This is a common apprehension of some clients these days, now that the more literal interpretations of “content is king” are dying off and Panda penalties have started to make it sink in that the content on your website actually has to be meaningful beyond a robot recognizing keyword density in a slapdash pile of 300 words.
That said, some people have become overcautious and have developed paranoia around writing any content inspired by keyword research and designed to rank in search results. Sometimes clients become wary that we’re recommending content “just for SEO” because the content is motivated by keyword research. But this is the wrong mindset. These search queries were all questions typed by real people. If we find significant search volume for “sequined bike helmets,” it’s because real people are looking for that. What would a search engine do with a sequined bike helmet (or any helmet for that matter)?
In other words, keyword research is market research, not just a way to game Google. As long as your website actually serves the query, your content is for people, not for SEO.
When are you using content “just for SEO?”
It’s becoming more and more difficult to use content exclusively for SEO, at least to do it effectively, so this very question is actually losing relevance by the day. Search engines aren’t perfect, but they are getting smarter every day. They understand synonyms, plurals, typos, and even the semantics of sentences in some cases, so there’s no longer a benefit to writing a separate articles for “guy’s shoes,” “men’s shoes,” and "men’s footwear”. That’s a long outdated tactic that search engines once rewarded but have since adjusted for. Thankfully our jobs as SEOs are now a lot more creative, and we’re more often incentivized to write content to serve real human beings without being tempted to copy, paste, and paraphrase for robots.
We are constrained to the capabilities of the algorithm.
Until Google’s algorithm becomes advanced enough to truly recognize semantics and phrase relationships like a human being does, SEOs will always be working within those constraints. As complex as Google’s algorithm has become, the reality is that it’s an algorithm with limitations, and it’s going to miss the mark in some areas. In these cases it’s necessary to optimize the content and the structure of websites with search engines in mind. So would it be considered using content “just for SEO” if it meant placing some text on a page to help a robot fetch your content and bring it to the humans that will value it? As long as your site actually serves the query I think not, and I don’t think Google could protest either.
We aren’t writing for SEO. We’re using SEO to connect people to content.
If you keep that fact in mind, concerns about writing content “just for SEO” doesn’t really make sense anymore. Search engines are just a means of organizing and delivering content, the same way the Dewey Decimal System allowed easier organization of books in a library. You wouldn’t write a book just to get it into Dewey’s system would you? Of course not, but it is important to understand how that system works so that it’s easier for the right people to find the right book in a big library of content.
If you’re honest about the quality of your content and recognize SEO as a medium to connect it to people, you’ll never have to worry about writing just for SEO.