Is SEO to blame for the recent trend of poor article substance?

I must have missed the memo informing writers that the tried and true adage, Write what you know was replaced in the last decade by Write to achieve SEO criteria. As a result, readers interested in learning more about a topic unknowingly consume watered-down content that lacks nuance, entertainment factor, and author’s voice in exchange for a few upticks in search engine rank.

SEO, an acronym for Search Engine Optimization, is basically about crafting a website’s content in a way that emphasizes the subject topic so that it appears higher in a search engine’s results, thereby increasing the probability the content will be found by readers.

The uninitiated may think, “Won’t that happen naturally? If I search for a topic like, Selecting a charcoal grill it’s unlikely I will see articles pertaining to the history of Superman.” Well, yes, that’s mostly true. Here’s the rub: Google returned me about 1.6 million results, of which I probably won’t read beyond the first three results. Would you be surprised to know that Weber Grills, probably the best-known brand of charcoal grills here in the U.S., doesn’t even appear on the first page of results? (Weber’s website was the 34th result returned.) As predicted, Weber Grills’ website is the first result returned when I modify my search criteria to read Weber charcoal grills.

If Weber Grills can’t achieve the first result on the topic of selecting a charcoal grill, what are the odds peppering-in the phrase disruptive technology at every opportunity is going to get one’s content read?

The problem I have with SEO is the false sense the SEO gods like Jetpack and Yoast have instilled in content providers, leading one to believe that by tailoring an article to achieve most or all the SEO criteria, then one’s page will suddenly rise to the top of a 1.6 million heap. Instead all one has done is write an article that forced-in the keywords charcoal grill too many times and now has lost its sizzle.

As a reader, what are some quick ways to tell whether the content is optimized for SEO?

  • Focus keyword appears as the first or second word in the article title
  • Short article title that may lack overall content clarity
  • Sentences are short and usually don’t contain more than twenty words
  • Multiple subheadings
  • Focus keyword appears several times in content
  • Links to other websites
  • Overall length usually not more than 300-400 words

In the end, I think it’s time the tides shift that writers focus more on content and worry less about SEO optimization. Writing naturally and passionately about a topic is really all that’s necessary to gain readership and reach intended audiences.

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I am Matt Robb, a technology and fiction writer. Continue reading →

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