SEO – Someone else’s obsession

SEOI spend far too much of my time reading ‘stuff” online. Usually it’s other people’s blog posts, sometimes it’s newspaper articles and other times it is random nonsense that I find when I’m looking for something that I’ve long forgotten I started looking for. On many days I couldn’t tell you how those hours disappear so easily. I read so much yet seem to remember nothing; a familiar scenario for many I suspect.

Once in a while a post or article grabs my attention and makes me question my own actions. One such recent example is the excellent post by Pam Mandel on her Nerd’s Eye View blog. In the post, Eight Bad Habits of (This) Highly Unsuccessful Blogger(s), Pam lays out her case for why her blog is a disaster according to convenient wisdom. It is a honest and unpretentious read and I would recommend it to all who have a blog or are considering starting one. She lists her disinterest in traffic stats, her lack of diligence in replying to comments and her total failure to take on her SEO responsibilities.

The many supportive comments that Pam’s post has provoked suggest that a/ her blog does not in fact ‘suck’ and b/ she is not alone in her philosophy to blogging. It was a breath of fresh air for me to read this post. I seem to be hear an ever growing social media noise telling me how to blog, how to tweet and above all how to improve my SEO (Search Engine Optimisation  for those who are still blissfully unaware of this strange dark craft). Whilst each of Pam’s admissions resonated with me, it’s the subject of SEO that I will dwell on here.

The main thrust of SEO (as I understand it) is to write in such a way that your content is easily found by others who are searching for whatever it is you’re writing about. Google, being to search engines what Greggs is to cheap sausage rolls (that’s one just for the Brits I’m afraid) lays out the rules of SEO and the rest of the world must obey or risk its all-consuming wrath.

To quote Pam (for the last time) on the topic of SEO: “I don’t care. I hate writing for Google”. I must admit to knowing the tiniest amount about this topic; a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as someone may have once said. The little I know is enough to tell me that I can’t fire up the slightest enthusiasm to learn more about it. I’m not saying it’s not a useful thing to know about – I have no doubt that for some it’s a fascinating topic; it’s just not what gets me excited about writing. If I need to be taken out and flogged for my impudence to the great god Google, so be it. Will my blog suffer as a result? It all depends what you’re measuring.

I know many folks who make a living as SEO specialists and I respect that they have built an expertise in their particular niche. I think of them in the same vein as financial advisers: they doubtless help their clients and could likewise help me, but in the end I’m happy to live my life in relative ignorance of their box of tricks and in both cases, accept that I might be paying a financial penalty as a result.

I suppose it depends on the purpose of your writing as to the importance you should place on SEO. When I had early fleeting thoughts about making money directly from my blog, I paid attention to the snippits of SEO advice I picked up and the Google commandments as and when I became aware of them. As my blog has evolved into something that I keep going primarily for the pleasure that I gain from writing what I want and how I want, SEO has in turn become someone else’s obsession: and that’s ok with me.

Author Information

18 Responses to “SEO – Someone else’s obsession”

  1. Leaving a comment here & my link will help my SEO… I hope… lol

    SEO is somehow important, as you can gain much traffic via search engines and in the end it’s what a website needs and what you are looking for, if running a website.

    But I also wouldn’t start to write content that it fits with SEO. The most important is still the user who likes a site or not. If he likes it, he’ll be back & he doesn’t care about SEO too much… :)

    October 19, 2010 at 11:15 am Reply
  2. Good post, essentially I sometimes think writing content which will rank for high traffic keywords and writing content to build a blogging audience are totally at odds with each other. However as a blogger concentrating solely on the latter (building an audience via twitter, rss, facebook etc.) they will collect a chunk of SEO juice. The challenge is, how to use that SEO juice without compromising the integrity of the blog or compromising the quality of the content.

    October 19, 2010 at 11:16 am Reply
  3. Another interesting post Andy!

    Personally I don’t think carefully crafted SEO matters at all if you’re writing a blog purely for the enjoyment of it and the hope that a few interested people will read and comment. We all know how big and important Google is, but these days there are other ways to point people who care about what you’re writing towards your blog. I reckon a handful of genuinely interested readers is more satisfying than hundreds who have a quick scan and immediately go elsewhere.

    If however your website has a different purpose – to sell something, to make people join your organisation, to position itself as an authority on a topic – then SEO is something you can’t ignore. Ensuring that I choose the right words to attract visitors and give them what they’re looking for is something I do on a daily basis. I’m learning and practicing every day and monitoring the statistics to check out the effectiveness of my writing can get quite addictive.

    Creating content that is easy to read AND performs well in search rankings is a really important skill for a website editor and for me a very enjoyable challenge.

    Anne :-)

    October 19, 2010 at 11:31 am Reply
  4. Thanks for the comments and discussion. I guess the point I was making is not that SEO is unimportant (it clearly has a valuable role to pay in getting a blog noticed) but rather an admission of my own struggle to get excited by it for my own blog. When I blog for others I take key words into account and take SEO seriously. But one of the joys that I take from my own blog is being able to write with total ignorance to findability (is that a word?) and just concentrate on writing for fun.

