Monday, August 29, 2005

ClickZ Search Results: When Content Isn't King in SEO

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Shari Thurow
When Content Isn't King in SEO
› › ›   Search Results

BY Shari Thurow
August 29, 2005

In the SEO (define) arena, SEO professionals often chant, "Content is king." I chanted this mantra in the past, too.

If I had my way, I'd change the mantra to "Unique, high-quality, unduplicated content is king." Not as catchy, I admit. But there are many situations in SEO when content isn't king.

Unique, High-Quality Content

People like to read or hear unique, high-quality content. Listen to the news on TV. Even if reporters cover the same news, each reporter tries to put her own spin on it to differentiate her story from others'. One way to do this is to interview an eyewitness or an expert on the topic.

When people visit a Web site for information, they want your unique spin on a topic. What differentiates your company's mountain bikes from your competitors'? How is your site's news or content unique? Is that uniqueness obvious and easy to find?

Visitors want unique, high-quality site content. Updating that content regularly will encourage visitors (and search engine spiders) to return to your site.

Professional, Search-Friendly Copywriters

Problems arise when experts don't have time to write unique content; when they write great content but don't know how to make it easy to find; or when they just aren't good writers. An acceptable option is to hire professional copywriters.

I have a great deal of respect for copywriters, particularly those with multiple talents. Writing concise ads that encourage click-throughs is one skill. Writing brochure copy or radio scripts is another. Editing a subject expert's copy to make it more search friendly is a skill we need more of.

A copywriter who can write search-friendly copy that sells or persuades without detracting from the content's quality and uniqueness is a rare find. A truly professional copywriter will either create original content or edit it.

Third-Party Content Providers

The "content is king" mantra gave rise to gray area of SEO: third-party content providers. If a Web site owner doesn't have the time or skill to write unique content, he can hire a content provider who specializes in search-engine-friendly content.

I'm wary of these emerging content providers, because they often use the following means of generating content:

  • Scraping

  • Hiring college students to steal -- I mean write -- content

  • Paying a small amount to writers who donate their articles

The problem with these so-called high-quality content providers is the content is neither unique nor high quality. If I want tips on purchasing an ergonomic chair for lumbar support, I want to read tips from an ergonomics professional or a chiropractor. I don't want to read an article by a college student who needs beer money.

I experience this situation every month. I regularly spider the Web to see if any of my sites' content was used without my knowledge or consent. My nasty lawyer cease-and-desist letter is sent to the copyright infringers. Inevitably, I get an apology letter stating the site owner was genuinely not aware the content was stolen. Why? The site owner hired a third-party content provider.

If you hire a third-party content provider, get it in writing that all content is unique, not scraped or republished without the copyright owner's permission.

When Content Is Search Engine Spam

Sometimes, you just have to appreciate many black-hat SEOs' honesty. Many will outright admit they're lousy writers and designers.

So why do companies hire black-hat SEOs to generate content for them? Many don't have the staff or budget to generate unique content every month. Understandable, but why would anyone hire a person with no writing skills to create content?

Erik Dafforn at Intrapromote illuminated a spam tactic very nicely in the SEO Speedwagon blog. He quotes Blog-Zilla's site: "Never steal content, instead generate your own and let Blog-Zilla hatch unlimited variations all with your blog's target audience in mind."

"Unlimited variations"? What the does that mean? Sounds like a computer generates the content, not a subject expert or a professional copywriter improving original content. This statement sounds like it came from an idiot programmer who failed English 101.

Additionally, users don't want to see the same content over and over in search results. "This is the type of content creation that engines are working night and day to avoid," concluded Dafforn.

Let's forget the search engines for a moment. What about the user experience? I'm tired of SEOs giving lip service to the user experience when clearly many SEOs don't give a hoot about it.

Stealing content through scraping, cloaking it for positioning, and delivering users to a different page is copyright infringement. Deceiving users into thinking they'll be getting specified content is exactly what users want, right? Users love to be deceived. And authors love it when you steal their content.

As I said above, before you hire a content provider, get it in writing that all content is unique and doesn't infringe on an author's copyright.


Creating, editing, and promoting unique high-quality content is difficult and time-consuming. No matter how much SEOs try to be spin doctors, the process is neither easy nor fast. Don't be so desperate to hire an SEO firm that promises quick-and-easy, high-quality content. You may find your company at the receiving end of a lawsuit.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.