How Bad Content Is Ruining SEO

by Unmana Datta September 17th, 2012 


If you've been reading marketing blogs for more than a couple of years, you must have noticed how much more content there is these days. How on earth do you keep up with it all?

About a couple of years ago, I started subscribing by email to blogs that dispensed marketing advice. If I liked a blog post, I'd hit subscribe on that blog immediately. I'd subscribe to blogs other people were reading. I was in a new job managing online marketing, and I wanted to learn as much as I could.

At first I was diligently reading every blog post and newsletter. Then I started skimming through and deleting. Then I would delete some if the headline didn't interest me. By the time I quit that job in early August, I had over a thousand unread emails in my "reading" folder. I was glad to be able to abandon that folder and start afresh.

Now I'm adding blogs to my Google Reader, but I'm being much more circumspect.

TL; DR: There's too much marketing content out there!

You know a funny (actually, quite logical) thing about all that content? It makes it more difficult to find content you actually want to read.

If I want quick tips on how to get more people to see and share my Facebook posts, I don't want to read yet another post on how Facebook is evil and is ruining it for marketers.

For marketers and SEO people, duplicative, badly-written content is hurting us, because it makes it more difficult for our audience to see the good stuff (ours, of course). So here's a list of what-not-to-do that I, on behalf of all of us, am pleading you to follow.

Don't write for search engines

Write for people, not for search engines. Focus on the message, not on the keywords.

Don't have ghost writers

If you're not a good writer, get an editor. But there's a difference between getting help in polishing your message or in structuring your content and in farming out that content altogether. If your name is on it, it should be saying something you believe in.

Don't plagiarize

And I don't just mean copy-pasting an entire blog post from someone else's blog unless you're blatantly unethical, you know not to do that (and if you don't, why am I talking to you anyway?) But one "accepted" way of writing an article seems to be to read a bunch of articles and then rehash them in slightly different words.

Seriously, don't do that. If you have nothing to say, do us all a favor and don't say it.

Don't buy cheap content

Have you seen those ads offering $1 for each article? Have you asked a content writer you know to write a few 500-word articles for you, and you'll give her a list of keywords to include? ("Hi, there.") Don't be that guy.

I don't believe the importance of content has waned. Content through blogs and newsletters continues to be an excellent way to reach out to and nurture your audience and (gently) encourage them to buy. But there is no short-cut to good content, and if you don't want to work at it, just make way for those of us who are.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy How To Avoid The SEO Trap

Unmana Datta

Unmana is the co-founder of Markitty, a tool that recommends actions to improve your online marketing. She writes about marketing for startups and small businesses on the Markitty blog and can be found on Twitter @Unmana.

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11 Responses to “How Bad Content Is Ruining SEO”

  1. Dan Thornton says:

    I completely agree with the importance of quality content. It's not just about SEO, but also the conversion rate once people have found your site.

    I'm probably biased, since I provide content and SEO services, but a lot of the work I do is improving content which may even figure highly in search rankings but doesn't do anything to actually generate any revenue. Luckily when it comes to costs, the data on click-throughs and conversion rates helps to convince clients it's worth the time and investment to get it right.

    I would say there's an additional option to Editors or Ghost Writers. I often work as an 'embedded journalist' in many ways, spending time with a company and writing on their behalf, often under my own name. That way the company not only benefits from structured and optimised work, but I'm also in a position to often discover opportunities and articles which weren't apparent to people within the business, especially if they don't have media experience.

  2. Bad content can still escape detection by Google's quality content detectors, but over time it will get harder and harder to do so.

    Evaluating the quality of content comes out of Google's "natural language understanding" initiative, to put it broadly. In short, they need algorithms that can read and understand as well as you or I. Full realization of this is probably at least decades if not a century out or more, but this has been a holy grail in A.I. research since at least the 1950's. Panda is Google's first practical application of this A.I.-based technology and that's why Panda will continue to evolve. If your site had quality issues, this is probably why traffic and rankings continued to fall, i.e., new releases of panda kept identifying more issues. That’s just a guess, but probably a good one. Letting their algorithms "learn" from their human quality raters is a huge part of this initiative.

    A great definition of Google is "a smart machine that keeps getting smarter."

    The long-term aside, the other reason to avoid junk is that everything you type is reflection of you, how you think, how deeply. It shows if you really have something to offer. If Google is smart, human brains are vastly smarter. They will instantly recognize junk when they read it, no matter how high it might accidentally rank.

  3. Mike Dawson says:

    After Penguin, Google has layed down the law as far as content is concerned. I recommend writing short but writing well. Quality over quantity always! Great post, thanks!

  4. Steve Cook says:

    It's ironic that in Google's push for content, they have actually made it more difficult to find high-quality content. As you suggested, there is so much content now that it's difficult to quickly and easily find what you're looking for. Although this will likely help Google perfect its algorithm in the long-term, the growing pains are somewhat inconvenient.

  5. John says:

    I agree totally, don't write for big G but for your readers, doing so your readers will share your posts and do the seo for you…

  6. quality sites always have an upper hand over quantity sites. thats why i love gigaom over mashable and other tech blogs.

  7. Hendry says:

    Strongly agree with "Don't write for search engines".

    Most people make this common mistake. They continue to add more keywords in the article, so it becomes awkward to read article.

    Even on google webmaster guideline was written in "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"

    Just make useful articles for visitors not for robots. And believe me, if they think your article is useful, they will spread your articles in the forums, social media, blogs, etc. And surely you already know, this would make natural backlinks that Google loves and will boost your SERP.

    Thanks Unmanna for the inspiring write, I hope somebody can benefit!