I’d like to begin this post by saying – you can teach a creative person to learn the ropes of SEO, but you can’t make an SEO wiz to write words that strike a chord with readers.
The days of keyword stuffing and fooling search engines (and readers) are long gone. Today, search engines bot and your readers are too smart for manipulative SEO. The only thing that works is truly relevant, engaging and honest content that helps the reader.
Also, it helps to make it a little easier for the web crawlers to crawl, understand and see the value in it. That ease is what we like to call optimization today, and that can always be woven into creativity with a little skill. At the core of content marketing, therefore, creativity will always be the queen.
In 2019, digital marketing professionals must focus on creating content that is creative, relevant and useful to the audience, but at the same time, is optimized with some organic SEO principles.
In my opinion, optimizing content in a way that does not tarnish the quality of the content is a creative pursuit of its own. So what you need is an organic balance of both, without letting optimization suppress the creativity, because like I already said, Google and the audience are too smart to be clickbaited by optimization sans creativity.
So let’s take a look at how you can strike the perfect balance between creativity and optimization to create quality content that both your audience and the search engines appreciate and love:
1. Use Keyword Research Wisely
Just because keyword research is a part of SEO doesn’t make it anti-creativity. In fact, keyword research simply unveils what your audience is really looking for. It tells you what the blazing questions of the day are or what has caught everyone’s attention.
Performing thorough keyword research can, in fact, be a great way to inspire new topics and get your brain running. As a writer, you’ve probably experienced how browsing through Quora often results in some fantastic ideas for writing.
So performing keyword research and letting the top trending keywords inspire your next piece of content is a great way to write something that is both highly optimized and creatively challenging to you.
In 2019, when we tell you to naturally incorporate keywords into your content, do not let it bring back the dreadful memories of the pre-panda days when blindsided keyword stuffing was the norm. When you write about custom made leather shoes, chances are that you will end up writing custom made leather shoes in your content once or twice anyway.
That’s all you need to do in the way of naturally incorporating keywords in your content, and you can very well do that without compromising on your content’s quality or creativity.
2. Be Useful To Your Audience
With modern algorithms like Google Rankbrain and the constantly evolving intelligence of search engines, usefulness and relevance of content is directly proportional to the kind of ranking it achieves. So as long as you are creating content that answers the questions people are asking, helping them do what they need to do and truly being useful to the audience, that’s all you need to scale up in the ranking.
If you help a user, he/she will share your content leading to more people reading it consequently leading to ascension in your Google ranking. That’s it. Optimization, check.
3. Use Facts, Figures and Social Proof
Once again, SEO rulebooks tend to advocate the use of credible facts, figures and social proof to optimize your content for higher ranks. However, this isn’t a tactic, this is again, a way to reinforce the credibility of your argument. Whatever you are trying to convey with your writing only becomes stronger when you highlight it with established research based facts.
That is why not just content writers but everyone else, from academicians, researchers, debaters to students writing a college essay use facts and statistics to prove their point.
Therefore, a creative content writer, even without the worries of SEO would like to follow the practice. Incidentally, this also helps you climb the rankings so it qualifies and a completely creative and organic practice that happens to also have SEO benefits. Win-win!
4. Make It Beautiful With Visuals
Images, graphs, even GIFs – any visual elements you add to your content makes it infinitely more interesting and attractive to the reader as well as helps to make your point more strongly.
Let’s not forget that a typical web reader skims the content and only reads further if s/he finds it interesting in a casual glance. Images and other visual collateral helps make the content look great, helping your audience pre-determine the value it will offer them.
Also, the visuals will help them understand and retain the information better and faster. Google too understands this value that images and visuals bring to the audience, which is why it favors visually rich content by ranking them high. So visuals are great for SEO and your audience.
As a quick side note, don’t forget to add ALT tags to all your visual content, not only to help web spiders crawl your images but also to let viewers read it in case poor connectivity fails to display the image.
5. Write for Your Readers First
Once again, for those who still live with the post-traumatic stress of the old keyword stuffing days, remember that in 2019, you should always, always write for humans first. Write using a tone and language that you would use in talking. Be clear, explain where explanation is necessary.
Brevity is good but you can still take your time making a strong point. Be clever, crack a joke. Have fun writing so your audience would have fun reading. Don’t be caught in the shackles of too many rules. Just make sure your content is being helpful and doing it in style.
Today, algorithms are designed to serve the audience. Google is smart enough to almost read through your content and see how much it serves the audience. So when you too work to serve the audience, Google likes you, and ranks you high. That is why optimization no longer stands in the way of creativity. The two in fact work together to create rich user experiences.
Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency specializing in content & data-driven SEO. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Growth Hacking, Entrepreneurship and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, SEMrush Meetup, MICA, IIT-Roorkee and other major events across Asia. As a passionate SEO & content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory and Inc42 to name a few.