25 reasons to write for your audience before search engines

80% of people begin their journey to a website through the query on a search engine. Once they type in specific keywords, 46% click on the #1 website listed in organic search. To show you, here is a brief :30 clip.

In this controlled video test, called a “heat map,” people use keywords to search for an unmet need and then click on the website that best meets their need. The blue circles are the mouse movements of many individual searches and the hot colors represent where the most activity occurs.
Conclusions are: 1) Know the most relevant keywords for your business or brand and 2) get to a top position. But does that mean you should focus your attention on what might cause search engines to give you a top rank at the expense of writing for your audience? Never.
Here are 25 reasons to write for your audience before the search engines.

  1. Search engines are not mind readers
  2. Search engines can’t figure out who your target audience is
  3. Search engines don’t know where they spend time online
  4. Search engines can’t reach out to them
  5. Search engines don’t raise your rank until you start attracting an audience to your website
  6. Search engines can’t: 1) Be relevant, 2) educate and 3) persuade to increase your business as well as your rank
  7. Search engines are dumb. They don’t recognize what’s relevant. They recognize text patterns
  8. Search engines aren’t smart enough to know whether the text patterns are you talking to your audience or you talking to yourself
  9. Search engines don’t know if your text is written in a natural flow and reads well
  10. Search engines don’t know the difference between an introduction and a call to action
  11. Search engines can’t “link” your site with other influential sites to raise your rank by recognizing your website as an authority
  12. Search engine can’t ask your audiences for comments to more “links” and raise your rank
  13. Search engines can’t read your analytics to optimize the keywords and content that is raising your rank
  14. Search engines don’t recognize whether the audience coming to your site is there to: 1) research, 2) shop or 3) buy
  15. Search engines can’t share your content
  16. Search engines can’t speak your audience’s language or feel their pain
  17. Search engines can’t give your audience what they want
  18. Search engines can’t survey your audience so you keep improving your website and keep them coming back
  19. Search engines can’t install “breadcrumbs,” the  navigation aid used in user interfaces to allow users to keep track of their locations within programs or documents
  20. Search engines can’t keep your content fresh
  21. Search engines can’t add testimonials or reviews which is the language of your audience and is similar to those who might be searching for your site
  22. Search engine can’t create and keep a customer
  23. Search engines can’t recognize advocates
  24. Search engines can’t reward your loyal customer
  25. Search engines can’t make your personality shine through. Your personality counts because people like to do business with people they know

Of course, for digital marketing, the search engine play a critical role but they will never take the place of good research, high levels of involvement and strong, well-written content.
I am fortunate to be teaching a “hands on” Mini-MBA in SEO, SEM and Web Analytics through Rutgers University and with two colleagues, Mike Moran and Tim Peter. Creating a content strategy and writing great content are an area of focus. If this is of interest, here are the details.
Will you be writing for your audience before the search engines?


  1. Ashley

    I disagree with the 25 reasons because they are based on the assumption that by using search engine optimization, you are working for a machine instead of a person. This isn’t really true. Yes, there are technical considerations and black hat SEO can help your rankings, but most of SEO is about connecting with people and observing them: generating outbound links, which can be done through guest blogging and other stuff, is audience based; knowing search habits is important to tailor keywords in your post.
    When you use these strategies, you are communicating with an audience. Audience is a huge factor in much search engine optimization. Going for an audience and going for search engine optimization are not separate strategies. You can (and should) very successfully do both. You must focus your attention on your audience to do SEO.
    Of course, some people will compromise their audience voice to go for SEO. Sometimes the most SEO friendly headline options are not the most audience friendly and there are unethical, non-audienced based strategies that can bring you SEO. My point is that by being attuned to your audience and using creative writing and strategy, you can support your audience and use SEO at the same time. So many think it’s either or, or assume that good SEO means compromising something. On the contrary, I think using good, white hat SEO can help your voice and help you understand your audience better.

    1. Rob Petersen

      Thanks for such a thoughtful response. All your points are excellent.
      I was trying to make the point there are many factors that result in good SEO that people have to do and, even when you’re working with someone on SEO, there can be a tendency to use keywords or key phrases that place the search engines above your audience.
      I really appreciate all you have to say.

  2. Ashley

    Thanks Rob! I hear you on that. I’ve read some recommendations by SEOs to do things that really just aren’t engaging. Advice companies have paid them to give. It’s a shame that these SEOs are so influential and it’s a shame that so many companies and individuals value the rankings/traffic over great content and organic promotion/engagement. It doesn’t even make sense. More traffic doesn’t necessarily equal the right audience or one who will respond to your call to action. And you could alienate people by using unethical SEO practices. Ugh.

    1. Rob Petersen

      Thanks again Ashley. In the process of our back and forth, I’d had the opportunity to read your blog which is engaging and fun to read. And, as we all know, blogging is a great way to deliver great content, let others know what we’re passionate about and raise SEO rank. Keep up the great work and look forward to staying in touch with your adventures.

  3. Ashley

    Thanks Rob! It’s an especially nice compliment coming from you. (Good) blogging is all around awesome.

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