Stay Ahead of Google – Content for Real People
I am always harping on about Google. While it is important to stay on the right side of Google, I think businesses often lose sight of their customers. I’ve said before, if you please your customers you’ll please Google. But that only takes you so far. SEO in my mind should include any initiative that may help you rank better. And that can include additional efforts to attract the right kind of customer. This kind of approach places the customer at the very centre of your efforts.
Let me explain. While Google is now based on semantic search, Google bot is not human. While it can to some extent understand context, it will be some time before Google has access to the same type of mental models people take for granted. An example will show what I mean. Compare the two following sentences:
The policeman put his hand up to stop the traffic
The policeman put his hand up to stop the ball
Although semantically these are very similar, anyone reading this will know the meanings are very different. If you only ever create content for search engines, you’re ultimately going to alienate your audience. Bot’s don’t laugh. They don’t cry. They can’t respond to what you write on any emotional level. Yet writing on an emotional level can help your audience connect with your content.
I’ve said before businesses need to make use of customer personae. These don’t just give you customer segments but a foundation for producing more effective content too. Your website needs to provide the images and content these different groups expect and respond to.
Some say we can now go beyond semantics to semiotics. In an SEO context this means taking an approach to SEO which marries optimisation for search and visitors. In other words, semantics isn’t enough. The two sentences mentioned earlier illustrate this perfectly well.
Semiotics has three elements two of which will be familiar. Syntax is one: As long as your content is sensible and coding likewise, syntax should present no problems. Semantics hit the headlines when Google announced a new updated algorithm. Google is now able to understand queries themselves and not just return results based on pattern matching keywords. This is a significant step towards human understanding but isn’t the whole story.
Pragmatics is the third element and the one you may be unfamiliar with. It’s really where this new paradigm meets customer personae. For example, the word “green” is associated with different things depending on who you are and where you live. Glaswegians, for example, are more likely to associate the colour with one football team. The people of Edinburgh will associate the colour with yet another team.
Compare this to how search engines may relate to the word green. They may understand the dictionary definition. They may even understand context. But they do not as of yet understand a visitors relationship with it. In short, Google can’t get inside your visitors head.
Pragmatics then is thought to help create a more personal relationship between content and a site visitor. No two people interpret the same information the same and of course their information requirements may be different to start with!
How do you think people evaluate content? While people can search through a large number of sites, they typically make inferences very quickly. Everything from the name of a site to a headline can be quickly evaluated, and different people may make different inferences.
So how does this impact web design and content writing? There are a number of ways you can “humanise” content. These include making references to culture, humour, customer insights, unusual relationships and metaphor. These are all, in a sense, “more than words”. Naturally some of these work well when applied graphically.
I am, I think, coming back full circle to encourage you not to write for the search engines, but to develop sites and content based on a substantive understanding of current and potential customers.