Writing for Humans
Robots (we hope) will never be able to authentically experience human emotional responses to works of art and literary genius. But they can analyze our human processes, responses, and habits to respond to our requests with increasing accuracy. One of the most frequent ways we make these requests is via our daily use of search engines to find web content.
All of this web content has two audiences: humans and robots (i.e. search engines). Both audiences read websites—but while we humans use the power of our minds to interpret information, search engines rely on complex algorithms to determine validity and contextual relevance.
The search engine robot’s job is to read the content and serve it to the right human user based on their search text—so it’s imperative that we humans responsible for planning and writing web content consider how it will be found and served. We have to play nice with search engines, but not at the expense of our human users. The good news (or not-so-good news, if you fear the robot uprising) is that search engines are evolving to “think” more like us every day.
One recent example of this evolution is Google’s Knowledge Graph search feature, about which New Yorker writer Gary Marcus wrote “…in a decade or two, scientists and journalists may well look back at this moment as the dividing line between machines that dredged massive amounts of data—with no clue what that data meant—and machines that started to think, just a little bit, like people.” Until the day when these two audiences become one, how do we strategize and write for both at once?
How to Write for Humans Online
You might think, “I am a human. Writing for humans should be straightforward, right?” The answer is “yes and no.” In the world of the web, you’re not just writing content for a specific human audience. You’re writing for the way that audience will find your content, too.
One of the best ways to address both humans and search engines is to take into account the wealth of data provided to us by search engine records and analytic trackers (like Google AdWords’ Keyword Tool and Google Analytics). The information this research yields is based on real-life user searches and behaviors, so it offers insight into individual and aggregate thought processes and language associations. We can leverage this data to make informed decisions on how to better optimize and humanize our content.
Pharma ’Bots: Finding the Words
To provide a pharma-specific example, let’s say a drug is indicated to treat an ailment in robots that robot healthcare professionals (RHCPs) refer to as “storage capacity dysfunction and actuator arm failure,” or SCDAAF. While this might be a fine term to use on an RHCP website, Joe the robot patient doesn’t use these words when he searches for information about this condition. This is where we can use our research to pinpoint what other robot patients are typing when they search. They could be using terms like “low to no hard drive,” or “drive arm problem” to describe their symptoms or the disease itself. The terms they use can vary by the region they live in and their demographic, and you may even find some of them surprising.
One of the keys to writing for humans online is writing content that uses their language. We can form opinions and draw conclusions based on market research (like surveys and studies)—but we can rely on cold, hard, real-world search engine data and analytic research to learn exactly which terms resonate effectively and turn up results for the content we want to display. Using the right language helps humans identify information of value, and simultaneously helps the search engine identify content that’s relevant to a human user’s search string. This practice is part of any good search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
In the past, SEO was almost at odds with human-friendly content, especially in the wrong hands. Now, the gap between the search engine user and human user is narrowing, weeding out dubious SEO practices and blurring the lines between human and robot audiences. Yet dated SEO advice still abounds—so it’s our job as content creators and user advocates to question seemingly detrimental recommendations. You can stay search savvy by checking on Google developments via their Inside Search blog and remember that, more and more, what’s best for the human user is what’s best for the search engine, and vice versa.