I Don't Care What Colour Your Hat Is, Ignoring Content Is No Laughing Matter

Content - The Elephant In The Room

According to Kris Roadruck, White Hat SEO is a joke. I’m not touching that argument.

Alright that’s a lie.

I’m touching it.

I think he’s wrong. I think ethical, ‘white hat’ SEO can deliver results with very little risk to the client. And I think that if you continually do things that the search engines tell you NOT to do, it’s going to bite you in the arse at some point down the line. Every major update Google makes is designed to penalise unethical SEOs, and you can’t keep running forever.

But that’s not what riled me up about his post.

It’s the fact that yet another SEO has decided to come out and pretend that content is at best an irrelevance, and at worst a rip-off.

And where I come from, them’s fighting words.

Content Matters.

There are three specific parts of Kris’ post that rub me up the wrong way

If you are billing your client SEO prices for writing services you are ripping them off.

Even for rantbait, that’s a pretty ridiculous claim to make. I’d go as far to say that if you’re charging your client for SEO without thinking about content, you’re ripping them off.

And that’s not a naive hope that the magic Panda will somehow reward my content writing skills, that’s something I honestly believe.

What’s the job of an SEO? Is it to improve a client’s rankings on the search engines? If you’ve just yelled “yes!” at the screen, then you need to rethink your career. Because you’re doing half a job.

In my eyes, the job of an SEO is to help a client sell their products through the search engines. If you’re page one, position one and your site doesn’t grab me, I’m not buying your products.

Because the thing about the search engines that some SEOs don’t seem to get is that customers aren’t impressed by your ranking.

You might get a click, but as long as that back button exists, they’re only two clicks away from a site that will grab them, will sell to them and will steal money out of your pocket.

So who’s really ripping the client off? The guy who’s black-hatted a paper-thin scraped and spun site into position one, or the guy who’s put something that converts into position two?

If you didn’t go to college for or otherwise study writing and literature… you are ripping them off.

Admission. Never studied copywriting. Did a module on journalism at A-Level, but none of it stuck, and everyone knows my degree’s not in writing.

If you’re using the fact you didn’t study English to avoid learning how to add a sales message to a client’s homepage, you are ripping them off. Kris is right when he suggests you ask for professional help, but if your client is hard up for cash, there’s nothing stopping you using a few entry-level copy techniques to at least make visitors look at the content.

Unless of course, you want to have that argument with a pissed-off client? You know, the one where you have to pretend a top ranking on the SERPs somehow makes up for the fact that nobody’s placing an order?

It’s easy to preach great content when you have a great subject. But no one gives a shit about non-clog toilets or pulse oximeters or single phase diode bridge rectifiers.

Of course. You see, that’s the thing about us content supporters. We don’t know what the real world’s like. Nobody can write great content about non-clog toilets. How’s that going to generate links?

Well, if certain SEOs spent less time on the rantbait and more time developing an imagination, they’d be able to generate some links for that non-clog toilet manufacturer.

Here’s two ideas for free.

The Dark Ages...

One: Infographic – The Toilet: An Illustrated History. Sure, you’ll need to know your way around Illustrator or Photoshop, but the journey from squatting in a field to the technological marvel that is the non-clog toilet is guaranteed to pique the interest of Stumblers and Redditors. And it’s the sort of thing I’d repost on my Tumblr.

Two: Article – How about a comic “Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me” post? 300 words on why you shouldn’t have had a prawn madras on that big date, and how a clogged U-bend torpedoed your chances of a relationship. “If only she’d had a non-clog toilet!” – and off it goes, reprinted on dozens of humour sites and blogs.



But that’s just my opinion. I don’t think White Hat SEO is a joke. But then again, SEOs that pretend content isn’t an important part of their offering don’t make me laugh either. So sorry Kris, I’m just not laughing.

UPDATE: Rand over at SEOmoz has weighed in with a brilliant defence of White Hat SEO.

16 Comments comments for "I Don’t Care What Colour Your Hat Is, Ignoring Content Is No Laughing Matter"

  1. Kris Roadruck at 10:12 pm


    Thanks for the link and the well written response!

