No one engine should have all that power

OK, I have a question for y’all…

Why do we let Google have so much power over how we produce Web content?

I was reading a Search Engine Watch article where Kevin Gibbons was stressing how Google is never the “only customer.” Still, at every conference (most recently, Search Engine Strategies, San Francisco,) I hear people saying that they’re looking for a writer who can “write for Google.” They don’t care about how the article sounds to their customer – heck, that doesn’t even cross their minds. They’re just focused on 1,000 word articles with a magical keyphrase density.  If they only had that, the rest of their SEO campaign would be smooth sailing.

People, let’s get with the program.  “Writing for Google” without thinking of your customers is like praying to some sort of angry, vengeful god, hoping to appease it with odd rituals and violent sacrifices. Instead of killing people, businesses place their content on the sacrificial block and pull out it’s still-beating heart. Stripped away is writing to inform, entertain, or tempt people into taking the next conversion step. Instead, it’s all about what the Google Gods “want.”

Mind you, Matt Cutts has never said, “Stuff your content with keyphrases.” In fact, he’s stressed quality content – as has Seth Godin and a string of other smart marketers. When conferences do have content sessions, speakers stress customer personas, writing for your audience and yummy, engaging content.

So why do we let one engine have all that power? Why do we sacrifice our conversions and our branding for what we think Google wants? ‘Cause Google has never said, “Go forth and write 1,000 word articles with a 6 percent keyphrase density.”

Here are some of my ideas – and I’d love your thoughts:

  • The SEO industry gives clients a mixed message around content. We get on stage and stress how it’s important, and then some SEO companies outsource the content to India, pay their copywriters $20 a page, or don’t offer content services at all.
  • The search engines purchase “content mill” companies (I’m looking at you, Yahoo,) where writers are paid bottom-dollar…and the quality is questionable at best.
  • SEO conferences don’t have a lot of “how-to” SEO copywriting training sessions. AWAI does…but their market is freelancers, not businesses. Mind you, I’m blessed to be speaking on those SEO copywriting panels…don’t get me wrong. But when a good 70% of all panels stress “good content,” I wish there was more of an emphasis of what good SEO content even *is.* Ten minutes of SEO copywriting talk-time is not enough.
  • Many online SEO copywriting resources are sub par at best. They report “tactics” that are incorrect and/or outdated. This makes it hard for the average business owner to know what’s right – and what’s been written by a clueless individual who touts their “expert” status after working online for two years or less (ahem.)

So what say you? SEO copywriting is the foundation of so much SEO and social media “stuff” – including Tweets, sales pages, white papers and blog posts. What do we have to do as an industry to get folks moving in the right direction…as opposed to the “keyphrase stuffed, it’s all about Google” direction?

‘Cause at the end of the day, Google doesn’t pay your bills. Prospects that convert into customers DO pay them. Why aren’t we focusing on the customer experience instead?

11 replies
  1. Amy C. Teeple
    Amy C. Teeple says:

    Well said Heather!

    I was recently reviewing the “threat” section of my SWOT analysis and listed “outsourced, overseas cheap copywriters” and “misinformed clients” as two of my major threats/issues.

    I agree that there needs to be better education for both the industry and clients as to what good SEO copywriting is. As a copywriter, I had wished there were more content-based sessions at the SEO conferences I have attended.

    Reply
  2. Heather
    Heather says:

    @Amy-

    I hear you about the conferences. I really do – and I’m certainly doing what I can do to influence that. I’m proud to say that Search Engine Strategies *did* bring back content-related panels…and PubCon runs them. But yes, it would be great to have more in-depth training than just a general overview. Then again, conferences aren’t really meant for in-depth…that’s why they add the training sessions at the end (for an additional fee, naturally!) :)

    That’s one of the big reasons I launched my in-person group seminars for businesses (next training is September 15th). I kept hearing, “We want to learn how to do this ourselves, but we have no idea how to do it.” It gives a place for businesses to “go” and learn how to keep the SEO content generation in-house.

    Fantastic comments – keep ’em coming! :)

    Reply
  3. Brian Ochsner
    Brian Ochsner says:

    Heather,

    Great information and takes – to me, a lot of good SEO (and other) copywriting boils down to good marketing savvy and common sense. And truly providing good, valuable content to others – writing like you’re talking to them in person, one-on-one. Trying to “game the Google system” may work for a short period of time. The ‘Google gods’ will figure these gimmicks out in months – if not weeks – and this “gimmick du jour” will be toast.

