The “just create compelling and useful content” lie

The compelling content lieI’m so sick of the universal answer to all SEO questions. Each and every search engine rep keeps telling me that “creating a great and useful site with compelling content will gain me all the rankings I deserve”. What a pile of bullshit. Nothing ranks without strong links. I deserve more, and certainly involving less work.

Honestly, why the heck should I invest any amount of time and even money to make others happy? It’s totally absurd to put up a great site with compelling content that’s easy to navigate and all that, just to please an ungrateful crowd of anonymous users! What a crappy concept. I don’t buy it.

I create websites for the sole purpose of making money, and lots of green. It’s all about ME! Here I said it. Now pull out the plastic. ;-)

And there’s another statement that really annoys me: “make sites for users, not for search engines”. Again, with self-serving commandments like this one search engine quality guidelines do insult my intelligence. Why should I make even a single Web page for search engines? Google, Yahoo Microsoft and Ask staff might all be wealthy folks, but from my experience they don’t purchase much porn on-line.

I create and publish Web contents to laugh all the way to the bank at the end of the day. For no other reason. I swear. To finally end the ridiculous discussion of utterly useless and totally misleading search engine guidelines, I’ll guide you step by step through a few elements of a successful website, explaining why and for whom I perform whatever, why it’s totally selfish, and what it’s worth.

In some cases that’ll be quite a bit geeky, so just skip the technical stuff if you’re a plain Internet marketer. Also, I don’t do everything by the book on Web development, so please read the invisible fine print carefully .


This gatekeeper prevents my sites from useless bot traffic. That goes for behaving bots at least. Others might meet a script that handles them with care. I’d rather serve human users bigger ads than wasting bandwidth for useless bots requesting shitloads of content.


I’m a big fan of the “one URI = one piece of content” principle. I consider gazillions of URI variations serving similar contents avoidable crap. That’s because I can’t remember complex URIs stuffed with tracking parameters and other superfluous clutter. Like the average bookmarking surfer, I prefer short and meaningful URIs. With a few simple .htaccess directives I make sure that everybody gets the requested piece of content advertising under the canonical URI.


Error handling is important. Before I throw a 404-Not-found error to a human visitor, I analyze the request’s context (e.g. REQUEST_URI, HTTP_REFERER). If possible, I redirect the user to the page s/he should have requested then, or at least to a page with related links banner ads. Bouncing punters don’t make me any money.

HTTP headers

There’s more than HTTP response codes doable with creative headers. For example cost savings. In some cases a single line of text in an HTTP header tells the user agent more than a bunch of markup.

Sensible page titles and summaries

There’s nothing better to instantly catch the user’s interest than a prominent page title, followed by a short and nicely formatted summary that the average reader can skim in few seconds. Fast loading and eye-catching graphics can do wonders, too. Just in case someone’s scraping bookmarking my stuff, I duplicate my titles into usually invisible TITLE elements, and provide seducing calls for action in descriptive META elements. Keeping the visitor interested for more than a few seconds results in monetary opportunities.

Unique content

Writing unique, compelling, and maybe even witty product descriptions increases my sales. Those are even more attractive when I add neat stuff that’s not available from the vendor’s data feed (I don’t mean free shipping, that’s plain silly). A good (linkworthy) product page comes with practical use cases and/or otherwise well presented, not too longish outlined, USPs. Producers as well as distributors do suck at this task.

User generated content

Besides faked testimonials and the usual stuff, asking vistors questions like “Just in case you buy product X here, what will you actually do with it? How will you use it? Whom will you give it to?” leads to unique text snippets creating needs. Of course all user generated content gets moderated.

Ajax’ed “Buy now” widgets

Most probably a punter who has clicked the “add to shopping cart” link on a page nicely gathering quite a few products will not buy another one of them, if the mouse click invokes a POST request of the shopping cart script requiring a full round trip to the server. Out of sight, out of mind.


Both static as well as dynamically themed sitemap pages funnel a fair amount of vistors to appropriate landing pages. Dumping major parts of a site’s structure in XML format attracts traffic, too. There’s no such thing as bad traffic, just weak upselling procedures.