    On to brass tacks:

    1) My point wasnt that content should be ignored. My point was that writers typically charge less for content than SEOs charge for an hour of their time. And since those same writers are probably better at writing than most SEOs it makes sense to save money AND have higher quality content.

    2) You are confusing CRO with SEO. I know we are all required to wear many hats these days. But conversion optimization (making sure traffic from seo efforts converts) is NOT the same as SEO. Its complementary.

    3) The You are assuming a whole lot about my business without really knowing what you are talking about. We currently employ a whole team of writers. We offer content to our clients that require it. However we charge them writers fees for said content and not SEO fees. We also offer up several alternative (competing) solutions should we not be able to fulfill the full gamut of their content needs.

    The point of my article wasn’t Don’t do content just build links. My point was don’t confuse writing content for SEO. And I’ll prove my point. Ask most any serious whitehat about content and they will tell you “Don’t write for the engines write for the users” and in the same damned breath offer to sell you “SEO Content”. Well which is it? I mean beyond getting your keyword research down and using some good titles and site architecture… what exactly is there to SEO about content? We’ve already long since stopped pushing the keyword density crap.

    So anyway basically in closing.. I think you misunderstood a lot of my rantbait. We agree on several points. And also the bait was written for my personal venting. Thats why its on my practically abandoned personal domain and not on my company blog. 🙂

    Oops almost forgot to add… I already said “sure you could come up with 1 or 2 bits of link bait for x”. You came up with 2. Kind of illustrating my point.

    • Andrew at 9:37 am

      You’re welcome to the link Chris, good rantbait always deserves a link. And despite disagreeing with your points, I do like the fact (you alluded to on Twitter) that you’ve proved good content can generate all sorts of publicity and backlinks.

      On to the meat of your post.

      1) Good writers aren’t as cheap as your post suggests, and nor should they be. It’s an argument that’s been done to death on copywriting blogs, but suggesting writing is or should be a cheap add-on to SEO is always guaranteed to raise a few hackles. Which I’m beginning to see was the point of your post 😉

      2) I’ll accept that CRO and SEO are seperate, but I’d say they’re far more than complimentary – if you’re not helping your clients convert, you’ve done half a job and it’ll lead to hassle and strife in the future.

      3) Fair point about making assumptions as to your business model. In my defence, by this point I was moving into generic territory.

      Link Bait) Zing. Got me there!

      All in all, your post was a cracking piece of content – I’m a fan of rantbait, and yours grabbed attention hook, line and sinker.

  2. Larner at 9:26 am

    I’m afraid the para making the point that you need a degree, or higher maybe, in Eng Lit to avoid ripping people off is nothing short of testicles – and I’m not talking of the variety attached to dogs. I’ve encountered many bods with some kind of degree in English who could never hope to write one sentence of copywriting that’s worth paying a chunk of marketing budget for.

    In my experience the best qualification for a decent copywriter always, always comes from The University of Life. Knowing how to write perfectly constructed grammar, moreover, would be a hindrance over being able to sell single phase diode rectum friers. And yes, there are people who do give a shit about their performance. To suggest otherwise is complete arrogance. It’s why we have a free economy for crying out loud.

  3. Tom Albrighton at 11:56 am

    One of my problems with the original post was its lack of definition of white and grey hat. If we’re going to use the term grey hat, we need to know what we’re talking about. Article marketing?

    Today, I rank #2 for copywriter in the UK, #4 in the world. That’s not a boast, it’s so I can make the following points. I got there with (in this order) directory subs, onsite blog (interesting enough to get links), article marketing, guest posting. These days, all I do is blog and guest post, no articles. Is that white hat or grey? If white, surely I’m a good example of how to succeed in a competitive space. And I do know that competitors, who I’d better not name, are using spammy techniques like automated/indiscriminate blog commenting. One of them is heading out the top 10 right now, having got as high as No 3 but fallen just as quickly.

    Kris is right to say that ‘long term’ shouldn’t be an excuse for underachievement. But it’s legit to say that if your client’s rankings are improving. If you are rising through competitive listings, that’s really as good as it gets. For some clients, just holding the position is a huge success.

    Also, ‘long term’ is about futureproofing, as well as incremental gains. We don’t know what Google have got planned. The fact they can’t enforce a rule today doesn’t mean they can’t enforce it tomorrow. And as long as they stick with the ‘top 10′ format, the pressure on them to identify quality can only increase.

