Bad Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – Polluting the Web


SEO Trash

Caveat: Understanding Search Engine Optimisation is vital if you want to succeed online. An un-optimised website is a wasted opportunity. Pursuing higher rankings is a logical goal for most organisations with websites.

However, some SEO practices are not essential, not very effective and create a web of trash. Article marketing is a good example of a deeply inauthentic, junky marketing process that clutters the web with endlessly duplicated content.

Link-exchange sites and directories are also examples of eco-systems that exist purely for SEO purposes.


I tried article marketing. It seemed like a good idea – a way to share content and gain links. In reality, article repositories are dumps that only seem to be used by spam-merchants. (Feel free to tell me if you feel differently…)

Google’s View

I asked Google’s Matt Cutts what he thought about article marketing and web directories. While not damning, his views suggest that these SEO tactics aren’t the best way to approach SEO.


The Right Approach to Article Marketing

Article marketing is a very useful web marketing technique – providing you don’t use article repositories. With article repositories, your article will probably be reproduced on many low-grade websites with low (or nil) PageRank. The benefit in SEO terms is negligible – especially if Google decides to penalise you for duplicating content.

It’s also worth pointing out that because many spam-blogs will reprint your articles, you’ll have a bunch of links to your site from so-called bad neighbourhoods.

If you want to use article marketing to gain links to your website, and get your name in front of a new audience, then contribute fresh articles to quality websites. While this means more work, it will give you a genuine, high-quality audience and links from reputable sites that you can hand-pick.

Bad Content: for the Sake of Content

SEO wizards realised that because Google loves content, and people love content, they should bulk up their websites with content.

The result? SEO companies pay students £10 (or less) to write generic articles about their clients’ businesses.

The result? Sub-prime content – not interesting, not relevant, not readable. This kind of content is aimed at search engines and link-building. It’s for robots, not humans.

Quality Content

The alternative to junk content written by anonymous students is authentic content created by an organisation’s own people. This is the difference between meaningful, interesting content and cheap, hollow filler.

Good SEO?

Good SEO is about optimising content (and ensuring a website is optimised for search engines) not about creating content purely for optimisation.

SEO can often suggest useful additional content – which is fine. But junk content created purely for search engines creates a web of trash. Entire corners of the web are now stuffed with rubbish, creating a kind of SEO echo-chamber.

Choosing SEO Strategies

When planning your SEO, it’s important to realise that many popular tactics aren’t as useful as they seem. While many people invest in article marketing and web directories, they don’t always provide a good return.

What do you think?

I realise these are contentious issues, so I’d love to know what you think. Do article repositories, link exchanges and directories serve any real purpose? (A purpose beyond supporting the SEO industry.)

(Picture courtesy of jdj150 via Flickr)

Web Directories – Does Anyone Use Them?

There are lots of web directories around – like Hot Frog, Carry On Surfing, Best of the Web, VivaStreet and Splut.

Now I know that everyone likes to submit their websites to directories because you get SEO-boosting links, but does anyone use these directories?

Who uses directories to look for a website or a particular type of business? If you regularly use web directories to find websites and businesses, please let me know.

Useful lessons for freelancers – #10: Try everything

Try everything. You can’t predict where you will find work, or where work will find you. Explore your business world.

Try a little of everything and see what works. Fortune favours the brave.

Creating a Web Presence – Why Bother?

The Short Version:

If you don’t have a web presence, your competitors will overtake you. You’ll miss out, without ever knowing about it.

The Long Version:

I recently worked with a new client who has very little presence on the web. One of the first things I do when a new client gets in touch is Google them.

I’m not being nosy; I want to know:

  • who they are
  • what they’ve done
  • what they’re doing
  • what people are saying about them
  • what they’re saying about other people

It’s important to me that my clients are reputable, respected and not notorious for late payment, spamming or other nefarious activities. And I think Googling a business or individual is the very least you should do to check someone’s credentials.

Now, this particular new client had almost no mentions on the web. Which seemed weird. So I asked my new client if they had a web presence and she said:

“I have a web domain but I’m yet to develop it and I have a linked in account but don’t check it. What advantages does a social media presence have?”

