Last night I read an article by Paul Carr at TechCrunch, Content is King! Rest in Peace, Content, which started out essentially slamming New York (the state? as an abstract? an island?) for struggling to “articulate its place in the worldwide web” but segued into an interesting take on the increasingly blurred line between traditional editorial content and SEO-driven pieces.
While Carr mocks the attempts of NY industries — publishing, banking, advertising agencies and newspapers — to establish a credible (and profitable, of course) online identity as distinguished from their West coast counterparts, he manages to make a good point: To stay relevant among the flotsam of user-generated content on the Internet, the so-called vanguards of journalism will simply have to pander to a growing swath of lowest common denominators — not to maintain the integrity of the source, the writer or the subject but to produce empty-but-SEO-friendly content for consumption, not for insight nor opinion.
In other words: Business as usual, but with a twist: If search terms will determine content, how will this impact the quality, accuracy and relevance of the article?
In my experience writing for a keyword-driven site I’ve made a pittance for what amounts to a lot of thought and a few hours of research, writing and editing. I was never ‘hired’ in the sense that I received payment directly from the ’employer’; instead, I was paid in AdSense revenue. This meant that whatever I earned from my piece depended on the user clicking one (or more) of the ads that appeared peppered throughout my piece — which meant the content had to be something that would make the reader want to click on one of those ads.
In other words, who gives a shit about how — or what — I write, just as long as it’s loaded with keywords about something that a lot of people want to read. I recently wrote an article that got over 2,000 views, including a good amount of Tweet-ups, but earned less than $1.00. OK, it’s no secret that writing for a keyword farm will not make you rich but it’s hard to even make an effort to be creative when you know — you know! — you could make more money mowing someone’s lawn.
And that’s the thing: There’s no room — or need — for creativity (and, more worrisome, accountability*) when all that matters is posting words that will make people click an ad. Well, that’s great if you have your own site and are actually selling ad space (as well as displaying Google ads), but it’s a little different when writing for a company that expects you to always write in the first person and follow a carefully outlined set of instructions on how to write(!) and where to place keywords to maximize page views.
Carr’s article even takes a valid swipe at the Huffington Post for it’s growing number of “NSFW”-type posts — because, y’know, there’s not enough sites out there talking about the exact same stories!
Feel free to comment on my naiveté but if I’m going to develop my writing it’s not going to be based on what this month’s most popular search terms are.