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Just Say No to SEO Articles!

November 17, 2010

Last week I was speaking with a potential client in need of SEO consulting who told me that they had been working on their product part e-commerce website over the past few months by adding "SEO articles" to it on a regular basis. "SEO articles?" I thought. "Why would an e-commerce site that sells product parts need articles about SEO?"
Photo Credit: quinn.anya
Of course, I knew they weren't talking about writing articles about SEO, but writing articles for SEO. Which is often just as silly. Unfortunately, I hear this on a regular basis because so many believe that writing keyword-stuffed articles is somehow an SEO requirement. They don't know why they might need these articles -- only that, for whatever reason, the Google Gods want them. And so they write articles that nobody would be interested in reading, but which are stuffed chock-full of the keywords for which they would like Google to show their site.

And then they wonder why it's not happening for them.

"Did we not provide Google with the SEO articles they require?" they ask incredulously.

"Why does Google not show our 'History of Product Part A' article when someone is searching to buy one of them?"

"Let me explain," I say, and ask them to put themselves in the shoes of the potential buyer.

"If you were looking to buy Product Part A, which page would you rather find in Google? The one with the product part information, the price, choice of color/size, information on how to purchase it, and an 'add to shopping cart' button? Or the one that tells you the history of said product part?"

The choice, of course, is easy when presented that way. And suddenly – BAM! It all starts to make sense.

"That was exactly MY thought before we embarked on this crazy SEO scheme!" they reply. "It just didn't make any sense to me, but I figured that Google was just weird and had its own reasons for liking stuff like that. So why do so many SEOs recommend this?" is their next logical question.

I wanted to tell them that most SEOs don't have the slightest clue what Google really wants. But instead I told them that it's usually because many SEO consultants don't have a good grasp of why they do what they do. Once upon a time, some of them probably stumbled upon some websites that provided a lot of valuable industry information via a blog or resource center, and noticed that the site also did well in Google. So they put 2 and 2 together and came up with the not-so-brilliant idea of writing articles created solely for SEO purposes -- and then they spread the information to the many places online where SEO myths are propagated.

And the SEO article creation industry was spawned.

Let's step back for a moment and look at the difference between "SEO articles" and information provided on a site that is there without regard to SEO.

When your goal is to create SEO articles, you'll almost always make the wrong decision on what to write about or how to write it because you'll be thinking about search engines rather than your target audience. Anything and everything you write or post to your website needs to have a reason for being there.

And that reason is not SEO.

What you add to your site should always enhance it in the eyes of your target audience. If an article about the history of Product Part A is truly something your target audience would be interested in -- that is, it helps those people who might buy the product make their decision -- then by all means, write that article. But don't lie to yourself. Your gut will let you know if you really do believe it will be helpful, or if you are just looking for an easy way out!

Your goal is to get into the mind of your potential buyers and figure out what their pain points might be. What might hinder them from buying a particular product? What might prevent them from buying it from you? Maybe they're not sure if the part will fit the gizmo that they were buying it for. Maybe they don't understand why the latest version of Product Part A (rev.2.56) is worth so much more than the previous version (rev.2.0). So write an article pointing out the differences, and why the manufacturer decided to rev it up, and how the extra money it costs will be well worth paying because it will likely last twice as long.

That is useful information for your target audience.

It's also an article that others interested in Product Part A might link to. And it sets you up as an expert on those types of products. You don't need to think about SEO when you write such an article, because that's not why you're writing it. And yet, by the very act of *not* thinking about SEO, you'll have created a potential SEO boon for your site.

The article itself will likely show up for long-tail searches relating to Product Part A (perhaps when people are seeking out the differences between the two revs). And if it naturally garners links, that link juice will spread to the rest of your site, providing your sales pages with a better chance at ranking for your money terms -- i.e., pages that bring in people who are ready to buy now.

So banish the notion of "SEO articles" from your vocabulary. Optimize the actual pages of your site that are there to do business, and provide as much additional information as you can that will set your business apart from the others. Get into the head of your potential customers and give them exactly what they need to become informed buyers who want to buy only from you.

Added: Here are some ideas for real articles you can write for your site.


