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SEO - Writing for humans, not robots

by  David Dwyer on  13/12/2013

Never lose sight of who you're copy is written for (It's Not Google!)

Effective web copy should be written for humans, not robots. 
You’d think the truth of that sentence would be obvious, but it’s not. Ever since algorithms started taking over our lives – and being ‘found’ on the web began to mean the difference between life and death for a business – marketers and techies have debated the best way to write copy for the web. The increasing popularity of ‘content marketing’ – adding blogs or other extended bits of writing to your site to you give you both more authority as well as ‘findability’ through Google searches – has complicated things further.
For the past few years, writing to please the algorithms – the complicated formulas used by Google to find and rank websites – seemed to be winning the battle. SEO (search-engine optimization) was relatively easy. Understand what Google was looking for, write according to those rules, get lots of outside links to your site, shoe-horn in the necessary number of keywords – but no more – and you’d be sure to float to the top of the results returned by the search engines.  
The problem is, some web copywriters and publishers abused the rules – so now Google keeps changing them. They updated their algorithms at least a dozen times in 2013 alone. By my count there were at least two updates to Panda, the algorithm introduced in 2011 to weed out low-quality sites from the rankings; it aimed to do this by focusing on a website as a whole, rather than just as a group of individual pages. To ensure a ‘human’ touch in what is actually an automated process, Google created Panda from the experiences and impressions of human visitors to real webpages.   
This year Google also made two updates to Penguin, the algorithm first announced in April 2012. This one was designed to penalize dodgy ‘black hat’ practices some site owners used to shimmy themselves up the rankings, like the overuse of keywords and the encouraging of lots of irrelevant, often paid, links.   
And just to keep us on our toes, in September Google launched a whole new algorithm called Hummingbird. Confusingly, it also incorporates elements of both Penguin and Panda.
It’s fair enough that Google wants to level the SEO playing field by discouraging people from gaming the system. Indulging in Internet dark arts now not only means your site won’t benefit from your cleverness – it’ll also be penalised and shoved further down into the no-man’s land of Google rankings (ie, anything past the first page, unless it is top of Position 1 on Page 2 bizarrely). The problem is that a lot of innocent websites get affected by algorithm changes too, seeing their rankings plummet literally overnight. 
Google usually updates by stealth, giving no warning or guidelines on the new rules; it often doesn’t even confirm it has made an update until well after the fact. Also making things more complicated in SEO-land is the fact that the search-engine giant has also now made all searches secure, so site owners can’t learn which of the keywords they’ve been using have been successful in leading customers to their websites. Is that anything to do with Google trying to drive website owners to purchase information from their Google Adwords service, I wonder? 
Even innovations that have clear benefits for businesses, like Google Authorship, have potential downsides. It’s great for those business owners who take the time to link all their copy together through a Google+ account, but will those who don’t suddenly find themselves invisible?
So what do you do? Act natural. Or to put it another way, write to be useful.  Write your copy for your readers and customers – not for the robots that weave their way through websites doing the search engines’ dirty work. After all, it won’t be the robots who’ll be wondering whether to book a meal at your restaurant or buy their new sofa from your shop – it’ll be the real people reading your website. Give your readers interesting stuff to read, help them solve their problems, give them answers to their questions and you won’t go wrong.
Use keywords when you can, but don’t go crazy. Robots might like to read text that’s no more than a bunch of keywords joined together, but real people don’t. Make your copy interesting, natural and relevant. And if writing for humans or for robots isn’t your thing, Inspire can help. 
We've always offered a professional copywriting service for jobs of all sizes, from refreshing a few bits of tired, old copy to creating every paragraph for a new site from scratch. Our copywriter is also an experienced content marketer, so if you’d like to add blogs to your site but don’t have the time to write them yourself, contact Inspire for help and advice – for humans, from humans. 
David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David’s academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society.
Content Management, Customer Experience, CX, Digital Trends, Inspire Web Services, Keywords, Search Engine Optimisation, Search Engine Optimisation (Web Copy), The Evolving Web, Website Content, Website Copywriting, Website Management, XML Sitemaps
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