Ok, that’s enough examples to bring my point home. Probably I’ve bored you to death anyway. You see, whatever I do as a site owner, I do it only for myself (inevitably accepting collateral damage like satisfied punters and compliance to search engine quality guidelines). Recap: I don’t need no stinkin’ advice restrictions from search engines.

Seriously, since you’re still awake and following my long-winded gobbledygook, here’s a goodie:

The Number One SEO Secret

Think like a search engine engineer. Why? Because search engines are as selfish as you are, or at least as you should be.

In order to make money from advertising, search engines need boatloads of traffic every second, 24/7/365. Since there are only so many searchers populating this planet, search engines rely on recurring traffic. Sounds like a pretty good reason to provide relevant search results, doesn’t it?

That’s why search engines develop high sophisticated algorithms that try to emulate human surfers, supposed to extract the most useful content from the Web’s vast litter boxes. Their engineers tweak those algos on a daily basis, factoring in judgements of more and more signals as communities, services, opportunities, behavior, and techniques used on the Web evolve.

They try really hard to provide their users with the cream of the crop. However, SE engineers are just humans like you and me, therefore their awesome algos –as well as the underlying concepts– can fail. So don’t analyze too many SERPs to figure out how a SE engineer might tick, just be pragmatic and imagine you’ve got enough SE shares to temporarily throw away your Internet marketer hat.

Anytime when you have to make a desicion on content, design, navigation or whatever, switch to search engine engineer mode and ask yourself questions like “does this enhance the visitor’s surfing experience?”, “would I as a user appreciate this?” or simply “would I buy this?”. (Of course, instead of emulating an imaginary SE engineer, you also could switch to plain user mode. The downside of the latter brain emulation is, unfortunately, that especially geeks tend to trust the former more easily.)

Bear in mind that even if search engines don’t cover particular (optimization) techniques today, they might do so tomorrow. The same goes for newish forms of content presentation etc. Eventually search engines will find a way to work with any signal. Most of our neat little tricks bypassing today’s spam filters will stop working some day.

After completing this sanity check, heal your schizophrenia and evaluate whether it will make you money or not. Eventually, that’s the goal.

By the way, the above said doean’t mean that only so-called ‘purely white hat’ traffic optimization techniques work with search engines. Actually, SEO = hex’53454F’, and that’s a pretty dark gray. :-)

Related thoughts: Optimize for user experience, but keep the engines in mind. Misleading some folks just like this pamphlet.

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19 Comments to "The "just create compelling and useful content" lie"

  1. Richard Hearne on 25 September, 2009  #link

    Anytime when you have to make a desicion on content, design, navigation or whatever, switch to search engine engineer mode and ask yourself questions like “does this enhance the visitor’s surfing experience?”, “would I as a user appreciate this?” or simply “would I buy this?”.

    == build “compelling and useful content” for users?

    I think you’re actually a lot closer to the SE mantra than you realise Sebastian :)

  2. Sebastian on 26 September, 2009  #link

    Oops Richard, it seems you’ve decoded the URI as well as the post’s tagging. :-)

  3. […] The “just create compelling and useful content” lie – view page – cached I’m so sick of the universal answer to all SEO questions. Each and every search engine rep keeps telling me that “creating a great and useful site with compelling content will gain me all the… (Read more)I’m so sick of the universal answer to all SEO questions. Each and every search engine rep keeps telling me that “creating a great and useful site with compelling content will gain me all the rankings I deserve”. What a pile of bullshit. (Read less) — From the page […]

  4. David on 26 September, 2009  #link

    I think one of the reasons that there are these universal answers (as you call them) is time. I quite often tell site owners I can’t answer there questions, because to give a good balanced answer would mean going away and writing a document for them as you can’t just reel of your knowledge and experience in a few seconds and there is no reason you should spend your time giving people free in-depth advice. IMO that is a large reason for these universal answers. Either that or the lines are being parroted with little understanding.

    I’d also agree that the statement “just create compelling and useful content”, as without content doesn’t get links in most cases without promotion. Most people don’t have enough money to promote their own commercial content, never mind info and resources. The commercial SE ranking increase from links to your “compelling content” are also very low in my experience.