    As I see it, more and more people really, truly want – maybe even CRAVE – businesses, messages and people… who are genuine and real. No gimmicks, games or B.S. An early 20th century marketing adage says it best: “Tell me quick and tell me true – otherwise sir, the heck with you.”

    If you do have a longer story to tell, it better be interesting or people won’t read it. In SEO or any other business, success really boils down to having solid fundamentals (sound like a football coach, don’t I? :).

    Excellent article, Heather, look forward to the next one!

    Brian

    Reply
  4. Courtney Ramirez
    Courtney Ramirez says:

    You hit the nail on the head with “good content” being fuzzy for most clients – and even some SEO professionals. Most people know they need content, but aren’t sure why they need it so they experimentally try it out – with poorly written content for $20 (or $5!) per page. They then wonder why it’s not working.

    Terrific article – you covered a lot of the major reasons there’s a problem in the industry. Hopefully things are changing for the better.

    Reply
  5. Stephen Palkot
    Stephen Palkot says:

    At a deeper level, I am curious how the word “content” in the realm of marketing became a synonym for “writing” or “text.” I’ve been in this practice for almost a year, and I still find the term amorphous. (Is a good photo slide show “content?”)

    And somewhat insulting, as though words are something you just pack into an open space. Intestines have “content.” Garage cans have “content.” (OK, rant over.)

    As far as “great content,” I thought I was the only person who has been confused by the term. So I may not be entirely at fault, after all. Dang. You are a good copywriter. ;0)

    Reply
  6. Noel Gama
    Noel Gama says:

    As SEO copywriters, we must use Edu Marketing to educate our potential corporate clients on the What, Why and Who of quality content, leading them to us for providing the how-to.

    “Google” is now used as a verb and the brand name is now synonymous with the service just as ‘Xerox’ is synonymous with photocopying!

    Reply
  7. Art Remnet
    Art Remnet says:

    Great commentary Heather and as usual you are right on.

    I agree with Noel in that when people say “Google” they really mean search engines (although they may not actually know that because “we” the SEO folks for the most part have limited our search discussions to only talking about Google rather than Bing and others due to Google’s dominance of the search marketplace).

    I believe today’s Google and its competitors are primarily concerned with the “seekers” or the people who are searching for something, be it a product, service, or a piece of information. That is the customer for the search engine. That is who they serve and most importantly that is who they are responsive to.

    So, if when businesses say they need someone to write for Google we need to accept that they mean write for search engines or let Google become a generic term like Xerox.

    As community we need to (continue to) educate the business world through conferences like yours on September 15th in Seattle, along with our one-on-one interaction with businesses that to write for “Google” is to write good copy that engages and educates the reader.

    If we as a community pull together to educate the business world with this common message, if we use our own “Edu Marketing” to inform and engage, the smart businesses will hear the call and seek “content” that includes good copy, imagery, and layout.

    Because this type of content is really what the seekers are looking for – content that engages, educates, and entertains.

    Reply
  8. Lara Fabans
    Lara Fabans says:

    As a copywriter, it’s so frustrating dealing with clients who are:
    a) bottom feeders (1,000 unique articles for $20)
    b) really behind (My keyword phrase has to be the first thing in the upper left hand corner)
    and
    c) unclear on the concept

    So, I first try to find clients who understand the whole game, and then educate those who don’t. If they don’t want to be educated, I look for other clients. No sense making both of us frustrated.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Lara, thanks so much for your comment!

      You’re right – some clients don’t really *want* to be educated – they have it in their heads that SEO copywriting is a certain way, and you need a 5.5% keyword density and 1000 words per article. I see this being a bigger problem with some SEO shops and agencies – unfortunately, when the ad agency is saying X, it’s really hard to convince the client (and the agency) that it’s not that simple…

      So what do you guys think we could do as an industry to educate these folks? Is there something that we, as experienced SEO content writers and SEO shops, can do?

      Reply
  9. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis says:

    Finding clients who understand the whole SEO game is huge, I tend to shy away from clients who don’t want to learn because in the end, it isn’t worth the time to try to get them to understand why we are suggesting or executing the things we do. I really get a kick out of some of the calls I get, when I ask what’s your goal and they still say “I want to be number one in Google” little do they know things have changed, and your position in Google isn’t whats going to make your business a success.

    Reply
  10. Victoria Blount
    Victoria Blount says:

    I do agree with not focusing your entire content for a website on what Google wants, you could end up on page one of google but with poor quality content that bounce rate on your site could be high, putting off potential customers, which is the whole point of optimising your site in the first place.

    As a compromise, you can write good quality content which is keyword rich.

    Reply

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