Search engine optimization (SEO) tips include website design best practices for how to get Google to rank your content higher in search engine results placement or SERP.

In fact, the preceding sentence is a great example of just how cumbersome this practice has made Web-based communications. By ensuring that I used the phrases, “search engine optimization (SEO) tips,” “website design best practices,” “how to get Google to rank your content higher” and “search engine results placement or SERP,” I’m virtually stuffing Google with the search phrases I want it to associate with my content.

But SEO tips aren’t the point of this article. In fact, SEO is the antithesis to my point.

I’m a writer. As I learned to write, I learned to focus on my topic and to engage my readers. This meant providing unique content that wasn’t already everywhere, and providing it in a style that was uniquely my own, when appropriate.

But this all changed once Google took control of the world’s content discovery and distribution. Now, instead of thinking topic first, I’ve learned to think SERP first. How will people find my content? What terms must I include? How must I word hyperlink anchor text so that I train Google about the search terms it should associate with those sites?

In fairness, it’s not Google’s fault. Indexing the world’s information and then presenting it 10 items at a time isn’t trivial work, especially when you have armies of marketing pros learning to game the system to rank their content above all others. But it leaves content creators scrambling to second guess how their content will be judged by Big G. This means that what might otherwise be decent content becomes polluted with hidden agendas, and this leaves us with an Internet that’s more stuffed with garbage than it is useful content.

SEO-focused content dilutes Web integrity in several ways:

  • The primary purpose for an SEO-focused blog post is to associate a site with a popular search topic, which means it’s a topic that has already covered elsewhere ad nauseam.
  • It’s unlikely that the topic will be covered in depth because SEO says to limit the length of articles. In other words, a book on a subject is not as SEO rich as a blog post about the book. Further, you might get 10 or more blog posts about a book, whereas the book is simply one piece of content.
  • SEO-rich content is easier to write than real content because, as we’ve seen in many cases, SEO “authors” simply borrow or steal content from other sources. After all, if we’re all saying virtually the same things, who’s to say who said it first?

The loser in all of this is you. You search Google to study a topic and find that you must become quite clever about the search terms you use because the most obvious search terms have been hijacked by those trying to sell you something rather than teach you something.

Websites that Need Websites

In addition to your average pointless blog post, websites are becoming great examples of the horrors of SEO. It used to be that you’d read a brochure or short article that would include, “for more information, visit our website.” And when you visited the website, you actually found more information. But now we see high profile websites that provide no useful information at all. “For more information,” you have to contact someone, which means giving up your contact info and agreeing to become a sales lead.

These websites are optimized to be found in Google search results, they’re not designed to provide any real information. The goal is to get you to fill out a form, not to help you make a purchase decision or learn. This in mind, these companies think nothing of hiring people to write content and otherwise influence site design who know little to nothing about what is actually being discussed or sold.

Website owners then hire people to manage their sites by data analysis rather than user experience. These people are called search engine optimizers, or (confusingly) SEOs.

SEOs know the basic rules for gaming Google, and they influence content accordingly. Periodically, Google smartens up and makes major changes to its algorithm in order to clean up its SERP, and SEOers get right to work anticipating the updates they need to remain on top. It’s job security along the lines of being a system admin for an IT system that will never run properly.

Forgive Me Too

Let me go on the record by saying that I’m (almost) as guilty as others. When Picturepark redesigned our website a while back, our primary goal was to increase our SERP for the terms we believed people used when searching to learn about digital asset management or to buy DAM software.

We serviced this goal in three ways:

  • We created content that was “keyword rich” and would demonstrate to Google that we were about DAM education, not just DAM software sales.
  • We created content that was designed to answer the questions people were searching for, according to Google search histories and our own experiences.
  • We created content that was detailed and that we believed to provide quality information so that readers would “like” or share it, which we knew Google liked.

And it worked. Picturepark website pages started to bubble to (or near) the top when people searched for “digital asset management ebooks” or “digital asset management webinars” etc. Website traffic increased.

But then others caught on. Other DAM vendors suddenly started providing “DAM education” content. In some cases, we had to issue take-down notices when it was clear our content had been lifted or, let’s say, overly influential in the development of other content. (See: article spinning)

So why did others steal Picturepark’s new content? Because it was ranking highly and they wanted a piece of that. These were thefts in the name of SEO.

Google never rewarded any of these sites for their efforts, but it left us thinking that we should focus more on Picturepark software rather than DAM education because others would certainly not be interested in copying that content.

And this is when I realized that, as a writer, I had become overly influenced by SEO. Not only had I considered it when writing my website’s initial content, I considered a change of course to hinder the SEO efforts of others, however immoral (or illegal) their efforts might have been.

This was the end of Picturepark’s SEO-focused content creation, and it was the end of my participation in SEO as a writer. I don’t want to think about popular search terms or keywords or anchor text or word count when I write. I want to focus on content. I want to tell a story.

I just hope that Google updates its algorithm so that it knows how to find and like my post-SEO content before I become a writer whom nobody reads.