When was the last time you optimised a blog post for human beings?
As a blogger and an avid reader, I have come to realise that most of the content we read on the web is over-optimised. Over-optimised for SEO. Over-optimised for marketing. Over-optimised to fill your CRM with qualified leads and to rank higher than the competition.
I hit the top when I spent more time tuning a blog entry than actually writing it. I wrote it in less than 30 minutes, and I spent almost an hour looking for the perfect image, writing the alts and titles, linking to previous posts, choosing the keywords, reviewing grammar through Grammarly, and all sorts of optimisations.
While one could think "oh, this is going to be a rant against Google", this is not. I'm going to break down why and when should you optimise and why not.
Why do we optimise for SEO?
I'm just talking about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) because it's easier to comprehend to non-marketers, but I am actually talking about optimising content for all sorts of platforms.
We optimise for SEO when we want to rank higher on Google and appear more beautifully (using Schema.org, for instance). The most common tactics are to choose nice titles, filling your content with the keywords you want to be known for and having a good HTML structure that can be read in all sorts of platforms.
But we also optimise for social media, which is an important asset nowadays, when we want our content to spread through the social networks. Common practices are to implement the aforementioned Open Graph, Twitter Cards, use social sharing plugins like AddThis, or include an image with each blog post.
If this were a rant, I wouldn't mention the many benefits of optimising our content for all these situations:
- Optimised content ranks higher, therefore reaching more people.
- Optimised content can be seen by people with all sorts of devices.
- Optimised content can be understood by platforms, who can use it to give us a better service.
There are other benefits, but these are the main ones. If we optimise content, we aim for both an altruistic and an selfish goal. The altruistic is to help to spread your content to people who might need it, and to provide a better experience in the web for everyone.
Conversely, the selfish approach means that we're just optimising content because we want Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of social platforms to understand our content better so that they will give us a better experience in reward. For instance, when we implement their sharing protocols (Schema.org, Open Graph, Twitter Cards, just to name a few) they can focus on analysing content shared using such protocols instead of having to battle against myriads of different content encodings, languages and protocols. This will, in the end, accelerate the process of providing us better & tailored content because they have been able to process faster what we've fed them.
In conclusion, we see that we should blame the player, not the game. The rules are there for everyone to follow them. Some people follow them to do greater good, some other to sell more.
When should we optimise?
Given the conclusion I've reached in the previous section, it seems we should always optimise. After all, the altruistic reasons are better than the selfish ones.
However, life isn't black and white. There is no rule saying that if we optimise the content we will get 200% more views, or that we will reduce the melting of the Arctic pole if we optimise our blog posts.
As I see it, it all boils down to what do you want to be known for?
If you want to become famous fast, then you should optimise. This will help your content rank better on engines and spread faster on social networks. You're clearly shooting for the vast majority of the Internet users, who skim through millions of posts and share stuff they might have not read.
If you want to spend your time doing meaningful stuff outside of blogging then you must rely on your reputation. If you're famous enough that you don't care about editing your posts or choosing the right keywords, you will have readers anyway.
Clearly, it's quality or quantity.
When should we not optimise?
If the content is good, who cares about the form? A best example of this is Mark Suster's Both Sides of the Table. He spends one hour per post. When the hour finishes, whatever is there gets published. The content is so good that will be shared anyway.
We might not want to optimise the content for SEO if we think that it is so good, heartfelt and brutally honest that people will like it regardless of the form. Moreover, you might want to leave a controversial content out of your blogging strategy because it includes way too many f-bombs or touches a topic that you do not want to be associated with.
What's your take on all of this? Do you also think we're exaggerating when we optimise everything so much for marketing purposes or not? I'd love to hear your opinions below.