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Why The Best Content Marketers Cringe at SEO Questions

There are many words that can be crammed in front of “content marketing” or “copywriting.” There’s “data-driven content marketing,” “conversion copywriting,” and “customer success copywriting.

But by far the most frequently used (and abused) term among non-copywriters is “SEO copywriting.”


In Google’s  top seven search queries for “SEO,” “SEO blog” is currently rising by 300 percent, and hundreds of queries exist for “SEO copywriter,” “copywriting for SEO,” and “SEO copywriting services.”

Everyone needs search engine optimization. What makes the best content marketers and copywriters cringe when they hear “SEO” is this:

Just a few years ago, “SEO” typically meant cramming keywords into copy and titles. If you crammed in enough of them, and they were the right ones, the website would see a boost in traffic. This lead to a lot of very bad, nearly unreadable, blog posts.

And, this is the definition of SEO that is lodged in the minds of many people currently searching for “SEO copywriting services.”

And, these searchers are also typically the people who ask things like:

“Do you do SEO writing?”

“Is your content strategy SEO?”

“Will this work for SEO?”

When I hear any of those questions, I always have to make sure they know what SEO means now – not back in 2009.

Usually, a lengthy explanation ensues, and it goes like this…


SEO is not about keywords

Yes, keywords are still part of SEO, but that’s like saying that a baker means someone who only makes frosting. You’re missing the whole cake.

Here’s what you need to know about keywords in 2016.

Google has come a long way from only directing users to their exact match keywords on websites. For starters, they’ve been including semantic modifiers, natural language, and even verbal queries (like when you ask your Smart Phone for the best nearby Thai food that delivers).

The way in which people ask questions is changing, and Google is totally on top of it with algorithms that learn what your site has to offer from its context and content, not just keywords.

For example, if I’m looking for “delivery pad thai in Tampa Bay,” a keyword-only based search would pull up sites with the words “delivery,” “pad,” “Thai,” and “Tampa Bay.” I could find sites on anything from childbirth to Thai grocery stores with search terms like that.

But, what the semantic search algorithm introduced by Hummingbird in 2013 does is to interpret the meaning behind my query. They know I’m looking for Thai food, even though I didn’t use that exact phrase.

Exact match keywords are still useful, but they’re far from the only thing you need to be found. Even though you optimize for a keyword, Google might use synonyms and similar variations to replace the user’s original search query to pull up more meaningful results.

Good content marketers base their content around topics (not keywords) of interest to their target audience, using natural language and good old-fashioned storytelling to catch and hold attention.

Keywords play second-fiddle to more important factors like buyer personas and buy cycle stages, around which content should be written.

As Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg and Hellobar, said:

“In 2015 I see companies doing a lot less keyword research. The trend I have been seeing is that companies are more so focusing on a long tail strategy, in which they blog and naturally rank for keywords. Fewer companies each year are actually doing keyword research and manually building links to rank for specific keywords.”

SEO is more about quality now than ever – which begs a question…


Today’s SEO best practices are based on how Google evaluates the quality and relevancy of content.

See, it’s Google’s mission to deliver the best search results that will help their searchers learn what they want to learn, do what they want to do, and achieve the success they’re searching for – even if it’s just the best Thai restaurant within a 2-mile radius. That’s why we love Google. They’re looking out for us and improving how they do so every year.

So the question you need to ask is:What is the very best proof of the quality of your content?”

Don’t overthink this, it’s very simple.

Do you share crummy content with your friends?


How often do you mention an eBook on Twitter that was a total waste of time?

Not often.

Do you pin completely boring images to your Pinterest boards?

Probably not.



This is why when someone asks if a writer does “SEO writing,” it sends up a red flag that they don’t really understand what’s happening.

SEO now is more of a holistic strategy that depends on sharply targeted content. That content is the result of defining your target audience, creating carefully-researched buyer profiles, determining what interests and motivates your target, what they find helpful or funny, and what they want to accomplish.

The best content marketers aren’t just writers, and their research isn’t limited to keywords. Most importantly, they don’t base their content on guessing what an audience wants – they base it on what they’ve learned their audience needs.

The result is genuinely useful, hopefully original, but most importantly shareable content. Bonus points if, in producing this content, you prove yourself to be a thought-leader in your industry.

Content worth sharing is the only sure route to the summit of the SERP.



