Human Optimized Content

by Meaghan Olson May 19th, 2010 

I recently asked a creative director friend about his thoughts on SEO.

I must share his response verbatim: SEO copy is clogging computer screens. It pisses everyone off when SEOs fill the world with words of infinitesimal value that add nothing to the greater good.

Strong opinion, but fair enough. There is a lot of damp content out there written in the name of SEO.

The Dead Web

broken_typewriter copy by wvs

Much of the web contains content created by fingers for robots rather than by brains for people.

I imagine a factory of thousands of apathetic fingers stomping out content at 70 wpm just to create pounds of fresh content to help SEO.

The result is a vast majority of the web that no one cares about.

Old School, Keyword Heavy SEO is Out

Keyword Stuffing, 2008 Style by DBarefoot

A common corporate SEO approach involves contracting writers at low rates to pump out keyword-heavy content.

Man, thats so first-decade SEO.

The idea behind this approach is to keep websites fresh with new copy, which is a good; however, this keyword-stuffed dribble is likely hurting their SEO.

Theyre likely damaging their SEO (and conversions) because theyre weighing the site down with garbage that no ones reading, clicking through, linking to, or sharing with their friends. And search engines are noticing that.

Companies often see a better ROI when hire a trained writer or a clever PR/marketing firm to develop two or three well-crafted messages a week, rather than paying a keyword stuffer to produce ten pages of dull content for the same period.

Evolved SEO is HOC

Cats have been cultivating and hypnotizing humans for thousands of years. by Jomama1152

Its time to stop worrying about tweaking content for search engines and instead focus on writing HOC, human optimized content.

Search engines will reward us if we offer the world intelligent content.

We need to stop worrying about how many times a keyword is mentioned and how often we post new content to our sites. We should put our energies (and funds) toward publishing meaningful copy that people want to interact with.

Worry about the search engines by making sure your content is link worthy and your site has a strong SEO foundation (back-end and architectural).

Search Bots Getting Smarter, Time for HOC is Now

Henry David Thoreau quote - Library Way - NY City by ktylerconk

Search bots are now better equipped to determine content value. As they continue to evolve, theyll advance even further in determining whether copy is relevant to human searchers.

Fresh content is still needed, but its not worth paying someone to write 600-word, keyword-cluttered nonsense.

Search engines are signaling that theyre devaluing stagnant copy (just look at the new features in Google Webmaster Tools). I've noticed the content that gets "used" the most (it circles the social world, gets clicks, people spend time on the page, etc.) ranks better–and that's likely because it naturally attracts genuine links.

These bots are also getting better at identifying paid links. Soon, instead of faking it by publishing bland keyword copy and buying links, every web owner will have to gain links the old-fashioned way: by producing interesting content.

But isnt that the most exciting part of the SEO job, anyway?

So, what types of HOC content do you create to earn eyeballs and links?

Please note the opinions in this blog post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.

Meaghan Olson

Meaghan Olson is a writer and digital marketer living in Chicago. She's a believer in the power of words – and in the technology that makes those words matter. Meaghan is the Digital Marketing Director at SEM Visibility and GroceryCouponNetwork.com. On the weekends, you can find her in section 157 at U.S. Cellular Field cheering for the White Sox.

Dog Psycho.

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15 Responses to “Human Optimized Content”

  1. K says:

    What does it help if your page is human optimized, but no human ever sees it, as the site languishes at page 13 of Google search results?

    • Hagbard Celine says:

      Google is only one of many ways to get yourself heard. You shouldn't judge your worth by the number of Google's results before you.

      This is exactly what the article is about: SEO is not keywords, not SERP, not "a little optimization". SEO is making people happy (online).

      SEO means being profoundly original, rather than trying to outoptimize thousands in the same affiliate scheme.

      What do you prefer: small talk or actually doing something?

  2. Interesting post, with some valid points, but (as so often happens with this conversation) it postulates a false dichotomy. Namely that there's "SEO writing" and "human optimized content," and that somehow the two exist in mutually exclusive spectra. (The notion of "HOC" itself illicted a smile, because – actual machine-generated content notwithstanding – it's still humans that generate "SEO Writing.")

