4 reasons why you must not write for search engines

This post was provoked by an advice we found on the website of an Indian SEO 'expert'. It stated something like this [obviously, we have not copied the text verbatim]: If your site is not popular on Google etc, one big reason is that you don't know how to write in a way that search engines lap you up. We teach you how to write for search engines, so that your website is always on top pages of search engines for all keywords in your area of work. 

What is 'writing for search engines'?

Writing in which we stuff keywords, anchor text and links so that search engines are fooled to believe that the content is rich in those keywords etc. This is supposed to result in such webpages being on top search pages and in turn great traffic flowing to the website.

Don't let your blog or website have search engine-targeted writing even if offered free. In any case, don't pay to get it done. 

Why, you might ask, are we asking not to attract search engines with your writing. After all, you want more and more people to visit your blog or website, isn't it? Read on to find answers...

1. Writing for humans keeps the language flowing; all other writing is affected.

When you write in a way that stuffs keywords at the cost of flow of language, it irritates the reader. In doing so, or linking unrelated webpages (and overdoing either of the two), you'll need to break the natural flow of writing. (e.g. People get thalesemia often. You can't get thalesemia drug that cures thalesemia. The wornder medicine for thalesemia is not seen in any thalesemia drug store but in our thalesemia clinic.) 

In natural writing, you seldom use the same keyword again and again but you use synonyms. Even then, you do not harp on the same thing too much. Those who teach writing primarily for search engines too tell you to use synonyms so that search engines are not able to see your trick. But if your thoughts are broken by the need to stuff keywords in one form or other, it will seldom be a good writing.

2. Writing for humans is what modern search engines like; they don't like naked keywords

If you have been taking interest in Google's frequent modifications of 'search algorithm', you must have realised that modern search engines are trying to throw up the most relevant results in response to natural queries. Google wants to explain to the searcher the reason for thalasemia when he asks this question 'Why do people get thalesemia?' In one of algorithm updates, Google even explained how it dislikes keywords packed in a para artificially as given in the example in point 1 above.

3. When you apply a successful but bluffing trick today, search engines will likely penalise you for it tomorrow

Black-hat SEO 'experts' and search engines seem to be racing against each other, much like thieves and the police. Such SEO guys constantly invent and apply new hacks, exploit loopholes in search algorithms and come out with some other trick to fool search engines. Once these tricks are caught by search engines, they penalise the tricksters. This keeps on happening. In fact, in doing so, sometimes the search engines end up punishing well-intentioned and ethical SEO practices also. 

The notions of what is ethical and what is not (and what is ideal and what is not) keep changing. If yesterday, somebody analysed that keyword density of 4 per hundred words was ideal, it might look too much today; if they said you must have keywords equally distributed, today they might start saying that keywords should be more towards the conclusion part of the passage.

4. All tricks are for short term; quality content is forever

Tricks, by their very nature, can succeed in the short term. Luckily, in the case of website writing and blogging, there is a much more potent and long-term tool for attracting viewers: good content. Even ethical SEO tricks cannot work unless backed with good content. If you write primarily for the search engine, your writing will not be of top quality and people who come to your website on the strength of SEO will feel cheated and quickly desert your blog. Do you need visitors who come to you once (and occasionally giving you a traffic boost) and leave OR visitors who come but visit a number of your pages, take your advice, possibly buy your stuff and (the most important thing:) tell others about your good website / blog?

So, no SEO? Are we suggesting that we should shun keywords and linking?

No friends. You should make your websites and blogs as search friendly as possible. However, the target of your content should be people (who'd love it for the content and will come back on the basis of content and will tell others and bookmark your page and ...) and you should write for them, not search engines. Once you have written the piece, think of adding value by substituting weak expressions with more relevant and powerful words, putting relevant links and making the hyperlinked text (=anchor text) self-explanatory. Again, don't overdo these, especially linking. That much of SEO is ethical and it is effective enough. 

Throw a party if your blog is hated by all!

A century or so has passed since Dale Carnegie published 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'. Millions of people have read this and similar self-improvement books and many more have attended lectures by people who make you believe that to be popular, you need to be loved.

