It’s Not My Fault: My Theory Ate My Message

[October 22, 2010]

“On paper,” the premise underlying search engine optimization is sound enough. By now, at least in some quarters, it’s axiomatic that people are far more responsive to information they obtain through search engines than information they receive via “traditional media.” How much of that search activity is driven by subliminal awareness is probably too hard to measure, but I suspect it’s more than many a digital guru is willing to admit. 

But, for the moment, let’s take it as given that “nobody” pays attention to straight-up TV tube advertising anymore, even if every year, there’s nearly as much social chatter about Super Bowl ads as there is about the Super Bowl itself. If we accept that premise, it follows we necessarily buy into the idea that digital content needs the be developed under the watchful eye of an SEO consultant, to ensure it achieves optimal page ranking and link volume on top results pages. 

Tagging along with that is the process of metadata tagging, writing those cheery little phrases that live and die in the netherworld of digital source code. Yet, the crowning glory of SEO magic is its deft editing of page content. In some companies, consultants sweep in with a list of keywords to punch, based on the topic, generalized audience research and “learnings” about how people search.

Now, I understand the logic of this, but can’t shake my lingering concern: 

What does it matter how many people arrive at your Web presence—if they’re greeted with buzz-wordy content that reads like a cross between a Hallmark greeting card and yesterday’s issue of USA Today? After all, the most important thing about “targeting” is actually hitting the target. 

As I see it, the more “social writing” dominates the consciousness of American consumers, the more the contour and content of your content needs to be far more loose- limbed than any statistical approach could hope to achieve. That is, unless you believe consumers can’t tell the difference between a Wal-Mart circular and a drunk text message. 

Shedding light…
But OK, I have a bias. I want everyone involved in evaluating content to back off and let the creatives you’re paying a salary to actually pursue their craft. If you believe your copy team isn’t talented enough to grab and hold your customer’s attention without leaning on pseudo-science, it’s time you either fired your HR department or fired yourself. 

At the very least, take the money you’re spending on consultants and hire a real copywriter, someone who could, say, actually motivate people to check out a complete line of energy efficient light bulbs. In the case of one randomly selected light bulb product site, the copy might be search engine friendly, but it’s otherwise so unfriendly that only someone who’s already “sold” would be likely to buy.

Whatever might be optimized at this site, it’s not the content. And if you think I’m stacking the deck with an example from the digital backwaters here’s what’s happening on the Web hub of a major brand:

GE is imagination at work. From jet engines to power generation, financial services to water processing, and medical imaging to media content, GE people worldwide are dedicated to turning imaginative ideas into leading products and services that help solve some of the world’s toughest problems.

…or dim bulbs?
Hello? Every day there’s another book about how corporations need to get with the social media program, yet the most important aspect of social media, the vitality and spontaneity of its content, is exactly what’s getting ignored. Sure, I don’t expect GE to mimic the diction of Shmitty, McFunkle and Stump, but you already know what’s wrong with this picture: “Leading products and services?” “Dedicated?” 

To me, the saddest part of this is that the engineers at GE are undoubtedly some of the most imaginative people on the planet. But from the look and feel of their digital presence…well, I don’t think I’ll be inviting them to my next rave party

Please. In an era as technologically advanced as ours, it’s past the time when we should be able to distinguish betweeb what’s best left to quantitative analysis—and what can only be crafted by talent and an ear for what rings true. Is the GE home page optimized? Maybe, but only for someone like Dr. Evil, recently thawed out from a bygone era.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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