Content Isn’t King, Your Reader Is

Good content is about real conversation with real people. Remember that. We’ll be coming back to it.

Spiders and Bots
Write for people not spiders

I’ve been hearing a lot of writers talking about starting blogs, or buying domains and building Web sites, to try and increase their online presence and build a platform for their nonfiction, or to try to establish a Web presence for their fiction. I’ll tell you guys the same thing I tell everyone who asks me: Good content is about real conversation with real people.

If you’re thinking about starting a blog or Web site, or you’ve already been noodling around with Web content for a while, there’s a saying you’ve probably heard: Content is king. Now, that doesn’t mean that you just churn out as many words as you can, as fast as you can. It also doesn’t mean that you need to use just the right words, arranged in just the right order, to form some sort of keyword Web-traffic voodoo. That’s a common myth that some content sites persist in repeating like a mantra.

It should go without saying that if you’ve got a paying gig writing Web content, and the guy that’s writing the checks wants you to use his talismanic keywords, you use ’em, and cash the check. That’s what freelancing is about, sometimes. However, if you’re writing for your own blog or Web site, then what you really need to be thinking about is who your audience is, and how to be interesting to them. You want them to come back, right? And you want them to link to you, and send their friends to read, too.

If you’ve spent any time at all considering online writing, you’ll already have heard all sorts of bloggers, writers, and wannabes tossing around the acronym SEO with utter certainty. Even people who really ought to know better by now will assure you, quite earnestly, that ultimately keywords will win the internets.

If you’ve got a Twitter account, you’ll probably have already noticed that you can’t tweet anything that includes SEO—even something like “what the SEO weenies aren’t telling you…”—without having about a dozen new followers. Those new followers will all have things like “online marketing!” and “SEO specialist!” in their profiles.


Look, all SEO stands for is Search Engine Optimization. People use keywords to try to game Google and the other search engines into increasing page rank, because they’ve included specific words and phrases. Often, they’ve included those so-called keywords over and over and over again. That doesn’t make for entertaining writing. It also doesn’t make for return visitors, because readers can tell when they’re being used.

Pick out a couple of common keywords to do a search, and see what pops up on the front page of your search engine. You’ll get a couple of pretty good links. More than likely, though, your search is also going to bring up a lists of sites that describe themselves using the keyword search terms over and over again, and a fair handful of those links are going to take you to spam sites. If you go visit those sites, they’ll have entire pages consisting of nothing but keywords. Search engine designers are pretty regularly refining their algorithms to try and work around people who try to game the system this way.

Here’s an example. I run AbsoluteWrite. My audience is writers, people who want to be writers, and people working in various facets of publishing. So it’s only natural that I’m going to talk about writing, here—but whether or not anyone reads what I have to say depends entirely on whether or not I’m talking about that chosen topic intelligibly, articulately, and hopefully in reasonably entertaining fashion.

If I decided to maximize writing-related keywords in this post, it could read something like this: Writers writing blog posts or writing Web content must write targeted prose to maximize the visibility of their writing to anyone searching for writers to write for a website, or anyone writing or searching for writing that’s about whatever the chosen focus—in this case, writers and writing—of a site’s writing content might be.

That’s borderline gibberish.

If I choose to write a whole post that way, it’s going to discourage return visitors. It’s also going to discourage incoming links, because people want to link to people, not keywords, and not spam. Ultimately, the best lists of keywords in the world aren’t going to win the Internet. They can’t. Because keywords alone don’t actually say anything that anyone wants to read.

Good content is about real conversation with real people.

11 thoughts on “Content Isn’t King, Your Reader Is”

  1. Hi,
    You are a writer after my heart. I just loved your post and Thank God! one writer is not offering advice on use of keywords. I firmly believe if you can stimulate your reader in some way, he will come back.
    I’m following you on Twitter and intend to sign up for your blog, if you have newsletters going out.
    Thanks for an interesting article that is written forcefully! I think your personality comes through in your writing. Just as Jane Austen’s did in her novels. 🙂
    Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks! I keep trying to explain to people that worrying about keywords is putting the cart before the horse. If we instead concentrate on writing well, writing strong, then we’re going to be both interesting, and using words and phrases that are important because they are precise and specific.

