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Should Bloggers Write for Humans or Computers?

I’ve been toying with writing this post for a number of weeks now after reading a number of posts on the death of Search Engine Optimization for Bloggers.

Nick over at Performancing kicked it off (at least it was the first one I’d read for a while) with Why Bloggers Don’t need SEO which I think is a great post making some valid points.

His main argument, as I read it, is that if you write for humans instead of computers that you’ll find you’ll build traffic, get subscribers, get links from other sites and as a result you’ll grow in your Search rankings.

In a sense by writing for humans you ARE doing a very organic SEO as one of the main things SEO experts teach is to get relevant, one way links from other sites.

It’s a pretty strong argument for ‘writing for humans’ and a similar one to what Steve wrote in his recent post (point 4) where he argues strongly that you should write for humans first and computers second.

While I don’t think either Nick or Steve would argue that SEO principles should be ignored completely one might conclude from reading posts like these that SEO is a waste of time and should slip off the radar for bloggers.

I am one blogger that does not believe this. My Dad always used to teach me that when there are two arguments on a topic that in many cases the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

My recommendation is that there is a middle ground and that writing for humans and writing for computers are not mutually exclusive things (and I’ll note that I’m not accusing either Nick or Steve of saying that they are).

Here’s a number of random thoughts that I’d keep in mind when exploring this topic:

1. I would argue that the degree that you write for humans/computers will need to vary from blog to blog somewhat. As I wrote a few posts back here – as I look at my blogs I see some that need SE traffic more than others. ProBlogger is one that does not rely heavily upon SE traffic (although I’ve noticed more of it of late) while my gadget blogs do. This is because of the nature of what people are looking for on those blogs.

Here at ProBlogger people are looking for community, a learning environment and fellow travelers/teachers to explore a topic over time. On my gadget blogs people are looking for information on a particular product for a particular time. A much smaller percentage of them want to build community around those products – instead they want to make a decision on what to buy and their first point of call is a search engine where they’ll type in ‘product name review’. While writing for humans is still important in these blogs SEO is still worth exploring – in fact as I look at the traffic on some of these blogs search engines account for the vast majority of visitors.

2. Sometimes SE traffic leads to repeat traffic – While writing for humans can lead to SE traffic as Nick points out, I believe the opposite is true also.

As I mentioned above, ProBlogger has recently seen an increase in it’s SE traffic (mainly from Google). This has been partly because of the process Nick describes in his post (ie lots of incoming links as a result of writing useful content) but also a little SEO. The great thing I’ve noticed though is that quite a few visitors from SE’s are staying on as regular readers. I regularly get emails from readers saying things like “I found your site after searching for ‘insert search term here’ on Google and have been coming back every day since….”

3. SE traffic converts to revenue best – the topic of this blog is ‘helping bloggers earn money’ and I’d be doing readers a disservice if I didn’t mention that in my experience (and that of others) SE traffic converts better with Advertising and Affiliate programs than repeat readers. Of course not all bloggers have money making as a goal of their blog so this is less important to some – but worth keeping in mind.

4. SEO CAN be a distraction – There are many ways bloggers can become obsessed with one element of their blogs to the point that the rest of their blog suffers (point #5 here) and SEO is one of them. While I do argue that SEO is something to learn about and keep in mind as you blog I do not think it’s the only aspect that needs to be worked upon. I know a number of web-masters that have become obsessed with SEO and have seen it’s negative impact upon their blogs. Keep it in balance.

5. Blogs as a Natural SEO format - Most blog platforms come in their default mode in a format that is well optimized for Search Engines. In addition to the fact that blogs link to each other, they usually have good URL structures, interlink well within the site (via categories) and are regularly updated (creating fresh content that Google loves). There are things you can do to enhance your SE ranking there is no need to be overwhelmed by it because you usually have a good starting place.

My Approach

I guess for me it boils down to this. I do primarily write for humans – I want my blogs to be useful to them and work hard to provide good content. However most humans who use the internet use search engines to find content when they don’t already have a source of information for their interest. As a result I want my blogs to be findable in Search Engines and think it a wise move to do what I can to help this process along by learning about how Search Engines work.

While this does not mean I ignore the human element – it means I keep in mind the principles of SEO as I develop blogs and write posts on them. To me balance is the key and a combination of SEO and concentrating on quality content has been successful for me to this point.

To read more about Search Engine Optimization you might like to read my post on SEO for blogs.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I completely agree on the “truth lies somewhere in the middle” thing. As with all things that have to arguments, this is also true for writing for people or SEO.

    I personally think that SE’s are always optimizing their algorithms to get a fix on text written for people. So, wasting time on SEO may work for a while, but SE’s don’t sit still all day.

