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Why SEO is KILLING your blog

I'm going to say something controversial, so sit down and put down the coffee (or wine, I don't judge) for a moment: SEO is ruining your blog. Or, if I wanted to do this the correct way for search engines “SEO is killing your blog and here's how to fix it.” So much so, that I'm done with it in a major way. We are so often told how to blog. It entails taking beautiful pictures, writing great content filled with keyword rich descriptions, and sharing strategically on social media. While I do agree with this, I think we're losing a lot of the beautiful prose. Often, we're left without character and see only bland, step-by-step content, devoid of the point of blogging: storytelling.

My light bulb moment went off while listening to the podcast “S-Town.” The podcast follows a man in “Shit Town” Alabama and his struggle with life, and ultimately, depression and a myriad other issues. The podcast opens with a descriptive story about an antique clock and how difficult they are to fix and understand. It seems to not exactly fit with the story, but you learn it has everything to do with the story later on. I found myself immediately drawn to the story. The words themselves were lovely, but even more, I felt compelled to read on. The opening scene set the stage for a story that made me want to keep listening.

Take any book you love. The book doesn't open with an instructional paragraph, guiding you through the plot. It might open with a shocking twist or early discovery. It might explain a character in-depth or place you with the narrator in a sense of time or space. It might begin with a lesson that you will learn throughout the story. But none of your favorite books, I'd say with complete certainty, are worried about SEO or being found on Google, so they don't waste time with boring, direct sentences that leave you feeling like shutting the book.

But that's what's happened to blogs.

My friend Sarah recently posted about “Vintage Blogging.” How she used to write stories and post pictures that she no longer feels are adequate to share on her blog. I'd argue that there's always been this undercurrent of the “right kind” of blogging. But now, it's trickled down to the masses. We all want to be found on Google, so we all follow the rules. By definition, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is described by MOZ as “a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results.” Basically, you write in a certain way to be found online. Google (and other search engines) crawl your site to find what your article is about. They look at: title(s), opening paragraphs, headlines, and keywords to figure out what your post/site is about and how it will show up online.

Look, I get it. We have to use the right terms to be able to be ranked higher in Google so people actually read our blogs. But writing in a way that makes you lose who you are is just not worth it. Yes, you might get some page views, but those will dissipate when people aren't drawn to your writing. There are two things that I think are paramount for blogging:

  1. Writing foundational content (full post here breaking down what that means)
  2. Creating a voice (I also wrote a full guide to finding and establishing your blogging voice)

Why does the above matter? The fact is anyone can write a blog. There are millions of us out there publishing everyday. So what makes you different? For starters, your background and experience combined with your unique voice. Often, when we try to write for search engines we completely lose these aspects and our writing becomes dry and boring. But when we write with out heart and with passion people are drawn to it. This, I'd argue, is what makes a blog successful. If you want people to read and follow you then you need to write in a compelling way. And I'm not sure you can do that when you're ticking off a list of “to-do's” for content marketing.

I get emails pretty frequently from new bloggers or ones that haven't started yet asking me this: how will I know when I'm ready and/or there is so much information out there how can I know I'm doing the right thing? Truthfully, there are no steadfast blogging rules. Yes, some things will help you be found more easily: sizing images for Pinterest, writing content that helps or relates to others, and creating a newsletter so that you can create an established connection with those that read your blog. Of course, doing these things aren't strict, you don't have to do them and you can still succeed.

Forget the blogging rules, write worthwhile, meaningful content before you do anything else. Click To Tweet

The idea of content marketing and SEO has overtaken the thought process of blogging, and it's killing the craft. I see fashion bloggers title posts: “classic white blouse”, travel bloggers write: “4 day travel excursion in Zanzibar”. And while this is fine, and oftentimes necessary, don't forget to tell me the story! Yes, it'd be nice to be a top hit on Google, but it'd be even more interesting to tell me a story about why this shirt is awesome or why I MUST visit this travel destination.

Google is a smart search engine. It won't penalize you if you don't include a header or if your first paragraph doesn't have the keyword 76 times. Instead of spending hours curating a post based on the rules, just write. Create a post that you care about and truly love, THEN go back and edit it with SEO.

