure you hit your main keyword x amount of times, and write for the humans that you hope to engage. Take your time, be thoughtful, provide value, and edit gratuitously. Take advantage of the many grammar and plagiarism checker tools available online to troubleshoot your writing.
Signify Authority to People and Search Engines
There are a few extra steps you can take to demonstrate your expertise and situate yourself as an authority in your niche.
- Pay attention to external linking as much as internal links. Provide statistics and high authority sources wherever possible.
- Ensure your article is educational and informative.
- Write a byline and include it in your pieces.
How Google Responds to User-Focused Content
Google’s algorithms are getting smarter every day, and its ability to prioritize the information and services that real people are searching for is growing as well. Ultimately, Google is learning to rank content that is both good quality and helpful to users.
For those wondering how Google determines what is and isn’t quality content, they provide their search quality evaluation guide, which breaks down some of the most important aspects of these guidelines to be the following:
- Content must provide a purpose.
- Authors should display authority, expertise, and knowledge.
- Content should be well-written, in-depth, and thoroughly researched.
- Site owners should work to build a strong reputation through the above steps.
Most importantly, the content must be relevant, and answer the question posed by the search user intent. Above all else, relevancy and value are the most important things that those creating content and selling products or services online can provide to both Google and their site audience.
Great content comes from being able to utilize the SEO tools available and blend that information with quality, person-first writing. By doing your research to understand the intent behind your audience’s searches, and providing valuable, well-written information in return, you can create a content strategy that is sure to help your site rank well.