You’re scrolling through your feed and stop at an article title that piques your interest.
“How to Create Great Digital Content”
What would you expect to find if you clicked on it?
You probably fell into one of two camps:
The “writing for ranking” camp
The “writing for engagement” camp
Let me explain.
Think of a spectrum. On one end, you have the more SEO-minded content creators who are hyper-focused on getting Google to surface their content in the top positions of search results.
On the other, you have the copywriters and conversion optimization specialists who are hyper-focused on creating engaging, interesting content that readers will enjoy.
The first camp takes an approach to content creation that centers on strategies like keyword research, n-gram analysis, and TF-IDF.
This method asks, “What are people searching for in Google, and how does Google understand this topic?” Content is then created on the foundation of this research.
The second camp approaches content creation with the question, “What will resonate with our audience?”
Their focus is first on psychographics, using proven copywriting formulas, and getting to know their audience through things like forums, reviews, and surveys.
They want to create enticing content that gets read, shared, and either converts or assists conversions.
So who’s right?
SEO vs. Content Marketing vs. CRO vs. Copywriting…
If you’ve done keyword research around the topics of SEO, content marketing, conversion rate optimization (CRO), or copywriting, you’ll know that they’re often pitted against each other.
“SEO vs. Content Marketing”
“What’s the difference between SEO and copywriting?”
“Which generates higher ROI: CRO or SEO?”
Can’t we all just get along?
To a certain degree, I get it. These searches stem from:
People who are confused about the differences between each discipline.
And/or marketers who only have the budget for one and need to make the highest-impact choice.
So what is the difference? If I had to boil it down, here are the fundamental questions I believe each discipline seeks to answer:
SEO: How can I get Google to find, index, and rank this content?
Content marketing: How can I create content that the target audience will find valuable?
Conversion rate optimization: How can I get the people reading this page to call, fill out an interest form, sign up for our email list, etc.?
Copywriting: How can I write in a way that sells?
But what if you had all four in mind when writing your content?
Introducing: The ‘Full Stack’ Writer
“Full stack” has been primarily popularized to describe a developer who can handle both the front end and the back end of a system or application, but I’m going to borrow from them and use it for writers.
Here’s how I’d define it:
Someone who can handle the full spectrum of digital content, able to consider how their content will be perceived by both algorithms and audience.
A full stack writer is:
Search engine mindful: Aware of how the content they write will be perceived by search engines, crafting their message around well-researched keywords, and incorporating SEO best practices for things like title tags and headings.
Questions driven: Dedicated to creating content that answers real questions and solves actual pain points.
Conversion focused: Cognizant of the fact that their content should fulfill a business purpose, and either convert or assist conversions.
Engagement forward: Focused on crafting content that the audience will find interesting enough to read, comment on, and share.
Content Specialists vs. Content Generalists
“But wait a minute… isn’t it good to be a specialist? What if I’m great at getting content to rank but I’m not a great copywriter?”
That’s 100 percent fair. No one should feel pressure to risk their mastery of a discipline to become a jack-of-all-trades. So what’s a content writer to do?
I think this all comes down to the saying Whatever you are, be a good one.
That means if you want to stick solely to conversion copywriting or solely to long-form content, that’s fine! Where I think we need to get better is considering the big picture of whatever type of content we’re producing.
Being responsible writers means we always consider every possible angle of our content, asking whether the intended audience will:
Respond to this if shared on social media?
Be able to find this content in search engines?
Find what they came to learn in the article easily?
Be persuaded to convert or make a return visit?
No more pitting ranking against engagement, computational linguistics against psychographics, keyword density against content Kondo-ness (yes, that is my totally made up descriptor for content that “sparks joy”).
We’re all on the same team – the team tasked with using content to get our clients more business!
Humans vs. Machines: The Content Creator’s Dilemma
The reason phrases like “SEO content” (*shudder*) were even introduced into the digital marketer’s vernacular is because we know that we not only have to make our readers happy, but we also have to write in a way that machines will understand and reward.
If we want our content to rank in search engines (and we should!), we have to play by the search engine’s rules. That means writing content in a way that a machine can understand.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
Algorithms like Google’s are trying to emulate what a real human searcher would pick as the best result. So if Google is just trying to pick what a human would pick, shouldn’t we just focus on humans?
Bypass the middleman and just go straight to the destination?
Why Both Matter
Google may be trying to emulate humans, but it’s still a machine. As a machine, it faces the limits of a machine. It relies on programming to act like a human.
That’s why I fully believe there’s value in popular SEO methods of content creation like TF-IDF. It doesn’t just matter what humans want. It matters what search engines think humans want.
But we do our audience and our clients a disservice if we stop there.
As someone who’s both an SEO and a content creator, I have a foot in both the “writing for SEO” and “writing for engagement” worlds. Let me just say, it can get downright confusing.
One minute someone is telling me to intro my articles with an interesting story and the next minute someone is telling me to avoid burying the lede and get straight to the answer.
One is telling me to incorporate important keywords into my headings and the other is telling me to avoid giving everything away in the headings to make it more intriguing.
Why do engagement and rankings have to conflict? Why are we delegating each of these aspects of content to different specialists?
I don’t know about you, but I want to be both!
Writing Content That Ranks, Engages & Converts
The goal of digital content should be to rank, engage, and convert (or assist conversions). After all, what’s a keyword ranking if you don’t win the click? What’s traffic if you don’t win the conversion?
We make an odd delineation when we place content into separate buckets for rankings and engagement.
When we do this, we’re not only doing more work than we have to (at weaker impact), but it also creates an incredibly inconsistent brand voice. I’m sure we’ve all seen the brands who project a fun, lighthearted vibe in the content they share on social media and a mechanical, all-business vibe in the content that ranks in search engines.
But instead of changing voice & tone for every platform and channel, what if we married the two?
Ranking content that’s also engaging.
Engaging content that’s also strong enough to rank organically in search engines.
Put Yourself in a Reader’s Shoes
You may be an SEO or a content creator, but you’re also a reader.
Think about how you interact with content in your free time. What do you:
Find compelling enough to take action?
I think my answer to that question is probably similar to your own.
I want the articles I read to be concise, to the point, and clearly answer my questions, but I also want to enjoy reading them. I probably won’t even get the chance to read them if the title isn’t appealing enough to earn my fickle attention.
We may find our content in different ways (search engines, social media, newsletters, etc.), but I think we can all agree that we want to read content that’s both informative and interesting.
There’s got to be some middle ground between an Encyclopedia and Hemingway when it comes to digital content.
Let’s Bridge the Gap
SEO professionals: We’re doing businesses a disservice when we do all the work to get our clients’ pages ranking but fail to focus on getting people to click on our results, and once they click, getting them to convert.
Don’t waste the traffic you worked so hard to earn!
Writers: You’re spending your valuable time (and your clients’ valuable budget) on creating content, so make sure you create it for maximum impact!
Don’t spend your time creating content that only gets attention the day it’s posted and then dies. Focus on creating content that gets sustained traffic that lowers your client’s customer acquisition costs.
This isn’t a call to become jacks-of-all-trades. It’s a call to start taking a more holistic view of the content we produce. Start thinking about your content’s entire journey.
It won’t be easy, and it’ll never be perfect, but I think there’s room for every content creator to adopt a “full stack” mentality.
Let’s bridge that gap. Who’s with me?