Bottom line: your blog will do well when you fill it with interesting content. Focusing on worthwhile, helpful, relatable, interesting, or emotional posts is what will help you grow. Create something meaningful and valuable, then worry about the rules. I think people read blogs because they want a firsthand account and a real connection. But how can that be established when so many blogs are filled with bland, instruction-like posts? Sometimes we need to forget the rules and just write good stuff. Your readers will thank you for it.

I created a free course on creating an awesome blog, check it out here:

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Free eCourse: Build a Successful Blog

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This 6 day video course will help you start a profitable blog, the right way!

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Comments

[…] is onto something when she says SEO is killing your blog. Also loved this post about vintage blogging. Can’t we just go back to having […]

This was excellent! I am new to blogging and SEO is driving me crazy! I want people to find my blog but I also don’t want to use my keyword as every second word in every sentence. I have actually reduced my posting because of SEO. Thank you for this article to push me along and to carry on!

Ella in Wanderlust ☽

Preach!! I created my blog to tell stories about my holidays and I personally love reading stories about other people’s holidays and adventures. But as I’ve learnt more about blogging, I’ve found myself being forced to write posts about ‘why you need to visit such and such a place’ ‘top 5 things to do here’ and I cannot pour my heart and soul into them like I do my stories. I feel so uninspired. Plus actually finding content I’m interested in is turning into a maze as these articles (like I listed before) seem to dominate the internet.

The blogs that I keep coming to again and again for more content tell stories and you can read about the author in the stories – their personalities shine through. It’s just so hard to find them.

I feel like I’m rambling but I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one who looks for something different in blog posts. I’ll certainly be checking out some more of your posts 🙂

Ella
http://ellainwanderlust.com/

This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. As a relatively new blogger, it’s been hard to learn how to balance the storytelling component of a blog post and the more technical SEO side. I think the most successful bloggers are able to do both simultaneously and in a natural and authentic way.

Grace | glossybelle.com

I don’t think that great storytelling and SEO need to be mutually exclusive. The best bloggers are the ones who can incorporate SEO into their posts and have it seem natural. If you keep practicing SEO, it DOES become natural.

This was very insightful. I’ve been struggling with my marketing person because he says my blog traffic is okay and has been reluctant to have me focus on SEO so this puts the discussion to bed.

I love this Helene! Such a true and honest post about blogging. There are so many times when I have been caught up in what’s “right” to post about instead of just taking the time to post about what feels right to me. I know that my readers come back every week because they love my writing style and what I am sharing. Not because I ranked higher on Google for a particular post, but at times it’s hard to separate the two. Thanks for posting this!

xx
The Felicia Renee | a minimalist lifestyle & beauty blog

That’s why I fell out of love with blogging for so long. I blogged every day and I loved feeling like I was connecting with people and learning through their experiences. Then it started to feel like a freaking rat race and people were so busy promoting this or asking you to click that. And I’m all about making money, I love money! But I also want to feel connection and authenticity. I have such a hard time writing blog posts now because I feel like i make them overly formal. That’s not who I am in real life, though! I feel like I may have more success if I record myself talking and then transcribe it haha! By the way, I’m really looking forward to your Insta class!

Yes yes yes! I love this so much “your blog will do well when you fill it with interesting content” – it’s so true! So many bloggers get bogged down trying to be perfect with SEO, but it’s so important not to lose your own voice and unique content! Thanks for another amazing post!

[…] writes about why SEO is killing your blog. She may be on to something, […]

[…] is onto something when she says SEO is killing your blog. Also loved this post about vintage blogging. Can’t we just go back to having […]

I completely agree with you!! I’ve literally just recently started blogging so I’m yet to experiment with SEO but, I have heard lots about it. I’d never given the negatives that come from it a thought until reading this post but, everything you say makes SO much sense. If someone is worrying about what words to use that will help people find their blog a lot more easy, then they’re not going to be writing from the heart. Writing is a natural flow but, SEO seems to ruin that.

