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Do writers need to know SEO?

Have you read sales pages that scream, “You don’t need to know SEO! Our software does it all!”

Solving your SEO writing woes with software sounds so easy. You wouldn’t have to worry about keyphrase usage, penning the perfect title length, or structuring links. Just feed in your copy and poof! instant optimization help! In fact, the sales copy for one SEO plug-in even says, “We walk you through every step: no need to hire or be an SEO expert.”

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Here’s the question: do you even need to know SEO if a plug-in can do it all? In other words—can you trust SEO writing tools, or do writers still need to know SEO? Here’s how to think about it.

Machines can’t replace humans (yet!)

SEO tools are extremely helpful and save marketers time. We rely on them every day. But their recommendations are just that: recommendations. The writer (or SEO) makes the final optimization call. Sometimes, it makes sense to follow the recommendations, and sometimes, it doesn’t.

For instance, I’ve received emails from my writing students asking, “The Yoast SEO for WordPress plug-in is telling me to [fill in the blank]. Should I do it even if it doesn’t quite work with the page?” The plug-in was telling them one thing, while their writing experience was telling them another.

Please know that I love and highly recommend Yoast’s SEO for WordPress plug-in and many other SEO experts do too. It’s a nice plug-in that handles a lot of the geeky SEO stuff behind-the-scenes. Plus, it allows you to preview the title and description, check your readability, and more. Heck, I use it on my own site!

But other than a quick check, I don’t follow Yoast’s checklist recommendations as gospel. Why? Sometimes, following the recommendations would mess with the copywriting flow. There may be a reason that I’m not using the focus keyword in the title or that I don’t include the focus keyword in the first paragraph. Or I choose to link a certain way.

I may not follow every recommendation, but I know the page’s SEO strategy is still sound.

At the end of the day, good SEO writing connects with the reader and converts. It’s not because it ticks off various “here’s how to optimize everything perfectly” boxes. Even Yoast admits it’s “nearly impossible” to get a “green bullet” for every checklist item.

Plus, some tools still use keyword density as a scoring item. This means writers are still matching the keyphrase exactly multiple times in order to satisfy a mythical keyword density. They don’t know any better. They’re just doing what the tool tells them to do.

That’s why SEO knowledge is crucial. You can’t intelligently break the SEO “rules” (or ignore things like keyword density) if you don’t know what you’re doing. Not if you want the page to position. Additionally, in today’s world, more complex posts (for instance, long-form posts or posts using highly competitive keyphrases) require a smart, human-led strategy. Without some SEO knowledge, you won’t know how to structure the page, research the keyphrases, and leverage all the opportunities.

Want success? Use a combination of knowledge and specialized tools

SEO writing tools offer good data. They make our lives easier. They can help us pinpoint opportunities we may have missed. Use them. Love them. Just know you can’t install an SEO plug-in and expect your writing challenges to magically disappear.

Instead, teach your writers SEO writing best practices. Show them the “why” behind the “do this” SEO-style guide. Teach them how to read the SEO data and let them know when it’s appropriate to override the suggestions. For instance, there may be times when you want to be 100% sure the main keyphrase is in the title. Other times, the writer may have more creative room to move. Training your writers helps everyone be (and stay) on the same SEO page.

(As a bonus, trained writers require less editing, too. They know when to use keyphrases, when to back off, and how to write a clickable title. There’s a reason one out of every two writing jobs now requires SEO skills.)

Yes, SEO writing tools are fantastic. But they’re more fantastic when an educated SEO writer uses them. Having both in your marketing arsenal is a powerful combination.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar Filip Zafirovski

    Enjoyed your article Heather!

    Can you think of a scenario where writers don’t really need ANY SEO knowledge?

    Kind regards,
    Filip

    1. Avatar Heather Lloyd-Martin

      Hi, Filip!

      There are still writers who focus 100% on print collateral — especially in-house writers. But this is changing. The most common training request I get now is, “Our writers don’t know much about SEO and we need help.” 🙂

      Thanks for your note!

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