Dear Paul Carr, SEO Wants To Be Your Friend

I like Paul Carr. For those of you who don’t know he’s a British tech journalist, currently based in San Francisco, but who tore a trail through the British dotcom scene of the noughties, and which he described in his hilariously honest Bringing Nothing To The Party. He used to be a bit of a wild one but has now quit drinking, but hasn’t lost any of his bite. I think that, were I to meet him, we’d get on.

But there’s one problem: Paul Carr hates SEO. It seems like every single article he writes has a dig at SEO, blaming it for all of the ills that are befalling digital publishing, whether that be the memos issued by his employers AoL or their recent acquisition Huffington Post. In Paul’s mind, it seems to me, he blames SEO for the fact that publishers are pushing journalists to write about the fluff that people search for; for pushing articles on Lady Gaga, Cheryl Cole, or whatever.

But the thing is Paul, that’s not the fault of SEO. That’s the fault of intellectually bankrupt publishers who are doing their best not to end up financially bankrupt. If you’re a journalist, SEO can be your friend. So long as you don’t use it as your sole editorial signpost, directing what you write about, but rather use it to help you ensure that the content you would have written about anyway gets found by the right people.

I used to teach SEO to journalists, and I never would have told the guys at Caterer & Hotelkeeper to start writing about Paris Hilton (unless she planned to open a restaurant that is), but if they were going to write about the Michelin rated restaurants, it made sense to do so in a way that meant the article might actually be found and read. You wouldn’t print a newspaper and then dump it in the middle of a forest, hoping it would get read, so why do the equivalent online?

No Paul, SEO is simply a tool. It’s a way of ensuring that you don’t use overly jargonistic language, or words & phrases that your readers don’t use. Hating SEO for the shit that AoL puts out is liking hating sub-editors for the fact that this nasty headline ever saw the light of day.

I haven’t read Paul Carr’s new book yet, though I’m planning to. And maybe, by the time he gets to his 3rd one, he’ll be able to see the good, as well as the bad, in SEO. His old employers certainly do.

Paul Carr by Richard Moross on flickr

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