Why Writing for Spiders is the
Least Sticky Strategy of All

Robot Spider

Are you writing for (search engine) spiders? Take a quick look at this copy:

This article provides free writing tips, so be sure to check out this free writing tips article if you are interested in free writing tips.

Does that writing style sound familiar? I’m sure anyone familiar with search engine optimization and SEO copywriting realizes that an article with such an “introduction” is (desperately) optimized for the term “free writing tips.”

But is this approach one that actually works?

Will Search Engines Spiders Subscribe to Your Feed or Newsletter?

It surprises me that a lot of innocent webmasters think that this is a healthy on-page SEO approach and that the results will be great. They read about SEO from all sorts of reliable sources and decide to implement some of the tips.

Let’s take blogging as an example and see what results you can expect. Let’s forget for a moment that search engines will likely view an introduction such as the one above as low-quality, and good luck getting any organic links to that type of content, which you’ll need to rank.

Let’s pretend instead that it’s actually smart SEO. What happens from the perspective of your loyal site visitors and subscribers?

It’s only natural that once your readers realize you are no longer providing quality content and shifting instead to useless keyword-filled articles, they will not be thrilled to stick around. As a result, only a handful of your initial readers will continue to follow your website, if that many.

Let’s also see things from the perspective of a visitor who finds you through a search engine. Yes, that person drops by, but once she sees that your content is keyword-stuffed garbage, she leaves and never looks back.

Is Short-Term Thinking the Way to Go?

Are you willing to risk losing most of your loyal visitors for some short-term search benefits? Even if an approach such as the one I’ve mentioned would work, it can only be seen as something short-term. What happens once the inevitable occurs and you no longer rank well?

Your initial loyal subscribers are gone and the ones coming from search engines don’t stick around. As you can see, the results are definitely not worthwhile and that’s why you need to wake up and understand how things actually stand.

Subscribers Come Before Spiders

A business model that doesn’t provide value at its core won’t get you anywhere. Building upon a shaky foundation is never a good idea, and that applies to being a webmaster just as it does everywhere else.

A business model built on a targeted audience of loyal subscribers, on the other hand, leads to many possibilities. So concentrate on building your fan club.

Stop searching for shortcuts and work towards establishing a solid foundation worth building upon. You don’t write for search engines and you most definitely don’t write for spiders. You write for human beings and try to convert them into loyal subscribers. And human beings are, without a doubt, interested in quality content.

So who are you writing for? Do the needs of subscribers always come first or are you still looking for a quick-fix and chasing after something that simply isn’t there?

About the Author: Alan Johnson is the author of The Online Business Handbook.

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  1. Excellent post. Relationships with humans are more important than spiders.

  2. All true! Always put your reader before the spider. After all, even Technorati authority comes from pings and trackback, not from search engine results. But you still need to use SE appealing keywords and phrases, in moderate quantity and well placed. I’ve always thought Google, for example, is a lot smarter than just a simple “spider” and can make a difference between a spam post and a regular one. Sooner or later, a heavily optimized page will drop in a fight with “legal” pages that have highly relevant content.

  3. Suit yourself… but I’m happy writing for the spiders. Subscribers are usually the a-hole types that will never click on an ad or support your blog in anyway. Bring on the FRESH meat from the spiders.

  4. @Alex –

    Technorati sucks. If you take a good look they are nothing more than a huge blog scraper site. What really ticks me off about them is they put the REAL actual working link to YOUR blog post in a very faint, hard to read grey color. Other links (that give THEM more pageviews) are blue.

    Flat out… the people at Technorati are nothing more than black hat crooks.

  5. 1. If you don’t write for humans, your conversion rate will be pathetic.

    2. If you don’t write for spiders, you’ll miss out on a lot of free attraction… free traffic.

    The logical solution is: write for both of them. Its not that hard really. Just tweak the headline a bit so that it has a couple of good keywords in it.

    And learn a bit about SEO (from some one like Aaron Wall) and make full use H1, H2, strong, img alt and other html tags like those.

  6. Musicans say that they write and play music that they like and then hope the audience likes it also.

    The same thinking should be taking place in the bloggers head.

    Write about things that you like and how you like to write about them and then hope the spiders like it too.

