How to Write Content for People Instead of Search Engines

September 26, 2022

Written by Sam Hoffman

Sam Hoffman is a Pittsburgh-based marketing professional with a BSBA in Marketing Management and an MBA from Youngstown State University. With nearly 10 years of marketing and sales experience, Sam understands good marketing principles and how to apply them to real-world business situations.

On September 9th, 2022, Google finished its rollout of the “Google Helpful Content Update.” Then, Google announced a new core update in September 2022 that completed rolling out on September 26. Both of these updates are on the heels of a previous core update that finished in June.

Google updates its algorithm every day to make small adjustments and enhancements with the goal of helping users find more relevant content faster. Google core updates (or broad core updates) are more like an overhaul of the algorithm and introduce bigger changes to how Google ranks and serves content for search queries.

There are usually around 3-4 core algorithm updates in a given year. However, they tend to be spaced out a bit more than we are seeing over the past few months.

So why would Google push out 3 big updates this close together? Because Google is making something substantial very clear to marketers: write content for people, not for our search engine and ranking algorithms.

That doesn’t entirely make sense. After all, most of the work SEOs are doing is directly related to making their content rank higher on search engines; it is literally the core function of the SEO industry. Yet, Google is saying they do not want to see content that is written to rank.

In our opinion, these updates have an exemplary aim. Google doesn’t want spam, worthless content, or repetitious AI-generated garbage clogging up the SERPs. They want to enable searchers to find helpful, insightful information. What that means for content marketers is you need to create content for people first.

This is not a new approach, at least not for many content marketers. Good marketers already understand the importance of writing content for humans instead of for algorithms. In fact, Google even states they “suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”

Here are a few things content writers should keep in mind to ensure their words are targeting their audience and focusing on intent rather than solely on ranking factors.

1. Focus On Your Audience First

Writing a piece of content for your audience first forces you to view the world through their eyes. When you shift your perspective in this way, it changes the topics you think about and the questions you seek to answer. You are no longer focusing on internal issues but on your clients’ and prospects’ challenges. Taking this approach in content creation seems like common sense, but so many businesses tend to struggle in this area.

If you’re a marketer for a B2B software company in the supply chain space, your audience is rather defined already. Further, you can use audience personas to improve your content and ensure it contains the right message. Your content shouldn’t be overly technical, meaning it should not attempt to explain complex coding challenges. Instead, it should focus on the challenges B2B supply chain companies face.

2. Flesh Out Your Topic

Writing for people means you are writing with the intent of sharing something of perceived value. Sharing value in this instance can mean sharing knowledge, information, professional insights, or any combination of these. To do so, you need to understand your topic.

You may be knowledgeable about your chosen topic already, but take some time to research and write out your thoughts. Writing is the best way to think, and as you write, you will see if there are any holes in your understanding. Take some time to explore these gaps and see what you can find to help build a more complete image.

The point is, you shouldn’t put out articles that are just full of fluff. They should be well-thought, informative, and offer something unique to your readers. Otherwise, there isn’t anything different between your next blog and the 30 billion search results that will come up for the same keywords.

3. Actually Answer Questions

Similar to the previous point, you should answer questions as thoroughly and concisely as possible. It’s frustrating to look through multiple 3,000+ word articles that don’t share a single scrap of worthy information. If you’re going to write long-form content, make it worthwhile for your audience. Give them answers, not fluffy marketing content.

Richard Feynman, a brilliant theoretical physicist, created a four-step process to help people increase their knowledge and understanding of any topic. This process is known as the Feynman Technique:

  • Choose a topic
  • Explain it to a 12-year-old
  • Reflect, refine, and simplify
  • Organize and review

In step 1, you write out everything you know about a given topic. Then, conduct research to fill in the gaps and add more info as you learn more. Once you think you have a grasp on it, you move to step 2. This step is straightforward, but you simply use your sheet to explain what you’ve learned so that a 12-year-old can grasp it, meaning, you strip it of jargon and complexities so it is as simplified as possible.

After that, you move on to step 3 where you continue to refine and simplify your information further. Lastly, you should run the information by someone else (ideally, someone from your target audience) to see if they can understand and grasp your meaning.

This is one of many ways to ensure you fully understand your topic and that you are actually answering questions, not just producing “content.”

4. Write Effective Titles and Headlines

This is a topic that can’t be fully covered in a single blog post, but using effective headlines can make or break your articles. Effective headlines should be clear, descriptive, and interesting enough to capture attention. You also need to consider the use of relevant keywords for SEO purposes as well.

For me, starting with an outline before writing is very helpful in producing quality content. It doesn’t need to be super structured like the way your high school English teacher expected. It can be bullet points, a mind map, a short list, or a hand-written note with doodles.

The goal is to put the information you have in your head on screen or on paper. Then you can organize and refine the details as you go.

For example, you may begin writing an article and start with a simple title like “How to Write Content.” As you begin building your outline, the title may evolve to “How to Write Helpful Content.” This new title is more descriptive, which is better.

Once you finish your first draft, the title might change to “How to Write Content for People Instead of Search Engines.” This is more descriptive, rich with keywords, and should grab the attention of my intended audience (i.e. marketing professionals and content writers in this case).

5. Tell a Story with First-Hand Knowledge or Experiences

Storytelling is perhaps as old as human history. People have always communicated through stories, and it is a highly effective mode of content writing. When you tell a story, you are consequently writing for people first.

Stories are inherently unique since they originate from an individual’s life, experience, and perspective. When you share a story, you are accomplishing several things at once.

First, you are taking your reader on a journey and they will be more likely to remember the information if it is presented as a story. Secondly, stories are way more entertaining, so you will be able to keep your audience’s attention for a longer period of time. Finally, you are able to demonstrate your expertise in a helpful context that doesn’t come across as bragging.

All of these reasons are why we help our clients create “success stories” instead of “case studies.” Case studies sound like a long, dry, unhelpful brag book. A success story is engaging and helps communicate the story of an important client’s struggle and how they overcame it. If you’re investigating a new service or product, would you rather read customer reviews and testimonials, or the company’s newest case study? Stories have power, and you should utilize them when possible to share insight and gain trust.

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