Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Crucial SEO Question: Quality or Quantity?

An article in this week's New Yorker, "From Mars," offers a clear example of the value of SEO as well as high-quality, informative content. The article profiles Bryan Goldberg, who started the popular wildly-popular website, Bleacher Report, six years ago, and who now hopes to recreate that success with Bustle, a new site targeted at women.

Bleacher Report started with the goal of providing a viable alternative to the major sports news outlets, ESPN (the website) and Sports Illustrated (the magazine). In the article, Goldberg explains the motivation like this: "We basically looked at the situation and asked, 'How do you cover three hundred teams on a daily basis?' The answer is not to have a newsroom in Times Square in some fancy office building with thousands of writers in it. The answer is to go find some sports fans who live and breathe their teams and have them write the articles.”

To find local sportswriters, Goldberg and his partners posted notices on Craigslist and message boards--and thousands of amateur writers responded. In the first few years, Bleacher Report could not pay any of its writers, so it rewarded them for hits and comments. Encouraged to maximize page views, the untrained writers produced thousands of articles intended for quick, perhaps mindless reading, including "slide shows, 'best of' lists, and pictures of sexy women".

Naturally, too, the site used SEO:

"If Google showed that people were looking for news of LeBron James after an injury, they’d assign an article—or five—on James, making sure to put search terms such as 'injury' and 'Miami Heat' in the title (a process, universal in Web publishing, known as search-engine optimization)."

The Bleacher Report's use of SEO is a fairly simple process of creating tons of content (five articles on LeBron James injury!) and applying popular and timely keywords to its articles and article titles. And happily, for the Bleacher Report at least, this use of SEO attracted millions of hits each month. By the time the initial founders of the site sold Bleacher Report to Turner Broadcasting (for more than two hundred million dollars), the site itself was making "tens of millions of dollars each year" on ad sales.

Despite its success, however, Bleacher Report has been criticized for low-quality content ("The content sucked," Bustle's web content director, RJ Ciggaglione, says in the article). By prioritizing quantity over quality, Bleacher Report became wildly popular. What it did, essentially was "deluge the Internet with a tsunami of mediocre content that is so voluminous that it cannot be ignored, at least by search engines," as Elizabeth Spiers, the founder of Gawker notes in the article. But even Goldberg himself admits that Bleacher Report's low-quality writing was a "rookie mistake"--a mistake he wants to fix with his new site, Bustle.

Readers of The Organic SEO Blog will probably guess what we have to say about Bleacher Report's use of SEO. We have written about the value of content before.

Please read: "For SEO, Content is King". Or: "Content, Content, Content: The Key to SEO".

If you have thousands of writers, like Bleacher Report, you can attract attention merely by playing the number game--writing article after article with well-chosen keyword and titles. Quality hardly matters when you're dealing with that sort of quantity.

But what if you're a small business owner? Or what if you prefer to attract attention with quality?

In our opinion, the Internet is best served when website owners pay attention to the quality of writing. Happily, this is not merely our opinion: it's Google's opinion, too. Google favors well-written, informative content. And despite the example of Bleacher Report, good writing is still the best way for most websites to attract attention.

Remember this idea when you're searching for an SEO specialist. As we wrote in the above-mentioned blog, "Content, Content, Content,":

"Sometimes SEO companies say that they can optimize your website for specific keywords. Often these companies charge one price for two keywords and another price for, say, five keywords. Don’t let them fool you. Organically optimized websites appear on the first page results based on high quality writing--not keywords. If your website is optimized only for only two, or even five, keywords, you will never receive the traffic you deserve, and you will lose potential customers."

Obviously, Bleacher Report's style of attracting hits is not an ideal SEO model for most companies. For most companies, quality content is the most important determinant of online success. Perhaps with the new website, however, Goldberg will show the value of good writing. For the sake of the Internet, we hope so!