Rather than reply by email, I thought this was a good opportunity to blog about the reasons for having a web presence – a chance to create a blog post that I can point other clients and colleagues towards when this question arises.

So, what is the value of being mentioned on the web, and maintaining a healthy social media presence? The value is manifold:

Supporting Evidence

It’s nice to see evidence of a person’s life – their actions, their works – the web is a perfect place to scatter this evidence.


Who do you know? Who have you worked with? The web lets you demonstrate your connections in a way that feels more genuine than anonymous claims in a CV. LinkedIn is especially good for showing connections and displaying recommendations – all deeply authentic because it links you to the actual people you’ve worked for.

Sense of Self

Your web presences allow you to give a bit of yourself away. Don’t be a cold, flat CV – be a human being with opinions, preferences, idiosyncrasies and embarrassing musical tastes (see

Build Trust

Every time your name appears on the web, it increases the sense that you are a real person who does real things, and who can be relied upon in a real sense. If someone Googles your name and finds nothing but a private Facebook profile, they have learnt nothing. Give searchers everything they could possibly want.


The web is incredibly democratic – you can speak to anyone on Twitter and (if you go about it in the right way) get their attention.

Industrious social media operators can side-step traditional recruitment processes and make friends with potential employers. Social media tools like Twitter and FriendFeed give you access to interesting individuals – and the chance to make their acquaintance.

How do you do all this?

It’s easy! Just follow my twelve-step program:

  1. Read blogs
  2. Join Twitter
  3. Read blog posts about Twitter, like this one
  4. Start a blog.  If you’re technologically-challenged, use, TypePad or Blogger
  5. Tweet regularly
  6. Blog regularly
  7. Comment on other blogs in fields that interest you
  8. Use @replies on Twitter if you have something interesting to say (that ensures the recipient sees your tweet)
  9. Join FriendFeed
  10. Maintain your LinkedIn account, updating connections, asking for and giving recommendations
  11. Work on getting a proper website. Again, if your technical expertise is limited, consider
  12. Once you’ve been blogging for a little while, offer to contribute a post to another blog

Scratching the Tip of the Social Media Iceberg

As you’ve probably guessed, there’s more to it than my 12 steps suggest. Every social networking site has its own quirks and requires different strategies to get the most out of it.

The best way to get started with anything like this is slowly. Take measured steps – always take a bit of time to see how people use websites like Twitter and LinkedIn. Follow the lead of others, and try to understand what constitutes bad behaviour in each forum.

Further Reading:

Matt at Zen Bullets has an interesting post: Write Your Autobiography, Before Someone Else Writes It For You

Useful lessons for freelancers – #9: Volunteer Your Services

Volunteer your services. Better to be working for nothing than working at nothing. Most charities would love to hear from you. Help people. Make a difference. Do something wonderful.

And you don’t have to volunteer for charities – many small businesses struggle to exist. Help a friend or a friend’s friend to succeed in their new venture. Each bit of experience you collect has massive potential benefits:

  • CV enhancement
  • New contacts
  • Karma credits
  • Testimonials

So I recommend that you embrace any opportunity to get involved. Of course, be careful not to get a reputation as the person who does things for free.

Why Twitter? – Method in the Mayhem

Short version:

Twitter , while seemingly pointless, is actually useful. If you’re clever and persistent, you can use Twitter to:

  • Let contacts get to know you as a person
  • Develop existing relationships and create new ones
  • Learn about your friends, colleagues and contacts
  • Demonstrate your intelligence/wit/charm
  • Get answers to your questions
  • Find new clients
  • Find volunteers to help you get things done

Long version:

This post is all about how I accidentally started lobbying for Twitter, and the justifications I gave for its use. If you don’t know already, Twitter is essentially a website that allows you to create your own account, then post short messages (limited to 140 characters) that answer the perennial question: What are you doing?

Twitter is loved and hated – to some it’s a beautiful device that brings them closer to their world, and to others it’s an inane time waster and an unwanted surge of information in an already overloaded world.

