Amanda Best
September 15, 2017

SEO-Friendly Content vs User-Friendly Content

SEO-Friendly Content and User-Friendly Content Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

Sometimes when I talk to editors about doing keyword research to inform their editorial content decisions, they wrinkle their noses and say something like, “But I don’t want to publish SEO content.”

This sentiment comes from a good place. They want to provide their audiences with high quality, useful, engaging content. Here’s the thing, though. Great content for SEO and user-friendly content can be—and should be—the same thing.

It’s certainly possible to produce a piece of content that targets a keyword but completely misses the mark in terms of quality and relevance. But that’s not good SEO content. It’s just not good content, period.

As Moz founder Rand Fishkin has said, “There’s no such thing as ‘writing for people vs. search engines.’ There’s only ‘writing for people who also use search engines.’” We shouldn’t be separating the two. We should be creating awesome content that’s truly valuable to our audiences, and making it as easy as possible for them to find it through good SEO.

It’s Not About Trying to Game the System

Choosing a content topic through keyword research shouldn’t be about trying to rank well by gaming the system. Coupled with a good understanding of who your audience is (we’ll talk about developing personas another day!) keyword research is a wonderful way to figure out what your audience is looking for so you’re better equipped to provide it.

Think of search terms not just as entries on a spreadsheet, but as insights into your audience’s concerns and curiosities. Once you have identified something that your audience is searching for and you are an authority on, create a spectacular piece of content that addresses their concerns and answers those head-scratchers better than anyone else does.

When you publish your spectacular piece of content, on-page optimization is important—just be sure to optimize for your chosen keyword in an organic, authentic way. This should come fairly naturally if you’ve covered the topic thoroughly.

Good on-page optimization doesn’t stand out and read awkwardly. It might require tweaking a sentence here and there or altering your headline a bit, but the most important thing is that it reads well and is enticing to a human.

Google Knows

Really, the two concepts—content that ranks well and content that keeps your audience happy—are inextricably linked. Remember that Google knows basically everything, it’s not just looking for keywords, and it can tell pretty accurately how satisfied a searcher has been by your content.

Do they spend several minutes on your page, or click the back button right away? Do they read or watch your content and then click through to another page for more, or “pogo-stick” back to the search page and click on another result? Do they share your content on social media and say positive things about it? Or do they get turned off by a popup or poor design and try again elsewhere?

Searchers’ actions demonstrate to Google how well your content is meeting their needs, and this is a big factor when it comes to your ranking.

What Successful Keyword Research-Generated Content Looks Like in Practice

This NewLifeOutlook page consistently ranks on the first page of Google’s search results for numerous variations of the search term ‘lupus chest pain.’

Here’s an example. The topic for this NewLifeOutlook article on chest pain in lupus patients was chosen as a result of keyword research—at the time it had a search volume of 320 and competition of just 0.06, according to SEM Rush.

We assigned the topic to one of our writers, who wrote not only about what causes chest pain in lupus patients and what to do when it happens, but also her personal experience with this, and how terrifying it was. This emotional validation is the unique value NewLifeOutlook provides in the midst of countless clinical medical websites full of jargon.

This page now consistently ranks on the first page for numerous variations of the keyword ‘lupus chest pain.’ More than 350 organic search visitors come to the site each month through this page. They typically spend about four and a half minutes on the page, likely reading all the way to the end given the length of the article. And it generated a huge response from our audience on Facebook, many of whom shared their experiences with chest pain and how it felt, both physically and emotionally.

So you see, choosing content based on keyword research doesn’t mean that it won’t be great content for your audience.

A Caveat

I don’t recommend taking this approach for all your content—balance is key, and not all of your audience’s needs will be reflected in search data. Creating great content is more nuanced than that, and interactions with your audience on social media, via email, and in person are some other important ways to determine what they need and want. Sometimes industry news and trends will inform your content decisions, and sometimes you really do just know that your audience needs or wants a piece of content, even if they don’t know it themselves.

But the main thing I want you to remember is that choosing a content topic based on keyword research can be incredibly effective, and is not a disservice to your audience. Quite the opposite! Keyword research should be a tool that helps you to better understand and connect with your audience.