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Why Content Writing Needs A Little Less Einstein And A Little More Oprah

By October 8, 2012June 26th, 2015Writing & Content Marketing
Why Content Writing Needs A Little Less Einstein And A Little More Oprah

I always used to say that the best way to expose bad content was with “good SEO.” That’s because stuffing keywords and links into content was accepted by many as the way to tame the Google monster and punch a ticket to the top of search rankings.

I never understood that mindset, and it frustrated me as a copywriter, because if people get to your content and discover that your content is useless drivel, what’s the point?

Deep down, I guess we all would like to think we could beat the system, at least in some small way. Whether that means figuring out a way to get free shipping, discovering a tax loophole, or taking some backdoor approach to the top of search rankings, the inner hacker in all of us loves being able to exclaim, “Ha! Take that! I win!”

Thanks to the recent Panda and Penguin updates from Google that emphasize content quality, that approach isn’t necessary. Actually, that approach will get you in hot water with the search gods.

But science is still involved. And many who are still obsessed with beating the system somehow fail to realize that those who read the content – visitors, readers, users, prospects, whatever you choose to call them – are actually real people.

Instead of writing for search engines and algorithms, write for people.

Less Einstein. More Oprah.

Now you don’t have to give everybody in your reading audience a car. But you don’t have to split the atom either.

The most successful content doesn’t have the most keywords or links. Great content touches people. It speaks their language. It makes an emotional connection by appealing to the wants, needs, problems, frustrations, passions, joys, sorrows and values of real people.

When your write for science, you get e=mc2. When you write for people, you get laughter, tears and maybe even jumping on the couch.

Which do you think is better for your business?

Keywords are still important, but they should be delicately and seamlessly integrated into your content.

The best marketing “fits in” to someone’s lifestyle. When well-targeted and properly executed, marketing is welcomed as part of someone’s routine, a routine in which people value and pay attention to what matters most to them.

The same principle is true for keywords.

A keyword that’s unnaturally forced into content has the effect of a speed bump. It’s jarring. Uncomfortable. Awkward. Distracting. Much like a speed bump disrupts the flow of your ride, forced keywords disrupt your content.

Any disruption to the flow of your content gives the reader an excuse to check email, see who that text is from, read the newest batch of Tweets, or see who just posted pictures of their kids on Facebook.

Keywords forced into content for the sake of fueling a search engine give people a reason to stop reading your content. And it usually sounds ridiculous.

My advice? When you write content – with all due respect to the brilliant Einstein – forget about science and algorithms. Stop trying to the beat the system. Panda and Penguin are proof that the system is always evolving anyway.

After you’ve done your homework and you truly understand your target audience, focus only on how you can enrich the lives of real people. Channel your inner Oprah.

That doesn’t mean your content has to be warm and fuzzy. It just has to make an emotional connection with your target audience, whether that audience is soccer moms or truck drivers.

Read your content out loud. If it doesn’t sound like the way a real person would speak in a real conversation, rewrite it so it does.

Once your content is written, you can always go back and strategically sprinkle in keywords and links if necessary without compromising the quality of your content. If you’re not sure how to do this yourself, invest in someone who can do it for you.

This is the way you develop content that people like, want, use, share and remember. And it’s the real ticket to success, both in search and your bottom line.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve probably watched Oprah about 10 times in my life, although I’ve seen her episode on 30 Rock a few times (“Liz Lemoooooooon!”). But it doesn’t take an avid fan to know Oprah built her empire in large part by making emotional connections with people. And she’s worth about $2.7 billion. I rest my case.

Join the discussion 31 Comments

  • Adrienne says:

    Amen to that Scott and this is a topic I’ll be sharing in an upcoming post myself.

    So many people are so hung up on SEO and keyword stuffing that they fail to realize that all we want is to be able to relate to the content we’re reading. Behind that it’s people connecting to people because someone wrote that content.

    I know it’s important to get our content out in front of the masses, I get that. But I know myself that I would much rather read something that I can relate to then something that I feel is just trying to convince me to buy from them.


