Is SEO really search engine optimization anymore?
Google says that it’s prioritizing human-centered content. But of course, we know it’s still the search engines that ultimately call the shots.
So how do you please a search engine when it’s telling you that it doesn’t want you to try?
Understanding this is mandatory if you’re serious about growing your business online. It’s central to getting your pages to rank effectively.
The answer lies in striking a balance between the algorithm and the reader. Authority is a slow game. Trust must be earned.
Here’s how to do it.
Balancing Priorities for Website Growth
I’m going to explore two pillars of any effective content marketing SEO strategy: guest posting and content creation. The goal is to show how an expert understanding of search engine behavior complements an organic, human-friendly website.
It’s a virtuous cycle. Search engines promote content that readers engage with. Meanwhile, readers are more likely to discover content when it’s at the top of a SERP.
In other words, here’s how to please the search engines and your readers.
Search Engine-Focused SEO
Backlinks are central to building your website’s authority. Search engines use backlinks to understand who is talking about your website and which pages they’re linking to.
Guest posting is the #1 strategy to acquire backlinks. It means having another website publish a blog that links back to a certain webpage.
When you buy guest posts, every link in the chain counts. You want:
- High-authority websites pointing directly to your website (tier 1 links).
- The next step is to have tier 2 links from marginally less authoritative websites pointing to those feeder sites (or sometimes directly to your website).
- Finally, at the bottom of the pyramid, we have tier 3 links from social platforms, directories, etc. These point to your tier 2 sites.
These backlinks build an organic structure that passes on link authority from the bottom upward, finally reaching your website at the top.
This is a search-engine-focused practice. Human readers aren’t sitting there following these structured backlinks, but Google is.
As I said earlier: the search engines are still calling the shots, even if they tell you it’s all about human readers and search behavior.
So where does the reader come in?
Backlinks lead search engines to your door. The next question is – what do they find when they get there?
Let’s say a crawling search engine comes across your website. You want it to find a well-structured, expertly curated hive of information-rich content. It should be everything a human reader would want.
There should also be evidence that readers are finding your website useful. This includes:
- Readers clicking through from information pages to sales pages
- Pages being shared on social media
- Comments from readers
- Direct answers to semantic search queries
- High dwell time – readers stick around to read the full article rather than clicking back
This is what is meant by human-centered content. If you lay a breadcrumb trail for a search engine, but when it finds your website, it’s a poorly-designed mess of low-quality information, your reputation will tank.
So what Google is really saying is, “If a human wouldn’t like it, nor will we.”
Guest Posting, or How One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch
Guest posting is extremely effective when it’s done right. However, there are several common mistakes:
- Failing to vet a host website properly
- Having the post placed on an irrelevant domain
- Including the link in a low-quality post
A good guest posting service will handle all this for you. It saves you a lot of time and effort and means you don’t need to become an industry expert to benefit.
Still, it’s good to know how to spot these bad apples.
Here’s the lowdown.
What Makes a Good Guest Post?
Your backlink will be embedded in a blog. This blog needs to be relevant to your website’s niche, or the search engines will immediately identify it as a forced backlink. Why would a blog about travel link back to an e-commerce service?
The post should be well-written and structured – listicles are a popular format for this reason. It’s a simple structure that helps create a natural opportunity for the backlink.
The upshot: if you get a backlink from a blog that is unstructured and full of major grammar errors, the search engines are unlikely to consider it a glowing referral.
Should You Use AI to Write Guest Posts?
When I say “well-written,” I know what your first thought is. Does that mean you shouldn’t use AI for guest blogs?
Historically, the answer was yes. In 2023, though, many AI tools are actually… pretty good at writing. You may have heard about them.
An AI guest blog still isn’t going to be as good as one written by a skilled author. But many guest posts aren’t strictly written for a human audience. As long as they’re solid and relevant, they serve a purpose.
Most importantly, Google has announced that it won’t penalize AI content. So AI guest posting won’t bring this house of cards tumbling down, provided the content is good quality.
How to Choose a Good Guest Posting Website
Host domains with poor reputations can ruin your SEO strategy.
Why would a host domain have a poor reputation? The most common reason is that it’s been identified as a GP farm.
Guest posting can be lucrative for host websites. People will pay good money, and with good reason, to acquire backlinks from high-traffic websites.
But if the website owner is sloppy and starts accepting badly-written, irrelevant GPs and taking the easy cash, the search engines will notice.
When this happens, the site’s reputation is hit hard. Worse, any web pages with backlinks from this site are penalized because search engines associate them with GP farming.
A good guest posting service will only offer backlinks from reputable hosts. Being careless is a very expensive mistake in SEO.
YMYL Guest Posting
YMYL (“Your Money or Your Life”) content is a special category of content that Google ranks differently from how it treats regular content.
This is content that includes information that could affect the reader’s well-being. This includes health advice, guidance in emergencies, financial advice, and anything else that may have a serious impact on the reader.
Google is very strict with YMYL content standards. These articles need to be well-informed, well-referenced, and professionally written. For this reason, YMYL articles are generally discouraged in guest posting – AI may do an adequate job, but if Google doesn’t think it’s up to scratch, it’ll penalize the blog.
GP Dos and Don’ts
- Work with an expert GP service provider
- Acquire backlinks from reputable websites
- Have your links embedded in well-written, well-structured articles (including AI content!)
- Have posts hosted by GP farms
- Accept low editorial standards
- Post GPs on high-stakes YMYL topics unless they’re professionally written
Content Writing, or The Value of the Happy Reader
It’s unlikely that the average tier 2 or 3 guest post ever gets read by a human. That’s fine – it’s usually not what they’re designed for.
What humans do read is the content on your website. They’re interested in your services, so the quality and presentation of information on your website need to be first-class.
Measuring Human Responses to Content
Search engines observe how readers behave on a web page to judge their experience.
For example, a page with a high bounce rate (readers clicking back to the search page within a few seconds) will rank poorly. Conversely, a blog that readers dwell on for several minutes and that also has a high clickthrough rate to an internally linked page on your website will perform very well.
Pages that acquire comments, shares, or reactions are ranked higher. These are subjective criteria, though – it depends on the page type. Landing pages rarely acquire shares or comments, but if readers are clicking on its CTA, it’s clearly doing its job.
Search engines will take note of this and promote the page.
The Search Engine as a “Reader”
Search engines are increasingly trying to “behave” like readers.
Today’s crawling algorithms are designed to approach a web page and look for everything that a human reader would look for. What they find is measured against data on user behavior.
For instance, you can help search engines understand how long a reader should spend on your page by including information like “Reading Time: X Minutes.” If this is listed as 8 minutes, and that’s about how long readers spend on the article, the search engine will tick that box.
Good grammar, cogent structuring, and accurate, well-referenced information all score points. These show human readers that the page is legitimate, so search engines will boost the page accordingly.
Is it really as simple as that? Write nice content, and your page will perform well?
Most bloggers would beg to differ. There’s more to it than that – right? An SEO writer needs a few tricks up their sleeve besides being a good writer.
Well, let’s talk about keywords.
Do Keywords Matter in 2023?
In the 90s and 00s, keywords were the notorious dark magic of SEO. Keyword stuffing resulted in low-quality websites dominating SERPs. Google’s Panda update is credited with shutting down keyword stuffing for good.
In the 2010s, keywords were more cultured and sophisticated. Expert SEOs scattered keywords organically throughout a text, and the results for their clients were incredibly impressive.
However, Google has recently been at pains to advise content creators not to focus on keywords but on producing quality content. This is the search giant’s prerogative – it naturally resists optimization because it makes its algorithm less effective.
So do keywords still do anything?
In short – yes. Any well-written page will include certain keywords that Google recognizes as relevant simply because they’re relevant to the subject.
This isn’t a uniquely algorithmic thing. We use keywords in natural speech. Imagine attending a conference on marketing strategies and the term “advertising” wasn’t used once.
That would be weird.
Stuffing keywords hasn’t been the answer for well over a decade. But adding the right phrase at the right moment is still a valuable technique – it’s what your readers expect you to be talking about!
AI and Content Writing
Should you use AI for your website’s content? This is one of the biggest questions of 2023 in the SEO business.
As things stand, the answer is no.
The major problem with AI content is that it doesn’t appeal to human readers. AI tends to structure paragraphs in a way that looks good at first but quickly becomes tiresome. Here’s an example.
AI likes to introduce a subject in the first sentence. It then explains any key information about the subject in the middle sentence. Finally, it summarizes the point in its last sentence.
The longer the article runs, the more repetitive and unhelpful this format becomes.
Repetitive information is another issue. Longer articles suffer badly from AI not realizing that it’s saying the same thing it said half a page ago (sometimes in identical terms).
This isn’t reader-friendly, so while Google doesn’t directly penalize AI content, it will penalize an article that human readers aren’t responding well to.
AI tools are improving rapidly. With the help of a skilled editor, they can produce an excellent piece of content.
But you’re still relying on a blunt tool when what your website needs is a skilled writer with excellent research skills. It’s worth the investment.
Content Writing Dos and Don’ts
- Write content that readers will engage with
- Work with professional, research-focused SEO content writing experts
- Regularly publish fresh content on your website
- Use natural keywords in your text
- Try to get Google’s attention if your website doesn’t look good!
- Use AI tools for high-value content (especially without a skilled editor)
- Use keyword stuffing or other outdated techniques
Finding The Balance
Successful content marketing is all about knowing:
- What you need to create
- Where it needs to be posted
- Who it needs to be written by
- Why search engines will find it attractive
This all adds up to the “how” you’ve been searching for – how do I get my website to rank consistently?
When you understand search engine behavior, you have the keys to the kingdom.
You need to appeal to human readers because Google is obsessed with learning how human readers behave. You need to build an organic backlink structure because that’s a search engine’s referencing system.
And you need to know this if your website is going to achieve real, sustainable growth.