SEO isn't killing journalism

I think it is time to calm down, take a deep breath, and drop those MacNook keyboards for a little while. Maybe that’s the medicine needed for this SEO sickness that’s been going around for some time, culminating in the AOL Way leak and then AOL’s deal with the Huffington Post.

Enter the “SEO is killing journalism” blog posts, editorials and other echo chamber nonsense.

Let’s do this in bullet form in case someone gets hit with a link in an internal memo about this, ending up here.

  • Yes, you can play Google with the right keywords.
  • Yes, Google knows this, and definitely have more than an inkling which players are out there.
  • No, playing Google isn’t fool proof, you might even end up hurting yourself.
  • Yes, writing for search engines makes poor headlines and content.
  • No, you don’t have to write for search engines to rank high in Google, but you do need quality content and a decent publishing platform.

Think about that for a while, I’ll get back to it in a bit.

As for AOL’s leaked AOL Way, it meant editors leaving. No surprise there, for anyone I’d wager, since the AOL Way definitely fiddled with what they’ve been doing all these years. Some despise it openly, others just leave, but the kicker is that the AOL Way is doing it all wrong. I’ll get back to that too.

Now, buying HuffPo is brilliant because they mix content clearly written for search engines with actual quality content. The former helps elevate the latter, hence their quality content will reach more readers. While I don’t think you need to go overboard with the content farm stuff as HuffPo does, they are just playing the game, and they’re doing it without really risking a Google backlash at that, since turning up a HuffPo result on Google might be valuable for the person using the search engine.

AOL wants its content tailored to search engines. HuffPo does this already. A match made in heaven then? Yes, if AOL throws its AOL Way out the window and embraces the HuffPo way instead.

The AOL Way may very well lead to a surge in search engine traffic, and AOL properties might even dominate its niches on Google. That means that you and me will get accustomed to it, we’ll click the stories, and what do we get?

Poor headlines and poor content. Relatively speaking of course, it will most likely be decent, but it won’t be blowing us away. Instead of solid stories we get something written for search engines.

Here’s a newsflash: The readers aren’t search engines. We want to be entertained, informed, or possibly pissed off so that we can lash out.

Writing for Google won’t do that.

SEO isn’t killing journalism, it’s just something you can blame. Poor content is killing journalism, because quality content wins. If not today, then tomorrow.

The funny thing about this? In a few months time all this SEO nonsense will have blown over, Google will have a new algorithm and optimizing for search engines will work a little differently. Those of us who just rely on good content won’t notice the difference, others might very well be hit hard.

In the end, good SEO is good for journalism. It will help readers find quality content. Playing the SEO game neither hurts nor helps journalism, it’s just something some publishers rely on. That, I think, is their downfall.