    Personally, I would rather have a site that is #5 today and #5 in two years’ time than a site that is #2 today and then plummets to #20 when Google wises up. This is surely the strongest argument in favour of abiding by the *spirit* of Google’s recommendations, as well as the letter of the law.

    It’s not just about clicks today, that’s a PPC viewpoint. Search profile is an asset that should be developed and protected. That’s how I see mine, anyway. I daren’t even use spammy link-builders to boost my article links (i.e. build links to articles that link to me). Once you get into maintenance and defence, rather than challenging from a ‘nothing to lose’ position, black hat starts to look a whole lot different.

  4. Sarah Turner at 12:02 pm

    All good stuff Andrew. Amused that ‘getting people to the site’ and getting ‘people to buy etc.’ are now seen in some quarters as separate entities to be carried out by different departments. Oh and let’s have another TLA while we’re at it shall we? Hooray for CRO. At the end of the day clients want bums ons seats, tills ringing, enquiries made, actions taken. None of my clients have the objective of being ‘top of Google’. A good ranking will drive traffic, sure. But that’s only half the job surely?

    And as for the ‘studying writing’ thing. Yawnsville.

  5. Matt Davies at 12:36 pm

    Andrew, you’ve confused “white hat” with “ethical”.

    How ethical is it to deliberately ignore a tactic that you know your paying client’s competitors are using and benefitting from, because you’re concerned about the colour of your hat?

    People use “white hat” as an excuse to avoid activities they’re scared Google will take issue with, either from experience of penalties first hand(rare) or anecdotal evidence (much more common). For some this means offering SEO services which consist of content delivery and directory submissions in competitive niches where this would be pretty ineffective.

    I think you totally missed the point of the original article to be honest. It wasn’t content=bad seo / greyhat linkbuilding=good seo. I don’t think Kris even claimed content isn’t an important part of an SEO strategy. He argued it’s not an SEO strategy in itself. And it’s not!

    Also, much as I love the ideas, I am pretty sure those toilet articles you suggest would get far less links than would justify by the time required to write them. And over time, unless you had the most hilarious fecalpheliac copywriter in the world working for you, the ideas would become weaker and weaker until the links just dried up – not really a sustainable competitive strategy.

    • Andrew at 12:43 pm

      Matt, I freely admitted to Kris that I might have misread his argument as yet another dig at fools offering quality content. You’d be surprised how many people do.

      But when it comes to white hat with ethical, you’ve got a point. However I’d add the caveat that if you knowingly use tactics that Google frown upon and don’t discuss the ramifications with your clients, you’re being unethical. In that sense, I suppose it’s entirely possible to be an ethical SEO using unethical tactics. But this logic is getting so twisted in my own head that I can’t actually keep up with what I think.

      As Tom pointed out above, you can be successful with white hat. It’s ridiculous to write it off entirely.

  6. Alconcalcia at 12:23 pm

    Google ranking absolutely doesn’t bother me. For the record when I search on my computer I come out top but on someone else’s nowhere to be seen.

    To me, good creative copy should automatically include key words without thinking about them and you can always review it and slip in a couple more reference if needs be. The other thing for me is, as mentioned by someone above, so what if your copy is SEO rich but your service is mediocre? No words in the world are going to convince someone to use you again if they receive poor service.

    Recently I had to bail out a company that had used the services of an “SEO specialist”. The copy was awful, truly terrible. Sure, it had all the right words, but like Eric Morecambe at the piano, they weren’t being necessarily played in the right order.

    Technology may be great but people are still, first and foremost swayed by their emotions. My advice would be use a creative copywriter, review the content for possible keyword omissions and then run with it. Oh and advertise in other places so that people can find and remember you more often than when they just crawl to their computer and type in ‘Plumber + Bromley’ or whatever. That alone is no guarantee that the person who comes top of the Google search is in fact the best plumber around. They’ve just plumped for going the technology route instead of the creative one.

    • Kris Roadruck at 12:30 pm

      I LOVE this response. We call it hitting the “high notes”. A lot of people think they can add volume to overcome quality. In a choir you can add as many alto’s as you want but they aren’t going to make up for a lack of soprano.