We also know that people get famous when they are mired in some controversy. The bigger the controversy, the more people talk about the involved person. Some politicians master the art of remaining in controversy to remain relevant.

When it comes to being popular, it pays to be controversial - and be hated - much more than being friendly. This is more pronounced on social media, and blogging is no exception.

So, if you want to be popular quickly, write or show things (and make comments on others' blogs) or link to content that people will not agree to. In a social media discussion, bring in a surprisingly odd viewpoint. When writing on a social topic, take a tangent towards unconventional wisdom. Others will quarrel, shout, abuse... and the more they lose nerve, the more popular you are! If someone calls you a 'troll', take it in your stride and shout at him more loudly; this will lead to a barrage of hate against you. That will be the time to quietly leave the scene, only to come back at the next opportune moment.

We have done a small research on the trending topics on social networks. Believe us, all of them except a minuscule, have turned viral on the strength of controversy. 

Of course, controversy sells better on Twitter and Facebook, but blogs too can make use of it. In Hindi blogosphere, there are groups of bloggers who keep fighting with each other. That generates a lot of spark and - as you would have guessed by now - the more abusive a post against the opposite camp, the brighter the comments, from one's own tribe as well as adversaries. 

So friends, we have stopped telling fellow bloggers to be moderate in criticism and to follow etiquette. That, we now find, makes the blog boring and commonplace. We have also dug up our college wisdom: nobody knows about a studious boy, everybody knows the rowdy. If you are still not convinced, tell us about your blog on which you'd write a controversial post and we'd make an abusive comment and we will together enjoy our popularity. ;) 

This is the reality, even if you find it bitter. A pinch of satire has been sprinked by Prabhakar.

How do terrorists manage to be one up on governments?

Twitter suspended the official accounts of Pakistan-based terror organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, last week. In a few hours, the accounts resurfaced with '1' added after the Twitter IDs and claimed that suspension of accounts was illegal and the social media platform had bowed to India, 'world's darkest democracy'. These accounts too were suspended. 

The United Nations has put sanctions against Jamat as a terrorist organisation. India has given numerous proofs to Pakistan, from where Saeed operates with impunity (and official help), of Saeed being the mastermind behind 26/11 serial blasts in Mumbai.

Four accounts lost, do you think Saeed and his outfit are any weaker on the social media? By now, they and their sympathisers must have opened many more accounts with vengeance. And they already have tried to create the impression in social media that an anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri Indian government and its partner-in-crimeTwitter have been harassing a holy man fighting for a holy cause.

This week, a UK TV channel reported that a Bangalore (=Bengaluru) based employee of an Indian conglomerate was running the most influential Twitter account for ISIS, with about 17700 followers. The account was closed by the IS sympathiser, #Mehdi Biswas following the TV report. But, as was expected, at least two accounts with similar names have come to light.

It is through social networking platforms that ISIS has been prompting youth in western nations (especially Europe) and elsewhere to join 'the Islamic war' in Iraq. During investigation leading to his arrested, the police said, 'He was particularly close to the English-speaking terrorists of ISIS and became a source of incitement and information for the new recruits trying to join ISIS/ISIL.' Mehdi is reported to have said to the TV channel that he would have joined ISIS had he not the responsibility to feed his family in India. 

DIGITAL WAR AGAINST TERROR: governments' nightmare

Major nations around the world are reported to be closely monitoring terrorist activities by using latest technologies to mine social media content and analyse it with the help of sophisticated tools. In fact, such data analysis has become a big business for IT companies. Governments then use legal and not-so-legal means to stop propagation of terror and other criminal content and take action against the originators and propagators of such content. 

Major governments are also reported to have launched a digital propaganda war against terror and crime. This, it appears, is supposed to be more effective than just spying over the net and taking on the culprits. For example, the United States has launched a strong social media offensive against ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The strategy, it looks, is to make light of radical social messages through use of counter-messages and posting antidotal content on YouTube and other popular visual sites.

As per newspaper reports, US officials have been targeting social accounts with terror links at least for the last two years. The targets mainly are social network entities of Islamic terrorism perpetrators and sympathisers inimical to American interests. There is also much more and proactive flooding of cyberspace with serious content on peace, condemnation of terrorist acts, messages from opinion leaders, paying tribute to those slain by terrorists and so on.