    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Adrienne – People read content. People make purchases. People create budgets. People are decision makers. They are the ones who I want my content to connect with on an emotional level. Do that first and sales will follow. – Scott

  • geofflivingston says:

    Great metaphor! Well done, and I always lean towards Einstein!

  • As a *brilliant* business mogul (Oprah), this is proof that the natural mix of both intelligence *and* emotional connection mean stellar content.

    Bad (unintelligible) content written poorly is not good SEO.

    Good content and good SEO are not mutually exclusive.

    These are common misconceptions, I think, by those inexperienced with both. (Not implying that you are – simply an observation 😉

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Harmony – Understood, and no offense taken. Content written for people is “good SEO.” The proper integration of keywords, links, etc. makes it great SEO. I just happen to put more emphasis on the quality of the content because of its ability to forge a strong bond with leaders. – Scott

  • Margarita Slavkova says:

    We all communicate on a subconscious level, but a few have the mastery to see and use it for the better. Thank you, Scott!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Margarita – Very true, and that’s my point. Real people have a subconscious. Algorithms don’t 🙂 Scott

  • Ken Pickard says:


    You had me at the title! i knew instantly what the topic of this post would be about and I agree for the most part. Writing for your audience first is critical. We just don’t want to overlook the extra stuff you can do to rank that article.

    Now I’m not talking about over stuffing your post with keywords. We’ll leave that kind of stuffing for Thanksgiving. I’m just talking about the things you can do after you’ve crafted you latest post.

    Like you i agree that our audience…people, are the ones who read our content and making those purchasing decisions based on vale and trust.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Ken Pickard
    The Network Dad

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Ken – I would never suggest abandoning SEO strategy completely. I’m just a firm believer in content quality above all else, which is the key to a long-term, audience-building approach, whereas keyword stuffing is more of a temporary quick fix. Thanks for the kind words – Scott

  • Louise Steiner says:

    Hi Scott. I’m a big fan of Oprah, so the image drew me in to read your post immediately 🙂 As you say, Oprah has built her empire by developing emotional connections with her audience, and her success speaks for itself.
    When it comes to writing content, I like to write my posts first, then I do my keyword research and then I insert my keywords wherever they fit. However, my most successful post ever was not optimised for keywords, which proves your point. Write for the reader and the rest will follow.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Louise – We have a similar approach. To be totally honest, my most successful post ever wasn’t really optimized either. If we depend exclusively on SEO to promote our content, we’re in trouble. It’s important to share it with our professional and social networks and get it in front of people who we know can use it – which will also improve search ranking. Thanks! Scott

  • Hi Scott,
    Love this post. I could have written this myself ( I mean this in a good way) I mean I sooooo agree with it.
    It’s one thing to rank in first three results, but what’s the point if all you have to show for is pure garbage? I’ve never, ever understood that either.
    As a freelance writer, when some ignorant clients ask me to put a specific percentage of keywords in their content I always tell them that if they bug me with this it will lower the quality of their article. I should forward them this post next time 🙂
    Like you I think that we should always write for people, not for search engines.
    By the way, I have a guest post that posted (on my blog) yesterday morning and someone took that content and put it on their miserable looking site (with my link), but still. Stupid Google ranked that first place and my original was nowhere to be found in the first page. I’m so reporting this.
    Thanks for this great info, Scott!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Sylviane – I think one of the biggest frustrations of any service provider is when someone hires you to do a job but doesn’t let you do your job. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with quality content but you can really screw things up if you go overboard with keywords, links, and my new least favorite – putting every other word in bold. Let me know if you get anywhere with Google. Very curious about how they would rectify that. Good luck, and thanks for the feedback! Scott

  • Carol Minarcik says:

    Hey Scott, this artical surely would rank in one of my top 10. Gives a great feeling reading it. Just love it. Thanks

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Wow, Carol, thanks for the compliment! But be honest – is it the article or is it Oprah? 🙂 Take care – Scott

  • liz says:

