If there’s a magic word on the lips of online marketers, retailers, entrepreneurs, and pretty much anyone with a website these days, that word is SEO. Search Engine Optimization. A panacea to every woebegone website languishing somewhere down the rankings…three, four, five pages into a Google search, that lonely realm of cyberia where no one in their right mind would deign to scroll. Search Engine Optimization. The promise that, if you fill your pages with the right kind of content—content that Google’s spiders will crawl over and pick up—web traffic will follow.
If only it were that simple.
I recently finished a large SEO project for a reputable online retailer backed by an even more reputable, globally-conscious, humanitarian company. I say this only to make it clear up front that writing SEO for a company that already has a significant amount of online clout is much less daunting than writing SEO for one that does not. Clout in the online world matters, and it is easy to calculate how much clout a particular website has by simply checking its PageRank score with Google. For example, Amazon is ranked 8/10; the US Government is ranked 10/10; and many, many websites are ranked below 3/10. A website that has already passed muster with Google, one that has shown some degree of credibility and authority, will not only turn up more readily in a Google search, but it will also lend your site credibility and authority (and in turn, help your own rankings) the more references, mentions, links, and nods it makes to you.
So why is this important at all?
Well, when it comes to SEO, people seem to think that if you can just phrase things a little differently, maybe hire an SEO company to drop a few keywords into the right places, then that particular website will rank high on Google searches. Problem solved. Many of the SEO dealers themselves help to propagate this misconception by promising your website a position in the top three search results, should you optimize with them. Never mind the fact that it is logically (and logistically) impossible for everyone to make it in the top three positions of any search, it also feeds the growing hysteria that if you don’t manipulate your webpages in certain ways, the site is pretty much worthless. The emphasis here is more about playing the Google system than it is about producing really solid content.
Call me old-fashioned, but to me, it is good content—content that people want to read, share, and purchase—that always trumps the latest tricks of SEO. Now, I understand that many websites rely entirely on online sales, and if their webpages do not turn up at the top of a search, most likely sales will not follow. The need to rank high is urgent because web traffic is the lifeblood of the company. And I’m not saying that SEO should be ignored. After all, I do write it. And for those that can’t hire a writer to do the job, there are excellent resources out there to make the process a little more manageable. (See the links at the end of this post.) But, I am and always will be a content girl, and I believe that people will always be drawn to writing that is clear, informative, useful, and beautiful. And to my mind, it is these ends that should drive SEO practices.
We all want to land at the top of a search, and there’s no point in denying that this goal guides much of the content we include on a site. But, if the content is not well-written and original—that is, if the content is not something you yourself would want to pick up and pass along—why would anyone else? I’m coming to think of SEO as a kind of personal ad, your word to the matchmaker, your website’s chance to make a good impression. Each page has to be your site’s best-foot-forward. And I believe that when the content is written with this in mind, the chances of making a connection are that much greater. While we can’t all be in the top three positions of the results list, if you hold your content to that kind of high standard—to be written clearly, originally, and informatively—the search engines will follow.
-by Jacqueline Abrams