In India, the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) are supposed to be taking covert actions against terror-linked social media interactions, but no public statements about their activities are available. Indian government is among those who request Twitter and Google routinely to bring down objectionable content. There are reports of Indian government telling employees not to be indiscreet on social media platforms and avoid discussions on sensitive issues. In this month itself, the Home Ministry has asked government officials to be cautious on social networks and the Army has cautioned its officers against Kashmiri separatists mis-interpreting social media discussions to mislead youth.

Deep search of the web, legal action, international cooperation and forward intelligence might help in checking 'trending' of terror content and use of the web for major crimes such as drug trade and smuggling. But, when it comes to use of social media for influencing youth, it is a constant guerrilla war in which there are no battles, and so no clear-cut wins. Actions such as filling up social media space through positive and counter-terrorism content on one hand and caution against playing into the hands of terrorists would work but slowly. These two examples show that governments are going to be on their toes trying to catch up with vitiated minds.

Want to read a related article?: abuse of social media

Obama, Pope n Modi top Twitter chart: 2014 global study

How world leaders use Twitter: study highlights 

  • @BarackObama, @Pope and @NarendraModi are the most followed world leaders.
  • @SushmaSwaraj is the most followed foreign minister in the world.
  • Most world leaders do not talk, just speak; and they do not tweet themselves.
  • Narcissists? Quite a few top leaders like to post selfies.
  • Twitter is being used more and more for diplomacy.
  • 32 national governments still do not have a Twitter account.

Who are the most followed Twitterati and how influential are they?

Twiplomacy has come out with its annual global study ‘looking at the use of Twitter by heads of state and government and ministers of foreign affairs’ for 2014.

According to the comprehensive Twitter list on Twiplomacy more than 3,500 embassies and ambassadors are now active on Twitter. World leaders tweet in more than 53 different languages, but English is the most popular language on Twitter. However, among world leaders and foreign ministries, the Spanish accounts are the most active, followed by English and French accounts.

The study found that the vast majority (83%) of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter. More than two-thirds (67%) of all heads of state and heads of government in have personal accounts on the social network. However, the Twitter craze is not evenly spread around the globe.
The 32 countries without an official Twitter presence are in Africa, Asia and the central Pacific.

The most active Twitter account among all foreign offices, Venezuelan presidency (@PresidencialVen) publishes 32 tweets a day. The Mexican Presidency (@PresidenciaMX) and the Foreign Ministry of Venezuela (@vencancilleria) come next.

The @BarackObama account, set up in early 2007, has been on Twitter’s suggested user list and is still growing as it is often suggested to new Twitter users. Barack Obama was the first world leader to set up a Twitter account when he was still a senator. Most world leaders started their Twitter accounts in 2010 and 2011.

Thirty-one accounts of world leaders are inactive and have never sent a single tweet, and seven are protected accounts. Many politicians use social media in general, and Twitter in particular, only during election campaigns.

The study says, leaders of populous countries have a clear advantage in garnering a large army of dedicated followers. That, the study seems to imply, is behind the meteoric rise in popularity of @NarendraModi and @SushmaSwaraj accounts. The study says, since his election in late May 2014, India’s new Prime Minister @NarendraModi has moved to third place. However, Modi (8.9 million followers) still is nowhere near the U.S. President @BarackObama (49.1 million followers) and Pope Francis @Pontifex (16 million followers). India’s @SushmaSwaraj is the most followed foreign minister with 1.9 million followers.

However, it’s Pope Francis, not Obama, who is the most influential Twitter global leader. @BarackObama tweets are re-tweeted 1,195 times on average whereas Pope Francis @Pontifex gets more than 10,000 re-tweets for every tweet he sends in Spanish and 6,436 re-tweets in English. He maintains account in these two languages.

Habits of world leaders

Since its last study in July 2013, Twiplomacy has found that foreign ministers and their institutions have intensified their efforts to create mutual connections on Twitter. French Foreign Minister @LaurentFabius has become the best connected foreign minister, mutually connected with 99 other peers and world leaders. It helps these leaders in directly messaging each other and having private conversations.

