Breaking the SEO Chains, or The Value of Not Blogging

There is so much to write that I haven’t written. And I’ll never get to paper. And while it’s frustrating, to worry too much about it is as much a feckless effort as consternation over time passing. It just happens.

Joanne McNeil, Tomorrow Museum

Joanne wrote that quote in her post titled, “Blogging After Not Blogging,” and I thought about my own experiences in trying to write something regularly here. I set off with lofty goals of writing a decent post at least once a week, but I seem to struggle with not coming up with the content, but rather the time and motivation to actually write. Joanne later talks about how when bloggers miss their own timeline to publish pieces, they write an apology letter to their audience for their mistake. “There is a sense of obligation to a blog’s continuity,” she says, “that compels a negligent blogger to apologize.”

Obligation to a blog’s continuity

That phrase struck a chord with me and reminded me of some of my original post ideas that I had jotted down when I first started to plan out what I wanted to do with this blog. There are certain unwritten rules in the blogosphere, it seems, that tell people to write consistently or lose an audience, to write about a certain niche and never waiver outside of those boundaries, to include certain SEO keywords and phrases to monetize the blog, and so on. Bloggers owe it to their audience to continue feeding them valuable content. Jason Kottke puts it best in one of his earliest blog posts titled, “Why”:

I decided I needed to start writing things down. Because I forget. Because I think better and feel better when I write. I used to write often but got away from it. So here it is again. But you ask: “Jason, why not keep a private diary?” Because I’d never keep up a private diary…I need to force myself to write this. So, I made it into content. Since it’s content, I feel obligated to keep it up-to-date. See these games I have to play with myself?

(Emphasis mine) I read that paragraph and question whether we have it all backwards. At the beginning of this project, I asked myself, “Are we living in a world with too much value placed upon things? Is there room for one more voice in the blog world?”

I read the rules about blogging, followed some of the most respected voices in personal development online, and everyone tells me the same thing: to follow my passion and deliver consistent value. When I started to understand search engine optimization techniques, affiliate marketing, and how to monetize websites, I realized that content has started to control our lives rather than us fully control the content. We are so focused on writing for an audience, to write new great content, that we lose touch with a piece of ourselves that really just wants to escape.

There is a ghost in our shell. That ghost is our creative voice that has inspired the great art works of our time. The ghost is the analytical voice that philosophized and opined without concern about retribution. I am sure that Shakespeare, Aristotle, Jean Paul Sartre, James Joyce were not too concerned about how frequently a phrase or word showed up in their works. They were writing to express themselves first. If someone found it of interest, then great. If not, it was their loss.

There certainly are people out there that are writing, free from the chains of keywords and SEO, but there are not enough of them. Most bloggers have become SEO farmers, cultivating articles that have a similar feel and contain the same content to them that people have a hard time distinguishing that post from another author’s post of the same subject matter. We all somehow come up with articles that have to highlight a number in the title to make sure there is a value amount in every part of the blog post. I can see the rewrites that will happen with famous works because they fail to capitalize on keywords (“How to Have War and Peace in 5 Easy Steps,” “The 7 Great Gatsbys,” “How You Can Hear a Who like Horton”).

If people break off those SEO chains and begin to learn how to fully express themselves without worrying about traffic and monetizing their blog, the trade off will be that the content will contain even more value than before. There are most likely a thousand web sites out there that will teach me how to make money through affiliate marketing, but how many exist that can help me appreciate the visual arts again, or share a story with me that I will want to pass around?

SEO is not a rule of life that we all have to follow online. SEO is a game, and it is time for us to grow up, mature, and rediscover the real passions that exist within us.