    What does surprise me is how well some of my posts are doing on Google despite my worst efforts. Put in Monopoly Board or Southern Trains and up there on the first page. Similarly on a few of the more obscure towns and cities I’ve visited. And if you type in ‘asian massage cambodia’ and don’t find me at no.1, you haven’t got your safe search turned on!

    October 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm Reply
  5. Absolutely! I often think that SEO is kind of unecessary – if you’re going to gush about a topic in your blog then it’ll be full of keywords without you even trying. Of course there’s a lot more to getting good search results than keyword richness alone, and I think that if you’re a diligent blogger then you’re bound to get the recipe right some of the time without even thinking about it!

    October 19, 2010 at 2:35 pm Reply
  6. As one of those ppl who practices this dark craft for a living ;-) I think you’re pretty safe in continuing to stay blissfully unaware of SEO, particularly if you are not going to monetize any time soon. That’s the thrust of the ppl who freak out and consume it, the bloggers who want to build an empire and not so much a blog with a community of people who come back again and again. On the flip side, there are the casual SEO-ers who fill out their SEO pluggin box for every post and call it day – a little of both worlds there :)

    October 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm Reply
  7. Andy – I almost ignored SEO for Europe a la Carte’s first few years online. I believed that writing interesting, unique, original content would bring plenty traffic. After all, that was part of the appeal of the web, that content was king. Unfortunately I no longer believe that to be entirely the case, I see travel blogs, where I don’t rate the content as quality or unique, doing very well in terms of traffic and (reported) revenue because of a combination of SEO and/or being part of a network..

    I don’t think there should have to be this divide of, well I write for love of travel blogging so I’ll ignore SEO, or I blog to earn a living so it’s all about SEO. However I’d assert that if blogging is your full time occupation,as is the case with me, you have to get to grips with SEO.

    October 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm Reply
  8. pam #

    Thanks, Andy, for the link love. Apparently, Google likes it when popular sites like yours link to less popular sites like mine. I read that somewhere.

    I do have a more than passing familiarity with the importance of good SEO, but I think it’s critical to keep in mind WHO you want to find you and WHY. Given that my identity is that of a writer, first and foremost, and that I’m not selling a product (unless you want to hire me for real money to write and/or edit), the benefits of a high Google ranking are negotiable to me. My anecdotal evidence of being found and/or known by the people I want to know me is 97 times more valuable than hits on the site… TO ME. Try hiring a writer by typing “freelance writer” into search.

    The equation is different when you’re actually trying to move a product. If I’m selling widgets, damn straight I want to be at the top of the search results for widgets. I understand that,completely. And certainly, I could do a better job with SEO on Nerd’s Eye View, that was partly my point.

    But what’s optimized SEO going to do for me, really? I have a rambling, personal blog that sometimes, often, talks about travel. It’s not destination specific, my demographics are messy (ukulele players, aging childless hipsters, wannabe travel writers), and there’s no solid product tie in for me to monetize. It’s personality — okay, I’ll just say it — VANITY driven. To paraphrase a commenter, it’s me writing (hopefully) interesting stuff about stuff I find interesting.

    That’s a crappy business model. Given that, what’s the point in conceding to Google’s demands? I’m not dismissing SEO out of hand, or calling it a black art or deriding those who work at their ranking. I’m saying that for my situation, I don’t see the point in getting in a lather about it.

    And look! Here we are. You found me, after all.The currency of meaningful online interactions isn’t going to pay my bills, more’s the pity. But that’s what I’ve got, and it IS valuable, it gets me writing gigs and speaking engagements and real paid work. I didn’t get here by worrying about what Google thinks of me.

    Rambling. Stopping now. But before I do, again, thank you.

    October 19, 2010 at 4:52 pm Reply
  9. What an excellent Title! And I found this post via Pam:-)

    October 19, 2010 at 5:15 pm Reply
  10. Hi Andy. I like your piece. I do have sub issues with it however. You’ve assumed that “SEO” is solely about What You Write and How You Write — when really that’s just a small part of good SEO.

    The single biggest factor in SEO and the results search engines return is links. And to get good quality links bloggers certainly shouldn’t “write for Google”, they should write content that people want to link to.

    In some ways it’s a choice between branding and seo. Are people coming to your site for you or are they coming for information. You’ve clearly chosen the first route Andy. You write lively, thoughtful and engaging posts that attract readers and links – and it works remarkably well.

    You probably benefit from SEO far more than you think. If you were searching for British Airlines’ reservations phone number and Google turned up Zeus Travel “call us for reservations on all the major airlines…” and Mandy Martin’s blog post about spending 2 hours on the phone with British Airlines — then you’d probably be fairly pissed that B.A. hadn’t employed some good SEO so the people looking for information about them could find it easily.

    Or you should be pissed :)

    October 19, 2010 at 6:17 pm Reply
  11. My SEO history is the opposite of Karen’s (Bryan).

