The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

In defense of content writing

At some point I plan to post several articles on content writing. However, I recently discovered this article by Denise Kincy. I started to comment on her blog, but it was getting to long so I’ll post my response here.

She makes valid points, but I feel she is painting the content industry in broad strokes.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a controversial subject in both the writing and webmaster communities. Web writing is not like magazine writing. SEO is an important tool in helping your site be seen when someone does a search. Keywording is one of many SEO tools. Although it is important, it is also overemphasized by people who don’t really understand SEO. The concept behind keywording is to repeat a given magic phrase often enough in your article to get noticed by the search engines, but not so often that the engines think you are spamming and ignore you.

Denise says, “I think [SEO is] underhanded and I also think it’s death to the creativity of writers”, which I think is greatly overstating the case.

SEO is not underhanded. You find information on the web differently than you find it in print. You can write the greatest article in the world, but it is no use to anyone if they can’t find it. That’s why SEO is so important.

I also don’t think keywording kills creativity any more than the rules of grammar and spelling do. One of the great challenges of writing is running the wonderful creative ideas of your right brain through the rigid editor of your left brain. Some writers can break the rules of grammar to create very powerful pieces. Most can’t. If you are writing web content then keywording is going to be useful, so learn to do it right.

In the webmaster world there are whitehat and blackhat methods to SEO. Keywording is whitehat, but some people use it in a blackhat manner. This is the root of the controversy

The problem lies with MFA (Made For AdSense) sites. AdSense is an advertising program from Google which creates ads targeted to the content of a web page. AdSense, again, is not a bad program by any means. In fact, I think it is one of the best things to happen to internet advertising for both consumers and advertisers.

Google’s stand has always been that content is king, and keyword spamming is frowned upon and in some cases a flat-out violation of their Terms of Service. Publishers are expected to provide good content for users. The page’s content and Google’s ads are supposed to compliment each other.

MFA sites dance right on the edge of Terms of Service violations. They provide no useful content. Their goal is to intercept web searches and skim off some advertising revenue. If you do a search on Blue Widgets, you might come up with a website for Widgetworld where you can buy what you need. Or you might hit an MFA site which has an article filled with useless information like “Blue widgets are neat. Everyone should own blue widgets.” You see this content, realize it’s useless, and start to hit the back button. But, wait – there is an ad for Widgetworld. You click on it, and the MFA site just made money for leading you to a site you could have found on your own.

The other controversy is that most MFA sites don’t even write their own articles, but farm them out for pennies. The ads are easy to recognize. They run something like “I need 50 articles of 500-700 on widgets. They pay only $2 each, but if you know what you are doing you should be able to create them quickly and make lots of money.”

Here’s one place I agree with Denise – don’t write this junk! Yes, there are people who make a good hourly rate doing this. Good for them. My concern is that if you are writing junk, you are going to pick up bad habits. If you dream of being a chef in a 4-star restaurant, working the fryer at McDonalds isn’t going to help you.

“Content” is not a bad word, and neither is “keywording” nor “SEO”. They are all valid techniques that, although misused by some, are perfectly respectable ways for a writer to work. Don’t be fooled by the penny-a-word (or less!) ads, and don’t let desperation make you say “just this once”. But also don’t let a few bad eggs scare you off of content writing completely. There are legitimate opportunities out there, they just get lost in the MFA noise.


  • At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Denise Kincy said…

    This is a good article, Andy. Maybe I did paint SEO with too broad a brush.

    I'm glad you posted your link after my article so that writers can see both viewpoints, and also that you placed a link in your article back to mine.

    A fair and just debate. :)

  • At 9:14 AM, Blogger Andy said…

    Glad you liked it. There are lot of writers who share your opinion, and I'd hate to see them forgo good opportunities because of the MFA scumbags.

  • At 8:05 PM, Anonymous denise said…

    I posted a link at the end of my article back to yours. :)

  • At 10:14 PM, Blogger Auntie's Food Life said…

    Hi, Andy, and hi, Denise - I read both of your articles about SEO and Content writing; you both have valid points. However, I would like to add the following - we should not get so caught up in the mythos of the Googleverse that we confuse creative writing with copywriting. When "writers" are paid to "create content," 99 times out of 100 that is copywriting, not creative writing; it is the prestidigitation of creating an advertisement that not only catches the eye of the casual reader, but the all-seeing eye of the spiders and bots, as well. There's nothing wrong with beginning writers - or anyone, for that matter - earning a few shekels writing copy, and selling that ad copy (aka "content" in the Googleverse) for market rates. Those persons who genuinely create, however, will no doubt want to hold out for better pay...and if their labors are worth it, probably will receive it.

    As far as SEO goes...well, that's an entirely different basket of worms. Enjoyed your articles/blogs!! (Also posted this comment on Denise Kincy's blog, since it is also about her article).

  • At 12:02 PM, Blogger Andy said…

    You are right -- copywriting and creative writing are different skills. However, a penny-a-word or less is NOT market rate for content writing. MFA writing is not the same thing. I stand by my analogy: working at McDonalds isn't going to help you in any way to become a professional chef. No matter what your writing skill level is, you shouldn't waste your time doing MFA writing.

    Then again, the more people who waste time with MFA writing, the less competition the rest of us have for real content writing ;)

  • At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I seem to be a dying breed on the internet. I still feel that article writing and article marketing are in their infancy - there is much more benefit to be derived from article writing. None of my web sites have suffered from the alleged, duplicate content filter or penalty - very much the opposite. The Article Marketing blog is on course to become the number one source of information on article writing and marketing.


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