Can you “write” SEO?

Have you ever wondered while reading something, “Who wrote this, anyway”?

Well, Google is wondering the same thing. And they want an answer.

So, while the battle between literate, well-written web copy and SEO rages on, just a word of advice: associate yourself with your content as its author.

Writing compelling, detailed content without cultivating equally compelling authorship is leaving money on the table. 

Gone (or at least, going) are the days of “content writers”. And kind of but not entirely gone are the days of ghostwriters.

Side-note: do you have any idea how many entrepreneurs and agency owners have asked me to write in their name?

Those days are ending; time to practice writing.

Here’s why: just a couple of months ago, Google quietly released one of the highest-impact algorithm updates in more than 5 years.

I don’t know it has an official name, but you might call it the EAT update, an acronym Google uses to describes its core rating methodology. (If you know the name, hit reply and let me know!) in its internal materials, such as its Search Quality Rater Guidelines (SQRG)

Google’s SQRG (a 165-page PDF document you can download here) was heavily updated in conjunction with the algorithm update. 

This document repeatedly asks quality raters to consider not just the content but the content’s “creator”, with the acronym EAT standing for the creator’s Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (hmm, reminds me of Photofeeler.com’s rating guidelines on business profile photos, but I digress).

Let’s take a look right into Google guidelines – as we speak, actual humans are busily evaluating the effectiveness of Google’s most recent update against these very guidelines; they are asked to consider:

● The expertise of the creator of the main content.

● The authoritativeness of the creator of the main content, the main content itself, and the website.

● The trustworthiness of the creator of the main content, the main content itself, and the website.

This makes me so happy. 

As you may know, I’m not “an SEO” (When you you hear “an SEO”, that refers to someone exclusively focused on cultivating SEO expertise; someone who bases her professional services on the practice). I am however, a full-stack digital marketing consultant; SEO is a fundamental part of the stack.

It’s definitely not dead, either, as has been routinely claimed over the past 15 years.

And by its nature it’s still the one of the wild frontiers of online marketing; as I wrote in the Cannabis SEO Principle, it is the de facto least-regulated form of marketing available to us (because it relies so much more heavily on automation than other mediums).

Anway, back to being happy. What makes me happy is when Google makes it easier to reconcile search engine optimization with copywriting, conversion rate optimisation, even good UX design. This is one of those moments.

Why?

Because once again, it pushes back on mindless content. Just like the famous Penguin update (actually a series of updates released between 2012 and 2016). Penguin started rolling out in 2012, though most of us didn’t start notice, let alone start to capitalize on it until 2 or 3 years later.

Penguin instantly made frequent, short “fluff posts” as worthless as they truly are – “search spam”. Seth Godin and a few others wrote valuable, 300 to 500 word blog posts. Short, frequent, and very sweet.

But most posts of that length are pure garbage.

What displaced short-form search spam was longer and much more detailed content.

A study of search results on 1 million keywords by Brian Dean in 2016 showed the top results tended to average nearly 2,000 words. And any cursory examination of “competitive” content on BuzzSumo will reveal that 3,000+ word content items tend to get the highest engagement.

In fact, Brian Dean and other SEOs codified approaches (e.g. Skyscraper) to writing high-ranking content by, basically, writing long, detailed, useful content and promoting the hell out of it. This was directly related to his extensive research.

Interestingly, Brian recently revised his “formula” in what he’s calling Skyscraper 2.0. That’s not a direct reflection of Google’s authorship EAT update, but it’s related.

Because here’s what the Penguin update accomplished – or set out to accomplish:

  1. Favor expertise over frequency
  2. Encourage content authors to do – and present – more research
  3. Expose poor literacy
  4. Encourage authors to take a stand on subject matter

And while it accomplished all of those goals to some extent, people have found ways to game it by hacking the Skyscraper technique; hiring content creators to pump out long form content. 

I don’t want to read that crap. Do you?

They found ways to give Google the impression of expertise, and research, and to entice users to read further by making bold claims and promises. 

In response Google has steadily released micro-updates designed to reflect user engagement – and user intent. Is the content what the reader expected? How far down the page did they scroll? How much time did they spend on the page.

Deep user engagement metrics like those are telling. In fact, Brian Dean’s Skyscraper 2.0 approach revolves entirely around user intent – ensuring tight synchronicity between what the article promises (SEO Title + Meta description) and what she gets.

I believe this is part of why I’ve been able to rank well-researched, long-form articles such as the Cannabis SEO Principle for very competitive keywords (e.g. Cannabis SEO Consultant)  without doing any time-consuming backlinking.

But the EAT update actually takes it a step further than user engagement and user intent, let alone depth – it makes us answer that question, “who wrote this, anyway?”. And answer it in spades.

And hopefully after writing this, the author this content will himself update his WordPress installation to neatly open and close each piece of content with information about the author. (I’m sure FB graph, semantic markup, blah blah, applies too).

But I don’t endorse this purely for SEO reasons; I ignore SEO best practices all the time. The title of this post, for example, (“Who wrote this, anyway? Not an SEO”) is far from SEO optimized because it doesn’t target a specific and relevant keyword that I have any chance of ranking for. But that’s OK,  because it attempts to summarize what this article is about.

And I’m fine with that compromise; I will side with readable, useful, and well-written everytime when faced with a choice between that and SEO optimization. 

Answering the “Who wrote that” question, in detail, is a great way to be useful. Nice one, GOOG.

So will you take action, or just me?

Yours,
– Rowan

p.s. I’d recommend something like the below for every piece of content 👇🏻


About the Author

Rowan H. Price is a digital business development consultant with lots of practice in digital marketing and technology consulting. As the former co-founder of a marketing integration agency, he’s worked for large organizations like IBM, the United Nations, the Smithsonian, and Tiffany & Co. Rowan now helps digital experts and entrepreneurs, many of whom have B2B agencies or tech startups. More about Rowan’s professional background on LinkedIn, spy on his pathetic Medium account here, and read other articles by Rowan here.