Are We Still Supposed to be Using SEO?

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I’m really bad with the SEO. I know we’re supposed to be using it to stay on top of the search engines, but I’ve been lucky enough to get good search traffic without using obvious SEO techniques. I try to use my keywords when I can, but the truth is, I don’t want to sound too keywordy, if that makes any sense. Sometimes, obvious SEO titles are just silly. When they’re used five times in a paragraph, it looks spammy, at least to me. When I do use SEO I try and find the words and phrases sounding most natural.

The Problem with SEO

I used to write for many sites that used very obvious search phrases for their article titles. I got a little burned out trying to write articles around phrases such as “find cheap refrigerator” and “discipline dog school.” I mean, really. See, here’s the thing with SEO: People don’t search like they speak. If I were to look for a chicken soup recipe, I might type in “chicken soup recipes.”  If I went to the library to look for chicken soup recipes, I wouldn’t say to the librarian, “chicken soup recipes” as that would sound very rude and not give much information. Instead I would ask the librarian to please direct me to the cooking aisle or ask her to kindly help me find cook books featuring chicken soup recipes. Likewise, if I wanted to find an inexpensive refrigerator, I might type “find cheap refrigerator” but I wouldn’t say that same thing to a refrigerator salesman. Writers write like they speak. SEO doesn’t always read well.

Another writer once told me she’s a successful writer because her clients’ websites always ranked high in the search engines. I told her she knew good SEO techniques but poorly written articles also make it to the top of the search engines. Don’t confuse good writing with good SEO.

Avoiding the Dumb SEO Stuff

When I (remember to) use SEO here at FWJ, I do my best to avoid the dumb stuff. You won’t find any “find cheap refrigerator” blog posts here. To be honest, FWJ’s place at the top of the search engines has more to do with luck than skill or being an SEO guru. I hope that by using words and phrases that flow naturally, the way you read it will flow in the same manner. I can’t do that with idiotic key phrases.

Thankfully a lot of the truly horrible SEO writing appears to be a thing of the past. Two or three years ago, there was a lot of silly writing going on. Nowadays, it’s more toned down. Sure, there are still people writing silly key phrases, but it’s not as rampant as in its heyday.

You’ll see some SEO at FWJ, but I hope you won’t see anything dumb…and if you do, feel free to call me on it!

Do you use SEO on your blog or website? How is it working for you?

Comments

  1. I write for one site that requires key phrases to be used 4-8 times in each article. The problem is that the phrase must be EXACT and sometimes that isn’t easy to insert. Plurals or any derivatives are not counted. That’s when I think SEO is just a little too over the top.

    • I agree, Dorothy. It’s one thing to use keywords to bring in traffic. It’s another to be unnatural. If I read articles that don’t make sense, I leave the blog or website. Even worse are the places that purposely misspell keywords.

  2. It’s really funny how things have changed! I think as time goes on, Google and other search engines will get a lot better at organizing content and will reward well-written copy over keyword-stuffed poorly-written copy. But we’re all in transition!

    When I first began writing “professionally” (in other words, for pay) in college, that was all I did: keyword stuff. It was easy and fast work, but god oh god, I knew that couldn’t possibly last!!!

    What you really gotta do is get all the companies who hire us to realize that writers that write bad but well-optimized content aren’t going to get them anywhere in the long run.

    Keyword-stuffed spam: short term.
    Well-written content: sure thing.

    You’re not ranking high because of luck! You’re ranking high because people like your site. : )

    • “You’re not ranking high because of luck! You’re ranking high because people like your site. : )”

      Aww thanks, Laura. It’s been a week of self doubt and this made my day!

      Keyword writing is another reason there’s such crappy content flooding the web too. Because the pay for a lot bulk keyword work is low, there are a lot of poor writers, or writers without a good command of the language who are writing. It adds insult to injury.

  3. Ooooh, but we should always remember the POWER of SEO and leverage it.

    Go on Google adwords, find weird things people are searching for, and deliver it to them.

