By Oon Yeoh
Go to Google and type in the following key words: “column writing tips”. At the time of writing, my tips on how to write a good column appears as the very first result – which is very flattering, but wasn’t my end-in-mind. Many people engage in search engine optimisation (SEO) to achieve a top page ranking. But it’s getting harder and harder to do.
In the early days of the Internet when search engines were not as sophisticated as they are today, SEO was all about putting strategic keywords on your website (both visible on the page, as well as invisible in the coding).
Later when Google came along and introduced its unique approach of ranking sites according to the number and quality of links to them, many people tried to find ways to improve their rankings by engineering links to their sites.
Google constantly tweaks its algorithm, to the frustration of SEO practitioners who have to regular find new ways to game the system. Each time they think they had something more or less figured out, Google would tweak its algorithm again. It’s a cat and mouse game. But obviously, many players still believe they can outwit Google.
An American website, which publishes popular song lyrics, recently tried to do just that and paid a heavy price for it. In an effort to try to get more links to its lyrics pages, the team there purportedly devised a plan that rewarded people to embed a code that linked to certain pages.
After one fan blogged about the scheme, it was picked up by Google who reportedly took action, resulting in the site’s traffic plummeting. That said, the website’s team admitted having “messed up”.
This “blunder” is a stark reminder of what a losing battle it is to try to beat Google’s algorithm. Although there is nothing sinister with engaging in SEO, you are fundamentally trying to game the system and to achieve an artificially high ranking. And Google doesn’t tolerate such practices. That’s why it keeps tweaking its algorithm, to thwart the efforts of SEO specialists.
So, if you can’t beat Google with SEO, what can you do to get a good page ranking? The answer is simple though not easy, which is to grow your links organically – by producing quality content that’s interesting and relevant to target audiences.
My column on writing tips is No. 1 on Google’s page rank. I didn’t use SEO. I didn’t even promote or publicize my page. I just wrote it and posted it online for others to benefit from. Apparently many websites (including those of several US journalism schools) have found it useful and have linked to it. It’s all very flattering but, to me, it’s about doing my part to help others. That’s where I find inner fulfilment.
Of course, producing high-quality content that people would want to link to and share is not an easy thing to do. But it’s the most reliable and effective way to achieve a good ranking. Even if you manage to get a good ranking due to SEO it won’t last because, in due time, Google will rejig its algorithm again. So, stick to producing good content. Such a strategy works far better than any kind of SEO.
Just remember, concentrate on quality content and your readers will love you for it.
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.