Have a great week and weekend 🙂

Chloe @ https://girllgonerogue.blogspot.co.uk/

This is something I’ve been feeling a lot recently. I’ve been blogging since 2011 and have definitely felt my blog posts feeling blander as I try to write to rules of SEO, unfortunately if I don’t it doesn’t matter if my writing is terrific it won’t get viewed. I’m not sure what the solution is.
http://www.purpleella.com

“Create a post that you care about and truly love, THEN go back and edit it with SEO” I agree with that!! They only SEO I do use is that my keyword is on the title, the url and the snippet. Of course I use it throughout the post but not on purpose! I just go with my writing flow!!

Thank you for the great post! I am also new to blogging and seo. I hope to help my readers some how in the future just like you do. 😉 http://www.craftysnaphappymama.com

I´m so happy that you´re saying that, especially because I still don´t get all this SEO hahah. But seriously… I love your writing, and I´m reading your blog because of thet! You are so right! Keep on rocking!
X X X Stefanie
http://www.livanies.com

Haven’t read your blog in awhile but this is why I came back 🙂 You are so real! Great post <3 ashieldannette.blogspot.com

Thank you for this Helene! I always felt that, by the way i’m writing, Google is probably not gonna pick me out for missing out on all those keywords. I do get what you are saying with this. Good content is key. I do try to create good content that is worth reading, however I’m not sure if I am up to standard yet. It would be my greatest honor if you could take a look at my blog and tell me if my writing is on par, or if I am lacking in something. Thank you!

http://thiscache.blogspot.com

Even though readers use keywords for search engines, they’re looking to read quality and useful content! I use basic SEO practices like including relevant internal/external hyperlinks and having a clear topic sentence within the first paragraph, but nothing crazy or forced that compromises the integrity of my blog for SEO. Thanks for sharing, Helene! 🙂

I started my blog mid april and i am getting many sites linking to me because of my content. I beleive in authentic raw writing and only apply SEO basics when i am done writing. I have vowed not to do any link building because i will waste so much time at the expense of writing. My mantra is that content is king and honestly, Google and all search engines are driven by content. Thank you for sharing what i believe in. Here is one of my articles that has gone viral. abookidea.com/language/

There’s me over here who keeps attempting to figure out the whole SEO thing to boost my readership and never having time or actually doing it haha. I guess that’s a good thing!

LOVE this!! I still write whatever I want and sometimes I’m like eh, no one is going to read this. Sometimes, no one reads it and other times, it does the best!

I don’t SEO – I don’t care. I just write what I want and whatever is in my brain. I like catchy headlines that aren’t over done. I like to be quirky and honest and put memes all over the place. In my opinion SEO can suck it because I have an awesome and supportive readership that love my voice.

Thanks for the bold post Helene. I am new to blogging, and like most newbies I’m desperate to show up on google, let alone first page. This is a good reminder to keep myself in check.

Thanks for sharing this Helene. Aside from blogging, I actually do part time SEO for small-business websites for side income, and partly at my full-time work as well. I am very familiar with SEO and MOZ and as a blogger I actually never try to go back and insert so many keywords in my paragraphs. In fact, Google doesn’t even like it when you stuff too many of the same keywords in any paragraph.
One advise I can give our readers is to include at least one of your main keywords in your paragraph and make sure you have “H2” headers within your article. Meaning make the title of each paragraph in Header 2 or 3 instead of Paragraph format for WordPress users. Also make sure all your images have titles and descriptions in the back-end when you upload your images as the google bots don’t know what images are without any titles. Lastly, you can use SEO plugins that will allow you to change the SEO title and from how it appears on the website. I would recommend using that as well. Hope this was helpful. 🙂

Helene, I’m a big fan of yours, your blog, and your voice, but you seem to have missed the mark by telling people to not care as much about SEO and content marketing. (That may not have been your overall point, but your comments reveal otherwise.)

SEO is only important to those who view it as such (that includes you ;)). I’m in Digital Marketing so I truly value SEO for my day job, blogging, and for my clients. However, I also value good writing–you know, the kind that humans appreciate. After all, many people (beginners?) forget that SEO is mostly about writing for humans: the more people that see a post, the higher it’ll rank. Sure, there are other rules, but that’s a fundamental one: Write for other *people* and the search engines will follow. It USED to be about including a keyword 76 times, but lately it’s about writing more engaging stuff.