  3. EEK! Putting keywords on the actual page itself? No No! Keywords belong in the coding of what your website is about as a meta tag. Like the authors name, web site description, the name of the site. It should only be a few descriptive words. For example if you wanted to see what makes up a website in html code, in your browser you would go to view>page source (in Firefox) or view>source (in Internet Explorer). A text file pops up with all sorts of html coding gobblygook which makes it possible for you to view that web page. That is what a web page really looks like, code. So in the code you may see
    <META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="Writing, writers" No one is suppose to actually see it. Problem is this post is right. A good website builder puts it where it belongs not as a bombardment of junk on the pages themselves.

  4. Yes, exactly! I keep trying to explain how metadata works, and tagging as well — I suspect that there are a lot of fairly naive users out there who very much want to do the right thing, but I keep seeing the most incredible misinformation repeated and passed around.

    And saddest of all, the very nice woman I’ve been corresponding with who paid an “SEO Specialist” thousands of dollars. Know what they did? Filled her sidebar with keywords, all hyperlinked back to her top page.

  5. Ouch! That is very painful and unfortunate. Just like there are a lot of “Beware” type places in writing, there are a lot of bewares in website building companies — well hacks. There are so many user friendly building programs out there now, all of them pretty much guide you through where to put tags– hit the button, and boom, the code is created for you. It would have been better if she brought a program and had one of her kids or grandkids build the site for her!

    Your post was a useful warning for the unknowing. Another reason why I value this site. You cover everything!

  6. Let me add my praise for the post on blogging. I don’t blog, but I do search for information on the Internet and I get so irritated when the key words I type result in page after page of blogs filled with drivel that includes my key words! There oughtta be a law!

    Note to HistorySleuth: I didn’t understand a word of your first post, but it sounded very intelligent.

  7. I believe that Google double checks your meta tag list against your content to verify that the keywords you listed do appear in the copy. You get points off for adding keywords as meta tags that don’t appear anywhere in your text.

    What is also important to remember is that good content is always relevant content and by default, you will be including keywords that will serve a dual purpose: bring existing readers back for more, and help you acquire new readers who did a search on the keywords that are in your copy.

  8. Hi all. As a professional website designer, I thought my “two cents” might be worth something in this discussion.

    First, let’s separate blog sites from traditional commercial sites when considering keyword importance, because a blog author might post 100 or more articles a year, and to include his carefully researched keywords in every one would result in very boring copy, as MacAllister said. If you are thinking about starting your own blog, MacAllister’s advice was sound: forget about SEO, concentrate on the quality and relevance of your articles, and let the WordPress platform handle Google. There are any number of free SEO plugins that will do the behind the scenes work for you.

    That said, if you are going to develop a traditional commercial website, your choice and application of keywords is a critical factor (one of many) for your successful ranking in the search engines. To that end, Paula had it right: what you do with your keywords can have both a positive and negative effect on your page rank. For commercial website development, my advice would be to hire a competent, experienced web designer who knows how to properly build SEO into a site. Done correctly, search engine and keyword optimization is noticeable only by the spider-bots who crawl your site.

    Best of luck, and Happy New Year to all.

  9. Thanks for the reminder! It’s easy to loose focus when you have to concentrate both on writing good material and finding ways to get relevant people to read it. And you have to do all that without making a fool of yourself in the blogosphere! For instance, am I making a fool of myself if I published a short story I wrote on my blog? Is it some kind of indication that I’m the only one willing to publish my story and seeing that there’s no keywords or links in my story that could be in indication of being a total ignoramus . . .

    Writing for people not spiders? Brilliant.

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