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We’ve been talking a lot about SEO over the past few weeks, and for good reason. It’s a vital tool in your arsenal as a content creator, and mastery of it can mean the difference between an audience of 50 and an audience of 50,000. And mastering SEO means producing high-quality content. While there are several factors that can determine quality, crafting ‘people-first’ content is going to help put you at the top of the list. But what, exactly, does this mean?

What is people-first content?

Simply put, people-first content is content that’s meant for a human being rather than an algorithm. In other words, it should help people. As Nicole Inge of Express Writers points out, this can pay dividends beyond search-engine rankings because it helps you bring in an audience that will resonate with your material, which means they’re more likely to stick around after their initial discovery of your content.

What is Google looking for?

Originality is hugely important when it comes to creating people-first content. Now this can seem tricky, but it’s absolutely possible for you to create something new and exciting for your readers. However, this can require you to do some things that may seem counterintuitive at first. For example, you may be tempted to write about a wide array of topics in the hope of drawing in a wide array of readers. But when it comes to SEO, being a jack of all trades can hurt you. You’re better off identifying a specific niche and sticking to it.

This can be a daunting prospect. You may think there’s no room for your contributions, or you have nothing valuable to say. But there’s always a fresh angle to be found, even if you’re dealing with popular subjects. Spend some time researching other publications in your field. Even popular subjects have less well-documented aspects. Keyword research can also be a boon here, as it can give you a good idea of the kind of queries used by your target audience (Rachel Leist over at Hubspot has a good introduction to the subject). 

A matter of authority

When contemplating topics to write about, it’s a good idea to focus on subjects that you can discuss with authority. As you may recall from our discussions of EEAT, authoritativeness plays an important role when Google is determining content quality. If you have formal credentials, that can be a good place to start. So if you’re a CPA, you might write about personal finance. If you have a degree in British history, you might write about the British constitution. But if you don’t have credentials, don’t worry. There are other ways to establish yourself as an authority, though you might have to work a bit harder to build your reputation (Forbes and Authority Content offer some good tips in that regard).

Whatever niche you settle on, make sure you’re writing about something you’re genuinely interested in. This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to overlook. Forcing yourself to write about a subject you have no interest in just because you think it’s popular isn’t a recipe for long-term success. Think back to your school days and how annoying it was when you had to write papers about subjects you didn’t care about. Chances are, it was like pulling teeth and you put off writing it until the last-possible moment. That’s not a feeling you want to experience once a week (or even more!). So do yourself a favor and stick to something you actually like.    

I have a niche; now what?

Once you’ve found your niche, you’ll want to make sure you’re producing high-quality content that’s useful to your audience, whether you’re recommending smartphones or explaining the royal prerogative in the United Kingdom. Rellify has some really good advice on how to come up with content ideas. The key takeaway is that you should be intentional when creating content. Ask yourself questions such as

·         Why am I creating content, and for whom?

·         What is the purpose of my content?

·         What kinds of things does my target audience want to read about?

The University of Wisconsin—Madison’s undergraduate library also has some good tips.

When you have the ‘big picture’ in mind, it’s time to sit down and brainstorm. Mind mapping can be a good strategy, especially if you’re a visual thinker. While old-fashioned paper and pencil can do the trick, there are also more high-tech alternatives such as Scapple. You can also get inspiration from autocomplete suggestions in search engines, keyword research, social media, or even word of mouth. This will also give you a good idea about how similar subjects are already being discussed. For example, if you discover that a lot of the existing coverage is very text-heavy, you might consider creating a video instead.

After you’ve settled on a subject, it’s time to research. The skills you honed in high school and college will hold you in good stead. But if you need a refresher, Elmira College has a step-by-step guide to doing research that may come in handy. While it’s intended for academic papers, many of the tips apply outside the Academy as well. Be mindful of your sources, and give proper credit, whether in the form of a hyperlink or a formal bibliographic note (many blogging platforms even let you do footnotes if that’s your thing). And whatever you do, try not to cite Wikipedia if you can avoid it. It’s fine to use it for background research, but some of your readers will definitely look askance if you formally cite it.

Once the research is done, all you have to do is write the darn thing. But you should resist the temptation to publish as soon as you finish. Instead, take the time to polish your writing. Make sure it’s free of typos or grammatical errors. After all, these things are the equivalent of going out on a date with a big wad of spinach stuck between your teeth.

Wrapping it all up in a bow

Creating people-first content is an important part of modern SEO. Google wants you to write stuff that’s actually going to help people instead of just trying to please an algorithm. Find a niche that’s comfortable (and enjoyable) for you to write about. Make sure you’re producing high-quality content by being mindful of your readers and their needs. You should also make sure you’re producing material that’s thoroughly researched and polished. Not only will this make Google happy, it’ll also make your readers happy since you’re giving them a valuable source of information they can rely on.

For more research tips, check out “5 steps to verify social media source accuracy for publishers.”