SEO is torn into two worlds. There’s the world of the users, and the world of the robots. The users like content with value, but they don’t care about the formatting of links, the keyword density or the background infrastructure that caters to the robots. The robots, on the other hand, need to know things like keywords and formatting, to best serve up the content the users want to see. Webmasters and SEO professionals need to find the narrow path between both sides, a place where they can please both without angering one or the other.
1: Titles for Humans
The article title – and meta title, since it should be the same thing, if not very similar – should be written for humans in a descriptive, attractive way. Linkbait is effective because it plays heavily on the curiosity of your users. Numbered lists are great because they promise a certain number of items of value. The promise of value is all-important here; the more value a user can expect to get out of your article from the title, the better that article will perform. Sometimes, an article subtitle can be interesting and effective. That’s why you often see “You won’t believe number seven!” as a subtitle for linkbait top 15 lists.
1.5: Titles for Search Engines
Search engines aren’t attracted to linkbait, but neither are they dissuaded. A good title for the search engines is short. It’s placed both in the article itself and in the meta description, where it appears in the search results. The title of the page determines the title of the search result. These have space limits – not quite character limits – which means the title must be short. Including a keyphrase or topic is essential. Including a brand name at the end is useful as well. Make sure titles are distinct between posts. Duplicate titles can cause issues.
2: Snippets for Humans
For the most part, human readers don’t see or care about your snippet. There is one notable exception, however, and that exception is incredibly important. A snippet is, by default, the first few lines of your post. This is what shows up underneath the title and URL in the search results. By customizing your description in the meta tags, you can customize what shows up in this segment. Users consider the snippet to be a summary of the value they will find on the page. If the snippet isn’t compelling, they won’t click through. Make sure it is compelling.
2.5: Snippets for Search Engines
Snippets are important for search engines. They act as a summary of the content and help the search engine determine what queries that content will be relevant for. This means the description needs to include the same sort of keywords, keyphrases or topic phrases that the title includes. It should not repeat the title. It should read naturally, for the benefit of human readers. It should also be kept short, so it does not end up truncated by the space limit of the search engine.
3: Topics for Humans
Human users don’t care about keywords or keyword density. They care about the subject or topic of a blog post. If the post is not relevant to their interests, they will bounce away and leave your site. This means you need to tailor your content to various subjects. Particularly, don’t make promises in the title you can’t keep. If you’re going to write six tips about shoe shining, you shouldn’t then post an article with a single basic guide on shoe shining. Even worse would be to write an article about selling shoe polish. Humans what value from what they read, and if they don’t find that value, they aren’t going to think highly of your site or its content.
3.5: Topics for Search Engines
Search engines need guidance to discover what the topic of your content is. They are not human readers with human comprehension. They analyze the content of your page for key phrases that help it understand the subject. They then use these phrases to associate your content with various queries, rated by relevance. Therefore, if you want your guide on shining shoes to show up for “How to shine shoes” plugged into the search engine, your content should include the phrase “how to shine shoes” in a relevant context. Note that it only really needs to appear once, so long as the content is actually about shining shoes. Keyword density is a concept from the past that is no longer truly relevant.
4: Formatting for Humans
Humans don’t read your content. Humans skim your content, looking to pull as much value out of it as possible. To assist them with this task, format your content appropriately. Fill your content with subheadings whenever possible. Use bulleted or numbered lists wisely. Include images that add to the content. Use bold, italics and underlines sparingly to highlight key sentences. Break up long paragraphs. Avoid content that is too short or too long; users will either find it lacking in value or running on too long.
4.5: Formatting for Search Engines
Search engines don’t much care about formatting, in the sense that bolded points aren’t as important. The search engine loves short paragraphs, as they are easier to dissect into their component parts. Search engines also love subtitles. If you use subtitles, make sure to use <h1> or <h2> tags rather than changing the color and size of the text manually. Color and size attributes tell the search engine nothing. Heading tags tell the search engine that the line enclosed is important. If you use images, which you should, include alt text descriptions of the image.
5: Comments for Humans
A comments section is a good way for human readers to interact with each other. It’s also a good location for some relevant links, as well as ongoing valuable discussion. Users like comments that work. More importantly, they like comments that are free from infighting and spam. Moderate your comments section. If possible, thank users for their insightful comments when they leave them. Answer questions and use advice in future articles, to help make users feel engaged. A robust, active comments section can also be a valuable resource to discover new blog post topics.
5.5: Comments for Search Engines
Search engines have mixed robotic feelings about comments sections. On one hand, they are often abused for keywords, links and spam. This means they have little value on average. In some cases, they are even loaded in from external sources, which makes them invisible to the search engine. If you moderate your comments and ensure their value, you should make sure the search engines can see them. Hidden divs with a text feed of the comments will serve this purpose.
6: Promotion for Humans
Humans want to find your content, whether they know it yet or not. It’s your job to put your content in places where they can find it. To some extent, this means making use of SEO to ensure it shows up in search results. This is just one source of traffic. The rest relies on links through other sites. Post your content on other sites, when it’s relevant. Share it on social media. If reasonable, create advertisements that direct users to your content. Make use of your title and a unique description to convince users of the value of the content, to entice them to click.
6.5: Promotion for Search Engines
For the most part, the search engines like the same sort of promotion as human users. A diverse link profile from all sorts of sites, including social media and other blogs, is valuable. Advertising is valuable as well. Avoid spamming your link where it isn’t relevant; such links are not valuable and will demote the value of your site as whole.
As you can see, catering to both humans and search engines can be complex, but it’s not mutually exclusive. You can encourage both sides of the path to promote your content; all you need is to create it properly.