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

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Post Comment

 Karen DeCrane said:
Yet another breath of fresh air Jill - thanks so much. I can't count the times I have told clients to think about the customer not the search engines when they are preparing articles or copy. Sometimes the best results happen in SEO when you stop thinking about SEO and remember that it's your customer who pays for things - search spiders don't carry wallets.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks Karen! Yep. I'm just so sick of every day hearing people tell me they're creating stuff for SEO purposes, with no clue as to what or why they're doing it!
 Shirley Linde said:
Don't you think in most cases they are referring to articles placed ELSEWHERE so that those articles refer back to the website?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Shirley, no in most cases they're not. Either way, they still should be written for people.
 Saleem Yaqub said:
For me SEO articles refers to publishing on third party websites like ezine. I agree that content should be quality with something of value for your target audience and that this will naturally attract inbound links. But at the same time keywords should be included in your on-site articles, blog posts or whatever you want to call it in order to help this process.

Article marketing if done properly can be a very effective strategy. I've seen sites that use article sites to quickly rank for long tail keywords and then drive traffic back to their main site. This can be quicker than trying to rank a new website for a certain keyword.
 Jill Whalen said:
@ Saleem

 Tim Townsend said:
I couldn't disagree more with you Jill (and that's a first!) and agree with Saleem. I've seen first hand how publishing how-to's and marketing related articles (complete with back links to your own website) to high page rank online publishers has created new doorways into a website. These articles are indexed quickly, and display for targeted long tail keyword search terms (especially effective in local search). Plus they have staying power. Some reside first page for a year or more depending on the level of competition for the search term.

Just as Joe the Mechanic writes an article about how to change your oil at home in the local gazzette, Joe business owner can do the same online, reach a wider audience, provide direct linking to related information on their own website, position himself as the go to local expert on the subject and create another pathway for visitors to reach your website. Writing "SEO articles" for your own website is a complete waste of time. Publishing and syndicating strategic articles to high value news and information websites is simply another effective tool for driving traffic and should not be banished from the tool box.
 David Ewing said:
I agree with Saleem/Tom I also have had great success getting long tail keywords ranked using article marketing in sites like ezine and Id like to know how other people view yahoo opening up their contributor network
 Jill Whalen said:
Guys, you're talking about the same thing I was saying in the article...writing about stuff that's of interest to your target audience.

I don't disagree with that at all. Please read the entire article!
 Mary said:
Useless articles written is another example of the "tricks" people think they need to use achieve higher rankings. There are so many SEO myths and so many people who believe them. My recent favorite was a new client who faxed a five page single-spaced list of every possible keyword related to his products that he believed he should add to every page of his Web site. He was told a few years ago that he needed to do this for SEO. I spend as much time undoing these beliefs as I do on the actual SEO work. SEO seems to be easy prey for misinformation.
 ds said:
I'm having trouble with client concepts about social networking lately. It's similar in that they are so misinformed about what their objectives should be. There are told by the "marketing experts" they should do this and that, have no idea how it works and waste so much time without having a clue of the real maintence time sink - all to the neglect of optimising their own website and driving traffic to it. Drives me nuts trying to explain to newbies how to use networking to advantage...just commenting - I know it is a bit of a tangent, but I think what Jill is saying at the end of the day is that just blindly jumping on bandwagons without considering the real communication between the buyers mind and the product is ridiculous.

There are so many ways to skin a cat but if there is only one cat to skin then just do it well in the first place - especially if you value your time and money.
 Jill Whalen said:
Mary and ds...thank you. Yes that's exactly what I'm talking about.
 Marcos Alonso said:
Excelent post, like an other i read here (Dear Google...Stop Making Me Look Like a Fool!).

Congrats to showing marjket´s diferent opinions =)
 Elysia said:
I totally agree re: onsite articles. Any content placed on your site should be primed for whatever funnel you have in place and not necessarily SEO focused to the point of damaging the integrity or central message of the piece. Whether SEO tweaked content can work onsite or not is heavily influenced by the ability of the writer and the specific market they're in.