I recently found myself evangelising on behalf of Twitter at a party – I was recommending Twitter to a social media consultant, who viewed Twitter as an unnecessary additional distraction.

So, how did I justify Twitter?

1. By demonstrating usefulness

I gave real examples of how Twitter had been genuinely useful to me.

Example 1:

I’ve been working on writing guides recently, and when I wanted some readers to give me feedback, I turned to my Twitter followers.

And nearly ten different people responded. And those are ten people who volunteered to read my guide. I’ve since received their feedback and revised my guide.

Without Twitter, I would have had to email the people I thought would be most likely to cooperate, or most interested in providing feedback. With Twitter, I can broadcast the request and let interested people decide for themselves. It’s less pressured, more casual, and more effective because of it.

Also, many people follow me on Twitter who I’ve never met – let alone emailed. So I’ve had relative (and in some cases total) strangers giving me valuable feedback. Without Twitter, that would not have happened.

Example 2:

Back to my writing guides… I realised that having nice looking PDFs would probably help the guides get distributed and get read. So I needed a designer.

As the guides are going to be completely free, and freely distributed, I’m trying to avoid spending money on them. So how do you find a designer who is willing to work for nothing more than a discreet marketing opportunity and a dose of good karma?

I was wary of even asking anyone to work for free, because I’m sensitive to the fact that many people receive requests for work on spec, or on the promise of equity. But I asked the Twittersphere, happy knowing that nobody could reasonably resent my request, because it’s so easy to ignore.

And you know what? I had two offers from designers, willing to take a look at my project. Currently, Emma Nicol from Door 22 is working on the guides (the guides are now published). Thanks Emma! I should point out that Emma only agreed to even consider helping me out because we had become better acquainted through Twitter.

2. By suggesting that not using Twitter means you miss out

What’s happening in your town? What are the latest web apps, memes or theories that are bouncing around cyber-space? How do you know about all the ‘latest’ things?

Twitter can be a great way to keep up with the world. People tend to Tweet about their new discoveries or latest passions. So you get to hear about them.

Increasingly, conversations are taking place within Twitter. Ideas blossom, burst into life, crash, burn and die before they’ve even left the Twittersphere. If you’re not on Twitter, you’ll never know.

3. By explaining the value of the seemingly inane

So you’ve looked at Twitter, and got annoyed because people post messages (or Tweets) like:

Now, everyone has their own idea of what is useful, what is boring, what is rude and what is pointless. The beauty of Twitter is that you can constantly refine your Twitter stream. If someone consistently Tweets about stuff that doesn’t interest you, block them. It’s easy.

But, it’s worth considering that even ‘inane’ messages about what people are eating or cooking or blogging about, are giving you a window into their lives. You may have a strong network of business contacts, but how well do you know your contacts as people?

Twitter gives you a great opportunity to get to know the people that you work and network with. Twitter also gives you a great opportunity to meet new people. And yes, that means meeting people in real life too!

4. By explaining that I’ve found work through Twitter

I’ve encountered new clients through Twitter – people I might never have met had it not been for a connection on Twitter.

For many people, Twitter is a great way to maintain contact with their network, and to expand their network in new directions. There is probably no greater way to casually, gently tell people that you exist.

In conclusion

Twitter offers powerful benefits. But you have to contribute before you’ll ever get anything from it. If you view Twitter as just some way to find people to do things for free, or just as a tool to promote your blog, or just as a forum to moan about your boss, then you’ll probably struggle to really enjoy it.

View Twitter as something bigger; something that you do because it’s fun, something that just happens to be very useful.

Further Reading:

To avoid accidentally annoying lots of Twitterers, I recommend reading Josh Russell’s article on Twitter etiquette.

How to Grow Your Twitter Network (How to Find More Followers) by Gregor Spowart

Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write It

Also available in PDF: Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write It

Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write

and How to Write It

This is a short guide on how to write for websites – designed to give you a few tips and encouraging words to get started writing.

Remember: it’s all about Participation not Perfection

Good writing on the web serves a purpose. Words can inform, inspire, entice or sell. The best web writing would not qualify as great writing in the literary sense. So don’t feel you need to pepper your writing with unusual words or poetic touches. You’ll achieve greater success if you just try to communicate with your audience.

