SEO is for suckers

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This is the kind of headline professional bloggers tell me I’m supposed to write. Provocative headings that get right up in the reader’s face and force them to pay attention.

I’ve tried it a few times myself. “What Hollywood Knows About Leadership That You Don’t” was the first of three articles I submitted to Business Insider that got front-page treatment. My last entry here, Information is for Idiots, got quite a few hits. And the most popular post ever on my old acting blog was titled I Hate Models.

Do I really hate models? No. Some of my good acting friends model. As does my niece. Is information really for idiots? Not at all. And I’m guessing more than a few readers knew a few things about leadership before I told them what was what.

But this is what they say is supposed to work. People who are really successful at this actually advocate that you pattern headlines after tabloids and magazines like Cosmo. But I’m not entirely comfortable with this style.

Which brings us to the point of the headline. A few years ago, the PR and marketing communities were shrieking with hysteria over Search Engine Optimization. Everyone was trying to catch up and figure out what the hell SEO was and how to apply it. We all devoured article after article with headlines like, “TEN REASONS YOUR BUSINESS WILL DIE RIGHT NOW IF YOU’RE NOT USING SEO!!”

I’m still behind on this. And while I don’t actually believe that SEO is for suckers, I do feel it can be taken to a ridiculous extreme. Here is a piece of spam I received:

“Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is not that great … You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). Then you should spread all H1,H2,H3 tags in your article.Your Keyword should appear in your first paragraph and in the last sentence of the page. You should have relevant usage of Bold and italics of your keyword.There should be one internal link to a page on your blog and you should have one image with an alt tag that has your keyword.”

Of course, making this all sound like impenetrable mumbo-jumbo was part of the pitch to get me to use his product. But still, if I ever have to worry about Latent Semantic Indexing, I will hang up my keyboard and quit writing altogether.

SEO definitely has its place, and I need to do better at it, but in the end, the content is the thing. Write stuff that people actually find interesting and they will not only find your page, they might actually read it.

And, of course, you have to do it your way. Because if it doesn’t work for you, and it’s not fun to do, it’s definitely not going to work for readers.

2 thoughts on “SEO is for suckers

  1. Hi Rob
    Your point of view is refreshing. So much emphasis is being placed on prescribed ‘SEO’ techniques, one could be led to think web content will disappear into the wide blue yonder (or is that ‘wide world wonder’) unless these ideas are followed to the letter.

    If we adhered to all these requirements consistently, the net would be nothing more than a conglomeration of repetitive headings, bold key phrases – neither visually appealing nor human readable. As a web manager I do use a lot of these techniques, including the heavy use of key word groupings… but I also create content with no regard whatsoever to SEO requirements – and some of these pages get a decent ranking from Google (my personal website is an example – no urls included…)

    Of course, SEO is a hot business topic, being exploited ruthlessly by otherwise incompetent web ‘builders’, a lot of who appear to be based in the Asian sub-continent (home of the telephone spam call-centres). There are several blogs on wordpress.com written by these guys – funny thing is, quite a few have only basic ideas about SEO anyway, or at they would at least pay attention to the correct use of language. Even your spam commenter makes a basic error in claiming 3-5% is the target for keyword density. This density is verging on getting the content deprecated as spam by google, if too many pages on the site are using such high density groupings. And who knows what Google next algorithm updates will require, it is changing all the time.

    SEO may get content found initially by search robots, but a human readable article will keep me, and other people coming back to your blog or website for more, or even get a follower! Yep, my apologies, I have ‘followed’ your blog after finding this post

    Regards, Mike

  2. Wise words, Mike. Thank you for your expertise! It’s good to know the spam was as off-base as it sounded.

    From what you say and what I’m hearing more and more, a balance is required. Some of the blogs and web pages I see are a mess — unpleasant to look at and to read. On the other hand, holding up Seth Godin as a model is unrealistic, too. After all, he’s Seth Godin.

    It seems some of basic SEO goes back to basic communications principles — repetition/reinforcement of key messages, breaking up copy into easily digestible chunks, using subheads to help people skim and navigate. But if I’m writing something that doesn’t easily fall into categories requiring subheads, I’m not going to repurpose it to fit the model.

    All things in moderation, I suppose. Anyway, thank you!

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