    SEO may have lots of problems, but it’s a “young” industry, so it’s understandable. : )

  4. I use SEO as much as possible, but I market my work as having that delicate balance of pleasing the search engines while appealing to the actual reader. There is a fine line there and it takes talent to balance those two essential ingredients. It is also exhausting sometimes so I like to write just for the sake of writing when I can too. :)

    • Good for you, Kathleen. A few years ago, I was so burned out writing keyword stuff. I think it’s one of the reason I enjoy doing this so much. I may not have huge, optimized search traffic (but I do have good traffic), but the writing is less stressful.

  5. SEO, although very important for search engines, plays second to readability. Google understands this and does a good job of bringing back relevant search results to web browsers on keywords. Relevant meaning the the keyword density is there, (2% – 5%), but the content itself is relevant to the search. With blogs however it is a double-edged sword. Readers do not necessarily come to blogs because of keywords, they come for the information and the informal tone.

    Keep your readers first in your writing and then incorporate SEO if possible. I have seen many websites get great rankings using the low end of the keyword density level.

    Just my .02 cents :)

  6. I write for About.com and I also work as an SEO professional, so I see both sides of the story. However, I will say this. A well-written article may actually rank better than a heavy keyword-targeted article in some cases and here’s why…Links.

    A well-written and well-executed article, giving people what they want to know, giving people something of value, will attract links. And in some cases the amount of links will outweigh the “keyword-heavy text”.

    For example, article A is a quick-hitter about subject X and uses the keyword “subject X” 8-10 times in the article. It’s an okay article, but it’s just an overview and doesn’t get much attention.

    Article B gives an in-depth analysis of subject X, but somehow only uses the keyword once. However, because it’s so informative and well-written it garners a ton of links from people recommending it on their blogs or even a nice juicy link on an .edu site.

    Clearly article B is the better of the two despite the lack of keyword usage. Quality over quantity. However this is an example and not the rule.

    The truth of the matter is to write for the user/reader and write well. Write well enough so people want to read your work and link to your work and tell others about your work. And if you can work in a keyword or two without making it overbearing, so much the better.

    • Also good points, Mark. I think the important thing is to research keywords but use them naturally. I automatically avoid the clunky search terms and nonsensical phrases. I mean would you take advice from a blogger who cares more about whether or not her keywords are in place than if her words make sense?

      P.S. I wrote for About as well (Guide to Weblogs, back in the day.)

  7. Its kind a annoying to insert phrases which in the first place should not be there. But, I guess you can’t contradict the client’s preferences. However, when I write for myself I tend not to force keywords on each paragraph which obviously make the article more fluid. I’m not also good at SEO, just a big fan of quality writing.

  8. I look at seo-required articles as a challenge. Sort of like a puzzle to solve. How do you fit “hemorrhoids herbs for” three times into the article without sounding like you’re a weirdo from Mars? It can be done. It’s like a verbal Rubik’s cube.

    • For all intents and purposes, you can fit any keyword into an article. But if the keyword isn’t relevant to the topic at hand, or doesn’t fit naturally into the article, i probably won’t much matter.

      Explaining SEO to clients has become infinitely more difficult due to all of the “SEO experts” out there. SEO is a lot simpler than it has been made out to be, especially for those using platforms such as WordPress, where 80% (or more) is done for you automatically.

      I have seen more incorrect information published about the “nofollow” attribute than correct, for example. The way “nofollow” works changed over a year ago, and yet I still see “experts” recommending its use incorrectly.

  9. Disclaimer: not a professional writer.

    However, I’ve done a bit of digging around, and I’ve been on (and off) the web since 1994.

    Here’s what I’m confident about:
    1. Short term results: SEO matters, alot.
    2. Long term results: SEO almost doesn’t matter at all.

    By long term I mean a couple of years.

