Narrative Within SEO: Enticing Robots & Inspiring People

  • As companies move towards prioritizing symbiosis between paid and organic marketing initiatives, creative approaches are becoming more important than ever.
  • In a competitive attention economy, using narrative isn’t just about creating engrossing content—it can actively curb SEO metrics that normally weigh you down, like bounce rates and dwell time.
  • You don’t need to be a screenwriter or a novelist to incorporate narrative—by foregrounding tactics from UX and marketing, you can seamlessly use storytelling to meet marketing milestones.
  • Ultimately, narrative’s value in SEO comes down to something universal that pre-existed in the marketplace: the richness of our inner lives and our wish to see our desires reflected in the external world.

You’ve mobile-optimized your website, planned your 6-month content roadmap to a T, and connected with guest bloggers who can help put your website on the map. If this were the ‘90s, we’d have watched your content marketing journey in montage form, set to “Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root. As you begin clinching those top SERPs for your customer’s queries, there’s only one question: Will the page they land on keep them there?

Until recently, so much of SEO seemed to be about deciphering (and reverse-engineering) the few koans Google utters to the masses about their algorithms. But the robots are humanizing, and successful marketing strategies need to prioritize gripping content in addition to matching user intent. 

So how do you incorporate narrative into your SEO strategy? Do you have to be a masterful storyteller to do it? From Google’s perspective, no. As it turns out, you just have to be human.

What makes content good? (According to Google)

Google is notoriously clammy when it comes to divulging its secret algorithmic sauce—but its reps are transparent when it comes to the company’s core values. 

Back in 2019, a representative commented: “We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”

Ah, Google. Our wise sphinx.

So what is considered “the best content” in Google’s book? From their perspective, it comes down to the three elements known as E-A-T:

  • Expertise
  • Authoritativeness
  • Trustworthiness

But it’s not just Google’s spiders that make the final judgment call on whether a given webpage meets the E-A-T standard. They rigorously train and employ people—known as Quality Raters—to quality-control the pages that turn up on SERPs. 

Fortunately for us, Google’s Quality Rater guidelines are freely available online. In the document, there are times Google waxes poetic, even philosophical. In a section titled “What is the Purpose of a Webpage” they write:

The purpose of a page is the reason or reasons why the page was created…Most pages are created to be helpful for people, thus having a beneficial purpose.” 

Okay, so a page on how to make your own bagels from scratch is certainly designed to help people impress their children and enjoy a pleasant breakfast. But does narrative help people?

As long as the page is created to help people, we will not consider any particular page’s purpose or type to be higher quality than another. For example, encyclopedia pages are not necessarily higher quality than humor pages.”

The takeaway: Regardless of industry, your content must demonstrate sincere dedication to uplifting users in order to index. But to summit the SERPs, you need more than base-level content quality. You need content that harmonizes with a quest that’s already in progress—and points the way towards an engrossing next chapter.

Four ways to weave narrative into your SEO content 

Weaving narrative into your marketing strategy isn’t just about creating compelling content—and you don’t have to be a storytelling whiz in order to reap the benefits. 

Let’s touch on four actionable ways you can sharpen your SEO strategy with narrative to diversify your content and keep prospective leads on the edge of their seat.

#1: Use UX storytelling tools

UX designers and software developers—they’re just like us. Despite the staggering complexity of their industry, professionals from these fields rely on one of the most quintessentially human approaches to developing user solutions: telling a story. 

Three devices in particular should be integrated into any content marketing strategy:

  1. Customer personas – Customer personas, also known as user personas or buyer personas, is a concept that germinated in the UX design space. It’s a way of fleshing out who your prototype user is—in essence, a character sketch—so that your content can speak their language (jargon), speak to their goals (user intent), and incite an action (next step on the buyer’s journey).
  1. User stories – User stories are another technique from software development used to build user pathways into a given product (physical or digital). They work to anticipate who a user is (their persona), what they want to achieve, and why it’s important that they achieve it. Ideally, the product they encounter—for our purposes, content—will dovetail with each so that they can advance to the next stage of their journey.
  1. Brand archetypes – Users aren’t the only ones with identities and stories—as a business seeking to connect with people in the marketplace, every company needs one, too. The concept of brand archetypes is a tool companies can use to resonate with a typology of values, orientations, and emotional undertones associated with 12 paradigmatic personas (e.g. “The Outlaw” or “The Caregiver”).

While the marketing of yesteryear was geared towards persuasion—developing an understanding of psychology, and striving to appeal to consumers’ desires—contemporary marketing seeks to connect.

