September 5, 2014

Google vs. Humans

Clients often ask about best practices for SEO, and I have to admit, it’s a confusing time to be publishing digital content. There's a lot of conflicting information out there. Recently, for example, I've been seeing a lot of "Google vs. humans" talk in my Twitter feed. On the one hand, we’ve got folks like Social Bazinga telling us “Write for humans. Not for Google.” On the other, we’ve got telling us “Always write for Google, never for humans.” So, which is it? Google or humans???

Before we lay this mystery to rest, let’s look at the pros and cons of each option.

Pros of Writing for Humans:

  1. Better User Experience: When we write for humans, we tend to write more interesting content. We use better grammar, and we pay attention to things like flow. People like this.
  3. Decreased Bounce Rate: When people like our writing, we increase the chances that they will read all of it.
  5. More Backlinks and Improved Ratings: By writing quality content, we also increase the chances that readers will share it and come back for more. This suggests to Google (and humans) that our content has value.

Cons of Writing for Humans:

  1. Missed SEO Opportunities: By writing like a human, for other humans, you might not have awkward-sounding keyword phrases in your title or throughout the body of your post. However, without using exact phrases people are already searching for, like “Angelina Jolie Wedding Dress” or “Celebrity Leaked Photos 2014,” your content may not rank high enough to be found.

Okay, I lied. We’re only going to look at the pros and cons of one option because, unlike zombies, Google isn’t exactly at odds with humans. If you think about it, one of the main benefits of writing for humans is that by doing so, you actually end up optimizing your content for Google. Likewise, one of the main benefits of writing for Google is that it helps humans find your content.

So, the whole Google vs. humans debate is what an undergraduate philosophy major would call a “False dilemma”—or a situation where two options are presented as mutually exclusive when there is actually a third option that has not been presented.

Rather than prioritizing one over the other, the best content writers will aim for content that keeps both humans and Google in mind—writing content that humans want to read and that Google can help them find. It is possible, for example, to work two of the top five trending Google search phrases into a blog post without sacrificing flow. In fact, I did it in this post. Sure, it takes a little bit of creativity to write for robots without sounding like one, but isn’t challenging ourselves to do better one of the awesome things about being human?

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Doing more with less and measuring the outcome. WIN. Knowing what makes your audience tick to get them engaged and on the path to being brand ambassadors. WIN. Keeping up with the mythical, one-horned algorithms that control your online destiny. WIN. Successfully navigating the latest target audience ransom note demands. WIN. We call this brand wrangling. You’ll call it growth. Yee-haw!

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