    I used to pay a great deal of attention to it, and now I pay virtually none.

    Check my membership history on core SEO forums like Jill Whalen’s and you’ll see I was mixing it with the SEO gurus as far back as Sept 2003, when, with all of them, I would minutely watch specific Google datacentres (you use the ip address) to monitor the spread of a new algorithm (“dance”) and compare search results (SERPs) with the previous algo to analyse what has changed and what aspects Google was now weighting. We also used to hang on every tight-lipped syllable of every word dropped from the mouth of Matt Cutts or anybody remotely associated with Google.

    In those days it was important, but as time wore on, Google got better…. much, much better, and it stopped being so critical.

    [ TBH Google used to be NOT very good at all. In terms of relevancy, it was worse than its competitors. Ask (u rem? Jeeves?) was a much better search engine than Google, and Yahoo was easily as good. But it didn't matter because already by 2005 everybody had bought the hype and that nice clean homepage. Us dumb Brits made 70% of our searches on Google (the world average was 65% and even the Americans were more discerning at 55% ! ). Think back. You may recall that if, for example, you searched Google for "Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons" what you got those days in the first 2 pages (20 results) was 18 online travel agencies that sold Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons before you actually got to Raymond Blanc's site itself. ]

    Around 2008 Google went through a step change in performance and it became almost impossible to ‘game’ Google. Even the SEO gurus’ core advice was: write a website with lots of frequently refreshed content that boosts your identity as a “centre of authority”. In others words, just concentrate on creating the sort of website you would like to visit. I began to pity professional SEO consultants. Their future looked bleak. It still does.

    By then I’d already begun to get bored and tired trying to tweek my site every time Google sneezed or scratched, so I stopped and switched my attention to simply creating a useful, active, respected website (ok, the jury’s still out on that one!) …. and that is my advice to you.

    Yes, you might want to consider headlining your article “Driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Santa Barbara” instead of “Sunsets and Sealions” because that would help Google understand what it’s about, but beyond that simple step, forget SEO. Write for humans not computers.

    PS. Oh yes. Several of you have joked about the benefit of writing a comment here. Don’t bother. Google nerfed that ages ago when it bullied everyone into using its link condom. Look at the source of this page and you’ll see that in common with virtually all comments pages the anchor tag linking to your website has a REL=”NOFOLLOW” attribute in it. This says to Google “ignore this link. I don’t know its provenance”. Sorry. No link juice for you.

    October 19, 2010 at 6:23 pm Reply
  12. Love the comments, and particularly the contradictory messages that are coming out. It’s surely the sign of a area that’s ripe for consultants to ply their wares (not unlike healthcare, my old home turf, where it is often said that five experts will have at least six opinions).

    Despite the apparent disparity in the comments, I can find some consistency, not least is the reassuring message that good content that people want to read does count for a lot, although as some have pointed out there is still a sorting process that is not done on quality.

    Thanks to all for the wonderful insights – I have learned a lot more about SEO than I imagined just by writing a frivolous post. And you guys have even made it sound interesting! Ack, it’s been a long day…

    October 19, 2010 at 11:04 pm Reply
  13. Being pretty new on the scene I have nothing remotely useful to add, but having read and enjoyed this post and the comments, I’d simply like to point out the sweet irony in the fact that this post appears in my inbox with a google ad for Google Analytics at the foot of it!

    October 20, 2010 at 2:19 am Reply
  14. Good stuff and thanks to the link to Pamela’s article. I enjoyed that one as well. No need to reply to this comment.

    October 20, 2010 at 3:55 am Reply
  15. Amen! I started blogging almost 4 years ago, and for most of this time I was blissfully unaware of SEO and all things related. I didn’t start reading blogs about how to blog until after I joined Twitter at the beginning of this year. I quickly learned that I was doing this blog thing all wrong. My posts are too long. I lack any ability to actually get to a point (that is, if I actually HAVE a point!). I loathe bullet points. I don’t use enough pictures/bold letters/smily faces/whatever. But, at this point, I figure I’ve been doing wrong so long, there’s really no going back!

    October 20, 2010 at 6:34 am Reply
  16. Pam hits the nail on the head for me. It’s not how many people visit my site, or how many come in through search (although I freely admit to having played around with ways of increasing this in the past) – it’s WHO visits.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:36 am Reply
  17. Great discussion! And David thanks for pointing out that we were focusing too much on how and what to write – just a small piece of the SEO pie!

    I’ve kind of summarised from these discussions that we’re all more or less of the same opinion… We all recognise the importance of SEO but the extent to which you pay attention to it depends largely on your purpose for writing in the first place and what you want to achieve… Yes??

    Anne :-)

    October 20, 2010 at 8:58 am Reply


  1. Tweets that mention 501 Places » Travel Blog » SEO – Someone else’s obsession - Sharing the world with you -- - October 20, 2010

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pam Mandel, Melvin, Nellie Huang, bencolclough, bencolclough and others. bencolclough said: RT @501places: SEO – Someone else’s obsession #travel #lp [...]

Leave a Reply

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free