Even if you’re not sure what kind of story your content will tell, tapping into these three concepts—customer personas, user stories, and brand archetypes—lay the narrative groundwork.

#2: Cultivate suspense to avoid SEO penalties

Pop quiz: what do the following lines have in common?

  • “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.”
  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
  • “He was a boy. She was a girl. Can I make it any more obvious?”

Yes, each is the first line from a film (The Fellowship of the Ring), novel (1984), or anthem of the new millennium (“Sk8er Boi”). Most importantly, however, each is designed to inspire suspense.

Suspense is one of the hallmark signs of a gripping narrative, and you don’t have to be penning your magnum opus to put it to use. If you can grapple your audience’s attention by weaving a compelling narrative—and driving up the stakes of the story you’re telling—you’ll be better positioned to avoid dinging the following SEO metrics:

  • Dwell time – Dwell time refers to the duration of time between when a user *clicks* your link and when they retreat to the SERPs to sniff out other search results. Most search engines factor dwell time into search rankings: while shorter dwell times may depress your ranking, longer ones are correlated with higher SERP visibility.
  • Bounce rate – Bounce rate refers to the percent of users who only spend a single session on your website without sending any further requests to Google’s Analytics server (i.e., venturing further into your website). Having a high bounce rate on a central spot on your web page—most commonly, your home page—may indicate to search engines that your page doesn’t inspire user interest (or, in this case, intrigue).
  • Click through rate Click through rates, or CTRs, pertain specifically to paid advertisements. It refers to the percentage of users who *click* on a paid advertisement online, thereby indicating how well your keywords, copy, and visual media elements appeal to users.

A host of factors can bear on each of these SEO metrics, from your web design to the subjects you cover in your roster of blog content. But if you can use narrative—and narrative suspense—to your advantage in your organic content strategy, you’ll inspire them to stay with you for longer.

Remember: This shouldn’t be confused with burying the lede. If you bury the information your Reader is looking for, it will bounce out of the page. The trick is to provide them with their answer as quickly as possible, then drive them further down the page with your storytelling capabilities.

#3: Match user intent with your purpose

Learning to capture user intent in your marketing strategy is essential for locating your target customers, but it can also be a useful avenue for determining which types of stories you’re best positioned to tell.

A classic study from the Harvard Business Review identified 10 leading emotionally-based motivations that brands can harness to tap into users’ emotions, including:

  1. The desire for hope—to look forward to a better future
  2. The desire for freedom—to feel unencumbered by both internal and external limitations
  3. The desire to embody your highest values—to become a better version of yourself
  4. The desire for global welfare—to contribute to the collective common good
  5. The desire for security—to create stable living conditions and rid myself of worry

Whether a user search targets a specific piece of knowledge (e.g. giving your cat a bath best practices) or something more abstract (e.g. how to achieve your dreams), there is always room for your content to show how their query is a single pixel in a greater tapestry—a story waiting to unfurl.

So, what greater story does your brand exist to tell? And which threads in your customers’ life can you resonate with to bring that story to life?

#4: Connect intent with story archetypes

If you’re not sure how to tap into user motivations to render a story worth reading, take a cue from a massively influential book called The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. 

He wagered that in the history of humankind, the stories we tell boil down to seven basic plots:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

Whether you agree with his list or have your own series of plots to pitch, it’s Booker’s premise that’s key: the universality of certain story archetypes for the human species. 

This doesn’t mean every blog post you write with the keywords “improve my credit score fast” must resound with drama. But it may be to your advantage to play up Rags to Riches morale in your content arc—or whatever universal narrative you believe will move your user the most.

Redefine your content marketing strategy with narrative

Compelling content marketing strategies consist of two parts: helping users solve their search—their quest—and taking a creative approach to your story. To that end, it’s essential to know what you’re looking for as a brand: your purpose, who you want alongside you on your journey, and what universal narrative your brand was built to tap into.

If you can partner with a marketing team who can combine the SEO science with the craft of content—and the art of storytelling—those two content strategy prongs achieve a sum greater than their parts. 
For a closer look at what narrative-engined, human-driven SEO strategy can do for your brand, it’s time to redefine your approach and reach out to the experts at Redefine Marketing Group. Contact us today.

Author avatar
Stephanie Fehrmann
Stephanie was an SEO content writer before transitioning to a management role. As the co-founder and Head of Content at RMG, she oversees everything from the development of content strategies and content creation to day-to-day office operations. She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Journalism, and enjoys showing clients the power and versatility of content.
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