SEO makes for crappy copy

small business blogging help

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to apply touted smart SEO strategies to blog posts. Yoast came as a highly recommended tool to help, so I installed the plug in. It’s a convenient tool if you write like a robot.

The creative headlines are gone. Redundancy is rampant in posts (not content-wise, but I cringe when the same term {sans prepositions, postpositions and connecting words} is repeated in a single paragraph or a similar phrase shows up twice in the entire document – tough not to do if you’re following SEO protocol). Idea flow is stifled as keywords take precedence over free-flowing expression. My writing has suffered as a result.

Since I’ve committed to daily posts through the month of July as a participant in the Ultimate Blog Challenge (a super initiative), I might continue to take note of SEO terms I’d like to rank for, but after that, I’m moving my eye away from search and back toward fun and engaging expression. This will be easier to do with more time to reflect and edit as I settle in to a more manageable weekly blog post schedule.

I suppose if your main blog purpose is to attract buyers of niche products, it makes sense to set aside flow in deference to Google’s algorithms. Lots of people write web or blog copy with a singular goal of bolstering the bottom line by playing the numbers game (more eyeballs can mean more sales). It’s a great strategy for many who have seen considerable success with such an approach. It’s just not right for me.

It’s been a great experience trying to get more educated about SEO. There’s a lot worth noting and applying, when appropriate. It’s just too limiting a structure to work with as the primary blog focus when being different is what marks your style.

There are some things easier for me to live with from and SEO standpoint:

  1. I’ll be redoing the home page to include terms that should help with rank.
  2. The about page will be edited to include identified keywords.
  3. There are probably a lot of things that can be applied to make the site rank. I’ll be hiring a consultant to help identify these opportunities.
  4. Relevant ALT titles will be included in every photo displayed on the blog (thanks to a tip from a fellow UBC blogger).

But, mostly, I’ll simply go back to a strategy that’s worked for decades – providing great content that others talk about. We’ll see if this works with the new world of online marketing.

How have you managed to make SEO work for you without compromising your message?

41 responses to “SEO makes for crappy copy”

  1. You’ve read my thoughts Nanette. I have tried not to over due the SEO by using a title followed by a colon then Lesson # in the Empowering Young Entrepreneur Series. It did bring me up to page 2 and sometimes page 1 of google.

    I’m still learning about SEO but it bugs me to have to repeat the words. Seems like listing the tags/keywords on the page should be enough without having to work them into your writing. I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling this way.

    • Thanks, Julia, for you story and tips. I’m still learning here, of course, and imagine there’s some middle ground that works, but haven’t quite found it yet. I look forward to learning from your experiences as we muddle this constantly changing landscape.

  2. This is the sort of thing that terrifies me every time the thought crosses my mind that I should look for some sort of online writing opportunity to pursue. Professionally, I mean. I’ve never even tried to understand the rules of SEO, but I’m fairly sure I’d find, as you have, that it simply isn’t my thing and ultimately does more harm than good. It’s good that you’ve learned some practical tips that will help with your site design, but I’d always vote for less robot writing.

    • Hi Cheri – I’ve stayed away from the SEO writing assignments too, mostly because I didn’t feel I had the knowledge. I think most of these jobs are for sites that are pushing product sales and set on autopilot, so it’s probably not a good fit for me anyway. I look forward to hearing more about what you are up to.

  3. Brilliant post, Nanette. How do I know? Because when I started this morning, I had something else on my mind entirely. Instead I’ve spent the last half hour finding out how I’m doing with SEO – bearing in mind my belief, like yours, that articles should write themselves, not be determined by rigid SEO rules. I’m not saying I don’t pay attention to SEO – just that I never ever consciously put keywords in my posts – I’m more of a tagging and permalinks guy.

    So I took a few of the words that I’d like people to find me by when they’re searching. ‘Achievement (management)’, ‘startups’, ‘personal qualities’, Lebanese (because that’s in my novel’s title), inspiration. I also checked out Alan Miles – because it’s always been hard to get a good ranking with over 200 Alan Miles entries listed in the UK alone according to one directory listing. It doesn’t help that there’s another AM who’s a writer.

    I was absolutely delighted to find that in every case I had a first-page Google ranking. Sometimes with several entries. In the world of Alan Mileses – I’m dominant (and I have a complete monopoly in Alain Miles-country). So something’s working. (And it’s not as though I’ve been a prolific blogger – except for the occasional spurts of UBC activity.)

    Something interesting though. In a couple of cases, the first ranked item was a Google+ entry, or something relating to my Google profile (I wonder how many people write them?). That’s how I snuck into the ‘inspiration’ rankings. And yet, I’ve hardly used Google+ so far.

