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SEO Voodoo


I like to write. I can sit with a simple idea and within a few minutes find myself sitting in front of over a thousand words. Watch what happens with this post if you need proof. Good for production, bad for just about every practical application of web text. Despite this natural proclivity and willingness, writing alone has turned out to be only a fractional part of the job.

As a web content writer I’m finding myself dealing more and more with the SEO aspects of content rather than the construction of the actual content itself! Depressing and a damper on my plans for world domination through media control of the masses yes but alas, one does what one must. So, I spend inordinate amounts of time sifting through SEO data and implementing it into my client’s content in an effort to give them as much value as possible. Sure fresh and interesting content is supremely important, but when you also consider links, anchor text, relevancy, titles, keyword placement and all the rest and the great deal of authority that search engines seem to place on them, the importance of the content itself becomes diminished.

 There are those who will even tell you to forget about grammar and substance as long as you can get all the SEO aspects correct and to be honest, they are right to a point. Simply using every SEO trick in the book and using them correctly, it is possible to build some incredibly fast ranking with some incredibly poor content. Not something I would recommend, however, if you intend to have a web presence that lasts more than a few months and does more than generate a temporary run of click-throughs. A content writer can certainly be successful making SEO his main priority, but without maintaining content quality, the job becomes much more difficult.

I’ve come to feel this is because writing is by itself simply not beholden to outside algorithms and internet fickleness. You won’t write something today and find it obsolete six months later. This is fortunate since I imagine it would be pretty hard to produce any classics of literature if every six months some outside element decided your work was now relegated to the ashes of history, never to be important again. Certainly it can be a bit difficult for the uninitiated to read original Shakespeare for the first time; the construction evolves over time, but the writing remains true. A writer today could construct stories in a similar fashion and find himself regaled as an authoritive voice of literature. Try promoting an old SEO tactic like link stuffing or hidden text today though and you’ll be instantly and rightly branded a blithering idiot.

In order to be effective, you have to meld effective content with effective SEO.  The result is that the web changes the rules of writing.  The simple fact is, writing alone is not enough for the web. You can’t just tell a story, you have to “sell” it to the search engines as well as the masses and anyone who owns a website, runs a blog, or relies on the web for exposure is subject.

When it comes to SEO it seems everyone either believes themselves to be knowledgeable, or they feel it’s just so much voodoo and won’t touch it. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. This is likely because of the amount of importance SEO carries and the sheer terror of being revealed a bumbling fool if your advice or beliefs are seized upon and used, then summarily result in the death of an entire promotional program. At the other ends of the spectrum are those who will swear to every SEO belief that sounds good and promote their opinions as gospel; this is usually accompanied by a link to their website offering their web services. Many of them are well intentioned, yet few really have the weight of authority behind them. I cannot tell you how many times I have read discussions about SEO and watched as participants wrangle back and forth with their own statements of authority and professed knowledge, only to find with a little research that their own websites are buried in the SERPs for the best relevant text. I don’t claim to be a guru, but I can at the least be satisfied with my targeted keywords consistently landing me on the first and second pages of a Google search in a fairly competitive niche.

When assessing the authority any source of SEO claims or advice holds there are two things to keep in mind.

  1. SEO is not static.

Search engine optimization is a constantly evolving and almost ephemeral process. The tiniest appearing changes to how search engines view links or text can have a massive impact on their effects. Because of this, anyone making SEO part of their professed repertoire must literally be constantly on the watch for new developments and changes. Knowing what works right now is no great accomplishment; there is a wealth of reliable information available for the reading. Knowing what is coming, what new developments mean for SEO, and how to make the most of them is where true authority lies.

  1. None of the search giants tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

For obvious reasons, Google does not tell us everything there is to know about their search algorithms. Google really doesn’t tell us much at all in concrete terms unless it serves their purposes and poses little chance of giving anyone the opportunity to game their systems. This means that there are in reality NO SEO “experts”. Some are better than others, some are really damn good, and still others only know that there is money to be made by adding SEO to their repertoire and simply want to ride the bandwagon and garner a few profits from those unwilling to deal with the whole thing. The experts are the ones setting the algorithms that define how SEO is practiced, the ones setting the rules for the game.

The rest of us are only players.


This article has 7 comments

  1. Susan Oakes 02/01/2011, 5:26 am:

    Hi Paul,

    I agree with you and this was only highlighted last week when an old post of mine hit number 1. I only knew because of all the traffic that page was getting. Who knew! Even though I only write my own content I try and do the simple things right and it seems to work at times.

    SEO is part of the equation and I do laugh at those that still say they will guarantee No 1 ranking. I actually think this is an area that makes it hard for those like you who are providing great content for others.

    • paul novak 02/04/2011, 4:46 am:

      Thanks Susan. That is probably one of the most common signs that someone is trying to take advantage of your lack of SEO knowledge. When they start making promises and guarantees rest assured it is one of the less intelligent things anyone selling their services can do.

  2. Mari-Lyn Harris 02/03/2011, 3:44 pm:

    Hey Paul,
    I love your new site so much easier to read. SEO is a big challenge for most of us, and try to figure out how Google ranks people, as we can’t read their minds and of course things change over time. There are resources like you that can help us do better in our SEO.

    The best SEO I think there is, is just great content.

  3. paul novak 02/04/2011, 4:49 am:

    Glad you like the new layout Mari-Lyn. Still getting used to it myself but overall I’m pleased with it. The best thing anyone can do is to maintain their content. Even if it is not the greatest, keeping it fresh and keeping it consistently building has great effect on your ability to gather and hold traffic and ranking.

  4. Sherryl Perry 02/06/2011, 9:33 pm:

    I am not overly obsessed with writing for SEO and it shows in my analytics. As you point out, SEO is not static. There are so many varying ideas and so many experts out there. I don’t know if what I’m doing is right or wrong but I’m trying to write good content that fills a need and drive traffic to my site through referrals. Maybe I’ll never have the kind of traffic that I dream of but who knows? At least, I’m being true to myself and not driving myself insane trying to figure out SEO in the meantime.

  5. paul novak 02/07/2011, 5:54 am:

    There are a lot of people who don’t believe in relying on search engine traffic. Think about it… If you rely on Google for all your traffic and they make a change that kills your ranking, you’re in deep doo doo. But, if you have a solid base built through strong linking, referrals and popularity, then Googles changes wont matter much at all and your traffic will stay steady.

    Thanks for the amps and tweets btw;)

  6. Jacki 09/18/2012, 4:16 am:


    SEO is a big challenge, especially for small companies. Although lots of people do claim to be “SEO Experts” it seems that the safest and most cost effective strategy for small companies like ours is simply to work hard to create good content that people will want to read! Thanks for the great post (which will hopefully in turn help your site’s SEO)!

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