How to Write SEO Content That Doesn't Look Like Spam

The bad news: I’ve been too busy with copywriting work to keep up with blogging for my own site. The good news: I’ve been too busy with copywriting work to keep up with blogging for my own site.

The even better news: my friend, Timothy Hands, editorial manager for and moderator for the Google+ Content Writing Workshop Community, took over this week because he’s just that cool. He has some words of wisdom to share on making sure your content is full of relevant keywords without looking like a sleazebag.

Before we begin, realize one thing: whatever it is you are going to publish should fulfill a need. What does that mean? It means your target audience is the only priority. Search engines are not your audience. 

Perhaps that sounds a bit over-aggressive and even counter-intuitive. Because hey, chances are you have read enough articles and received enough advice telling you how vital SEO is to your website’s needs. This is a misconception. @@Search engine ranking is not your goal. Interested readers finding what you have to offer is.@@

Folks bring up keywords as if they are this all-important ranking factor. And while the right ones in the right places at the right times can play a role, they are certainly not some kind of panacea for findable content. There is a whole cavalcade of other parameters involved which decide whether or not your articles are friendly for search. We’re talking about things like page design, page loading speed, social media vitality, domain establishment, header placement, is easy to get lost in it all. But the most important? High quality, unique, helpful content that provides users with information that can make a difference.

What Are They Looking For?

By “they”, we mean potential readers. What is it they are trying to find? Think about this for a second. Don’t race to assumptions. Put yourself in the shoes of someone trying to find what it is you want to talk about. What would you search for? You could play all the keyword research games you want but if you cannot instantly come up with an answer, you’re already in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong - there is value in applying analytics to come up with relevant terms and phrases. It’s just that abiding by statistics and copious amounts of word comparisons will lead you down a rabbit hole that can take away from your principal content objective. And no one wants that.

No Need to Repeat

If you were to see one of your friends at a store, and they asked you how your mom was doing, you wouldn’t be robotic in response. You wouldn’t say, “Oh, my mom is doing great! My mom is jogging every morning and eating better. My mom really likes exercising!”

This may seem a bit trite, but you get the point. When you hold it up to the light, keyword stuffing looks pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? Definitely not natural.

It is possible (and for writers, way, way, way, way easier) to describe the guts of any topic without having to incessantly reuse words. So, how is ole’ “mom” doing?

“Oh, my mom is doing great! Believe it or not, she goes jogging every morning, really likes exercising, and is even eating better.”

Okay, perhaps “mom” is coming off some kind of health scare and this news is a big deal - whatever. The point is, repeating the word “mom” is unnecessary.

In this case, the person who asked how your mother is doing can be construed as the user hopping on Google. He or she just wants to know how mom is and thus, does not require the search query to be slammed back in their face over and over again. They get it.

Now, using sentences as the example is a little too easy. After all, even the laziest or most inexperienced of writers probably wouldn’t repeat a word so blatantly in consecutive sentences. But what about paragraphs? Is it possible to avoid repeating phrases in full paragraphs?

There Is More Than One Way to Say Something

Okay, so we agree that keywords aren’t the end-all be-all; however, there is value to making content easier for searchers to find. Specific words (or phrases) may help encourage such discovery. None of this is the problem. What is a problem, is that many authors assume this is the queue to liberally use these words throughout textual content, aka “stuffing.” They may not even do it on purpose. It could be by presumption. Newbie writers and marketers may be under the impression that if they are writing about a subject, mentioning it by name often has to be good for SEO (which it kind of was, like a decade ago and a half ago).

What we want to do instead is look at keyword synonyms. In most walks of life, there are multiple words available to describe the same thing. There may even be nicknames and slang people use on a regular basis when referring to a place or product. Can you come up with any that make sense for what it is your business or site does? If so, this is the content advantage you’re looking for.

What synonyms help with is latent semantic indexing, but let’s just call this “context” to make it cleaner. Context is what makes any story, description, or explanation worthwhile to read. Without it, you’re lost and might have no idea what you’re looking at. Why would search engines, especially Google, be any different? @@A measly keyword or two repeated a bunch of times does not create context: it creates annoying language.@@

Search engines see synonyms as indicators of supporting details and topic relevancy. What’s more, Google’s Knowledge Graph is more concerned with how helpful and authoritatively a topic is discussed. This helps it get the “gist” of content so users receive the best quality results. Just like you can tell what people are talking about when you overhear them using a couple of words, the same thing applies here.

The best part about all of this? It takes the burden away. You can write with more freedom, more levity, and more confidence. Provided you are an expert in your topic area, it will also allow you to communicate information naturally and effectively because odds are, you use your designated synonyms in everyday conversation. They are part of how you speak.

Description: The Objective to Focus On

It used to be a common practice for  marketers to identify a primary keyword, find a couple of opportunities inside of the text to use it, and move on. But that really isn’t how it is done anymore. The reason comes back to how Google has arranged its ranking signals.

Keywords were once recognized as “strings”, meaning search results were concentrated on the terminology or phrases users typed. This all changed in 2012, when Google first introduced its aforementioned Knowledge Graph, which saw a move towards recognizing and understanding pages and sites on a topical basis. This is where the adage “from strings to things” comes from, which helps us grasp the concept a little more clearly. Google used to rely on word strings to guide search results, but now it places a higher importance on the actual quality of information on pages and websites to produce the best options for users.

Describing what you are writing about in relevant, usable detail is really the only way out of the SEO maze. You can use a keyword or subset of synonyms to guide you, but ask yourself: will it help me write about this better? If you even so much as slightly pause before answering, it is probably not the smoothest course to sail.

Once a topic is decided on, you are likely going to know fairly quickly what the main keyword candidates are. You won’t even have to hit up on Moz, scan your AdWords tools, or any of that baggage. They will be staring you in the face because you know them already.

Your job, as a writer or blogger, is to support the topic. It just so happens that more often than not, the topic and the keyword are one and the same. So here is how to attack the process (and stay away from stuffing your writing full of the same words needlessly):

  1. DO NOT worry about anything other than introducing the keyword as the foundation of the text. It helps to do this in the very beginning.

  2. Support your topic with plenty of details and examples that illuminate your point.

  3. If you find yourself struggling and feel the need to repeat a word, don’t hesitate to do so. Sure, there is more than one way to say most things, but not everything. Once in awhile, there may not be an adequate synonym to use. Don’t stress about it.

  4. As you read back your work, pay special attention to its clarity. If you notice repeated words or language patterns, edit accordingly.

At this point, I don’t pay much attention to keywords at all when writing a piece. I’m much more concerned with addressing a topic thoroughly and trusting that I’ll put together a cohesive, easily-understandable article that does the job it’s intended to.

This is a far cry from when I first began ecommerce writing and SEO. Back in the “old days”, I would perform countless hours of research on keywords, test them out, study their competitiveness, and look for every suitable opportunity to fit them in. Yikes. You should never have to “fit in” keywords. It is such a manufactured approach to writing that it would be better off banned. In a sense, I suppose it is.

Thankfully, all of the major search engines place a much higher emphasis on quality and relevance. Stick with that. Keywords are not your enemy, they’re just not your friend. Focusing on offering a valuable perspective with credible supporting points is far and away more important than worrying about whether or not you have used a particular word or phrase too much or not enough.

Timothy Hands is the content manager for and the author of the Words and Parts blog. If you'd like more no-BS tips from Tim and other content experts (including yours truly) on how to write content effectively and efficiently, join the Content Writing Workshop on Google +.