September 27, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Google’s Helpful Content update directly responds to how people search online. They want actual helpful content that answers their questions and provides actionable steps, plans, or information to solve their problems. The update aims to make that happen by cutting down on cookie-cutter and aggregated content around the web. It now puts content created by humans for humans at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). Today, we’re discussing how to humanize SEO to make it appealing to search engines, but better targeted to a human audience:
It’s no secret that for years, the two main priorities of SEO were to create content made for search engines and searchers. But those ideas always seemed like two different entities. There were specific tasks and tricks to do to make your site more appealing to bots and crawlers. Then there was another set of optimizations you’d do to make your content appealing to real people.
In the Helpful Content era, it’s more difficult to separate those into two different types of SEO. If you’re not creating content for humans, you no longer have the advantage of working to outsmart the algorithm to get better placement in SERPs. Plus, once you’re already in the mindset to create content for humans, you’re going to appeal to the people you actually want to read your content and buy your products or services.
Search engines are a great tool to help you gain brand awareness and build an audience, but being at the top spot on a SERP isn’t the real endgame. The real reward is connecting with customers, making sales, and increasing loyalty so your audience comes back to your brand again and again. They’ll find value in your company whether you rank at the top of SERPs or not.
Humanizing your SEO strategy doesn’t mean ditching every tactic you’ve used in the past. It just means reframing or tweaking things you already do during content creation and optimization. The mindset is now a searcher-first rather than a search-engine-first mentality. Here are a few ways to humanize your SEO strategy with your audience in mind:
While we often consider keyword research a more technical aspect of SEO, picking the right terms to represent your content is searcher-focused. You want to pick the words that your audience uses when talking about or looking for a solution to their problems. Keyword research for the searcher comes down to the semantics of a language. Think about dialects around the United States. What do you call a sugary, carbonated soft drink? Depending on where you live, you might call it soda, pop, or a Coke (no matter the brand).
Yes, you have to pick the right keywords so they appear in the results for the right searches. But it’s for the benefit of your audience. The location where you put these keywords matters too, both for bots and people. The earlier in your content you can share your keywords naturally, the better.
People don’t want to spend time scrolling through your entire piece of content if it’s not going to help them or meet their needs. The earlier you introduce the main idea and your keywords, the more likely they are to know if your article, blog post, or video is right for them. For written and spoken content with transcripts, it’s important to put your primary keyword or phrase in the first paragraph. This helps your audience when they do a quick scan of the intro to learn what the full content is about.
Adding your keywords early doesn’t mean once you pop the term into your opening paragraph that you’re done. You still need to incorporate your keyword and its variations naturally throughout the content. But the earlier you can make the first mention, the more content you give your audience for the rest of the piece.
One of the biggest things the Helpful Content update cracks down on is unoriginal, aggregated content from around the web. You’re not providing anything new for your audience if you’re writing the same piece over and over again. Don’t cover the same topic in the same way on your site more than once. Provide one resource, be that a content hub, or a lengthy guide-style article where your audience can go to get all the information on one topic without repetition.
The “freshness” and “newness” factor also applies to not copying content from other brands that already exist on the internet. Even if your brand hasn’t covered a topic before but others in your industry have, it’s important to have a fresh angle or new information to discuss when sharing your piece. Otherwise, you’re not providing value to your audience. They could just as easily get the same information elsewhere online.
Google recognizes these kinds of veiled plagiarism and paraphrasing tactics with the new update and is working to remove content from searches that don’t have original angles. If you’re consistently writing and creating original content rather than mining other sources for talking points, this SEO tip shouldn’t be a problem for your brand.
If you need help finding your next great content topic based on the information your audience wants to see, request your free content analysis report from CopyPress. This report uncovers content gaps and keyword ideas to provide your audience with the information they want to see online in a unique and fresh way.
“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”
Director of SEO at Auto Revo
SEO isn’t just for written content. Any pieces you put out, from infographics to videos or podcasts need an SEO booth to help them perform the best they can in search, and reach the right audience. But optimizations for written content look slightly different than those for other content types. Most of the optimization techniques for non-written content focus on accessibility features. Web accessibility for content means that any searcher or browser, regardless of ability, can engage with your content.
Visual accessibility is also paramount. Audiences who use screen readers depend on these tools to access your content. But these devices can only read strings of text. They can’t identify photos or other visual or audio content without additional information the site host provides. For this reason, it’s important to optimize all your non-written content so that everyone in your audience can engage with it online.
For images, this usually means including a descriptive file name and alt text. Taking these steps lets a screen reader describe what appears in your images to browsers using these assistive devices. Google bots and crawlers use this same kind of technology to “read” visual content on your site. Like screen readers, robots can’t view and understand actual images. When you optimize for all abilities, you’re also doing SEO for bots and crawlers.
For audio and video content, some accessibility changes include adding transcripts for the content that include not just what speakers say, but any additional details that the audience needs to see, such as the setting or specific actions. Transcripts help those with hearing impairments experience your audio content. They also act as the alt text for those with visual impairments.
Understanding and engaging with your content doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop when your audience reaches the end of an article or a video. Providing additional helpful information through internal linking not only helps raise your metrics and prove your topic authority to search engines. It also provides more value for your audience. The easiest way to keep the party going throughout a piece of content and after is by creating a strong internal linking strategy.