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Millionaire

  7. I find that I get on a subject and forget to concentrate on the spiders. When I see articles about them, I wonder if I’ve messed up. If I can only concentrate on one thing, it works better for me to cling to the content.

  8. Exactly right! You should always, always be writing for people — not for robots. People will be able to judge your content and worthy and recommend it to others. Spiders can only judge it based on how they’re programmed — and they can’t recommend it to anyone. If they are fooled into thinking what you’ve done is good, and rank it high, the people who then quickly leave your site, never rank to it and generally dislike what you’ve done will teach the spiders that what you’ve done is really worthless. So just get it right from the start. 😉

  9. Sit on the porch steps on a summer night and pour your heart out. Tell your friend what moves you, what excites you, how you learned about it, who you respect and why. Listen with all your might to your friend’s story, what he loves, where he goes, who he learns from. Take notes. Remember what you love and why. Keep writing about it. Keep finding the way you connect to others. Keep asking about it. Go deeper. Stay in your galaxy, make it bigger. Learn to type with one hand, hold onto your heart with the other. They will come.
    Great Adaptations

  10. Yeah writing for robots is retarded considering you can get them to crawl your site a million other ways. Cody, http://www.clowcash.com

  11. Honestly, I think the best way to do well at SEO is to ignore it entirely. Why can’t people just write high-quality articles for their readers and trust that it will naturally do well in search engines over some period of time? Just my two cents.

  12. I think Greg has the trick of it, in that good quality content is the real king. And if your blog is well written and reasonably focused then presumably that content is going to include a lot of relevant keyword data that’ll prove tasty “spider food” in the future anyway.

    Combining high quality content with semantically correct code seems to me to be far and away the best strategy for developing a strong user base and postitive SEO, regardless of any massive targetting of specific words and phrases.

  13. It is so critical not to lose your blog’s voice in writing for the Search Engines…

    If you just write naturally, you will put enough keywords into your post, and at the same time drive your message home much more effectively.

    Joseph Ratliff

  14. By writing well for subscribes you are attracting spiders as well. But if you only write for spiders, you may see some short term benefits, but in the long run you loose big.

  15. Just go for the humans! Additionally I’ve heard google has been hiring English experts and librarians to understand grammar and human writing techniques negating the effectiveness (in both ways) of writing for search engines.

  16. Content certainly IS king but Ankesh mentioned there are a number of SEO tricks to make your content more spider (and reader) friendly. Alt and title tags for images for example is a HUGE one many bloggers ignore. These are vital not just for search engine listings but for visually impaired and low-end/low-speed users who do not load or see images.

    Headers, lists, and layout make a huge different too. Again, this works to benefit both search engine rankings AND gives your readers a chance to scan, capture, and find added interest in your articles.

    The real trick is to write great content, then optimize it judiciously with the reader and the spiders in mind.

  17. I think the trick is to choose the right title, using a little judicious bit of SEO, then write to that title, not straying off-topic.

    If you write a nice, concise article in your own voice you are bound to hit all the g-spots.

    BTW, I have always been surprised that Google doesn’t seem to care much about spelling, typos and punctuation. Surely a well-crafted article written in good English (albeit with colloquialisms) is likely to be better quality content than some of the junk Google ranks?

  18. That two-liner made me laugh. Its kind of sad also. I believe seo copy is primarily common-sense.

    If one sticks to the point, its not that hard to do.

    I wrote a post about that some time ago and am shamelessly pasting the link here: http://lin.cr/c9

  19. “You don’t write for search engines and you most definitely don’t write for spiders. You write for human beings and try to convert them into loyal subscribers. And human beings are, without a doubt, interested in quality content.”

    Sure, you write for humans. But if you want them to find you among the gajillions of other pages out there, you’d better be writing for the spiders, too. Some bloggers aren’t concerned with having a lot of (or any) readers, and that’s fine. You can write from the heart, and write for conversion, while still giving the spiders what they need. In fact, when its done “correctly” you can’t even tell the difference. And once you get it right, it’s just another arrow in your quiver.

