Spam for Breakfast!

Happy first Monday of 2010, AWers.

We talked about SEO and keywords, last time. I’ve got a post I’ve been working on about agents blogging, but in the meantime I’ve been deleting a fair amount of spam from the comments threads since we went live with comments here. (Thank you to HistorySleuth for the heads-up on this morning’s fresh batch.) So I’m looking at turning on more of the anti-spam tools. If you guys get comments hung up in moderation, please feel free to drop me a note and I’ll go and unscreen your post. Real comments make me grin the rest of the day, so I don’t want to miss any.Spam!

But I’ll confess to being already a bit grumpy about spam in general, so I got just plain mad when I got to the AW forums to discover that an agent (and a legitimate agent at that) is apparently running a contest on her blog, and one of the rules for entry is to post a link to the contest site on your own blog or site, and two other venues. That means that a half-dozen comment-spam links had been posted all over the forums, already.

So I wrote the agent in question with my objections, and she blew me off with a cheerful but dismissive statement that this is just how it’s done, and “Obviously, I didn’t send them directly to you nor do I have control over where they choose to post.”

No, actually – requiring that people invade other sites with comment spam is NOT how it’s done. It’s a fairly astonishing breach of netiquette, in fact. There’s a good article about comment spam, what it is, and how to deal with it, here.

Requiring that people spam message boards and other people’s blogs? That’s a far cry from asking people to tweet a link, retweet the link, or post on their own blogs/sites. Dealing with spam takes up an awful lot of everyone’s time. Most bloggers, community members, and board moderators are actively hostile—and with good reason.

Why don’t we just ignore spam? Because it interrupts the conversation. When you have to scroll past post after post of links that have nothing to do with what people are actually talking about, it’s disruptive and distracting. It’s also a cheesy attempt to try and cash in on other people’s hard work maintaining a community.

So how does anyone get the word out about a promotion (or a contest) without making site-owners and bloggers actively hostile? That’s actually dead simple. You build a reputation with your participation, then you spend that reputation carefully. Participation. Real conversation. Posting good links in relevant places will actually enhance your credibility, in fact.

Message boards and blogs are usually equipped to let people link back to their own sites in their signatures and/or profiles. Often, there’s even an appropriate place to post a direct link if you have an announcement or are promoting something. If you’re participating in real conversations, saying interesting things, interacting and engaging with an online community, then people are going to be a good deal more attentive and curious about what you’re doing elsewhere, as well.

Content Isn’t King, Your Reader Is

I’ve been hearing a lot of writers talking about starting blogs, or buying domains and building Web sites, to try and increase their online presence and build a platform for their nonfiction, or to try to establish a Web presence for their fiction. I’ll tell you guys the same thing I tell everyone who asks me: Good content is about real conversation with real people.

Good content is about real conversation with real people. Remember that. We’ll be coming back to it.

Spiders and Bots
Write for people not spiders

I’ve been hearing a lot of writers talking about starting blogs, or buying domains and building Web sites, to try and increase their online presence and build a platform for their nonfiction, or to try to establish a Web presence for their fiction. I’ll tell you guys the same thing I tell everyone who asks me: Good content is about real conversation with real people.

If you’re thinking about starting a blog or Web site, or you’ve already been noodling around with Web content for a while, there’s a saying you’ve probably heard: Content is king. Now, that doesn’t mean that you just churn out as many words as you can, as fast as you can. It also doesn’t mean that you need to use just the right words, arranged in just the right order, to form some sort of keyword Web-traffic voodoo. That’s a common myth that some content sites persist in repeating like a mantra.

It should go without saying that if you’ve got a paying gig writing Web content, and the guy that’s writing the checks wants you to use his talismanic keywords, you use ’em, and cash the check. That’s what freelancing is about, sometimes. However, if you’re writing for your own blog or Web site, then what you really need to be thinking about is who your audience is, and how to be interesting to them. You want them to come back, right? And you want them to link to you, and send their friends to read, too.

If you’ve spent any time at all considering online writing, you’ll already have heard all sorts of bloggers, writers, and wannabes tossing around the acronym SEO with utter certainty. Even people who really ought to know better by now will assure you, quite earnestly, that ultimately keywords will win the internets.

If you’ve got a Twitter account, you’ll probably have already noticed that you can’t tweet anything that includes SEO—even something like “what the SEO weenies aren’t telling you…”—without having about a dozen new followers. Those new followers will all have things like “online marketing!” and “SEO specialist!” in their profiles.

Fuggedaboutit.

Look, all SEO stands for is Search Engine Optimization. People use keywords to try to game Google and the other search engines into increasing page rank, because they’ve included specific words and phrases. Often, they’ve included those so-called keywords over and over and over again. That doesn’t make for entertaining writing. It also doesn’t make for return visitors, because readers can tell when they’re being used.

Pick out a couple of common keywords to do a search, and see what pops up on the front page of your search engine. You’ll get a couple of pretty good links. More than likely, though, your search is also going to bring up a lists of sites that describe themselves using the keyword search terms over and over again, and a fair handful of those links are going to take you to spam sites. If you go visit those sites, they’ll have entire pages consisting of nothing but keywords. Search engine designers are pretty regularly refining their algorithms to try and work around people who try to game the system this way.

Here’s an example. I run AbsoluteWrite. My audience is writers, people who want to be writers, and people working in various facets of publishing. So it’s only natural that I’m going to talk about writing, here—but whether or not anyone reads what I have to say depends entirely on whether or not I’m talking about that chosen topic intelligibly, articulately, and hopefully in reasonably entertaining fashion.

If I decided to maximize writing-related keywords in this post, it could read something like this: Writers writing blog posts or writing Web content must write targeted prose to maximize the visibility of their writing to anyone searching for writers to write for a website, or anyone writing or searching for writing that’s about whatever the chosen focus—in this case, writers and writing—of a site’s writing content might be.

That’s borderline gibberish.

If I choose to write a whole post that way, it’s going to discourage return visitors. It’s also going to discourage incoming links, because people want to link to people, not keywords, and not spam. Ultimately, the best lists of keywords in the world aren’t going to win the Internet. They can’t. Because keywords alone don’t actually say anything that anyone wants to read.

Good content is about real conversation with real people.