Don’t just add internal links at random because you think that’s what search engines want to see. Think about the links you’re sharing and how they provide additional context and value to your audience. For example, in all of our knowledge base content at CopyPress, we like to provide related, internal links to other pieces relevant to the topic we discuss. You’ll notice one at the bottom of this section for contextual link building.
But we wouldn’t just put any old link here. For example, we wouldn’t add a link to this section for an article that tells you how to become a freelance copywriter. That doesn’t fit the theme of the article or the section. Linking at random is worse than not linking at all. It causes unnecessary confusion for your audience. Instead of learning more about the topic, your audience is spending time trying to figure out just how becoming a freelance copywriter relates to internal linking.
Well-planned internal links give readers additional content on topics they already care about. The longer they stay on your site, the more familiar they become with your brand. This behavior encourages them to return to your company when they’re ready to make a purchase.
We often think of backlinks as the pinnacle of SEO. The more you grab, the more trustworthy and authoritative your site looks to Google and other search engines, boosting your SERP rankings. But backlinks aren’t just for Google’s sake. The more incoming traffic you get to your site from reputable sources, the more your audience trusts that your brand knows what it’s talking about.
Think about yourself, who are you more likely to trust when you need really good advice: your best friend or a random person on the street? Backlinks from websites, influencers, and other sources your audience already trusts are like getting advice from your best friend. Your audience already knows and trusts these people or sources and values their opinions.
Finding your site or content in other ways, even through search results, is like getting advice from a random person on the street. It could be helpful, but it’s less of a guarantee than getting information from a trusted source. The more quality backlinks you get, the more likely your audience will be to trust your brand from the start.
We’ve already talked about internal links and backlinks, so we’d be missing a huge portion of your SEO if we didn’t discuss the importance of external links in humanizing your strategy, too. You’re likely most familiar with including external links in your content to prove to search engines that you’ve done your research on a topic. The more you link out to reputable sites, the more knowledge and authority Google thinks you have. Doing this helps your audience think the same thing.
Especially in the age of misinformation and “fake news,” people like to know where your facts, statistics, and ideas come from. What data influenced your findings? Who came up with the original idea that you’re building on? The more you can link out to reputable sources that aren’t your direct competitors, the more you can prove your research, analysis, and conclusion-drawing abilities to the audience. This helps increase your credibility and their trust in your brand.
If your goal is to really give the people what they want, you have to put user search intent at the top of your SEO priority list. Search intent is the reason why someone in your audience looks up information on certain topics. They have needs and they want them met. Your brand is the one that will step up and meet them if you understand what your audience wants to see when they search. There are four primary categories of search intent, which include:
There’s also a less-discussed fifth pillar of search intent, local intent. Someone with a local search intent may still have one of the common search purposes above, but they want results relative to their current geographic location. The more you understand what your audience wants to see when they search for specific terms or content, the more likely your pieces will show up on the first page of their search results.
Did you know that the meta description is more important for the human searcher than for Google? This summary of your page or content doesn’t do much to help boost your rankings. But it does help your audience decide if they want to click on your content.
While the content title has more influence over where your content ranks in search, it’s still another important piece of the puzzle to get your audience to click away from the results page and onto your site. Boring, unhelpful titles and nondescript metas aren’t interesting enough to get your audience to click on them. While we’re not suggesting you go sensational and develop a bunch of clickbait titles to boost your metrics, you do need to be informative and thorough with your titles and meta descriptions.
Your content tiles should be eye-catching but truthful to let your audience know what they’ll find inside. Meta descriptions go a bit deeper than your title and give an honest look at what your readers or watchers can expect to learn, know, or do after they’ve interacted with the content. The more valuable your content looks to your audience from search results, the more likely your brand is to get clicks over the competition.
eBook: How To Create Effective Titles and Headlines [Click To Download]
With such a push to make your content by humans for humans, it’s a legitimate question to ask if technical SEO still matters. When your team only has so much time and so many resources, you may wonder if it’s still worth it to do site optimizations specifically for bots and crawlers when even Google is putting searcher needs at the top of the priority list. Some sources say that doing technical SEO in the Helpful Content era is a waste of time because you’re creating content for machines instead of humans. But we disagree.
Technical SEO is still a crucial part of your content strategy because it focuses on creating a better user experience once people hit your website. Yes, many technical SEO practices focus on making it easier for bots and crawlers to find, index, and store your site information. But that work is really for the people.
Search engines prioritize technically optimized sites for a reason: they work the best for the audience. Slow load times, a confusing organization in sitemaps, and a lack of security on your site aren’t helpful for the audience. While the Helpful Content update focuses on the on-page factors that make content most appealing and relevant for your audience, technical SEO helps make the actual on-site browsing experience pleasurable too.
Don’t let other sources trick you into thinking technical SEO no longer matters. Even if your on-page content hits the mark as “helpful,” your users won’t take the time to explore it if they can’t navigate your website.
The helpful content update is still in its infancy. We’re just starting to see what impact it’ll have on old content and new pieces and websites moving forward and how it’ll change the way your brand does SEO. To help stay on top of any changes and additional updates Google makes, visit CopyPress’s Helpful Content Hub to get the latest information about what’s happening with the rollout.
Looking for even more insights? Subscribe to the CopyPress newsletter. Each week, we update you with the latest trends, news, and expert advice on content marketing so you can stay up to date on all the changes, no matter what Google throws at you.
More from the author: