At its heart SEO is really just giving people what they want

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Podcast Version


Like many of my posts on this site, this post ended up a lot different than I intended.

Initially, it was a Google gripe about how SEO ruined writing.

My point was going to be that on-site SEO ruined good article titles and good writing because that doesn’t often rank as well as “optimized” titles and content.

You could write the funniest, most entertaining and highly informative article on potty training, but if the title doesn’t include those precious keywords and the article doesn’t cover every single facet of potty training it won’t rank in search.

For instance, if you titled the article “We’re saving $200 per month by not buying diapers anymore” which is all about how we potty trained our kids, it likely wouldn’t rank for potty training searches.

Instead, people searching for potty training tips end up with an endless list of articles in search that are titled with some variation of “how to potty train a child”.

I definitely suffer that on this site.  While some articles are optimized with keywords etc. many aren’t. The result is I don’t get as much traffic as I could.  I don’t really care because this is a fun site for me that happens to make a few bucks.

Without question, I play Google’s optimization game on my other niche sites.  Those sites aren’t for fun; they’re my business which means I’m relentless when it comes to on-site optimization, keyword/topic selection and content completeness.

I don’t gripe. I play ball.

But I was going to gripe about how Google ruined writing until it dawned on me that SEO is really about giving people what they want.

If someone wants to learn how to potty train their kid, you need to make it clear to Google your article is about that.

While someone who sees the title “We’re saving $200 per month by not buying diapers anymore” may infer it’s about potty training, it’s not a sure thing. It could be about switching from store-bought disposable diapers to cloth diapers.  People who want potty training tips don’t care about switching to cloth diapers.

More to the point, Google is still a computer.  Google search infers a bit with advancements in recent years – I think that’s one of the aims of the Hummingbird update, but it can’t do so anywhere near as well as a human… yet.

Until then, if you want search traffic you need to play the SEO game, which is giving the search engine AND people what it AND they want.

The problem that arises is a lot of the same in search results.  Seriously, Google “how to potty train a child” and every title listed in search is pretty much the same.  How do you choose an article?  Not one title stands out.

If you’re like me, you click the first option, scan it, go back, go into option 2.  Down and down the SERPs you go until there’s nothing new.  You’re done. You now know how to potty train your kid.

Be a Google team player or not – it’s up to you

If you titled your potty training article “Done” which is fitting in a cool, abstract way it doesn’t really serve people searching for potty training tips because there’s no context to the title.  “Done” could be an article about anything.

Does it suck we are all stuck writing the same article titles (more or less)?

In some ways it sucks.  Arguably, it hurts writing quality, but the stink of it only really applies to titles; specifically, SEO titles.

In fact, one could argue Google is improving writing by consistently requiring better content in order to rank.

I publish better content across my niche sites these days than I did 5 years ago.

Which means good writing can and does thrive online.  In fact, good writing is necessary.

I love reading good writing.  I take note of writers and will visit those publications consistently to read their work.  If I do it, other people do it.

And that’s the aim of any website (or should be), which is creating some content consistently that is so good readers return on their own accord for more.  It’s hard to pull off, but if you can, you have a bulletproof site.

Just don’t blow it by failing to give an SEO title Google wants (can a computer algo want?) unless you are so good millions of people visit your site directly because they just can’t get enough.

2 thoughts on “At its heart SEO is really just giving people what they want”

  1. Hi John,
    I’ve seen other people get creative with this. For example, for potty training niche, you could write the title as: “Potty training tips: How we saved $200”, or something similar.
    The trick is to include the keywords and at the same time make it intriguing so that people reading the title and description would want to click and know more (i.e. clickbait).
    I also agree that good content is a must these days.

  2. Bingo. These days more than ever, it’s all about the search intent. Which essentially means it’s all about giving the people what they want. Optimizing for the search term isn’t enough. Have you seen this post on the Ahrefs blog –

    That bit about how they optimized for “backlink checker” is fascinating. They optimized everything and made it to the top 10 (which is super hard for such a competitive term) but couldn’t get to the top 5. That only happened when they figured they needed to provide an answer to the real intent of the search: FREE backlink checker. Once they switched the content of the page and provided a free version of their tool there, that’s when they made it to the top spot.
    The lesson here being, optimizing for a keyword isn’t enough. You have to create a page that people who use the term actually do want and benefit from.

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