About 15 years ago we managed to get Google to come along and do a presentation for our clients about its expanding range of services. It was during a slot on Google Translate that the penny dropped for me: not only was the average brain at Google a lot smarter than me, but whatever the project of theirs that I might turn my attention to outsmarting, there were a lot of these giant brains trying to ensure I didn’t succeed.
At the time, ‘writing for Google Search’ was everywhere. Anyone who’d done their homework on search engine ranking would advise people to write in a certain way, shoehorning in important search terms in just the right number. It worked too.
When Google started to hint that it was going to give preference to content written for human consumption, many people were skeptical. How could a machine tell? The many people who’d realised that the brains behind Google were way ahead of the rest of us were less dismissive. My attitude tended to be that however surprising the claim, if Google said it was doing something, it had probably already nailed it.
However, old habits die hard, and there’s been plenty of evidence too, over the last ten years, that targeting search terms still has an impact. It’s been the decade of trying to write both for readers and for algorithms at the same time.
Now I’m confident that the machines really do just ‘get it’, and we should just get on and write for our customers and prospects without worrying about feeding the search engines. If we write the best page on the web for a topic, all those brains will have created a system that will find it, and rank it highly. If we try to game the system, it will almost certainly have seen what we’re trying before, and will reward us with deserved indifference.
Your company website will provide a topical context for everything on it, by its very nature. If you sell blue widgets, Google will know that the content will be related to blue widgets, even if you’ve chosen not to bang on about it. You can safely focus on what your reader might want to know about, using your own words. Sure, the page title will probably be ‘SEO oriented’, but that’s because readers and search engines are looking for the same things.
The 2020s will be a third generation of website copywriting, and one where we need support from great human copywriters, not ‘SEO specialists’.