To write for humans, understand robots

May 29, 2020

Between blogs, social media, and email, don’t you feel like you’re reading more than ever before? And yet the sheer quantity of content that’s being produced, is even greater. So filtering happens:

  • Email clients add focused inboxes that show only a subset of the mail you receive, whatever the email client thinks is important.
  • Bidding on paid search and paid social gets more expensive.
  • Google gets pickier about what to display for a search, and starts including factors like site speed and usability.

All of these things have something in common – because of the huge amount of content that’s out there today, where your content ends up isn’t just determined by things that you do, or by the quality of your content. It’s also determined by code, software, and robots. (Err… algorithms. Let’s say algorithms, that might be more accurate. Although, robots.txt anyone?)

Creating the right content is important, of course, but if you don’t take the algorithms into account, your content won’t reach your customers. Organic search drives over half of website traffic, depending on how you estimate.

That means, when your customer has a problem, the first thing they’ll often do to solve it, is to Google it. Fortunately, organic search is the place where the algorithms are easiest to work with.

Algorithms and SEO

If I’m interested in buying a tiny watermelon:

  • I open
  • I type in “tiny watermelons”.

Once I hit Enter, Google ranks the incredibly large number of pages in its index according to their relevance to your query – plus lots of other things, like your search history, location, and more. Then it displays the result.

Since I sell tiny watermelons, I care the most about this last step, in which Google decides whether anyone will see the tiny watermelon content my team has worked hard to put together.

And as a result, everyone spends a lot of time trying to understand Google’s algorithms. Moz, for example, will even show you a history of algorithm updates, together with its historical view of your search visibility.

Google algorithm update examples

Google (and other search engines) have been really clear about what matters for getting your content ranked, and, if anything, they’ve gotten better at it over time.

  • The quality of your content, of course, is critical. Do you understand your topic, and does what you’ve written provide useful information? Is your article long enough to cover the details of whatever you’re writing about? Does it help your visitor?
  • Closely related to this: Is the experience on your site high-quality? Meaning – does your site load fast? Is it easy to get to reading without lots of popups or interstitials? How’s the mobile experience?
  • Does your content add anything new to what’s already out there? Summaries can kind of work. But the best content does the same thing that your business does. It adds new value and new ideas that aren’t already out there. From a keyword perspective, this helps you rank for stuff that’s highly relevant that nobody else is ranking for. From a content quality perspective, it makes your resource more complete than what’s already out there.
  • Is your content being read? It’s a little bit of a chicken and an egg problem, but the more your content is read and shared, the more backlinks it’s likely to have, and the more likely search engines are to think it’s helpful to visitors.

There are lots of other things you can optimize for. So many! We’re here to tell you that we think the bullet points above are what really matters. So few content marketers nail these items – and they are, in fact, so hard to do well – that doing a good job here is likely to deliver serious results.


Every content marketer needs to deal with algorithms today. Organic social, email, and every other marketing channel requires some attention to getting your content delivered to your customers, not just writing it. Fortunately, for most content marketers, organic search algorithms line up reasonably well with writing and producing great content.

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