    Writing for people is the way to go. It has many benefits (as described in this article). And personally, I like to read something that’s written for me, instead of for a machine.

  2. Lyndoman says:

    Write for people first.

    Edit for searchengines second.

    SEO for blogs is not dead, it’s just one tool in the toolbox and depending on your blog and what you want out of it depends on how you approach the balance. Maybe the best metaphor is how to bake a cake, the recipe has to be just right.

    I always make more money from virgin traffic from an SE rather than repeat traffic, but repeat traffic leads to links which leads to better ranking in the SE’s.

  3. Darnell says:

    I also agree that both of them are somewhere in the middle, although it will probably very from blog to blog.

    Hey Darren, I was wondering, would you consider traffic from online RSS feeds to be more machine or human (or a combination of both)?

  4. mark says:

    I strongly agree wth your comment that “balance is the key and a combination of SEO and concentrating on quality content has been successful for me to this point.”

    I like to not focus on just one side, but tweak around the middle somewhere.

  5. chris says:

    Here is an seo question, I had 150 listings in google at 3pm yesterday, at 6pm I was down to 52 listings. The listings that I lost were my individual blog posts. any ideas why this would happen? As to what you wrote about, I personally think that to many “pro” blogging experts are stuck in the content is king mindset and are to narow in there focus.

  6. Mike says:

    You have to write for humans. Do not get caught up in the google algo crap. You will never win. People cannot program what people will like.

  7. jim says:

    It has to be somewhere in the middle because if you write strictly for SEO’s, readers will pick up on that (if you’re too keyword rich, it doesn’t sound natural) but if you write strictly for readers (in an anti-SEO type of way) then you lose the ability to reach a wide range of readers.

  8. The major search engines are continually evolving and (hopefully) getting “smarter” at sorting out the best of the Web from the rest of the Web. So this (hopefully) will reward those who write for humans first, and edit with computers in mind second.

  9. Gab says:

    When I blog, I know my readers are human, so I limit and balance what I do in terms of SEO. But many tips I learnt through Problogger and such have been put to great use, and I’m getting 5-15% of my traffic from search engines, so I see the results. Notably, I hit #1 on google for “moderate analysis” and “centrist commentary”, using these ideas. I recommend paying attention to your post titles and site descriptions.
    To use the metaphor of a suit, you choose the colours and materials according to what your customer wants, but because you have an eye on your business, you do the stitching and hangars the way you want.
    Cheers
    gab

  10. daniy! says:

    Since I’m a novice internet-guy, I started my work with writing for humans. It feels easier to tell stories with human’s language rather than machines. And I remember that my readers are humans. They’re persons that will put judgments over my blogs and the content. If they like it, if they see it useful, they will tend to come again next time, or at least giving a useful one-way backlink to my blogs. And these backlinks are lovable things that we can earn.

    Simply, I know some basic SEO techniques and somehow apply it to my blogs. Adding some keywords [but note fulfill them] in the content, will help the SE to find our blogs and help deliver our blogs to people who never know about my blogs. They’re also potential blog subscribers

  11. Janelle says:

    This is a great article. I work for a web-based company and author several blogs for them. As I’ve been “stumbling” across various web sites as well as other people’s blogs, I find myself becoming increasingly annoyed with a lot of people’s blogs, which are peppered with Google ads and totally irrelevant information. It seems that they’re more obsessed with linking out to stuff than they are with providing quality content. It’s really difficult to find blogs out there that actually speak to other people-blogs that aren’t trying to sell you something or which aren’t so focused on making revenue that the quality of the content suffers.

  12. Darren — this is a fantastic take on the humans vs. robots issue. Thanks for weighing in on the subject. We’ve highlighted your post in a recent video about this same topic: http://www.clicksharpmarketing.com/blog/2008/07/30/myths-seo-video-readers-humans-robots-crawlers/

Trackbacks

  1. [...] ProBlogger’s Darren Rouse chimes in with an excellent, balanced addition to the growing debate over traditional SEO as applied to blogs. This is the topic that I commented on with SEO Copywriting is Dead, which built upon a couple of posts by Nick Wilson of Performancing and was pushed further along by Steve Pavlina. [...]

  2. [...] Should Bloggers Write for Humans or Computers? [...]

  3. [...] Steve Pavlina has a long post filled with tips about How to Build a High-Traffic Web Site (or Blog). Point # 4 on the post was Write for human beings first, computers second. Darren Rowse also asks the question “Should Bloggers Write for Humans or Computers?” onProBlogger. [...]

  4. [...] After The Click-through The challenge is on writing quality posts containing the popular search terms to get readers to subscribe to your blog. This essentially breaks the cardinal content rule of “writing for humans vs. writing for computers” but if done properly can achieve results expanding your readership. [...]