Luiz Centenaro

Fantastic post Nichole, coming from an SEO background I LOVE content marketing but it pains me to see so many posts focused on attracting robots and not readers.


“The very best proof of the quality, relevancy and usefulness of your content is in how many people share it. ” – I agree with this! I love your post. I’m an SEO Specialist, but as of now, I ‘m working on my content writing. I think it’s great to have both skills of SEO and content writing.

Dan Neamtu

Hey Nichole,
Love it, also it was very useful to see some examples that can prove relation between sharing and SERP.

Ken Carroll

Yes, yes, Nichole. Google used to be in the SEO business, but now, like any successful company it knows it’s in the VALUE business: It has to provide value for the searcher. That value doesn’t come just because there’s a bunch of keywords stuffed in. This is why the change has come about. SEO always was about the needs of the organization, but value is about the needs of the searcher – that is a major shift in perspective that the SEO obsessed have yet to understand.

Thanks for a well thought-out article.

Nidhi Samuel

Enjoyed reading this post. Being an optimizer (primarily), digital marketer and trainer, I can really relate this post. You are absolutely right where you said SEO is not about keywords and numbers. It’s more about quality, value addition to one community or niche and many technical things. Content is the big factor but content writers/ marketers without strong SEO knowledge may be good for print media contents but not surely for web.

Noreen Compton

I love this article! Recently I interviewed at an SEO agency that has been around for awhile. I was amazed at the blank looks I got when I spoke about content and blogs and content marketing. For them, it was the old-school SEO. I wonder how long those type of agencies will be able to stay in business?

Cindy Dashnaw

As a copywriter who just moved to Austin and thus reading tons of job descriptions, I can tell you that SEO is mentioned in most of the requirements. I always wonder how they mean it! Excellent post. Wish I could send it with my cover letters!

Jennifer Lind

I believe what you’re saying is that SEO is still important. After all, if you don’t care about SEO, your content is not going to be found, meaning you aren’t going to get traffic. However, it’s no longer about link building or carefully crafted keyword research and placement. “SEO copywriters” are now just copywriters who need to consider who they are writing for and if they will find the content helpful.

Can we really put all our eggs in the “sharing” basket though (“Content worth sharing is the only sure route to the summit of the SERP.”)? Sharing means you are willing to stamp your name on that piece of content publicly. Content can be valuable to me as a reader but not something I feel is applicable to people in my network, or not something I want to publicly put my name on. It’s definitely not the only factor SERPs are considering, and shouldn’t be yours as a writer either. Quality content means you created the right content that spoke to the right audience at the right time. Sharing is an additional action but not THE determining factor of quality.

Connie Bosley

You write what you preach; clear, concise and well researched material. Thank you.

Louise Hunt

Very informative, as a newbie I’ve got a whole lot more to learn!

Stephen Wu

Short and sweet. We learnt the expensive/hard way the lesson you’re teaching here.

Sorry to be pedantic, but you’ve misused “begs the question”, a phrase that is not synonymous with “raises the question” or “calls into question”. “Begs the question” refers to a particular informal logical fallacy.

Sherman Smith

Hey Nicole

This is a great way to convey what SEO is really about. I can remember reading those crappy blog posts that were very generic but keyword rich. It’s all about the context and how these articles are cohesive, relative to the audience and the context of the article. When you consistently have all 3 then you’ll start to develop a loyal fan base!

Thanks for the share! Have a great weekend!


Dear Nichole, gone through your post. In some extent I do agree with you i.e. “Google evaluation on quality and relevancy of content”, “content writing should not be done based on what audience want rather it should be based on what audience need” etc etc. But content creation and sharing is two different things. How “Content worth sharing is the only sure route to the summit of the SERP”. Can you please focus on this?

Dan F.

I don’t believe social media shares correlate directly to high positioning on SERPS.

However, shares are instrumental because you get exposure and with exposure you get organic link building. Relevant linking is crucial for SEO.

My thoughts on keywords… keywords are necessary as Google knows to crawl and index it for search. From there, Google will determine how authoritative/relevant your pages based on user behavior (like bounce rate.)

This is why Google doesn’t care about keyword density which is ingrained in the mind of an SEO pros going by the 2009 handbook.

Relevancy is key. If Google cared for keyword density then they endorse websites that dilute themselves with spammy sounding copy.

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