  20. [applause]

    Very clever, Alan. You just managed to serve up that ugly SEO junk phrase in a way that you can say, “Oh I’m not *using* SEO tactics, I’m *describing* SEO tactics.” And in a column full of … free writing tips!

    Did you used to be a producer for local television news? I’m picturing the sweeps week “exposés” they always do tsk-tsking the spring breakers for their wild behavior. But including as many clips as they can of scantily-clad girls with the voice over, “Isn’t this horrible? Look at this. Again. And again. Horrible isn’t it?”

  21. Trust me Drew… as someone who actually knows how to optimize for spiders and humans, Alan isn’t trying to get away with anything.

  22. Writing content for your site should be written for the user, but keeping in mind how the spiders will view the content as well. It’s a fine line, writing content that is key phrase laden without appearing to be spammy in nature.

    If you write your content without keeping the spider’s viewpoint intact they will not rank your site high in the SERPs. Unless of course you’re content is inherently utilizing specific key phrases.

  23. Good post. So many content writers get caught up in writing for SEO purposes, and they forget that real people have to read their articles.

  24. “Sure, you write for humans. But if you want them to find you among the gajillions of other pages out there, you’d better be writing for the spiders, too. Some bloggers aren’t concerned with having a lot of (or any) readers, and that’s fine. You can write from the heart, and write for conversion, while still giving the spiders what they need. In fact, when its done “correctly” you can’t even tell the difference. And once you get it right, it’s just another arrow in your quiver.”

    I second that. In a few sentences Geoff managed to summarize the general idea of SEO-copywriting: If you write like Geoff says you’ll get:

    – More visitors
    – And thus, more conversion.

    No doubt about it.

  25. I see more and more posts like this and it’s really getting on my nerves. It’s a little disappointing to see a post like this on Copyblogger, because it usually churns out Grade A content.

    Allan’s free writing tips example above isn’t an example of SEO copywriting (ie writing for spiders), it’s an example of _bad_ SEO copywriting. Yes, it’s a mistake some innocent webmasters make, but so are Flash, excess JavaScript, bad spelling and poor grammar.

    What aggravates me is that posts like this contribute to this myth that all SEO copywriting is simply keyword-stuffed crap created out of a desparate need for rankings. That is not true at all, SEO copywriting can as vibrant, engaging and entertaining as any other content online.

  26. Very good point Jason. Good writers can produce quality SEO content without anyone even realizing it is serving two purposes (for the reader and SEO.)

    The problem is with these unskilled “writers” that know nothing about SEO, or writing for that matter, thinking stuffing a bunch of keywords in an article is a good practice.

    As a SEO writer, I don’t place a priority on keyword density or any of that other stuff. It is all about producing content that is compelling and reads naturally. In other words, if you are a good writer, everything else will fall into place.

  27. That is not true at all, SEO copywriting can as vibrant, engaging and entertaining as any other content online.

    Jason, that’s why there’s a link at the beginning of the post (anchor text, SEO copywriting) that leads to an entire series on good SEO copywriting.

    That’s also a smart example of internal cross-linking that benefits readers ands spiders. So yes, this post is about “bad” SEO copywriting, without doubt, but it leads to more information that can help.

  28. very informative post..thanks you very much

  29. I agree with the point that stuffing keywords into the post only provides short term benefits. It is definitely not a best practice and will frustrate readers.

  30. That is a good argument against keyword stuffing, which a lot of people are convinced is the key to showing up in the search engines. You are quite right, it does not make for good content.

  31. This is really the argument me and a friend had a few weeks ago: whether having hundreds of fake blogs with fake content is really worth anything. He has a bunch that get decent traffic. MY point was simply that the traffic that he gets isn’t worth anything. My logic was simply, “if i came to that page, i’d be traffic too, but i’d also be traffic that didn’t stick around”. i’m trying to build a website that builds real content with real traffic. i think it will eventually be worth much more because of it.

  32. The example piece is kind of funny, actually. Fortunately I have my own websites and can test out different writing techniques – I’ve had much more success with “natural language” writing than creating keyword dense content overly focused on certain keywords.

    Related keywords are very, very powerful for SEO purposes and in my opinion, natural language writing is the new SEO copywriting.

  33. Good article. Writing for humans will benefit your site the most.