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Content Writing: For Search Engines or Humans?

Today we’re exploring a big question: content writing, for search engines or humans? A lot of people are vocally in support of the latter. But I don’t think there is a difference. You have to remember that your priority is always the people. Specifically the people in your target audience. HOWEVER, search engines play a role too. 

Listen to this episode to see why you should be writing for BOTH!

Here’s the podcast episode:

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And here’s the transcript:

Hi, I’m Ruthie, owner of Defy The Status Quo, and you’re listening to an episode of The Defiant Business Podcast, your 10-minute daily shot of business knowledge. You don’t have a lot of time and I won’t waste it. So let’s get into it. 

Today we’re going to be talking about whether your content writing should be for search engines or humans. I actually see this division of thought about content writing pretty frequently. And when I do, whether I see it on Linkedin, Instagram, any social media platform or when I’m speaking with people at networking events, you can pretty much always count on me to throw in my 2 cents about this.

That’s because I don’t think that there is a difference. If you’re one of those people who do believe that there is a difference, I think that by the end of this 10-minute segment, you will at least have the other side’s informed opinion, even if you don’t change your mind. 

Content Written for Humans Only

So when I’m on Linkedin or Instagram, I see things like “I write content for humans”, or if it’s a company posting about their content needs, they will say things like “Content written for humans only”. Those are two sides of the same coin there: the writer, and then the business who’s looking for writers. And what these statements reflect is outdated knowledge about search engine optimization. 

Black Hat SEO

Typically when people say “I write content for humans”, or they say “Content was written for humans only”, what they mean is they don’t want any keyword stuffing. This is when you take one keyword, and you stuff it in a lot of places in a blog post or a webpage. This is actually something we call black hat SEO, and there are other techniques with this label. Like paying for backlinks.

Why would someone pay for backlinks? Read our post on the top SEO ranking factors to learn more.

Keyword stuffing is typically the one people think of, and they’re like “Yeah, I don’t want that. That stuff doesn’t make sense.” The thought that keyword stuffing and black hat SEO is what SEO writing means, has been pervasive. It’s been really hard to get rid of, but it’s outdated.

While that thinking persists, the opposite is actually true. If Google sees black hat SEO techniques, like keyword stuffing, used on a website, they will eventually bury that website in the search engine results. Maybe it ranks really high for a second, but then Google is like “Hey, let me take a closer look at this website. It’s doing so well. Oh, they’re not doing good things at all”. And then it starts to bury it.

People won’t be able to find you, so you don’t want that to happen to your website. So a content writer worth their salt won’t use black hat SEO on your website. 

What is the Goal of a Search Engine?

Today, what you need to do is consider the goal of search engines. What is the goal of search engines? To provide the best user experience that they can for their users. So their goal is to serve the best, most relevant, most entertaining content. So if your content is that content, then you’re already halfway there, maybe 75% of the way there, because good content wins out. 

What Is the Purpose of SEO Content Writing?

So what is the purpose of SEO content writing, then? SEO content writing is how you make sure search engines know that your content is the most relevant and what their users are looking for. You use search engine optimized content writing as a tool to communicate effectively with the search engines that you want to deliver your content. 

Let’s take a look at some of the guidelines for good SEO content writing. 

Broad and Specific Keywords

The first one is keywords. Yup. Keywords. The reason for this is because keywords are indicative of a topic. There’s broad keywords, and there’s specific keywords.

So a broad keyword would be “running”. That’s really broad and you’re probably never going to rank for that if that’s your goal. If you do, it’ll be a long time coming. A more specific keyword, or a long tail keyword phrase, normally reflects how someone actually enters in a search term in the search engine.

So instead of saying “running”, they might say “How to start running a 5K”. That’s a really popular topic, so you’re probably not going to rank for that either, for a long time. However, it’s still a great example of a long tail keyword.

But maybe a search engine phrase like “alternative plastics for bottled water”, is probably not a super common keyword. That tells you a topic, and as I’m thinking of this blog post, I can plan it out already in my head. But it’s not too specific that no one’s looking for it.


As you can see in the examples above, I’ve taken a broad search term and made it specific to a theoretical target audience. Even the phrase “starting a business”, looks like a long-tail keyword. And it is, by definition, but it isn’t one I’d recommend you use. Especially if you can make it more specific to your audience.

Check out our post on free keyword research tools if you need some help getting started.

Headlines and Sections

Pay attention to your headlines and sections. Search engine guidelines say you can’t have more than 300 words within any given section. If you have more than 300 words, then you probably need to break it up with another subheadline.

It’s good to include your keyword in your headline, but don’t overdo it. You want to do it in one of your headlines, but don’t stuff it if it’s not natural. Google’s aim is to get as close to human understanding as possible, and I’m sure one day they’ll achieve it. You want to make sure that your content is future-proof.  

Switch to Active Voice

The other thing that’s rough for many writers is the switch from passive voice to active voice. When we go through school, teachers emphasize passive voice.

Most of the time we don’t use you in our professional writing. We don’t say I in our professional writing and essays in college. We use the third person in content writing. From a marketing perspective, you want to say you, I and we. Those are the pronouns you want to use, but you also want to make sure your phrases are active versus passive.

An example of that is “The window was broken by the boy”. That’s actually a pretty long sentence, which you could flip to be active and say “The boy broke the window”. That’s a much shorter, concise sentence. Active sentences normally convey more emotion, and are easier to read.

Need more info on how to write search engine optimized content? Check out our Blogging for Business Toolkit.


Your Content Writing Should Be For Search Engines AND Humans!

So those are just three SEO recommendations that we follow. There’s a lot more. Use these things properly, you’ll communicate to the search engine that your content is good content for its users. That is the goal of search engines. It’s not to be peppered with keywords and be unreadable. That’s black hat SEO, that will get your site buried.

Just remember that SEO content is for humans. It helps the search engines understand that your content is what its users need to see. It helps search engines get your content in front of the people that you want to see it, which is basically anybody who might enjoy or benefit from your content. 

Search engine content writing is human content writing. It’s the way that we communicate with the search engines to let them know that our content is what the users want to see.

So next time somebody says “content writing: for search engines or humans?”, just remember search engine guidelines are a tool like anything else. A writer effectively merges what the users want to see with what the search engines need to see to get the content in front of your ideal target audience. 

I’m the owner of Defy The Status Quo, and this was an episode of The Defiant Business Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your feedback, so be sure to leave me a comment wherever it is that you’ve run into this episode.