Something in me squirms whenever someone talks or writes about SEO. Although I know people who are fluent in the arts of search engine optimization, it evokes a dirty feeling me. It makes me think about things like Associated Content or Demand Media or even the Huffington Post. There may be quality content somewhere within those types of websites, but the journalist in me cringes when I stumble upon that crap and gets angry when I think about the low wages paid to writers to churn that mush out.
But ask Richard Tofel of the Nieman Journalism Lab about taking shots at SEO. In a piece published earlier this week, Tofel says that as Google continues to refine its search algorithm to weed out content farms and promote more quality content, reliance on SEO should go out the window. Google and other search engines are inefficient, and as they improve SEO will no longer be necessary, Tofel says. Of the 32 comments posted to the story when I read it, less than five were supportive of what he had to say. Most of the others took him to task for apparently missing what SEO truly is, and how it’s necessary in a world where search engines have to wade through gagillions of pages of website code across the Internet.
I’ll admit that I’m nowhere close to understanding exactly how SEO really works. That’s something I have to deal with considering one of my current jobs, which is to design and implement a web content strategy for a startup Internet radio station. That said, I have to agree with something Tofel said.
Improved search, and diminished SEO, should tend to place a greater value on [higher quality readers], elevating content of higher value, higher quality and, therefore, higher cost.
I couldn’t agree more. As I battle with the resident SEO expert at our radio station over what type of content we should produce and promote on our website, I find him talking about “functional content” that is built in the best way to showcase banner ads and rank higher in search engines, while I argue for quality content over anything else. My theory is that quality, engaging content – web, video and audio – will drive traffic more than back-end website gimmicks. As we produce better content, the readers and viewers we connect with will appreciate the content more and be more willing to return to the site and promote it to their friends. Constantly churning out content and pages on the site for the sake of ranking higher in a Google search – one of the strategies recommended by our SEO expert – isn’t necessary if you’re actually producing quality content that people want to read, watch and listen to. It turns out that the data actually backs me up on this point, at least according to another report from the Nieman Journalism Lab.
This is a long way to say that my opinion on SEO is evolving. I am coming to accept the fact that websites should be optimized, but I’ll never let that overtake the need for good content.