Over our history, Americans have mastered the art of “more.” If we go to a restaurant and don’t get a huge portion that results in us feeling like Violet Beauregarde until bedtime, we act like we got ripped off. If six episodes of a TV show we like is good, then twelve episodes must be better (even though it almost always results in filler episodes and unnecessary characters). I just finished watching Mare of Easttown, for example, and while Kate Winslet is perfectly good, I couldn’t help feeling that it was about twice as long as it needed to be (and also asking myself “why couldn’t they find an American actress to do this?”).
The siren song of SEO can lead you to think the same way. If one paragraph of copy is good, then five paragraphs must be five times as effective, right? This is the theory behind so-called “keyword stuffing,” where you use the same important term ten times in a sentence. In theory, this pleases search engine algorithms, but in practice it’s so obvious to a real person that it makes your writing very hard to take seriously.
In short, you can easily alienate your human users by focusing too much on providing content for search engines.
Think about how busy you are. How often do you sit down and read a novel or even a long news story? The idea of the “inverted pyramid” has been a foundation of successful news writing for more than a century. It tells journalists that important information should come first so readers can get the facts quickly if they don’t have time to read the entire story. A good news story takes care of all of its important business in the lead paragraph – it doesn’t make you read through a page of repetitive gibberish to get what you wanted.
So how do we please both the humans and the algorithms? Balance is the key, and editing is your most valuable tool. Think like a news writer and give the facts first. After that you can follow up with details. Just don’t get carried away. Google tweaks their algorithm constantly, and the minute they sense that businesses are manipulating their system (“if saying that I sell cupcakes once is effective, then I’ll say it fifty more times!”) they flip the script and penalize you for going overboard.
Instead of Search Engine Optimization, create content for Prospective Human Customer Optimization.
Your customers are busy just like you. Get to the point and don’t waste their time. They’ll be grateful and more happy to do business with you.