The New Stupid: Don’t Let Google Dumb You Down
Posted By Emily Warn on February 18, 2012
“I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they have not said enough.”
Imagine if Mark Twain optimized his content to show up high in Google rankings. (Or, for that matter, imagine if he thought of writing as “content”!)
For those of us who’ve memorized the SEO catechism, we’d beg the search engine’s forgiveness for making the reader laugh. Twain’s SEO sin? Meagerly “keyword density.” The penance? Repeat the focus keyword three times:
I have been complimented many times and compliments always embarrass me; I always feel that compliments have not said enough.
The search-robot high priests would be happy. They would “know” that someone searching for compliments (heehee) would be humbled by some author known as Mark Twain. But in order to make a machine understand this sentence, the sentence has been made machinelike. If the author is a copywriter by day and the next great American novelist by night, she knows she broke a cardinal rule dictated by Strunk and White, the real gods of sentencing: Omit Unnecessary Words.
Flat. Dull. Dumb.
Hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-flatiron writing for Google is all over the web. The Copyblogger site and social media marketing mavens in general rate a sentence that repeats a keyword as five-star; writers rate it as garbage. Even websites for writers and publishers fall under the lure of SEO stardom. In a post on Mediabistro.com—one of the most reputable publishing industry sites—Jason Boog rails against committing Twitter profile mistakes. (Who knew that such a sin existed?) Here are the blog post’s title and opening paragraphs:
Twitter Profile Mistakes Writers Should Avoid
While updating our Twitter directories recently, this GalleyCat editor decided it was time to point out some simple problems we’ve seen in many Twitter profiles.
Below, we’ve listed five common Twitter profile mistakes. If you avoid these problems, you will build a stronger following and help readers find you online. These rules don’t apply to personal, satirical or artsy-craftsy Twitter feeds.
What Twitter profile mistakes have you seen?
Repeating “Twitter profile mistakes” three times, and “profile” and “Twitter” four times each, makes our ears ring—it’s language that deafens us.
To add insult to injury, Jason includes the phrase “in your profile” in four out of the five intros in the bulleted list. Even recent MBA hires know that if you repeat a phrase in a bulleted list, you should include that phrase in the sentence (or phrase) that introduces the list. He could have easily written an alternative to “What Twitter profile mistakes have you seen?,” such as “Here are a few common mistakes we’ve found in Twitter profiles.” Here’s his list:
- No description of who you are in your profile
- No link to your personal site in your profile
- No picture in your profile
- No location data in your profile
- Don’t protect your tweets
If he’d included “in your profile” in the introductory sentence, and not repeated “profile” in each of the numbered items, his post would have been short and to the point, and thus speedier and more easily understood by the reader.
Jason Boog’s writing-style bogies might be an SEO boon to his blog, but they further dim our minds to the beauty of language. And in the long term, writing for SEO alone won’t grow his readership of writers and publishers (or at least I hope not).
So the question to ask yourself the next time you write a blog post is this: Would you rather write like Mark Twain or an SEO hack?
(Next week: Web formats and writing styles that pay homage to two gods: SEO and Strunk and White.)