The Wise Content Marketer’s Guide to Sensible SEO

Sonia Simone was a founding partner of Copyblogger Media. These days, she helps content writers become fiercely creative and insanely productive. 

Search engine optimization — SEO — is one of those “you love it or you hate it” topics.

Some get a charge out of the challenge of keeping up with those wily engineers at Google.

Others would rather eat a bug than try to figure out what “headless crawling” means and which redirect is the right one to pick in months that end in R.

I have to confess, I’m in the bug-eating camp on this one.

Fortunately, although technical SEO is still important, there’s a crazy-powerful optimization technique that people like me can get really good at.

Yes, it’s content. (You already knew that, because you’re smart.) Yes, it has to be good content. And yes, I’m going to talk about what, specifically, “good” means.

But first, I’m going to talk about my most important search optimization rule.

The great rule of sensible SEO

My first and primary rule, when thinking about search engines, is never to do anything for the sake of SEO that screws up the experience for the audience.

That cuts out some downright dumb behavior, like overstuffing your content with keywords.

But it also helps you evaluate new advice that comes along. If it makes your site less useable, if it makes your message less effective, or if it alienates or confuses your audience … you should probably skip it.

Here are nine sensible SEO recommendations that also work to make your site experience better for the human beings who read your content, listen to your podcasts, watch your videos, and actually pay for your products and services.

1. Answer actual audience questions

Want lots and lots of people to visit your site, and stick around once they find you? Answer their pressing questions, and you’ll get your wish.

People fire up a search engine because they have unanswered questions. If you’re smart and knowledgeable about your topic, you can help with that.

Tutorial content is wonderful, but also think about questions like:

  • Why is [the thing] so hard to get started?
  • How competitive is [the thing]?
  • How can I get motivated to do more of [the thing]?
  • Is there a community of people who want to talk about [the thing]?
  • Where can I share my own stories about [the thing] and read other people’s?

2. Use the language they use

Hand in hand with answering real audience questions is using your audience’s language.

That brings us to our friend keyword research.

It’s too bad that some people still think keyword research means looking up a bunch of word salad that makes sense to rooms of computers in Silicon Valley.

Keyword research means figuring out the language that real human beings enter into search engines to find your stuff.

There are great tools out there for finding those turns of phrase. You can also add in some smart social media listening and pay attention to how people talk on the web about your topic. (This is also a good way to find more of those “problems people care about” I talked about in the last point.)

By the way, you don’t have to feel chained to a narrow set of word combinations that you found with your keyword research tool. Use the keyword phrases you find, absolutely, but don’t use them so much that it gets weird. You don’t have to do an in-depth study of latent semantic indexing — just use synonyms.

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