There’s a relatively common issue I run into with clients who tell me they want to improve their SEO, or want to show up higher in Google, or want to optimize for keywords.

None of those are bad things, but I find that thinking about SEO can sometimes give people tunnel vision.
What do I mean by that? They tend to focus on keywords and Google rankings, and forget the people they’re actually trying to reach: their audience. That’s not good from an SEO standpoint, and it’s even worse from a business standpoint.

Quick review of SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

SEO is a shorthand phrase used to discuss how well your website is ranking on search engine result pages. The higher on a page (or the closer you are to the first page), the better your SEO is.

A lot of things play into your search engine rankings, and those things can change from time to time. But having a frequently-updated website that runs smoothly is always a must for good SEO. It’s also important to have keywords in your website that reflect what your target market is searching for.

Here’s the part that trips up a lot of people: your content (including your keywords) is for your audience, not for Google. That means that you have to avoid two things when you’re choosing which keywords to optimize for in your website copy.

1. Keyword stuffing

When you’re writing blogs or copy for your landing pages, do keep in mind the keywords you want to optimize for. But don’t stuff your copy so full of them that it doesn’t read like a normal piece of text.

Google will penalize you for it, and more importantly, your audience will think your website’s text is robotic, forced, or unnatural. If you don’t want your audience thinking that your company is cold and robotic, steer clear of keyword stuffing, which can make you sound that way.

2. Industry jargon

Think about the industry terms you use every day in your workplace. Do your clients use that same terminology, or do you find that it’s easier to use novice-friendly language? If you’re always having to explain certain industry terms, try to keep those terms out of your website.
Chances are, people aren’t searching for those terms because they don’t know them. But sometimes, industry-specific terms will look like pretty worthwhile keywords during SEO research. Before you start using that terminology in your website, think about who’s searching for those terms. If you know your industry peers are searching for technical terms but your target market is not, don’t use them.

Beware of “black hat SEO”

A final word of caution: there are some companies that do what’s called, “black hat SEO,” which is a system of deceptive practices that are designed to improve your SEO. While black hat SEO tends to work more quickly than “white hat SEO” (which is more honest and above-board), Google and other search engines penalize black hat SEO strongly when they see it.

And it’s not a matter of outsmarting Google’s search algorithm—yes, Google has an algorithm that sorts and ranks websites, but anything that seems fishy gets flagged and reviewed by a real person. So it’s doubly important to write your content for your audience, and not for a search engine.

At the end of the day, I definitely think it’s worthwhile to do some SEO research and optimize your site for search engine rankings. (And if you aren’t comfortable doing that, I can help!) But don’t let SEO distract you from what you already know your audience responds well to.

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