It feels like we content creators have lost sight of the human element. Maybe it began when we started to look at search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword analysis as artificially established sets of rules. Keywords as a prescribed list of words we had to chase in order to win, grow, conquer. Just look at the terms “SEO” and “keyword analysis.”

Where’s the humanity!?

If this kind of language is indicative of our approaches to SEO, we might be guilty of dehumanizing the content experience. We might be ignoring what should be our priority when it comes to content strategy: our users. It could be that, instead of learning about our users and optimizing content, we are spending too much time playing the Google ranking game.

But there is hope yet. New voices are emerging in the world of SEO, and the call to humanize the user is becoming stronger.

Remember that Humans Rank Pages, Not Google

Why is it that we fear the judgment of Google? Is it because we think Google can make or break our content and hamper business? Maybe. But it’s important to remember that, if your page ranks highly in search, it likely does so because the following happens:

  1. You create a page Google can easily find and decipher.
  2. Many people type the same (or very similar) language into the Google search bar to find an answer to their questions.
  3. Google lists pages that contain language most closely related to the searcher’s language.
  4. The searchers scan page descriptions of the listed pages and decide—based on your language—that your page contains the best answer.
  5. The searchers click the link to your page and read your content.
  6. The above is repeated many times.

In short, it’s users driving your page rankings. All that Google needs is the right content (that is, smart content) containing the right language (that is, the user’s language), as well as the user’s interaction with your pages. So, if your content isn’t reaching your users, there could be a language disconnect created by blind reliance on keyword analysis tools.

SEO and Language Dissonance? It’s On Us

Google seems to get better and better at deciphering the intent behind user search queries. And in our ongoing, breakneck efforts to keep up, we’ve developed some bad tendencies when it comes to keyword analysis. We do all we can to “rank for,” “own,” “break into” or even “steal” certain keywords. And maybe—just maybe—we are forgetting that our job is to learn about our users—about their needs, wishes, dreams, and culture—so that we can create content that helps them succeed.

In many ways, Google treats our users more humanely than we do. Google has learned to consider inconsistencies and accidents in human communication.

Isn’t it time we do the same?

Some Strategies for More Human User Language Analysis

Whether you use Google Analytics, Bing Webmaster Tools, Brightedge, or MindTouch search reports, you have a list of terms and phrases that people typed into a search bar to find your information. Depending on your tool, you either look at the language people used to find your content specifically, or the language they used to find information from anywhere on the internet. Based on this information, you decide which of these users you want to help and which insight is more important to your content strategy.

No matter which method of keyword analysis you decide on, keep the following in mind:

  • Keywords are recordings of natural, human language.
  • Your primary goal is to understand the user, not to “rank.”
  • Don’t look at single terms in isolation (no matter how hard it is to ignore search volumes and page rankings).
  • Look for searches that contain similar words and highlight popular themes.
  • Don’t focus on exact phrasing, rather look at the idea or major thought behind each query.
  • Ask questions about the user’s possible intent. For example, if “best practice” is a frequent search term, ask yourself whether users are looking for best practices in general, or whether they are looking for specific best practices.
  • Use your keyword analysis to create content (or reword content) to align with your users’ needs and language. If necessary, restructure pages to allow users to find content more quickly.

It doesn’t matter whether you are in position one or three on the search engine results page (SERP), or whether you have a snippet. These factors may give you bragging rights, and there are certainly some things you can do to increase your visibility. In the end, though, it will be the extent to which users need your content that will determine your search relevance. Produce content that meets your users’ needs, pay attention to their language, and better rankings will come.