      Same is true with content. Great content needs great writers. Most SEO’s really aren’t. Its not that they are bad. They just can’t hit the high notes.

    • Andrew at 12:26 pm

      “For the record when I search on my computer I come out top but on someone else’s nowhere to be seen.”

      Personalised results. Google does that (just to piss me off, I think)

      If you want a ‘clean’ result, clear your cache, log out of your Google account, disable cookies and search through a proxy. Oh, and set the location auto-detect to ‘UK’, otherwise it’s skewed to favour local results.

      On my ‘clean’ SERP, I have Wiki, ABC, then Briar Copywriting.

  7. Alconcalcia at 12:36 pm

    Or as I suggested Kris, they play the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. That really was the case with a bit of SEO content that a client showed me recently. It was simply shocking. No flow, no sensible running order – it was all over the place. Anyone reading the article would have though the company were a bunch of retards. Is it worth projecting that sort of image to be one page one? I think not. Creativity over technology, every time for me. And, if I miss out any industry keywords I will slip them subtly into the piece for you, free of charge

  8. Mark Russell Carter at 2:31 pm

    Now this is exciting shit, (u-bend non-clog toilet pun intended). I love a good chin wagging about ethical / white hat / grey hat / Gandalf’s pointy hat SEO tactics. How many times has a client turned round to you and said, “But they are doing it, so why can’t we?”
    Is there a difference between SEO, CRM, SEM, LPO ,SnM and BBC? Well I just read a nice one from a lovely lady called Kate Morris @ http://www.seomoz.org/blog/cro-seo-civil-war she hits it on the nail for me. “It’s the war of the acronyms and funding” personally I include it all in my business module, the clients gets what he needs to rank, all ethical of course narf narf. There some fantastic points you all bring up. We are all waiting for this Panda update to hit us in the UK and when it does I am pretty sure there will be a few “I told you so” comments hitting the net. I agree with Mr Nattan with if Google are saying not to do it, Then don’t do it! 99.9% of what we do is friggin common sense. If all the “departments” don’t work together then you’re destined to go down in flames with all the other single minded Umpalumpas out there and I personally will not be putting that flame out.
    My 2p’s worth is “Search Engine Optimisation is constantly evolving and we have to adapt to what is thrown at us every time. If you want to call yourself an SEO or a Content writer / Copy writer or even an Online marketing genius then feel free, we are all striving for the exact same goal, results, sales and a happy client” if not then you should go and clog up that non-clog toilet.

  9. Sarah Turner at 5:42 pm

    Like this from Mark. “If you want to call yourself an SEO or a Content writer / Copy writer or even an Online marketing genius then feel free, we are all striving for the exact same goal, results, sales and a happy client”

  10. Alconcalcia at 6:25 pm

    Was reading a guide to SEO writing earlier and the bloke blinded his audience with science before saying what I always say, namely, I just write naturally, and when I’m done, I have a look to see how many keywords I’ve used. Technology should never overrule creativity, ever.

  11. Craig Schultz at 11:54 pm

    The point about spending the time writing good copy for toilets not being worth the time to do it sort of misses the point, what if your business IS selling toilets?

    I agree with many of what I see as the underlying motivators for Andrew’s stated position, that being that THE ultimate goal should and has to be selling more product and doing so ethically.

    Personally, I’ve never understood the need for distinctions between any of the common acronyms bandied about, SEO, SEM, CRO, LBJ, IRT, 4th St USA, which too many don’t even agree on their meaning. I’ve never seen someone in brick-n-mortar marketing that only knew about newspaper advertising or magazine advertising or even television advertising nor would anyone survive providing such limited scope services.

    Beyond that, having experience in brick-n-mortar marketing and the rest, is mostly common sense.

    I don’t consider myself an SEO or any other acronym one cares to name, I’m just someone who helped take the company I work for’s retail site from $500k a month to double that by doing little more than improving the visitors’ experience while on-site and getting those that talked about what we sell, to mention what they are talking about that we sell, in anchor text.

    In brick-n-mortar advertising, there is no such thing as white-hat, black-hat or any other hat, there is just ethical and what will end up with your posterior end in court over.

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