    If the market is “hot,” SEO matters a lot more. You will have a lot of competitors who are very good writers… and very good at SEO/SEM as well.

    Quick tips:
    1. Make sure your element is accurate and descriptive.
    2. Make sure your article title is attractive to readers and enclosed in

    Just getting these done right seems to be about 50% (I have qualitative results).

    Two more, which are as much SEM as SEO:
    3. Write an effective subtitle. Oct 10 2009 article on this on WIAW.
    4. Write your meta description for readers, not for search engines.

  10. Good SEO practices are important to any blog or website that needs traffic to sustain a healthy revenue stream, but it seems like most “experts” disagree on how to go about it.

    It isn’t uncommon to see two different “experts” recommend exactly the opposite thing, such as using the “nofollow” attribute in one’s links. Google changed how nofollow works about a year ago, and most people still have absolutely no idea.

    Personally, I haven’t done much with SEO on my personal blog. I do try to optimize my professional sites as best I can, and will probably work over my own blog when I get the time.

    I do believe, however, the most important part of gaining good traffic and search engine rankings is to write good content that people actually care to read. ;)

  11. I’ve seen people do a lot of dumb things in the name of SEO, including keyword stuffing responses to Q&A posts on LinkedIn!

    I think SEO is like a headline. It may attract your attention, but ultimately the rest of the copy has to actually sell the product.
    A sign that said “SHOES” might get you to look more closely, but if the shoes had ripped soles, were ugly, or cost $5000 a pair, you’d probably move on. Guys reading this may substitute “video games” for shoes.

    Robots and spiders may bring attention, but ultimately people have to read the words and people will make the decision to buy (or not). The robots won’t.

    Besides, when Google recently wanted to sign people up for Adwords accounts, they used…. postcards! (I know because I got one).

  12. I don’t ever write with SEO in mind for my blog, which is probably why I only get 700 hits a month. I only care about writing well, and the two seem to be mutually exclusive to me.

    But it’s hilarious to see how people find me. I’ve written about the searches that ended at The Green Room a couple of times. I get frequent hits from people searching for “butterfly poop” and an alarming number of people looking for information about sociopaths.

    I don’t think they’re related.

  13. Your refrigerator analogy was pretty funny :)

    I doubt I do SEO well, probably because I was trained to write for newspapers.

  14. Hi Deb,
    I agree with everything you are saying. When I first started out, I had a huge keyword list for marketing company of literally thousands of words that I had to write about. It felt constrained and it didn’t work.

    At the start of k-12 Learning, I tried to give my writers as much freedom as possible to write the best teaching content out there. But , looking back, I have to say it was slightly naive. You need the keywords, it’s a fact of life. But it shouldn’t dominate your piece.
    What I prefer nowadays is for my writers to think of an article they want to write about but I make sure they have a good keyword phrase and meta description out there too. And the better articles have both seo and well written content.
    But some do get lost in the fray if you don’t nurture them. Spiders have to find you, and unlike normal publishing content there has to be some sort of road sign to help you out. This is entirely different from just using cheap traffic tactics to get views. That’s not how k-12 learning got to almost 400k a month. It got there because of the quality content. But SEO does help, and we shouldn’t see it as our enemy.
    Just some food for thought.

    Maryam

  15. “Are We Still Supposed to be Using SEO?”
    Unless you prefer that Internet users find someone else’s article or blog post instead of yours, then no… I don’t think SEO matters. :)

    Seriously though, I am a writer first and an “SEO enthusiast” second. I firmly believe that if you are writing content that will be published online (versus print) you need to lean the basics of SEO and how to incorporate good SEO practices into your work. Here is an example of why:

    Freelance Writer A: Great writing talent. On average 1/2 of your client’s readers click through and read your post.
    Freelance Writer B: Great writing talent, on par with Writer A. On average 1/2 of the site’s audience reads your post. This writer knows how to effectively utilize SEO best practices. As a result the post stays in the top 3 Google results on multiple keyword phrases for several months. This equates to thousands or even tens-of-thousands (or more) new readers/customers/ad views for your client.

