Write For People, Not For Spiders

Alex Denning of WPShout.com has published his thoughts on SEO and I tend to agree with all of them. I laugh at those who spend every waking moment optimizing everything they can simply to please those spiders that crawl over content. I consider some aspects of SEO to just be common sense. I use some of that common sense on WPTavern.com by using the Google XML sitemaps plugin because it makes it easier to index articles across the site. This is the only SEO specific plugin I use. As for pretty permalinks, I use %postname% not so much for SEO purposes, but because it keeps the URL short and human readable. When I write content, I do so in a way that comes natural. I don’t use certain words over others because they taste better to the spiders. I write as a human for other humans. The tags are just words that I’ve used in the article to help create some sort of relevance between articles around the same topic. I don’t treat them as meta keywords. As for the theme that I use, Hybrid News has a few different options on Meta information and indexing that I use but I don’t even understand what the options do.

I don’t dismiss everything around SEO as junk, I just think it’s better for everyone, including Google if humans come first before spiders. This site has a page rank of 5, an Alexa Ranking below 30,000 and has a devoted fan base all accomplished without any SEO trickery. Search engines also make up a bulk of the traffic this site receives. This must mean I’m doing something right as Google and other search engines have no problem pointing searchers to WordPress articles on WPTavern that are relevant to their search query. My general advice for SEO is to do a few little things to get started but write for people first, SEO will follow.


20 responses to “Write For People, Not For Spiders”

  1. Jeff,
    You get all that google search traffic using the same techniques you are decrying in this post! It’s just that Justin (the author of Hybrid) did it for you instead of you doing it consciously.

    For instance,
    1. Your doctitle sums up what this post is about with the post title. (could be optimized)
    2. The H1 tag is wrapped around this post’s title, not around the site title.
    3. Your content comes before your sidebar in the document flow.
    4. Your markup structure is logical and semantic. (doc size could be optimized)
    5. You use breadcrumbs.

    You take these things for granted because they were done for you by a developer who paid attention to what he was doing. Not all themes are built this way. In fact, most aren’t.

    Do you enjoy all that google traffic? Further optimizing your theme would likely result in even more of it. Search engine traffic is extremely valuable, mainly because it’s free, and mostly new traffic. If you sold something on this site, a 5-10% increase in SE traffic WOULD matter to you, I guarantee that.

    And BTW, no one is saying that you have to abandon writing for humans. I’m specifically talking about optimizing themes for search engines. This takes little to no ongoing effort.

  2. @Nathan Rice – Hmm. Well, I definitely see where you’re coming from. But I’ll still say that SEO is not a buying point for me and themes. Granted, I don’t want Google to remove me because the theme I use is so bad. Unfortunately, there is no real easy way to test theme SEO in the shorterm is there?

  3. For me personally, search engine traffic whilst a useful tool is not the most important thing.

    I think if people go too far over the top with SEO it does more bad than good! I personally deliberatley write my posts in the way that I speak or think – to try and include words simply for search engines is not blogging, really. After all, its my blog not Google’s!

    As for categories and tags… I aim to stick each post I write into only 1 category, the main topic of the post (eg. “Radio” is one I frequently use, my area of expertese!) and then use the tags to look further into the category and tag specific things. I don’t think of them as meta tags (something I never really understood anyway) but a list of things mentioned in the blog… usually 1 per paragraph as each paragraph represents one line of thought.

  4. @Jeff,
    Unfortunately, anyone and everyone can and does claim their theme is SEO’d, and there’s no real way to tell if they’re feeding your a load of BS or not, unless you actually know what good SEO looks like.

    If anyone cares to know, here’s what to look out for …

    If the theme you’re buying has “SEO” listed in a bullet point list of features, then it’s probably BS.

    Maybe you’ll give them the benefit of the doubt … so send them an email and ask why they think their theme is so SEOwsome. If they don’t have a convincing response, run … far away. These are the people who are going to be presenting your content to the world. If they’re amateurs, you will get amateur results. Run.

    What’s a convincing response? Well, that’s up to you to decide. I’ll tell you what ISN’T a convincing response … telling me that SEO doesn’t matter or that all WP themes are “basically the same”. Again, run away from them.

    I can tell you, in detail, why Genesis is coded properly for SEO. The same goes for Thesis. The same goes for Hybrid. If the author of the theme can’t tell you EXACTLY what makes his theme SEO, run.

  5. I have to agree with Nathat on this issue. Let’s put it this way… SEO will never be the soul of the party but it will always be the guy that brings that extra 6 pack :)

    Now if you don’t need the 6 pack then fine… don’t worry about it… but I can tell you I had quote requests from people founding me on Google. And on the end of the day that’s what pays the bills.

    Working with Thematic I can tell you for sure it helps to have good HTML. Put that with proper Page Titles (using AIOS plugin for example) and write your content taking into consideration that you might want to include certain keywords is all that you need for a page to have a good rank in Google.

    You don’t have to create a post with 40% keywords and 60% information (you might even get penalized for this), just make sure you include those keywords a couple of times and that’s all. Well at least for me.

