There are times when it may seem like the hardest part of content marketing is engaging the actual people searching for content via search engines. As a result, many sites opt for the easier route: targeting search engines with black hat tactics like keyword stuffing and cloaking, ensuring that the people searching for content don't actually end up finding what they're looking for. However, these tactics are not actually very effective and, if anything, can be hugely damaging to businesses' websites, which end up penalized or even removed from searches entirely.
Good quality content should never come last. As a matter of fact, Google's constant updates to its algorithm - including its latest, Hummingbird, which was released toward the end of 2013 - are making it so that businesses now have no other option than to properly target their content to individual users.
How to Cater to Human Readers
Let's take a look at how users are searching lately. Many searchers are using more natural language than ever before - and this is largely as a result of voice searches. That's because mobile browser use is greater than ever before. Thus, Google will substitute words like "restaurant" for "place." So if you're searching for "best Chinese place in town," the algorithm will know that you really mean that you're looking for a Chinese restaurant.
Okay, so searchers are becoming more conversational in tone. But what does that mean for content? Ultimately, the answer is this: simply put, content needs to be good. Targeting humans entails creating content that they are going to want to engage with.
On the other hand, let's consider something else. Creating high quality content does not mean that SEO strategies, such as the use of keywords or phrases, are obsolete. Rather, these strategies must be incorporated with the use of high quality, engaging content.
Combining Usability with SEO
The first step, of course, is to conduct research. With good research, you can figure out just where the users you're targeting are looking for the kind of information you have to offer. Landing pages are an excellent way to place content in conversation with these users. These pages should be designed to help individual users with their questions or provide the information they were looking for, and this information should be based upon the user's search query. Landing pages can be optimized around particular keywords, but should also provide high quality, readable content that your target user will find useful.
Of course, landing pages should also link to the rest of your site as part of a greater network of links. That way, more and more people will be able to reach your company's site, which also means that search engines like Google will "notice." Your website's navigation should be clear and easy to use. If users are confused, it's far more likely that they won't be coming back. But it's not just users you're losing: when humans are confused and, as a result, aren't clicking on your links, search engine "spiders" are less likely to get around to indexing related pages.
When it comes to writing the copy itself, it's important to make sure that the information provided is not only interesting, but also clear and direct. This will give each user the best possible experience reading your content and will also help search engines figure out just what your page is about. Meta tags will also help with this, allowing readers and search engines to get a little snippet of information about the page in question, which will entice them to read more.
Finally, on the topic of writing content, don't forget to title your copy with something attention grabbing and informative. Your high school English class was right: a title should make the reader want to keep reading!
Interactivity and Mobile Responsiveness
There are other things to take into account when making SEO work with your readers. For example, interactive content can be a great way to target different kinds of users. Infographics and other images that add weight to the information presented can do wonders to keep eyes on your page. Video content can also be a great way to engage viewers. A simple video that answers a question or breaks down your company's process can be a great way for readers to learn more about why they should choose you over the competition.
Of course, interactive content - like your webpage - should be simple and easy to understand. For example, if your content doesn't work on multiple devices, then it's definitely useless to a huge percentage of your readership. By making your website responsive to mobile devices, however, your readership can engage easily with your business, no matter where they go.
Error Pages: It's the Little Things
When it comes to putting your site together, it can be easy to ignore things like error pages. But the truth is, sometimes readers will come to your site and type in the wrong URL or URL extension. It happens all the time, and can especially be a problem with some of your most seasoned readers who think they know a page's URL but forget a letter or two. By making sure that error pages have links that go to the rest of your site's content, you can redirect confused users to the pages that they meant to visit in the first place.
Benefits of Targeting Human Readers
You may have noticed in some of the above strategies that targeting actual humans ultimately will make search engines perceive that your site is worth indexing. By showing that your content reflects expertise in your field, you'll ultimately end up with more visitors. It all comes down to making your content engaging, interesting, and varied. Varying not just content but also the means of delivery (such as with social media, for example) will give users a bigger picture, allowing them to peruse your content to their hearts' content on the platform that works well for them.