3 ways SEO can ruin content

Last December, Lee Odden from Online Marketing Blog wrote a post called,“Content Strategy and the Dirty Lie About SEO.” At the end of the post, he posed the question – the question that’s been debated ever since “writing for search engines” has existed:

Do you think SEO ruins content?

I had to think about that, as my first reaction is not just “No” but “Hell no – SEO doesn’t ruin the content.”‘

But the more that I thought about it, the more I thought, “Well, sometimes it does…under very certain circumstances.” Here’s when that is:

  • When the content was written by an inexperienced SEO copywriter. Most “keyphrase-stuffed” content I read comes from folks who think that SEO copywriting really is a bunch of keywords separated by commas. Their clients tell them that they need a 500 word article, and the keyword needs to be in the copy at least 30 times…so that’s exactly what the writer provides. In this case, the writer doesn’t know enough to educate the client about best practices – and they end up writing keyphrase-stuffed drivel. Writing generated from content mills often falls into this category.
  • When the article/blog post/FAQ was only written for search engines, and the site owner/SEO doesn’t care if anyone really reads the article. I’ll see this technique used by companies who want to position for a competitive term, so they write tightly-focused articles around one keyphrase. Unlike the article written by an inexperienced SEO copywriter that attempts to make sense, these articles are stuffed with grammatical errors and are darn near incoherant (sometimes this is because the site owner had non-English speakers create the copy.) You’ve seen these types of articles all over the Web…but you’ve probably never read one. Why would you? There’s nothing of substance to read.
  • When the company hosting the article decides to bold every keyword, include a long list of “related keywords” at the end of every post. The various (and random) bold and italicized keywords renders the page impossible to read.

So, what’s perhaps more accurate to say is: Smart SEO doesn’t ruin good content. It enhances it, in fact – making it easier to be found in search engines and shared via social media. If you’ve mastered the art of online writing for both engines and people, you have a very valuable skill set.

On the flip side, yes, stupid SEO will ruin content. And your conversions, too. As my father used to say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” – and repeating a keyword incessantly will not suddenly transform the page into “quality content.”

It reminds me of what some folks say about sales copy being too “sales-y.” There’s a way to include a call-to-action that gently leads someone to the next action step. And there’s a (wrong) way to do it that beats them over the head with hyped language, bold and italics (Hmm. now that I think about it, what IS it about bolded and italicized text?).

What do you think? Is SEO the death of good writing?