Write For Humans, Optimize For Machines
Back in 2015, Google made a change to its search algorithm that’s still affecting that way marketers create content today. The company introduced RankBrain, an algorithm learning AI system than can understand user intent.
For the first time, Google could predict what people were actually searching for and could recommend relevant pages that didn’t necessarily include the exact keyword phrases that people had used.
For marketers, this meant doing away with keyword stuffing and instead, creating content that not only boosted page rankings, but was also more valuable to users.
The push toward quality content continued in March 2018 when Google unveiled its mobile-first indexing. This move required websites to be quick, responsive and secure (or at least have a mobile-friendly version) if they wanted to rank well in Google search.
At the same time, Google started combing pages for structured data. This latest move not only helps its search engine understand pages, but also allows it to turn top pages into featured snippets and voice search answers.
Because of these changes, success in the content game is now all about writing for real people, but optimizing for machines — which in this day and age also means making sure it works on voice and mobile search.
So how do you do it?
How to Write for Humans
Considering these changes, it’s helpful to set keywords aside and think of topics instead. Google parses them from content, but also from the way that pages are structured, including everything from page titles and subheads to paragraphing.
With that in mind, let’s look at formatting, starting with your title. Try and come up with one that sounds like a question your audience would ask Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa. Make it natural and conversational, as well as engaging and descriptive.
Then you’ll want to break your content into chunks that help your readers know exactly where to find what they’re looking for. Use natural subheadings to make this even easier.
Finally, there’s the content itself. Is it meaningful? Does it offer visitors value while simultaneously meeting your business goals?
Extra credit can be had when you answer a question better that anyone else. In that case, Google will vacuum your content up and make it a featured snippet in its search results or even the sole answer of a voice search.
The easy way to find topics to enrich your content offerings is with keyword research. But if you want to dig deeper, use Answer The Public or Google Trends. Looking at Google Search Console from time to time can also help you find out what your customers and potential customers are searching for.
How to Optimize Content for Machines
With all of the data at Google’s fingertips, including massive amounts of content and usage statistics, the age of repeating keywords ad nauseum is over.
Instead, spend time upgrading your SEO strategies to help Google understand your content.
This includes adding structured data to HTML markup, which allows Google to index and categorize your content, and it also includes spending some time learning how AI is changing content marketing.
Optimizing For Mobile Vs. Optimizing For Voice
Google’s adoption of its mobile-first index makes a lot of sense. Not only are mobile devices gaining market share every day, they’re also sharing much more information than desktops and laptops. Just think of the wealth of behavioral, personal and location data that is tracked on mobile devices.
Google can leverage all of that data for an increasingly tailored experience — and one that’s intelligent enough to handle voice search. This feature is still in its infancy, but by 2021, an estimated 1.6 billion people will use it.
So far, Google treats mobile and voice the same in its indexes, with two big differences: First, when someone asks a voice assistant a question, only one answer comes back (pulled from a featured snippet). And second, when people ask questions verbally, they tend to ask longer questions which are also more natural than typed queries.
Because of all these advancements in how content is searched, it means that creating content for humans and optimizing it for machines is now essential, and should be standard practise. By creating content that fits in with the ever-more sophisticated user journey, the chances of your organisation's content being seen via voice assistant or on a smartphone will be higher, gving your business the visibility it wants – which is, after all, what everyone is competing for.