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Monday, January 23, 2006

SEO and the destruction of writing?

I came across an interesting blog entry entitled "How SEO Will Swallow Creative Writing."

The author's argument is relatively compelling at face value: The search engines look for keywords and certain levels of keyword density and reward pages that meet their requirements. Thus, the quality of writing for the internet takes a backseat to the keyword levels. In search of better search engine results, webmasters are willing to utilize abominably written material if it is to the liking of the robots. The overall quality of writing suffers.

I personally agree with a great deal of the sentiment expressed. However, I don't believe the future is quite as bleak as the author would make it out to be.

Yes, search engines will respond favorably to complete junk when said junk is able to disguise itself as valuable text on a subject based on the use of keywords. In that respect, the argument is true.

However, there are a few caveats that must be mentioned in order to get a better look at the issue.

Search engine results are not completely driven by the site's writing. Although "content is king," links are also important. Backlink production is an integral component of any SEO campaign. There are, of course, many ways to generate links. However, the most powerful links seem to be those that develop "organically" from related sites. Sites filled with absolute garbage text will not produce those links. As such, those who are concerned with SEO (and most webmasters are) can realize a greater return on their content investment when they make a point to utilize readable material. Good content can produce quality backlinks at no cost.

Even those who would rely on purchasing/manufacturing keyword-rich gibberish and combine that approach with other methods of link generation can still find advantage in providing some true quality content as a result.

There is also some question as to whether or not the search engines really do give equal value to keyword-rich babble and better content. I mentioned an article arguing that quality content creates better results the other day. That author's analysis demonstrated that among the top sites on the hottest topics, high-quality content prevailed. Whether Google is playing literary critic or not, the results seem to indicate there is at least some sort of correlation between overall content quality and search engine results.

Better content also creates stickiness. When you see nothing but obvious crap, the first instinct is to back out of the site. No sensible person pores through pages of gibberish. So, one might be able to serve up the right Adsense ads and get some "escape clicks" with bad content, but the likelihood of having anyone visit again is next to nothing. Additionally, had good content been there instead, one would probably experience a higher CTR in addition to more return visitors. So, good content makes a degree of sense of Adsense entrepreneurs.

Those who are not merely concerned with collecting Adsense revenues generally have less interest in securing low-grade content. They recognize that the chance of converting any prospect into a buyer with a bunch of nonsense is minimal. Thus, they will continue to invest in higher quality writing.

Finally, keyword richness does not have to create an overwhelming quality reduction. Inevitably, forcing writers to use particular words and phrases at a predetermined percentage will decrease quality somewhat. However, it is possible to generate keyword rich writing that still reads well.

So, for the writers out there, I would advise a little less pessimism. I don't believe that the quest for search engine placement will swallow the rationale for quality writing. It certainly will adversely impact some writing for particular projects, but there is still plenty of room left for text that falls short of junk.

For those who are building sites with search engine traffic in mind, I would advise considering an investment in some level of higher-quality content. There are freelance writers out there who can produce high-quality and authoritative text at a price that makes it a truly spectacular investment, especially when one considers the inherent limitations of keyword-rich gibberish.

Whether you despise SEO content and what it is doing to the writing world or you consider it an acceptabel part of the overall content landscape, I recommend checking out "How SEO Will Swallow Creative Writing."