    Hi Scott,

    You are absolutely right. Oprah is a genius, and her genius is her ability to connect with all walks of life. That is the most important take away from this,…remember who you are writing for. Remember that when people get to your article, they actually have to get something out of it. Remember that if you wnat them to come back and read more articles, you have to be sincere, genuine, and ultimately give in order to receive.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Liz – You make a great point about giving. The point of sharing content is to give something of value to the reader. It blows my mind when someone says they shouldn’t write a certain content piece because they shouldn’t give that information away for free. They blow an opportunity to establish expertise, gain credibility, build trust, create a connection, and yes, grow revenue. As you said, that’s how you get people to come back to you. Thanks for your comments – Scott

  • Hi Scott

    Totally agree with your post. I never could get that “write for Google” concept and come up with something that flowed real well. I just figure on a subject and start writing and it comes out sounding like I am actually talking to someone. To me that always made better sense. I always hope when I am done I at least have some keywords that are good.

    Lots of stuff that is wrote doesn’t make for correct English and sounds very stupid. How could they possibly even expect anyone to read their content?

    Thanks for giving me another reason not to beat my head against the wall over SEO!

    Have a great day,

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Mary – The biggest challenge with writing for SEO is that it almost forces you to talk about yourself and your product, even though good content focuses on your target audience. It can be done, but it’s painfully obvious when it’s done wrong. SEO is very important, but I definitely wouldn’t bang your head against the wall over it! Thanks – Scott

  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Scott

    Like Ken I knew by the title where you were going to go with this post. It is awesome and a great title. Yes Oprah has a way of connecting with people that is magic, I have not seen her show all that often but love her.I am always drawn to well written content and will return over and over to a good writer.

    Great message Scott.


    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Sue – Thanks so much! If you read any of my posts, you know I’m borderline fanatical about strong headlines. Some are still better than others, and I guess this is one of my better ones. You summed it up about as well as one could – by making a strong connection, you get people to keep coming back. – Scott

  • Digett says:

    It’s definitely important to find that right balance between Einstein and Oprah; too much of the former and the content is unreadable, too much of the latter and it’s unfindable. 🙂

    Google’s algorithms change frequently — readers’ enjoyment of stories and need for emotional connection does not.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Digett – Actually, I don’t think too much Oprah is a bad thing. The better connection you make, the more likely it is to get shared. My content is read mostly because people share it, not because they search for it. Of course, search strategy shouldn’t be completely ignored.

      As for your last sentence, everyone who writes and/or shares content should print it and hang it above their print monitor 🙂 – Scott

  • I read a post the other day that sounded so robotic it turned me off. I read another post on their site and it was better than the one they were trying to feed to me. I love when I read a post and its as if they are talking to me as if we were on the phone.

    All blogs have their tone and perspective, but if they can’t tap into that they can run the risk of losing readers before they even start. It took me forever to figure that out when I started and now being me in my posts come so much easier and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Great post Scott. I love Oprah too!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Sonia – Yes, robotic posts can be the result of too many keywords or just plain bad writing. Neither is very appealing. Being yourself is absolutely critical. I know some people don’t like my style and approach, but I would never pretend to be something I’m not because it would probably sound forced. I’d much rather roll the dice with my own personality 🙂 Thanks – Scott

    • Terilyn says:

      You copy an paste other peoples stories and pan it off like its your own your such a fraud and a cheat and did you ever get the therapy I suggested you needed it.

  • Jack says:

    First of all let me tell you that I loved the title of your article. It is catchy and different. Well these are the things that attract the readers to read your blog. I loved your article as well. It is very well written. I agree with your thoughts. People should write blogs that are less from the mind and more from the heart, that’s the secret recipe for writing a good article.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Jack! That headline was written for people, not search engines. And guess what? It’s been shared more than any post I’ve written for Web.Search.Social. You’re right on the money about writing from the heart (and for the heart). People make decisions with their hearts and only use their minds to help justify those decisions. – Scott

  • Hi Sir,

    Love the way you have related content writing to Oprah. Even
    the speed bump example which you have given was very entertaining and
    informative at the same time.


    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks for the kind words. Metaphors really do help to drive the point home, don’t they? Take care – Scott