    I would say instead that there's good writing, bad writing and a range of writing qualities in between. And on both ends of the spectrum this writing can be well or poorly optimized for search. Fundamentally, the degree to which a piece of writing supports organic search rankings is, well, a question of degree.

    Keyword stuffing? Bad. Writing a post or an article without considering the implications for search. Also bad, but from a business perspective, for failing to maximize the potential reach of that piece of content – which it is perfectly easy to do without compromising the value of that writing for human readers.

    I would also add that making keyword choices for SEO is, at the end of the day, grounded in what people want and appreciate. Knowing how searchers conceive of and frame the world, from a semantic perspective, provides quite a lot of insight into what they value and how they articulate concepts.

    In summary sure, no-one wants insipid keyword-stuffed content (including, increasingly search engines) – but the alternative not simply to disavow SEO. SEO considerations should be part of an online copywriter's compositional toolkit.

  3. Meaghan Olson says:

    Great points, Aaron. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment and I think we may agree with each other. I believe it's necessary to have a solid SEO foundation before "growing" well-written content. I should have done a better job of explaining that in the post.

    I was focusing more on the intent and focus of the writing itself. However, we still absolutely need to ensure pages are accessible and trigger search engines. The content must also be in tune with the site's internal link strategy and it needs to have general SEO considerations, such as relevant headers, title tags, alt text, etc.

    Once a site/page’s SEO foundation is established, it's time to provide rich content that people will not only read, but share with their social networks. Most "white hat" SEOs practice that now; however, as we know, there's a lot of outdated/uninformed SEO advice floating around that companies pick up.

    Companies looking for a "quick and easy" route to the top of search results (ha, ha) have taken the poor advice of paying a few dollars for 7+ keyword stuffed pages/week and calling that an SEO strategy.

    That may have worked to an extent years ago, but when I see it still being practiced, I want to yell from the rooftops that search has evolved and they’re wasting their money. Content that is read (aka people staying on the page longer), clicked through, shared among networks, commented on, and ultimately linked to, is much more valuable than updating a site everyday with cheap dribble.

  4. The SEO writing is dead mantra has been around for a long time, and sadly, those that profess it are often operating under poor assumptions, such as, SEO is full of scam artists, or a poor understanding of what SEO actually is.

  5. edith naaman says:

    hi Meaghan,
    Before all, I want to say I liked the post very much. In fact, I found it on my PC as I walked in from my morning walk, where I discussed this very subject with my walking partner.
    Main problem seems to be the payment issue. For some reason, writing – no matter what or how – doesn't pay-off as it used to, in this net environment, where everyone is encouraged to become a blog writer, an electronic book creator, tips and FAQs provider… in short, we became a world of Falkner-wanna-be's, and proffessional writers are being pushed to the corner.
    That's at least how I see it here, in Israel, which is a small market, with great expectations!
    However, regardless of quality, capability and proffessional integrity, there is something else, that kills SEO as it used to be: social networks. Social networks, given an extra power with Google's new algorithm, changed the game, evolvung the need to talk to and attract real people, as well as creat meaningful presence, rather than feed bots with keywords.
    I loved your HOC opption, as I too feel this is the change that's happaning right infront of our eyes, a change I personally like, because at the end of the line – SEO is about commercial visibility and effectiveness. It is people that we do business with, there for it is people that we need to talk to, influence, convince and sell to. So we might as well talk to them in the first place (Yet, make it clear what we talk about)!

    Edith

  6. Write your content for your human reader, first and always. Lightly optimizing with a keyword is fine in moderation.

    Because whoever writes content should keep this in mind:

    "When was the last time a search engine bought your product or service?"

    Great article; thanks!

  7. I totally agree with the premise of this post. However, you still need to write for SEO, ensuring to use the keyword at a minimum in the title. I am an English major and I wish it weren't so because writing for SEO thwarts a bit of creativity. While junk sites are being weeded out, I believe that you still need to write SEO'd copy, just not to the degree that many SEO folks say.
    .-= Richard Cummings recently posted: How To Redirect Web Image Results To Web Page =-.

  8. Josh says:

    I have to agree with Aaron on the false dichotomy aspect — and it's a common myth: I think I've left this comment on three blogs in the past two weeks.