  5. Sebastian on 28 September, 2009  #link

    David, you’re right. This is not satisfactory. From an SEO’s perspective that boils down to “Dear site owner, either create compelling content or view my list of billable hours monthly”, and of course search engine reps do sit in the same boat. ;)

  6. […] The “just create compelling and useful content” lie, […]

  7. Russ on 28 September, 2009  #link

    Think like a search engineer is the best “duh” on this list.

  8. […] look at it this way: Don’t create compelling content to be #1 in Google, create great products and services so you’re #1 in people’s […]

  9. Mark Rushworth on 28 September, 2009  #link

    I think the biggest lie is that search engines are trying to serve the best results in the natural listings…. they dont and its not commercilly in their interest to as it would kill a large portion of advertising revenue if they listed high quality sites in the natural listings. thats why theres lots of crappy resource based sites listed under blatently commercial keyword searches.

  10. Sebastian on 30 September, 2009  #link

    Mark, think the other way round. If there wouldn’t be accurate search results, there would be no single user come by to click on the ads. Rest assured ads get clicked even when the top ten organic results are highly relevant to the search query.

  11. Noah on 30 September, 2009  #link

    If the search engines didn’t want to return relevant results, then they wouldn’t bother placing their ads before the 1st result returned. They’d just leave their ads off to the side and expect people to click them after being frustrated at all the crap. Since this obviously isn’t the case, we see them trying to increase their CTR all the time with tweaks.

  12. CyndiSmith on 30 September, 2009  #link

    THANK YOU - I think I’ll have my clients read your blog before making decisions or suggestions. As a webmistress/developer with a marketing background, SEO kind of fell in my lap wayyy back in the days of submission spamming and cloaked keywords - PRE-GOOGLE even. It’s been a fun ride, but it’s so annoying to see folks jump out and claim such-and-such without empirical proof. It’s also amusing to watch hoards stampede towards the latest buzz-phrase or put all their eggs in one basket. One must think sales tool AND engine-friendly (optimizing the user experience while seriously doing everything possible to make the engines happy). And no, my marketing background doesn’t promise overnight Twitter millions, sell you my latest diet, or entice you to join my MLM organization. I sure wish there were a word for legitimate marketing! (Sorry guys, running through the barefoot crowd with my Vasques on, but after deleting my spam and filtering through the zillion DM Tweets, I can get a little TESTY.

    Long story short, THANK you.
    :) Cyndi (a.k.a. @WebVixn)

  13. Brian Makas on 1 October, 2009  #link

    Content is not the end all and be all it’s still the foundation on which one’s SEO is built and should be the #1 focus of marketing management.

    With that said, I agree that content alone will only take you so far and there’s a role for SEO specialists to address the technicalities that make the (big) difference between being in the top 25 and the top 5. The real challenge as a SEO specialist is trying to balance how much one says “just trust me” and how much one talks about the nuts and bolts.

  14. 9 Tasty Tips For Ecommerce SEOs on 5 October, 2009  #link

    […] I guess it all comes back to a truth stated in 1995: content is king. It’s just that wrapping that content in new and interesting ways is the prime differentiator […]

  15. Sebastian on 5 October, 2009  #link

    Adam, selling “content is king” without an adjective (like “unique” for example) is quite dangerous in some communities. ;)

  16. Michael Thomas on 7 October, 2009  #link

    Very interesting, I think one of the key things is to make sure the content is brand new, fresh up to date and original. Then stuffing it with keywords…!

  17. Dennis Bellows on 24 October, 2009  #link

    I agree. Im tired of seeing “content is king” in every SEO post I read. If that were the case then everyone would have thousands of backlinks! What is key is decent content, and GREAT ways to get that content out to the web market.

  18. […] Why the heck should you invest valuable time into crafting out compelling content, when there’s a shortcut? […]

  19. […] The “Just Create Compelling and Useful Content” Lie (Sebastian’s Pamphlets): Sebastian highlights the elements of a successful website. Hint: it’s not just great content alone. […]

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