Marketing ghouls

Nick Heer:

“Spending time on the web does not end with a search query, but it often begins that way. Burying an informative public, open web under a bunch of robotically generated material and pablum from marketing ghouls would be an indescribable loss.”

Some of what I write for people on the web is informative, some more in the vein of “local interest”. But nearly all of what I write on the web has an eye on it’s possible search performance.

Nick’s use of the phrase “marketing ghoul” caught my attention only because I feel powerless to do anything else. If I write something and no one reads it, then what was the point? And Google has given developers and writers like me a lot of insight into what they’re looking for.

This blog post, for instance, is not structured for hardly anything. The title of “marketing ghouls” is never going to rank for anything. The post itself is too short. And the material doesn’t really answer or entertain anyone for anything. It is, merely, something I write for myself to express brief thoughts and toot in an email or Facebook post.

But to make actual money and, you know, live, I’ve gotten pretty good at developing a sixth sense for what will work and won’t when it comes to random one-off blog posts. The ghoulish part is that sometimes these are for commercial operations, sometimes they’re just fun stories. But they’re always:

  1. Lengthy
  2. Structured with good headings, links, and other media
  3. Keyword-dense
  4. Formulated the way Google wants to see them

It is ghoulish. I think about this problem a lot because I don’t want to be “just another SEO” burying words in online coffins designed to pop open the moment a bot or person comes along.

The whole web feels broken, but it’s working as designed. What’s hard is getting clients to understand half of this and having the creativity to write entertaining things that also serve a point. Most people are conservative with their businesses. They won’t admit to it, but they are. It’s why Realtors are all the same, speak the same, and have virtually the same presence and aesthetic. Same goes for every doctor, house painter, attorney, and virtually every other professional services business you can think of.

If I could wave a magic wand, I’d be writing home improvement blogs in the style of an Ask Amy column and writing for Realtors with a sense, “This house is pretty crappy, but the price is better than right.” How refreshing would it be to find an attorney with the self-awareness to know most of their clients are probably guilty, “But that’s no bother.”

Alas, they don’t. Most all of us are pinned into writing banal how/who/when/where/why pieces. Most SEOs will tell you their stuff is better for some reason, but they really aren’t. It’s just volume, time, and structure with an eye toward, “Does this reasonably answer a question a reasonable number people are likely to be Googling?”

And because of the Cold War arms race we’re in, posts keep getting longer. When you see a post titled “The ultimate guide to…” it was an SEO guy like me who sat down and said, “I’ll show you…” and then launched a nuclear missile from low-earth orbit on whatever that keyword is that follows “to”.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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