There’s a lot of good advice out there about SEO keywords.

How to discover them, how to choose them, and how to cram them in.

We’ve got loads of rigid rules about density – telling you exactly how often you need to spam those phrases at your poor exhausted readers, and exactly when you need to stop and dial it down.

But there’s not much advice about how to keep things pretty.

Writing for SEO is a delicate art. You need to predict the search behaviour of thousands of strangers, keep up with your closest competitors – and pretend you have a basic understanding of how Google’s algorithms really work.

But between the complexities of all that hidden machinery, you still need to pump out a pleasant read.

So here’s how to do it without writing like a robot:

Repetition is a spell-breaker

“The thing about car rentals in London is this: car rentals in London are easy to find. So if you’re looking for car rentals in London, be sure to check out our awesome list of car rentals in London by visiting our Car Rentals in London page.”

– Some rubbish SEO writer, 2009

You probably like to think you know a spammy SEO article when you see one.

You can tell when the writer is following an arbitrary rule about ‘keyword density’: aiming for a particular percentage of the content to be filled with their chosen keyword.

But those are just the ones you’ve noticed.

In reality, you’ve probably read hundreds of articles that were packed to the brim with keywords – and you just didn’t realise.

So what’s the trick?

Those articles aren’t obsessed with a single keyword.

Good writers (in any field) don’t like to repeat their words. Just like an accidental alliteration or a fine rhyme, a repetition creates an echo that draws attention to the writing itself.

It disrupts the flow of the writing, and it breaks the illusion of the invisible writer.

In most cases, you’ll be working from a list of keywords – probably a batch that you researched yourself from a useful free resource like Answer the Public or Keyword Tool.

And that’s a great start. But if you want your SEO shenanigans to fly under the radar, you’ll need a wide array of keywords and phrases to choose from (not just the two most popular ones repeated to infinity).

You could carry on battering your readers into submission with a repeated mantra of ‘car rentals in London’.

Or you could be a little more devious – and disguise the density of your keywords by working with a larger pool of keywords to begin with:

“Looking for a hire car in London? It’s easier than ever to find the perfect rental. So if you’re in the city and you need a short-term vehicle, be sure to check out our awesome list of one-day car websites by visiting our Car Rentals in London page.”

Lists are not your friend

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That – that’s about it.”

– Bubba Blue, Forrest Gump, 1994

Most copywriters will tell you that lists and bullet points are an amazing tool for readability. When you’ve got a lot of information to get across, they can help you by:

  • Breaking things up into bite-sized chunks
  • Helping your reader to scan to the important bits
  • Organising your information by category or purpose
  • And demonstrating an obvious point about the importance of lists.

But there’s a caveat here:

Lists and bullet points are only useful when you’ve got a lot you need to say. If you’re breaking out into a list just to rattle off every variation of your favourite keyword, it’s going to be painfully obvious – and your readers won’t stand for it.

It might be an effective way of cramming in those keywords. But when you’re writing for SEO, you’re not just writing for robots:

You’re writing for humans who inform those robots.

So if you really must include every single keyword form your research, at least spread them out a little. Give your readers the mental space to absorb your keywords in a leisurely drip-feed – or you might find they’ll back out to Google and find a different article that’s more pleasant to read.

And if you don’t think you have the space to spread out every keyword beyond your high-density list? The solution is simple:

Either make your article longer, with a deeper dive into the topic that covers more useful stuff – or just mercilessly cut out some of the less important keywords.

Longer tails are harder to hide

“Looking for a budget day-hire people-carrier car rental for seven people with included insurance in London for under £50?”

– That same rubbish SEO writer, 2009

Long-tail keywords are fantastic for razor-sharp targeting. And if you can make them work (and rank for them), you can almost guarantee that the people you’re drawing in are ready to buy exactly what you’re offering.

But if you’re trying to shoehorn an absolute hippo into the natural flow of an article, you’re going to have a bad time.

So what’s the solution?

You have a few options – and they’re all a bit shaky:

You can try putting the words in your reader’s mouth:

“You’re probably wondering: ‘Am I ever going to find a budget day-hire people-carrier in London for under £50?’. If that sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place.”

Or you can try splitting your keyword whale across different parts of the same sentence:

“Popping down to London? Get a great deal on our budget car rentals with fees under £50 (including insurance!) – from stylish sports cars to extra-large people carriers.”

But if you really want your insane long-tail keywords to fit into your content naturally?

You need to cut them. You need to ruthlessly slash away the least important parts of that tail, until you’re left with a phrase that sits just inside the boundary of what a real human being would say out loud.

Rigid keywords create rigid writing

This is by far the easiest trick you can use to make your SEO writing more natural.

And sadly, it seems to be the one method that gets overlooked the most:

You need to be willing to tweak your keywords a bit.

These days, Google is sharper than ever. It’s not just scanning web pages for exact matches to the bizarre, disjointed terms that searchers are typing in.

It’s looking for semantic equivalents – it’s looking for context, and it’s looking for relevancy.

If your customers are typing in ‘car rental London’, you’ll be absolutely fine with the more natural ‘car rentals in London’.

If they’re typing ‘cake recipe’, you can use ‘cake recipes’ – it does the same thing.

What you don’t want is to force these clumsy search terms into real sentences that real people might want to read.

If your content starts to sound like broken English, your visitors will start to look elsewhere. And if your traffic suffers, your ranking in Google will suffer, too.

(No matter how many of those awkward phrases you’ve stuffed into your content.)

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