    Humans go to search engines and they type something in the search box. Search engines know what they click on, and they know when they click on multiple sites on a search — the last result they click on is going to be what they were looking for most of the time.

    So search engines do factor in the human angle. Sites that are stuffed with crap content may briefly rise to the top, but they're knocked off quickly by good content.

    What you have to optimize for is the way humans search. If you write about "CO2" but people are searching for "carbon dioxide," you can be creating top-notch content and no one would ever find you via a search engine, because you never actually use the phrase they're looking for.

    It's a matter of writing for humans, and also of figuring out how humans are going to find you.
    .-= Josh recently posted: What is the involvement fair? =-.

  9. Meaghan Olson says:

    I’m thrilled we're having these conversations! Thanks, everyone.

    ‘SEO writing is dead’ is not a new idea, but it’s more relevant because of the drastic developments in search. Over the last few years, social networking has shifted the search winds (instead of search engines relying heavily on technical cues to determine the value of a page, they’re increasingly looking to people for value indicators).

    In addition, search bots are better equipped to weigh the value of a link (and they’re leaning toward editorial links), they’re more closely examining click-through rates, and they’re paying more attention to how long a person spends on a page, among other factors.

    I believe in SEO, but I don’t believe in getting to the top just through traditional SEO writing. Most SEOs agree with that concept, but many companies (who may not have an SEO professional on hand) are still executing their search strategy based on outdated or misguided advice. That content is what’s clogging up the web and giving SEO a bad name.

    Edith, thanks for the thoughtful comment. As someone who started off in the newspaper industry, I understand your frustration. We just need to elbow our way to the front instead of being butted to the corner (we have the bigger muscles, anyway!). In the end, companies are cutting back. Unfortunately, creatives are feeling those effects; however, when it comes down to it, I only want to work for a company that believes in the power of professional writers.

    Josh, I appreciated your line “It's a matter of writing for humans, and also of figuring out how humans are going to find you.” Well said!

  10. Gareth Rees says:

    Great piece Meaghan. SEO copywriting is all well and good but the end game is a conversion so if the writing doesn't achieve that essentially the SEO copy is useless and not doing it's job. I'm amazed how easily the end game gets lost sometimes.

  11. Phil Buckley says:

    Great post Meaghan. I've been carrying this banner at work for the past few months against a skeptical eye, but it's all starting to fall into place now.
    .-= Phil Buckley recently posted: Getting Better Data From Your Links =-.

  12. Steve says:

    I have to agree with Aaron on the false dichotomy aspect — and it's a common myth: I think I've left this comment on three blogs in the past two weeks.

    Humans go to search engines and they type something in the search box. Search engines know what they click on, and they know when they click on multiple sites on a search — the last result they click on is going to be what they were looking for most of the time.

    So search engines do factor in the human angle. Sites that are stuffed with crap content may briefly rise to the top, but they're knocked off quickly by good content.

    What you have to optimize for is the way humans search. If you write about "CO2" but people are searching for "carbon dioxide," you can be creating top-notch content and no one would ever find you via a search engine, because you never actually use the phrase they're looking for.

    It's a matter of writing for humans, and also of figuring out how humans are going to find you.
    .-= Josh recently posted: What is the involvement fair? =-.

  13. Derek says:

    @steve: provided your article is longer than 100 words, you'll have the opportunity to include both terms–CO2 and carbon dioxide–somewhere in the body of the article.

    @gareth:Do you really think SEO copies do all of the conversion work? I thought so too, before. The Internet as we know it today is more about usaility and good content. Now, I don't mean the *great* content Matt Cutts glorifies. It's impossible to regularly produce great content in order to get that elusive traffic and tons of organic links from PR5+ sites. My point is, content has to be above average quality nowadays.

    Yes, Google is smart enough to analyze a user's browsing habbits and so this is what forces SEO 2.0 to get smarter, too. Spamming FFA sites is so long in the past!

    Finally, there's a chance that Facebook is going to win over Google in search. So, while we all do classic SEO, which is actually Google Optimization, we fail to optimize for the future of the search. Just a thought…
    .-= Derek recently posted: Why you need research paper writing skills =-.

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