Writing for readers is more important than search engine optimization. While SEO is important to get your pages distributed it isn't as important as having good copy. If your copy isn't up to snuff then your reader will go elsewhere to find what they are looking for.
As any SEO expert will tell you a page has to please both the reader and the search engines. Realistically you must please the reader at all costs. Get that right and the search engines will recognize and rank your page well. Get the first part wrong and it doesn't matter what the search engines do. If your readers aren't captivated by your writing then they won't return or spread your article around.
Here is how to optimize a page writing for readers.
Write from your heart. Do the research you need to do to write with authority. When you have good solid information and present it in a likable voice your readers will appreciate it more. Use your own words wherever possible, but give credit to authors that you quote.
Use solid proven writing techniques. Such as using the open, body, close format or "How to" tutorial. These techniques are time tested and proven to work well. The point here is to stick with your format and don't waver. If your style changes the reader may become confused and leave your page. Writing for readers means keeping your style consistent.
Write with clarity. Writing for readers on the web is different than writing novels. For instance: do not leave your readers hanging. Unlike a good novel, web browsers are unlikely pick up where you leave off. Make sure the article is complete. Even if you are doing a series of articles that lead from one to the next you still need to inform the reader that the article is done. A simple "That's all for now folks, tune in next time for part 2," will do nicely.
Be sussinct. Write about one topic per article. Do not try to cram too many ideas into one article. This is confusing and will cause your reader to lose the focus of your main idea. Break the article into several pieces with a focus on only one topic per piece.
Proof-read! On the first read through try to read it like you're the visitor. Go all the way through it without stopping. If something doesn't make sense immediately, go back change the wording so that it does. Look at the order in which you present your ideas. If they seem jumbled up try to re-order them to flow better.
Proof-read! On the second read through try to make the article more search engine friendly using proven SEO techniques. For instance the working title for this article started as "Never Pay For SEO Again." That title obviously has changed to Writing for Readers. As you progress through your reading you may find your keyword density is weak or the title does not reflect the content. For more on this read Keyword and description meta tags.
Proof-read again!! Here is where most people stop and is a big contributing factor to why an article to gets ignored. At this point you should pass the article along to someone else to proofread for you. If your article is well written your friend or employee may give it the thumbs up. A majority of the time a second proof-reader will spot grammatical and spelling errors that you missed. I know a little bell goes off in my head when I find a misspelling or double words. If you don't have an outside proof-reader you will want to do this yourself with an emphasis on spelling and grammar.
Proof-read again!!! Of course you need to do this again because you missed something. You may not know what it is, so that is what your looking for. If you read an article over and over you may understand all the nuances but your readers may not get it. You may want to re-write some sections. Things to look for include:
Redundant thoughts. Try not to repeat ideas you've already expressed. This is annoying and wastes your readers time. If you need to re-iterate yourself then you didn't get the point across the first time. Go back and add definition to your original thought and leave out the redundant sentences.
Incomplete thoughts. Do not just assume that your ideas make sense to everyone just because they make sense to you. You may want to define a word better or expand the thought more. Here is an example. A) "The FDA says you need 25 grams of protein daily." This is a lot different than this next staement. B) The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the claim that "25 grams of protein per day combined with a diet low in saturated fats may reduce the risk heart disease." See how this idea if more defined in the second statement. That is writing for readers and not yourself.
The idea here is to fill in the information that makes the thought complete. You really don't want your readers to assume anything, like what FDA stands for or why the statement was made in the first place. If your thought isn't completely clear your readers will assign less credibility to it and to you.
Avoid run on and overlong sentences. Sure it's great to be very technical in your writing but if it bores your readers they may lose interest. If you can get your idea across in less words do it, then it will be easier to understand.
State your most wanted response. If you get all the way through your article and it doesn't convince the reader to act on your words then you have missed the point. A good way to ensure your most wanted response is to write a summary. In the summary state what it is you want the reader to do.
Summary - Write your for readers first, then for search engine optimization. Use good writing style and stick to it. Try to use writing styles that are proven to work well. Use complete thoughts and don't assume everybody just knows what you are thinking. Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read as many times as it takes. Look for grammar and spelling errors, run-on or over long sentences. Use complete well defined thoughts and don't leave your readers hanging.
Writing For Readers Bonus Tips
A picture is worth a thousand words. Nowadays a lot more weight is assigned to images on a webpage. Try to include images, graphics and illustrations in your writing. Especially if you are writing about a subject that clearly is about something tangilbe like objects, tutorials and artwork.
Search engine optimization now includes more and more content. Smaller pages are getting lower rankings than ever before. If your writing for readers is less than 1000 words it is too small to grab the search engines attention. There is no limit to how long a webpage can be. Many webmasters are now lengthening pages and adding images.
If your page is short think about combining it with other similar pages to make one long page. Try fleshing out ideas to add more content to your page.