Content is King – For People or Search Engines?

Content is King, the saying goes. But is that for people or search engines? Who do you write for? Our digital marketing manager had an excellent discussion with a copywriter the other day. As a copywriter and former editor himself, he was asked to critique a piece of copy that had crossed his desk and so he went into editorial mode. Of all the things that an online content editor should do, he assessed the article he’d received against a set of long-held, natural and instinctive criteria. One particular benchmark was had the piece been written with the search engines in mind? The response from the copywriter was:
“I write for people”
That’s an obvious and perfect answer because, of course, who is all this online content for? People, stupid. Without people, there is no audience, without people there is no traffic, without people, there are no readers, no sharers, no amplifiers of your message. So, of course, all content is written for people. Or is it? What about the other option, the other end of the spectrum? Yes, we can write for search engines and not people. In fact, our Digital Marketing Manager was once approached, a long time ago, by an agent who offered to “spin” his content. He was told to write articles in such a manner that they could be run through some software to produce multiple versions of the same article. And what, you might ask, was the point in that? Well, many years ago, Google’s algorithms were a little less sophisticated than they are today and so content was, at one point, quite literally churned out to produce masses of fodder solely for the purpose of ranking in the search engines. The idea was that if you produced a lot of content around a certain subject matter, particularly niche content with limited competition, you could rank high, vacuum up all the traffic for those terms and dominate the search engines… …with crappy content! A whole industry grew up solely around the creation of poor-quality content. People with little or no writing skills would submit, for absolute peanuts, content that served no purpose but to attract search engine rankings. You see, a niche term, ranking at number one in the Search Engine Rankings Pages (SERPs), might not get a massive amount of traffic but by being at #1 gets disproportionately more traffic volume than the number two, number three slots etc. (See Number 1 position in Google gets 33% of search traffic) Churning out a lot of content on the same subject, for ranking purposes only, might then gain you authority on the subject and so a website could rank in additional slots other than the first position, thereby getting all the top traffic. Now, ranking and gaining traffic for a low-volume niche term may not make yours the most popular website on the planet but, when you do this on an industrial scale, just think about mopping up traffic for nearly ALL the niche terms. This is exactly what happened way back in the late 2000s. Those low-paid people churned out tons of low-grade content, enslaved for their pittance of a wage, to these content farms. Websites once existed that were stuffed full of this content, cornered all the traffic for the low volume niches and sold display ads to then generate revenue. This, from the Wikipedia entry for Content Farm”, sums it up nicely:
In the context of the World Wide Web, a content farm (or content mill) is a company that employs large numbers of freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views, as first exposed in the context of social spam.
And, for a time, it worked. I remember well the days of eHow and the public IPO of Demand Media. Content farms were a huge business back in the late 2000s and Demand Media, the epitome of the commoditised content farm, peaked at something like $2 billion if I recall correctly. But then you had Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, make the statement that the Internet was a cesspoolof misinformation and low-grade websites, long before Donald Trump came along banging on about “fake news. And so the purge began. Google worked hard on its algorithms and still does, to eliminate poor quality content from the world wide web. When I say eliminate, I mean to remove it visibly from the SERPs. Google Panda was the name given to the set of algorithm changes that started to see the slide of machine-focused content. All the thin content that barely scraped by at 300 words, all the spun content, the sites with 10 different articles all about how to boil an egg, they started to become irrelevant. They lost their rankings, their traffic and firms like Demand Media, much to the delight of real, passionate professional copywriters, started to nose dive. And today, that is why we write for people. Or do we? I’ve been told by some people that more than 300 words is boring, befitting of that Too Long, Didn’t Read (TLDR;) moniker. But isn’t that more a symptom of modern-day reading habits, of Generation Z being brought up on a diet of 2-minute YouTube videos and listening to 3-minute pop songs? Isn’t it because we’re living in a world of attention deficit and no time to read anything in any great detail? When I were a lad we used to read whole stories, whole books! My own copy of The Lord of the Rings tome was a whopping 1069 pages! I read that book at least twice in the first year I had it. So, back to the original point… Do we write for humans or do we write for the search engines? Well, ultimately it has to be for humans but, if you write for this reason alone and ignore the demands of the search engines then you risk losing the opportunity to be crawled, indexed, ranked and amplified. So please do write for humans but ignore considering SEO, when you’re writing, at your peril.
Logo of Clever Marketing - Digital Marketing Agency in Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. You can probably tell that, as a Berkshire, Surrey, and Hampshire SEO agency, we’re not just highly experienced in copywriting but truly passionate too. Just think about what that means if we write copy for you… If you’d like to discuss how we can inform your readers, inspire thought and encourage debate, just pick up the phone and call us now on 01276 402 381 or fill in our easy contact form.