    Is Google favoring its own? I’ve been a little suspicious of their rankings since, a couple of years ago, they had a major change to the search algorithm, and I suddenly found that my own posts seemed to gain more prominence. I wondered then: does Google promote content you’ve written yourself when you search on your own computer. It would be a sneaky trick. It might be worth comparing notes on this. When we both search for a term, do I get the same results as you?

    You’ve really got me thinking about this .. and I so agree that what matters most is the quality of content. Like so many other areas of social media marketing, it pays to think out of the box instead of following the rest of the herd. As Seth Godin puts it: people only notice the purple cow.

    • Too funny, Alan. I used to begrudge my parents for giving me such an odd name (in the US anyway) because it was good fodder for teasing when I was a kid. Now it’s great with the advent of social and search – not much competition on the Google or other fronts. There is at least one other Nanette Levin in the US, but she’s not as prolific as I am ;-). Of course I did decide to keep the more common ‘Levin’ instead of changing my name when I was married (long Italian moniker) for fear no one would be able to say or spell either of my names :-). Glad you were able to find some high rankings for other chosen terms today. I would be curious to know, though, as you ask, if the Google search I’m seeing on my name is similar to what others see.

  4. I’ve tried and given up with the SEO focus. I’m definitely not convinced it’s worth the effort and as you’ve so eloquently states the concurrent lack of of creativity and writing style. Thanks for your post

    • Thanks for stopping by, Monick. It will be curious to see if the pendulum shifts back to good writing on the web, or if we’ll have to seek out print for this in the future. By the way, your blog name is wonderful.

  5. I feel a blog post reply coming on – perhaps I will when I get a moment later, particularly to Alan’s comment, “I wondered then: does Google promote content you’ve written yourself when you search on your own computer”

    A lot comes down to why you are blogging. Bloggers, like Seth Godin, don’t even think of SEO. There’s no need to, he has a following, a fan base and an email list. He breathes and people share it (including me) or link to it.

    It’s one of the things I talk a lot about with my clients, pick a topic, write for humans and nod at Google.

    It’s the great thing about blogging regularly – particularly for businesses – a keyword in the title combined with all the other related words on the page you haven’t even thought about can pull your post up in search for related queries that you didn’t know existed.

    You use these related words in the post because you know what you are talking about and use them naturally – nothing to do with researching “LSI keywords” (don’t start me on that term either!)

    These aren’t search queries people “optimise” for, they’re far too low down on the search volume ladder. Each term brings little traffic, but they are so focused they convert better.

    For example, you have a shop and you sell green vases. You use green vases as your focus keyword and write about how fashionable green vases are this season, what flowers you can display in there, what room you should put it in and also say oh BTW we have green vases in stock now in our shop (link or address).

    You write it naturally and nod at the Big G by using the words green vases in your title, in a sub-heading, in the alt tag for the picture.

    Green vases is a short term, it can be quite competitive – it would take some work (links, sharing) to rank.

    But you do get traffic for search terms like – where can I buy a green vase, best green vases for pink flowers, which shade of green is best for a vase in my bathroom… and the rest, the possibilities are endless.

    You get this traffic because you have written naturally using related words and phrases, but it’s obvious to Google you are writing about green vases.

    That’s where Yoast’s plugin comes in because it helps you to check you have used your main focus term where Google expects to see it – Have you ticked the boxes? Do you have nice green yeses?

    It’s important to remember that these are guidelines not hard and fast rules. It’s not the be all and end all.

    If you miss a few yeses on some posts – so what? If you want to write posts that convey your passion and personality – great go ahead.

    But you will always be writing about something.

    If you are blogging as part of your business, whether it’s to generate leads, sign ups or even someone walking in your door – does Google know what you are writing about? A few tags and mentioning your chosen focus word in a sub-title makes a difference.

    What you do on-page doesn’t count as much as what happens off page – the links and the sharing. We’ve come full circle and back to Seth Godin haven’t we 🙂

    • It looks like you have a good start to a blog post already, Jan :-). Thanks so much for all your tips and input. I do see the value in using Yoast (and will continue to do so, at times), but find it restricts the flow of the article if you pay too much attention to search. I may come back to a different perspective over time (it’s a young blog) and do intend to try it on some of my other sites, but am just not convinced yet the benefits outweigh the costs. Of course, writing is what I do in large part for a living, so where this blog is concerned, well crafted copy comes as a higher priority than SEO (people will and do find me without targeted keyword text). When they get here I don’t want them to be turned off by content that’s poorly constructed in deference to search (many of the top ranking long-tail terms with low competition are grammatically incorrect phrases – go figure).

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