I don't think offsite article marketing can be discounted. I still see huge results from keyword-targeted (but not stuffed), unique and high quality syndicated content - when used in combination with other link building strategies of course.

Thanks for the post Jill. Got the mind ticking this morning :-)
 Farhad said:
The funny / ironical part of this is that you had to write a real SEO Article to stop clients from writing "SEO Articles"

 Jill Whalen said:
@Farhad Yep! And that's the *only* good use for SEO articles as far as I'm concerned.
 Ewan Kennedy said:
I guess the moral of the story is "if you don't know why you are doing something and don't have a good reason, then don't do it". Lots of otherwise good sites have been wrecked by owners allowing SEO articles to be published on them in the mistaken belief that this is the only way to succeed.
 Jill Whalen said:
That is indeed, a good moral of the story, Ewan. Thank you!
 Kathryn Pless said:
This article is a long time coming. So many of my clients want me to write SEO articles that have phrases in them that just make no sense and are not grammatically correct. Their answer? "It's what came up in a keyword research." I'm glad someone is FINALLY debunking the SEO article myth! Great article and I always learn something when I read your work.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks Kathyrn. I feel your pain.
 Ric Dragon said:
I might sum it up as, "don't just write to appear more relevant, write to BE more relevant".
 Mike said:
Google is getting smart enough now to know what the article is about so the keyword stuffing can actually only become a negative factor in most cases. I have been seeing a lot more pages in the rankings recently that aren't even targeted to the keyword but are ranking because of internal and external links with that anchor text. I agree completely I think many have started writing articles just for SEO and because of that no one is linking to those articles or sharing them on places like Facebook.
 John said:
very interesting article!

It's pretty easy to write articles with value that you don't need to accept less.
 Barry said:

I'm going to have to disagree with you. What evidence have you to back up this claim?

As an SEO I have found that having a blog and writing relevant articles with anchored keywords DOES help in terms of ranking higher.
 Jill Whalen said:
Barry, where did I say that having a blog where you write relevant articles for target audience isn't helpful?
 Colin said:
Google's webmaster guidelines ( state that you should "make pages primarily for users, not for search engines."

What's the point of having badly written articles stuffed full of keywords? Visitors are not going to come back to your site if they see those.
 Chip Tudor said:
Thanks, Jill for your common sense. We all tend to follow the seo herd, don't we? Breaking away from it is when we really differentiate.
 Rachel said:
I totally agree and always have. When I started working for a SME Travel company I got rid of the agency charging a small fortune to do this. I also worked to optimise the actual pages but it wasn't appreciated! They changed the site when I left - back to pretty brochure looking site not optimised for users/sales - arghh! Very frustrating.
 Colleen Wright said:
Good Quality Content...that is what Google wants. That is also what the buyer wants. If the page is intended to help a buyer make a decision on purchasing and a purchase is completed, that's a good thing. If a page answers the question upon which a user is searching, also a good thing. What drives me nuts is when I am looking for something in particular and I get a page full of affiliate links. If we could all focus on serving up great content for the actual human, the search world would be a better place! Great content first, SEO second.
 Browser Media said:
Some degree of confusion over what is content and what is an article.

I would agree with those that suggest that articles are really more focused on 3rd party sites. It is rare to create 'articles' on your own site, but creating interesting content is very much a good idea.

SEO is essentially a game of demonstrating authority. If you can prove that you are THE fountain of knowledge in any one field (which you can do by having unique / excellent / knowledgeable content on your site and links from contextually relevant pages on other sites - which can include content that you create and syndicate), then you are likely to rank well. If you have no content at all about a particular subject, I wish you luck...

Always good to see debate (and sometimes communication breakdown) and I just wonder whether the title of the post (article?) is a deliberate bit of link baiting?...
 Jill Whalen said:
BM, Why would it be rare to create articles on your own site? Isn't that what everyone does every day with blog posts?
 Andreas said:
The biggest problem IMHO is that no machine can tell the difference between good quality content and crap (not yet anyway). I've read some amazing articles on sites that hardly get any traffic and never show up in the SERP's at all, and then I've read garbage that floats to the top because it has enough links to give it juice to make it float on page 1.