Search Engine Optimization or Ideal Reader Optimization?

Optimizing for your ideal reader

“Search engine optimization” is the mantra of the day. You’re nowhere if you’re not on page one of the search engine results page (SERP) for the keywords your customers are using. That’s why an entire cottage industry – SEO copywriting – has grown around optimizing your content for search engines.

What about optimizing your content for your ideal reader, though? It’s easy to fill your website or blog posts with text written around keywords you’ve pulled straight out of Google’s Keyword Planner or Wordtracker.

But are you throwing out the baby with the bathwater when you focus more on SERPs than on RLPs (Real, Live Persons)?

Search engine optimization is…

A potential business partner in Asia unveiled new web content. “I would appreciate your thoughts on our site,” she wrote me.

I had a look at the site. It’s obvious to me that they hired a marketing writer to talk about the company’s features, benefits and “core competencies” (yecch). It’s an atrocious throwback to the days when the web was just an electronic brochure onto which we all heaped our specialties and tried to shout the loudest. I can’t stand it, and might even consider it a liability if I were evaluating her company against her competitors.

Nevertheless, search engine optimization is in love with her site.

  • The copy is sufficiently filled with keywords to demonstrate authority (q.v. Brian Clark), though not oppressively.
  • The site is well structured, including sitemaps on each page.
  • The pages vary in length from 300 to 3000 words each.
  • There are links within the site for more detailed explanations of the company’s process and technology.

At least for the time being, search engine optimization is quite happy that they’ve submitted this site. It will need refreshed content before long, so that the search engines do not become bored with it. Otherwise, though, it embodies the main principles of SEO quite well.

Ideal reader optimization is…

Do you know what your readers want from you? Do you know what they want to read? Are you giving it to them?

It’s easy to write about what your company does; it’s vastly harder to write about what your audience wants to read, because you have to know them well, or ask them what they want. Then you have to believe them when they tell you. Then you have to hire a writer who can tell your story in a way that they want to read.

What’s the easiest thing in the world to write? A letter to someone you care about. Why? Because you know how to tell your story through filters that mean something to him or her. You already have a relationship in place, and the letter becomes one more piece of that relationship.

First one, then the other

Build your online presence first around keywords and search engine optimization. They cast the wide net that brings you readers, followers, future customers and fellow travelers.

Once you’ve hit your stride and have a mutual relationship with a body of readers, you pursue ideal reader optimization. You stop worrying about embedding keywords in your titles and h2 tags and using “2-3 keyword phrases 2-3 times per page.” You come up with better titles that capture people’s imagination in a way that keywords cannot. You will lose some of the original audience, but that’s how it goes.

So, what are you hiring your marketing communications writer to do: search engine optimization or ideal reader optimization?

photo credit: kainr


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”