    If this client has the budget for one freelance writer, who do you think will get the future work? It will be the writer who provides excellent articles and can also drive new traffic to the client’s Web site.

    Don’t let common misconceptions fool you. SEO and good writing is not an either/or endeavor. SEO slides into articles and blog posts just as easily as quotation marks and correct punctuation. SEO requires additional effort from the writer as good SEO practices is a lot more than just peppering a few keywords here and there while you write.

  16. Hey Deb!

    You’re on page three of Google for “Find Cheap Refrigerator” Good job with the SEO for that topic ;)

    :P

  17. I think writing with SEO in mind has become expected. It’s like any sort of marketing, in that the first people to use it didn’t really have to try that hard to get good results (think back to when search engines just looked at the keyword tags; porn sites and the like were the first to optimize for this type of search engine, by loading these tags with entire dictionaries).
    Obviously, the search engines have become a bit more sophisticated. Because of this, while it’s important, SEO now isn’t the only thing you now have to consider.
    You have to think about all the other forms of site promotion. Linking strategies. Tapping into existing networks. Setting up viral marketing campaigns.
    Ok, so the quality of your content matters as well, but here’s the thing: the best product doesn’t just naturally win out. The product with the best business behind it does.
    Seems like a long comment, but maybe I’ll say one more thing: the internet has been considered a great leveler, with the little guy being able to compete on equal footing with the big guys. I’m not so sure that’s going to remain true for very long. To compete with the established players takes time and expertise in a variety of different areas.
    Much easier to buy that time and expertise if you have corporate might behind you.

    • Ok, so the quality of your content matters as well, but here’s the thing: the best product doesn’t just naturally win out. The product with the best business behind it does.

      You are correct, the product with the best business behind it (or rather, best practices) will win out over another product with poor marketing (and in this case, SEO). However, I think it is important to illustrate that you need a good product before you ever consider marketing one.

      The single most important aspect of gaining and maintaining healthy traffic flow is good content that people actually care to read. You can pump your blog with SEO best practices, promote it like your life depended on it, but none of it will matter much if the content isn’t well written and full of what people expect to find from their Google search.

      The absolute first thing anyone needs before they even think about SEO, is something actually worth ranking. :)

  18. The number one best practice in writing an article with SEO is writing good content relevant to the topic it is intended for. Keywords should fit naturally into the article rather than be “worked in” for the sake of rankings.

    A well written, relevant article is already well prepared for search engine ranking, and should not require a lot of editing for SEO. Not only will the article be more likely to rank well, you will gain more inbound links and social media buzz if the article is more than Google fodder.

    • I completely agree, Burnman. Many of my blogs’ articles have risen to the top of the rankings simply by remaining focused to the topic at hand. Search engines have evolved a lot in the last five years. The keyword-spam type articles are often dismissed out-of-hand for all but the most specialized search phrases.

      When I started out, I wrote a lot of SEO articles. They were brutal. How do you fit “buy cheap refrigerator” into an article? 99% of the time, the client doesn’t want you to alter the key-phrase at all, so the options “buy cheap refrigerators” or “buy a cheap refrigerator” are right out.

  19. Tania Mara says:

    I do use SEO on my blog. I’d be starving if I didn’t.

    It’s a common misconception among freelance writers that SEO necessarily equals poor, awkward writing. Well, while people waste their time nurturing this silly belief, I win more writing jobs and make more money. ;)

  20. Well, I’m no dummy. I have learned a lot from all of you in this discussion, and now I’m going to start taking SEO practices seriously. I think I was turned off by the original spate of “poor, awkward writing” that SEO generated in its early incarnation, but you have taught me that it is a useful tool that can enhance business without sacrificing quality.

    Thanks for a good site, Deb. I’ve been freelancing successfully for more than 10 years, but I always learn something here.

    Eve

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