An exploration of how training content writers to think like search engines allows you to create engaging SEO content that ranks. Learn about NLP, Google BERT and writing content for search intent.
Should You Train Content Writers To Think Like Search Engines?
Author: Deep Shah, Project Manager
One of the first things you’ll learn as an SEO writer is to write content for humans, not search engines.
We at SUSO stand by this too – but to create content that ranks, you also need to think like a search engine.
It’s important to think about how you can utilise the knowledge of how search engines work, to write content that is engaging for readers, but is also optimised for search engines.
Ask yourself, what is Google trying to accomplish? The answer is simple…
“Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In other words, the search engine’s goal is to answer search queries in the most useful way.
This article explores how content writers can strike the balance between writing creative and easy-to-read content for humans; with a technical, algorithmically aligned approach for search engines.
How Google Understands Content
Learning how Google understands content is crucial for any SEO content writer because it further emphasises the fact that the content you write should be focused on the user and not the search engine.
One such insight into how Google analyses and understands content is through the Google BERT algorithm which uses Natural Language Processing models.
What Is Natural Language Processing?
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a branch of artificial intelligence and linguistics that applies computational techniques to understand and analyse natural language and speech like humans.
NLP is commonly used in text-to-speech devices that implement voice search as a feature. That’s how AI assistants like Siri or Alexa on your smart devices are able to understand what you say.
What Is Google BERT?
Google BERT is an algorithm that significantly improved the search engine’s understanding of natural language.
BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is modelled on a neural network-based technique of Natural Language Processing pre-training. This essentially means that BERT used a text corpus (in this case, the entire English Wikipedia!) to learn the relationship between words in a sentence or search query.
With this training model, the algorithm can be programmed to continuously learn the nuances of natural language by processing the text Google’s bots find whilst crawling and indexing new pages.
Why Is Google BERT Important for SEO?
Remember, Google’s mission is to organise the content on the web so as to present users with the most relevant and useful information to their queries.
This requires the search engine to understand two things:
- What people are searching for
- What web pages are talking about
It’s with the help of BERT, that the search engine is able to find the correct match between the two.
For example, if you searched for “bass guitar”, Google knows that you’re referring to the musical instrument as opposed to the type of fish.
BERT also unlocks an important aspect of natural language processing that we as humans take for granted: intent.
For broad search terms like “bass guitar”, Google tries to present the user with several types of results – this is because users could be looking for different things.
The first organic result is an eCommerce website that addresses a commercial intent whereas the second organic result (and the People Also Ask section) is the Wikipedia entry for bass guitars which serves an informational purpose.
Before this, Google’s ranking model allowed pages that implemented keyword stuffing to dominate the search results. These results weren’t always what the user was looking for and also didn’t always provide the best reading experience.
With BERT, there’s a significant improvement in how Google is able to understand intent which leads to richer and more meaningful search results.
Read our chapter on how Google BERT works in more detail here.
How to Write Content That Is Optimised for Google BERT
A natural question you might have is whether you can optimise content for Google BERT?
The answer, as provided by Google’s Danny Sullivan below, is that you can’t. Not directly.
There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) October 28, 2019
Instead of optimising content for Google BERT, you should ensure that:
- Your Content Is Easy to Read – use simple, short sentences to make it as easy as possible for Google (and your readers) to understand what you’re saying.
- Your Content Is Written Naturally – avoid stuffing keywords or purposely misspelling/leaving out stop words (like “a”, “to”, “if”) in your content with the pure intention to rank. This no longer works and creates a poor reading experience for the user.
- Your Content is Clear and Precise – this is a great way to leverage Google’s use of NLP.
Take this article about Worms in dogs, which has structured its content with questions as headings. Here’s what happens when performing a Google search for the following question/answer.
Google takes the answer directly from the page and displays it right at the top as a rich result.
A good rule of thumb is to write an answer that you’d expect AI assistants like Siri or Alexa to provide when asked a question – usually about one or two sentences.
Understanding Search Intent
What Is Search Intent?
Search intent refers to understanding what the user is trying to find or achieve with their search query.
Types of Search Intent
The search intent (often also referred to as “user intent”) of keywords can be grouped into the following categories:
- Informational – the searcher wants to learn more about a particular topic.
- Navigational – the searcher is looking for a particular website.
- Transactional – the searcher is looking to make a purchase or complete some form of action.
- Commercial Investigation – the searcher is looking for a particular product or service, but is yet to decide on the right solution for them.
Mixed Search Intent
Sometimes the search intent of a keyword isn’t always clear. Broad keywords with higher search volumes tend to have what’s called a mixed user intent.
For example, when searching “tea”, Google needs to decide whether the searcher is looking for information about tea (i.e. making it, where it’s grown, etc.), or whether the searcher is looking to buy tea.
The search results reflect this with the top pages either having an informational or transactional intent.
Why Is Understanding Search Intent Important?
Understanding search intent is important because it informs what kind of content is needed in order to satisfy what the searcher is looking for.
How to Write Content for Search Intent, Not Search Engines
Whilst this article is about training writers to think like search engines, it’s important to remember that the content you write should ultimately reflect the user’s search intent for the keywords you’re targeting.
Looking at content from Google’s perspective and understanding how it matches keywords to web pages displayed in the search results allows us to be better content creators and SEOs.
How to Identify Search Intent
A simple Google search can help identify the search intent of a keyword and allow you to create the right kind of content for the keyword(s) that you’re targeting.
For the keyword “how to make ginger tea”, the user is looking for recipes (informational intent) as opposed to tea bags (transactional intent).
And this is exactly what Google displays in the top search results.
How to Align Your Content with Competitors
You also want to look at the content of each of the top-ranking competing pages and ask yourself:
- What’s the content type? – are the results blog posts, product/category pages, landing pages (i.e. service pages)?
- Who’re the content creators? – what kind of websites are ranking? eCommerce sites, affiliate sites, brick and mortar businesses, content publishers?
- What’s the content purpose? – what is the content trying to achieve? Is it a review, a list, a guide, a comparison, etc.?
- What’s in the content? – what topics have the pages covered? Is there any content that they have included, but is missing from your own web page?
- What’s the content format? – how detailed is the content? How is the content structured? Are there images, videos, widgets?
Asking why Google has ranked these pages at the top allows you to align your content to match the same intent and information.
Read our modules on Semantic Search and Content Optimisation to find out more.
As SEO content writers, focusing on making it as easy as possible for search engines to make the connection between the user’s search query and the content on the web page, is the ultimate goal.
Therefore, whilst 90% of your content should be written for humans, we believe that leaving just 10% to think like search engines is the best way to create content that ranks.
At SUSO, we work closely with PR, digital PR, and content marketing companies that are great at creating high-quality shareable assets, but lack experience with leveraging technical factors to generate high search traffic through Google.
As an outsource SEO agency, we strike the right balance by building a content marketing strategy that turns great content into great SEO content.
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