A Crossroads of Beliefs
A couple of months ago at a workshop on SEO, the speaker mentioned, with pride, that while working with a client, they changed the title of a piece of content from something that was more differentiated, with the brand’s tone of voice to something plain, but searched. Indirectly, the previous title is labeled as something silly created by those pretentious brand managers.
The same debate came up a couple of weeks ago, working on a SEO optimization for a client. As part of its brand language, the client calls its product a different way which has no searches. As an Account in the middle between the client and the SEO specialist I can’t help but thinking both are right in their own craft.
Here’s the thing, as someone who currently works in performance marketing but has also worked in brand management and still has great respect for branding I sit at a crossroads of beliefs between the two. What good is it to be different, if it can’t be found? But also, what good is it to be found and be like everybody else?
If we write for bots, will people still want to read?
More recently as I’ve been writing content and diving deeper into SEO, it has generated some new thoughts.
I’m not sure if it’s doing any good for Content, Content Creators and more importantly, Content Readers. SEO has a bunch of rules that you have to live by if you want to rank on search engines at all. A Google content dictatorship if you may. Most of them make content informative in order to be more easily found by Google Bots. Sadly, more informative usually means more boring, less personality and hence more homogenized content. It begs the question: If we write for bots, will people still want to read?
The rule that dictates that if you want to rank for a specific keyword, you need to have a certain % of your text with that keyword. Not too much or it’ll be spam, not too little or it’ll be irrelevant. This means that, imagining I wanted to rank this text for the keyword “Keyword density”, I should try to include the word keyword density as much as possible in order to increase the weight of keyword density within this text about keyword density. Remember how your teachers told you to try and improve your vocabulary and not repeat words? Well, throw that out the window.
This comes up as I’m using the Yoast SEO plugin. According to Yoast, any sentence with more than 20 words has readability problems. While I may be at fault for writing long sentences and using more commas than periods, 20 words does seem like an exaggeration.
Apparently I’m not the only one thinking this may be “dumbing down content”. According to Yoast’s Website: “It has been said that Yoast SEO suggests to dumb down your writing. Of course, that’s not the case. We merely want to help people write easy to understand content. […] By simplifying content, you’re automatically growing your audience as more people grasp the message of your content. Also, you’re not writing your content just for people anymore. Even virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri have to be able to work with it as well. And even Google increasingly uses well-written pieces of content for rich results like featured snippets.”
Let’s hope that bots will learn to read as well as humans and not the opposite.
Linkbuilding is critical when improving SEO ranks and according to this linkbuilding guide the type of content that generates the most backlinks to your articles are lists. Which means, if you have anything to say, try making it into a list (like calling this article “My Top 3 questions about SEO). I understand the attractiveness of lists, I’ve clicked dozens of Buzzfeed articles because they were lists. In a way, it’s giving people what they want. So I know I’m being a content romantic when I say I don’t want to see all content becoming lists, just like I don’t want reality shows on tv. The numbers speak for themselves.
However, linkbuilding is one of the Google criteria I agree with the most when proving a piece of content’s validity.
My Current Answer
After some rumination on the topic, I came across an episode of Seth Godin’s podcast Akimbo called “Blogs and Platforms and Permission”. In it, Seth mentions that most people will lose at SEO. If you’re not on the first page of Google, you already lost:
“You cannot trust that your needle is gonna get found in the haystack. You cannot trust that any generic word is gonna end up with you on top.”
Plus, with constant changes to the algorithm, your success depends on something you cannot control. This makes SEO more of a losing game than a winning game.
In his opinion, the alternative is to go from:
“How do I persuade google to find me when someone is looking for the generic” to
“How do I persuade the public to look for the specific.”
Meaning SEO is a tool, but the end goal is your brand (the specific). You want people to know that your brand can provide the information they are looking for. You want to establish yourself as the source. So that when an information is searched your brand will always be included in it. That’s the game you can win at. Credibility and Brand Equity in an ever expanding haystack become more and more important. If your Branding, your differentiation is good enough, it will be found. Branding is the chicken and the egg. What makes you different is also what gets you found. It creates your own haystack. So that people won’t want to know about anyone’s take on the generic. They’ll want to know yours.
For now, this is an answer I’m comfortable with.
PS: this post was not optimized for SEO. My readability is “Good”.