With that said, you actually use SEO a lot :). You don’t title a post, “Michael and I had so much fun over two days in X!” That was the old days of blogging, back when we weren’t trying to get our stuff found. Instead, you write, “Two-day itinerary in X.” Clearly, people are looking up the latter more than the former. You saw that need and wrote a post to fulfill it. Moreover, you rarely include “click here” links. Instead, you favor linking phrases such as, “creating a newsletter” or “Hotel XYZ,” and so on. That’s SEO at work.

Lastly, those wanting to get “rich” quickly via blogging (monetarily, readership-wise, fanbase-wise, or all three) don’t appreciate that SEO is for organic searches, which takes a long time to rank on. We’ve been writing for years, so our blogs have more standing in search engines’ eyes than one by Beginner McGee. That’s one factor in our favor. Your itinerary posts, if left alone, may start ranking in a few months. However, now w/tools like IG and Pinterest, you bet you’ll start seeing a lot of visits quicker. Overtime, in fact months and years from now, you’ll see that those posts will still be getting traffic. Why? You guessed it: SEO, which you do well.

SEO is still important to those who care about having our stuff found. Sponsored posts, recipes, itineraries, and reviews are some of the pieces that benefit greatly from GOOD (NOT just bot-friendly) SEO. You employ it as well, so it’s key we help others grow by encouraging them to also care about their SEO. (In fact, your last paragraph was a great additional explanation of SEO and its importance!)

PS- SEO doesn’t have to be daunting: Three easy tips for optimizing your posts for search engines

All the best and keep up the great work in blogland.

I was about to say all of the same things. SEO is important and SEO + Authentic Voice are not mutually exclusive. You can share a story and still have your post optimized for search engines.

Annie and AShley, yes I use SEO. But my point was that so many focus on it and LOSE content. That was my point. I even have a post on SEO. So yes, I value it- of course! But I also think many bloggers focus too heavily on it and forget the point of blogging: writing. Hence, my blog post!

I love your blogging posts, Helene! What really resonated with me was your suggestion to write outstanding content first – THEN go back and implement SEO.

xoxo, Krista
http://kristaaoki.com

Thank you! I want o stand up and give you the slow clap. I am first and foremost a consumer of blog content and I have been seeing this zombie-like SEO posting a lit lately. It has me skipping over reading because it is all the same. I may not be able to post on my own blog often but when I do I try to just write. I’ll go back and see if there is anything I can tweek when I’m done to try and follow the SEO rules more without losing my own voice (which is really hard to figure out on its own).

-Jillian
Liner Lipstick Life

peonies passionfruit

Love love love this post, you couldn’t have said it any more clearly. I always try and blog from the heart and not focus so much on SEO techniques.
Eme xx

http://www.peoniesandpassionfruit.com

I nodded my head the entire time while reading this! I look back at old posts with shitty photos and I’m like – man, those are so bad! But hey – that is my life.

Yes to all of this, cheers girl! I so miss the good ol’ days of blogging, and am THIS close to starting a personal Instagram so I can actually use it for what I’d like to use it for instead of staged photos. I never understood SEO lol, but am amazed at the ones that get tons of traffic from google.

Green Fashionista

I totally agree with you! SEO gave me so much stress that I lose the fun in writing. So I am now back again to the basic: to write a good post! And the fun is also back!

This is really refreshing. I can totally relate. I was a hobby blogger for years and feel myself now watching numbers, getting the lights on the SEO plugin to be green, etc. There are times where I just want to write what I’m thinking about, but don’t because I don’t have the best images to go along with my thoughts, etc. I want to create a successful blog, but I also want to engage with readers. There is definitely a balance to all of it.

to be honest, I feel like a big part of why I’ve had such a hard time returning to blogging is because of the pressure of the “new way” to blog. I hate it. I think a lot of us got caught up in “blogging right” because you don’t wanna be left behind and feel the need to stay on trend. but damn, it’s exhausting and made me fall out of love with blogs and blogging. I wish we’d all go back to the old way lol

I absolutely adore this post. I die laughing at myself trying to chock key words into my first paragraph. It ends up sounding so ridiculous. Luckily, I don’t care about SEO on many of my posts, but the ones I do (my fantasy football team name post that does so well on google each year) I go way overboard on the key words. I guess that one is a little different since it is just a list, but it certainly takes away from the genuine content you want readers to receive!