Europe’s leading foreign ministers and foreign ministries follow each other and have created a virtual diplomatic network on Twitter. The Swedish Foreign Ministry has been leading #DigitalDiplomacy. It recently invited 30 digital diplomats to the Stockholm Initiative for Digital Diplomacy. This meeting has given birth to a diplomatic network of social media practitioners.

However (and is it unexpected?), few world leaders are actually doing their own tweeting.

In addition, they follow only a few other world leaders, if any. @BarackObama follows only two world leaders, Norway’s Prime Minister @Erna_Solberg and Russia’s PM Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiae). Obviously, U.S. President @BarackObama and the @WhiteHouse are the most popular among their peers; they are followed by 228 and 191 peers respectively. The @WhiteHouse and other official U.S. government accounts do not follow @BarackObama, as there is a legal separation between the U.S. government accounts and personal campaign accounts.

World leaders and governments are not known for their design skills, the study reveals. Only a few institutions regularly change the header picture to highlight special events. Half of the accounts also have a background that has become almost irrelevant.

Many world leaders take to publishing selfies with other world leaders or their admirers.

What do the global leaders' tweets say?

The top world leaders, as per Twitter following, have one thing in common: they have discovered Twitter as a powerful tool, but it is a one-way broadcasting tool for them as they just speak, not talk. Only a few world leaders reply to their followers’ mentions.

African leaders seem to use Twitter solely to converse with their followers. Rwanda’s President @PaulKagame is the most conversational world leader with 87% of his tweets being replies to other Twitter users.

Over the past year, foreign ministries and world leaders have used hashtags to promote specific issues, be it #BringBackOurGirls or #ENDViolence against children.

Indian Top Blogs has many posts on use of social media, especially by politicians and other leaders. This one is specifically on use of social media by world leaders.

Easiest search optimization trick: give links to old blog posts

If you ask me what is the Search Engine Optimization (=SEO) best practice that you can follow without much effort and with great impact, I will say, link quality material in your website’s archives with your current post. (If you do not understand SEO, please go to this ITB post; look here for all ITB posts on SEO.)

Called ‘internal linking’ in SEO parlance, linking to archives leads to deeper visitor involvement in your blog/ website and better discovery of the its quality content that would otherwise lay hidden. This results in higher positioning of your site on search engines, higher traffic, higher chance of making money and so on.   

But internal linking is not just routine SEO and that is the reason I called it as SEO best practice! By linking your old content with a new post, you give the reader additional information on the subject without your having to repeat it.

You can give links to earlier posts by many ways such as -

  • Text links within passages, mentioning specifically about the earlier post (an example from IndianTopBlogs is linked here)
  • Text links using relevant keywords or as examples (The present post is a great example of use of keyword / example linking)
  • List at the beginning or end of the post (an example of 'related posts' list is given here). Many bloggers generate a list of earlier posts with ‘Related posts’ plugin, which is fine but not that effective. You should do it manually.

You MUST link your earlier posts when you run a series of posts. (an ITB example of serial posts is given here).

Consider taking the link to a new window instead of letting it open on top of the current post. This gives the reader the freedom to keep browsing the present post and looking at the link later, or going to the link and coming back to the present post, without a need for pressing 'back' button on the browser.

To open the link in a new window, you need to add target="_blank" within the link tag as given below:
Best Indian Blogs Directory: This link will open the ITB directory on top of the current post. Its html is: <a href="http://www.indiantopblogs.com/p/the-directory-of-best-indian-blogs.html">Best Indian Blogs Directory</a> 
Best Indian Blogs Directory: This link will open the ITB directory in a new window. Its html is: <a href="http://www.indiantopblogs.com/p/the-directory-of-best-indian-blogs.html" target="_blank">Best Indian Blogs Directory</a> 

If you are on Blogger platform, the post editor gives you the option to open the link on top of the current window or in a new window, as shown below.

internal linking is great SEO when done within limits

You should not overdo internal linking (The present post does it a bit on the higher side, for a reason). 

Putting convoluted keywords with the sole purpose of giving a link is a bad way of internal linking as it often irritates the reader and is also not supposed to be good SEO.

Before linking to a previous post, take care to see that the old post is relevant to the present discussion and has valuable, not routine, stuff.

Best of blogging!
- Prabhakar