The SEO kills creativity mantra isn’t uncommon among content writers. Likewise, SEO experts often voice complaints that creative writing should take a back seat to SEO perfection.
The reality is that the best types of content marketing combine creativity with SEO value. Here’s a guide on the best ways to merge creativity and SEO for content marketing success.
How SEO got a bad rap – and why it’s stuck
Content marketing is still a new and shifting industry, and content creators who have been around for more than five years will remember its ugly early days. Many writers were first introduced to the world of SEO during the dreaded “content farm” years, when nothing mattered except how many keywords you could cram into a 300-word article.
Fortunately, this practice has pretty much died (because Google’s algorithm makes it a very risky practice). But for writers who worked on these content farms, the scars are deep and ugly. Sadly, a lot of strong writers turned their back on the digital marketing world during these days and never looked back.
If you’re in charge of recruiting or training writers to assist with your SEO goals, then make it a point to let them know you aren’t looking for keyword stuffing, and that you value creativity and writing talent.
The SEO tricks all writers need to know
Writers don’t need to be trained in every single aspect of SEO. If you’re hiring someone for their creative talent, odds are their interest in phrases like “robot.txt” and “sitemaps” is going to be pretty low.
Rather than trying to teach a writer how to be an SEO expert, instead, teach them the quick tricks they can use to optimize their content on their own. There are three key skills that all writers who want to work in digital need to know:
How to find relevant keywords
How to format articles for SEO (using the appropriate headers, bullet points and charts for position 0 opportunities, etc.)
How to create well-optimized metadata.
If you can teach writers these skills and why they matter, then you won’t overwhelm them with SEO techniques that don’t apply directly to their writing. Writers may grit their teeth, but equipping them with simple tools (like Ubersuggest or Keywords Everywhere), you’ll be able to get them to focus on SEO without having to hold their hand through every piece of content they create.
It’s easy to teach a creative basic SEO tactics, but next to impossible to teach someone who doesn’t have a creative streak how to make something unique.
Show content creators results in their language
It’s useful to include your content team in your regular reporting, but once again, try to tailor the information to what is most important for them. Show them how their use of certain keywords or content structure is improving and succeeding.
Every passionate writer wants people to read their words; show them results in this context. It’s not a big leap to say that increased organic traffic means a bigger audience reading their work, or that longer time on page means people are truly enjoying what they read. When a writer sees evidence that his or her content piece is getting attention, they’ll be more willing to include SEO-strong tactics in future work.
The boardroom: where creativity goes to die
There’s a vicious cycle played out in marketing teams every day. A content creator comes up with a creative idea. Maybe it’s a bit cheeky, or weird, or off-beat, but it’s very clever and has great potential to connect and surprise the audience.
Several other people on the team see the idea and love it. They think it’s hilarious. But then, the chisels come out.
“Could we change this word?”
“And maybe use a different image?”
“I’m not sure we want to say that, some customers might find that offensive.”
“I don’t get the joke.”
“This is totally off brand.”
And then the SEO team comes in:
“There’s no keyword in that headline. Can we add one in?”
The next thing you know, what was once a winning creative idea has been watered down by everyone else in the business. While it’s important that writers stay on brand and communicate a company’s message, it’s also important that people in the upper echelons of a business let the creatives be creative.
This applies to the SEO team. It’s vital that the content creators and the hardline SEO team work together to understand the intention of any given piece of content. Is it more important to drive people to the page via organic traffic, or is it more important to engage them once they get there? For most content pieces, you’ll have a blend of these two goals. But if you are focused on making sure you keep your bounce rate low and your time on page high, then sometimes you have to sacrifice clunky or awkward SEO-based phrasing for creativity instead.
There’s no reason SEO and creativity can’t go hand in hand, provided content creators and SEO leaders are willing to work together and compromise. Writers who want to work in digital marketing must be willing to learn the basics of content optimization. SEO experts need to learn when it’s appropriate to sacrifice SEO elements for creative engagement. Meeting in the middle on creativity and optimization is a recipe for success.