  6. Writing for people is nice in theory, but the sad fact is that doing so will cost you traffic and visitors. No matter how high your PageRank is, when someone searches for “write for humans”, this page will not come up, at least not very highly, because that exact phrase is not in this post. That is no big loss in this case, but it can be a very big deal elsewhere.

    The first thing I learned was to stop writing catchy, clever, titles like pro writers do in real life because search engines hate them. The more plain and basic, the more likely it is to match a search.

    You are right that obsessing over SEO is not helpful, but ignoring it is being naive.

  7. A lot of SEO IMO comes with patience. If you write for people and have a good topic, the search engine traffic will come eventually.

    Take my personal site for example. I rank #1 for a variety of keywords and phrases (example: good tip amount). Heck, my website shows up on the 2nd page of Google for “ronald”. Weird.

    One thing I would recommend is to make good use of images in posts. I guesstimate 70% of my search engine traffic comes from Google image search, which is also the main source of my site comments.

    It also helps that my site has been around since 2002.

    Thanks for the tips Jeff.

  8. […] Given that environment, it’s only natural that some bloggers would question those claims. Alex Denning of WPshout.com recently published “Some Thoughts on SEO” and Jeffro over at WPtavern.com followed it up by imploring us to “Write for People, not Spiders.” […]

  9. WRT the “write for humans” anecdote, here’s a good rule of thumb.

    Write your title and content for humans, sure, but be aware that they aren’t the only ones “reading” your content. Try to at lease slip a keyword or part of a keyphrase into your post/page titles (wrapped in H1 of course). Then use Thesis, Genesis, Hybrid, or AiOSEO/Headspace2 plugins to craft the doctitle. Users won’t ever see that anyway, but it’s what search engines look at before anything else on-site.

    I’m not saying to stuff keywords in there … I hate that, and I don’t think it works very well … I’m just saying to use it to rewrite your title to target your keyword or keyphrase.

    That way, you don’t have to look at this as an either/or scenario. You can write both for humans AND spiders and get the benefits from both.

  10. OK, I’m no expert, but there are hundreds of articles out there on SEO and quite a few books. It seems to make sense (if you care) to read an article or two, ask questions of theme developers and get referrals. That’s what I do already when I spend my money with someone. That said, I intend to use Hybrid myself which in version 0.7 leaves open SEO for plugins. That means I have to decide which plugins (or my own) will do the best job.

    I certainly believe it can be counterproductive to write for SEO, but it makes sense to present what you write in a way that search engines will find it and readers will enjoy it when they do. Each site/business will have to decide what investment of time/resources is warranted for a potential increase in traffic from SEs, but at some point the marginal return from better content, outways the marginal return for theme tweaking.

  11. @Nathan Rice

    “If the theme you’re buying has “SEO” listed in a bullet point list of features, then it’s probably BS.”

    studiopress.com bullet point #2:
    “Professionally Search Engine Optimized”

    I don’t agree that because someone lists SEO in a bullet point for their theme’s selling points means it’s BS. Joost and StudioPress do a good job.

  12. @Chris,
    OK, you got me there :-) I guess I should have said …

    If the theme you’re buying has “SEO” listed in a bullet point list of features with no elaboration, it’s probably nothing special. Ask for details!!!

    StudioPress themes (as they stand right now, pre-Genesis) are pretty good at SEO. Not great, but pretty good. We’ve done a considerable amount of work bringing Genesis up to par with other themes that do SEO well.

  13. I don’t dismiss everything around SEO as junk, I just think it’s better for everyone, including Google if humans come first before spiders. This site has a page rank of 5, an Alexa Ranking below 30,000 and has a devoted fan base all accomplished without any SEO trickery.

    Kinda my point; Google isn’t the one who’s reading your blog, actual people are. I’d much prefer to have a dedicated readership than a high Google ranking where people will visit once and never come back. If you’re blogging for Google you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

  14. @Nathan Rice

    “Ask for details” is key, but it assumes you know what to ask about. It’s still buyer beware. Who do you believe, and who do you trust? People new to WordPress or websites or SEO in general frequently have NO IDEA what to ask for, and get screwed in the process.

  15. I both agree and disagree with this sort of thing.

    SEO “tricks” are crap.

    On the other hand, using sensible markup to describe content correctly is not crap, and actually works.

    Quick example: Often I see people using a series of DIV elements with some class for some common set of things. Like a sidebar, for example. This is bad mojo and should be avoided. Instead, use an unordered list. If you don’t like that it gives you bullet points, you use CSS to turn them off.

    Markup should be used as a means to describe the types of content it contains, CSS should be used to define the layout and look of that markup, and content-descriptive classes and id’s should be used to connect the two. And yes, this will help your SEO value, tremendously. If you think Google doesn’t pay attention to what is inside header and paragraph tags and such to assign relative importance values, then you’re nuts.

  16. Thinking more about this, Jeff was saying “write for people”:

    When I write content, I do so in a way that comes natural. I don’t use certain words over others because they taste better to the spiders. I write as a human for other humans.

    That’s all. He wasn’t saying SEO is crap. He was just saying “write naturally”, that’s all. Not sure how it got off onto a whole markup/theme/SEO topic. Write for people. That’s it.


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