I really miss blog posts that aren’t focusing on SEO. I actually do what you are saying. I write first and then worry about SEO. I do want my blog to be found, but for me, the content, comes first. I hope more people would think like that more.

xx, Melissa
https://elephantontheroad.com

Ouuuu, love this “controversial” post, Helene! You definitely have a point. I went through a period of time so focused on the “perfect” headline, that it stopped being fun coming up with titles for my blog posts! Or, if I had a super fun title, but realized it wasn’t SEO-friendly, I’d tweak it. Now I try to find a balance with paying the most attention to how compelling my title is to my readers.

http://www.insearchofsheila.com

It’s so true, and I love the expression “vintage blogging”. Back in the day (whew I’m old lol) I just wrote a lot of personal stuff and I do still do some storytelling but my blog is somewhat lacking in things that make a connection. I’m going to try throwing SEO out the window for a bit until I’m done writing the post and then add in some keywords in logical ways to see what happens. I really do miss the old-school storytelling blog style, so it’s time to bring it back.

This is so refreshing Helene. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been stressing and putting pressure on myself lately to figure out a marketing plan, a branding plan, SEO plan and bla bla the list goes on because I want my blog to be successful.
But this is a good reminder to go back to basics: create amazing, engaging content and also be relatable… I just need to find the balance between working on content but still getting my blog out there so that people actually see it.
http://www.elleisforlove.com

I still don’t think I properly understand SEO. I’m still trying to navigate my way through it all. But it’s really refreshing to hear a different opinion
Mind The Medic

I feel like you just said what so many other writers and bloggers have been thinking! I really enjoy the storytelling aspect of travel blogging, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written out a heartfelt, descriptive introductory paragraph….only to later be tempted to erase it all and replace it with KEYWORD KEYWORD KEYWORD. But whenever I’ve given into that temptation, I’ve always felt disappointed with the final post, because it doesn’t feel as authentic and personal. So, thanks for the reminder that it’s okay to push SEO aside sometimes!

The temptation is real. I’ve been in the same position many a time.

YES YES YES YES YES YES YES.

YES.

This was so good! I totally agree. Of what benefit is it to get one time page views and no recurrent readers and audience? I particularly love that you’re not completely throwing out SEO and it’s benefits but instead helping people realize that THAT shouldn’t be a priority. Many people didn’t think of SEO before starting a blog but then get carried away soon after. I use an SEO plug in and whenever it recommends adding keywords someplace in the post, I give I the side eye. Like, “even if it doesn’t make sense? Nah, bro” haha. But truly, SEO matters, but it shouldn’t be a priority. This is why I find myself lurking your blog. I can never get enough. So much honesty & genuinity Thanks for the reminder!

I use a SEO plug as well and it uses a traffic light system. There’s always this slight bit of pressure to turn an ‘amber’ into a ‘green’, even though I’m happy with what I’ve written.

Yes!!! The struggle! I don’t like the unease so I always shoot for that green light eh. ?

I love this! I COMPLETELY agree! This is something I’ve thought for awhile now. My blog hasn’t always done fantastic with SEO, and part of this is probably because I’m still new, but I guess I’ve always been more concerned with my writing and like you said, telling a story. Besides blogging, I love to write stories, so I’ve always wanted to make sure my blog was like that, too. I think that the rules are important but not to the point where all of the posts are bland, like you said.

Ashlee | http://sparklesbyashlee.com

I loved your post. I couldn’t agree more. As a reader, I like to read blogs that have personality, I don’t just find what I’ve been looking for and go away. Besides – if it’s too generic I just won’t read it and I always find myself coming back to blogs that have a ‘soul’.
Ania xx

Soul is the perfect word for it! totally agree.

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