Back in the early days of search engines and search engine optimization it was an anything goes environment. Initially, SEOs stuffed reams of keywords into their page to get their pages to rank. Then when links became the driving force in rankings SEOs moved into link buying. The problem with all this is that it was all based on manipulation of one form or another.
While many will argue that SEO continues to be the practice of manipulating search rankings, it does not have to be that way. The SEO industry hurts itself by allowing itself to be associated with manipulation. That is my problem with the terms “linkbait” and “SEO copywriting”.
The problem with linkbait
Linkbait is the term that emerged for developing content for the purpose of getting large numbers of links. In many cases this was focused on getting articles to the front page of social media sites such as Digg. In principle, there is nothing wrong with developing content that is intended to garner a lot of links. In a non-search engine world it would be similar to many types of PR tactics, and something that you might do to promote your business.
What I don’t like is that the term has overtones of much deeper manipulation, largely because the word “bait,” of “bait and switch” fame is part of it. For example, in March of 2008, money.co.uk wrote an article titled 13 Year Old Steals Dad’s Credit Card to Buy Hookers. According to Yahoo, this page has nearly 1400 external links, a nifty haul for a single article. The problem is that the story is not true.
Ultimately, it is not OK to publish a deliberately misleading story in order to gather links. It should be noted that Money.co.uk published an apology. Jonathan Crossfield wrote about the story in his article Linkbait at any Cost.
This is what the term linkbait can lead you to do. Clearly a deliberately misleading story does not serve the interests of your web site’s users. I favor a descriptive phrase like “linkworthy content” because it includes the word “worthy” in it. Whatever you do, make sure the content you develop is linkworthy and lose the term linkbait, as it just confuses people about the goals of your content.
The problem with SEO copywriting
We work with large numbers of writers, and nearly all of our SEO projects include a strong component of recommending content for our clients web sites. As a result, we are constantly faced with questions about SEO copywriting practices, such as:
- How long should the article be?
- What keywords should we use in it?
- How should content be allocated across various pages of the site?
As with linkbait, the term SEO copywriting creates a mental image of manipulation which can quickly become a slippery slope. The root of the problem is that your writers are not trained in SEO, and nor should they be. That bears repeating: I recommend that you do not train your writers in SEO. There are two major reasons for this:
- Even if you do try to train your writers in SEO, you will inevitably train them at a surface level. This means that their decision making will be based on partial information, and this can lead to mistakes.
- Content quality has to remain the primary goal of the writers at all times. Providing low quality content for any reason, including your desire to get search engine traffic as a result of creating it, is not a good idea. This will come back and haunt you in the end.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from one of our writers asking if they should repeat the keyphrase from the title over and over again in the article body. My response was what would the user think when they saw this same phrase hammered at them over and over again. It just does not read right, and the reader of the content will notice it.
I don’t fault the writer—he was just trying to be helpful. Ultimately, poorly written content is not what you want readers noticing about your articles. You want them noticing the high quality information you provide. For this reason, we don’t hire SEO copywriters to work with us and our clients. We hire writers. We do tell them what we want the article to be about, and may provide a template with some pre-defined headers in it, but that is as far as we go.
Hire good writers and let them write good stuff. To meet your SEO needs make sure they are writing about the topics you want, and provide them with an article template. Great content, on a site that is search engine friendly, and that is effectively promoted, will always do well. It is a formula far older than the web, but it still works, and you don’t have to worry about the backlash tomorrow.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.