Remembering your reader

Whenever you write, try to keep your reader at the forefront of your mind. Who are they? What do they want? Make sure your writing fulfils their needs.

If you’re writing about a product or service, remember to write about the benefits that those products or services offer. So rather than focusing on features, and writing something like:

Our chain saw blades are made of high-carbon steel

Try to highlight how the features of a product or service translate into benefits to the user or consumer, like this:

“The high-carbon steel blade keeps a sharp edge for longer – allowing you to cut faster and more safely.”

What’s the benefit of benefits?

Imagine you want to buy a lawn mower. What do you really want? Do you want a machine that cuts grass or do you want shorter grass? You really want shorter grass – the machine is just a means to an end. Remember that your readers actually want shorter grass.

Although my examples are based around very physical products, the need to give readers clear benefits applies to all kinds of companies, services and products.

What’s so special about the web?

You need to be aware of the little things that make writing for the web different to writing for print. You can’t just lift your writing from a Word document and expect it to flourish on the web.

Reading from the screen

Reading on screen can be hard on the eyes. You can make it easier:

  • Write in short, simple sentences.
  • Use headings and sub-headings to break up blocks of text.
  • Leave white space between paragraphs

Links – a web of connections

With links, pages on the web can lead visitors anywhere – giving you the power to support your claims, show your sources and share great finds. Don’t forget to add links to your writing wherever appropriate.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Many people find things on the Internet by searching for them. Google, Yahoo and the other search engines ‘read’ the pages of your website, and direct people to your site if it contains what people are searching for.

It’s important to remember this when writing for your website. What terms might people search for your information with? Make sure you think about the words and phrases other people use when talking about your products and services. Make sure you use these words and phrases in your writing, and in headings and sub-headings.

Remember who you’re writing for

With SEO, it’s easy to get distracted with thoughts of how search engines will interpret your content. While it’s wise to understand the way search engines work, you should always write for people. Focus on what your human audience want to read. If you publish things on the web that are interesting, people will link to your writing. This is a better, more natural approach to SEO.

Getting discovered

If you want people to find your writing, you’ll need to get in front of their eyes. Write comments on other bloggers’ posts, use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, and contribute to forums (making sure to include a link to your website in your signature) to find your audience.

Every link to your website has two values: it helps people discover your work, and it improves your website’s search engine performance.

On Writing

Be nice to your readers: use a spell checker. Also, ask a friend, relative or colleague to review your work. It’s always sensible to let your words rest overnight before re-reading, just to make sure they still make sense in the morning.

The Internet: nothing to fear

Many people worry that when they post their writing to the Internet, a stream of mean, sarcastic comments will rush to greet them. In reality, this is highly unlikely.

If you post informative content in a considerate, friendly way, you are not likely to receive anything but friendly, polite responses.

Flex your writing muscles!

I hope this brief guide has given you a few pointers to get writing. With any kind of writing, the only way to get better is to write.

Imagine that you have a writing muscle. You might not have exercised this muscle recently, but all you need to do is start writing. So start writing, and flex your writing muscles!

Key Points

  • Remember your reader – what do they want?
  • Remember your desired result – what do you want to achieve?
  • Highlight how the features of a product or service translate into benefits
  • Optimise your writing for the screen with short, simple sentences.
  • Use white space, headings and sub-headings to break up text
  • Look for ways to lead people to your website – gaining links and mentions on forums, blogs (in comments) and social networking sites
  • The best way to become a better writer is by writing. So start writing!

Credits: thanks to Premasagar Rose of Dharmafly (Ethical Social Media) for his considered editorial input, and Emma Nicol of Door 22 (Graphic Design Agency) for her astute design work.

Writing for Bloggers

As requested, here’s a blog post version of my writing guide for bloggers, which is also available as a PDF.

Writing for Bloggers –

A Quick Guide on Style, Substance and Strategy

This is a short guide that wants to encourage you to blog, and to blog well. The most important thing to remember is that blogging is about conversing – discussing the things that interest you. When you blog, you join in the online discussions that are happening all around us.

Blogging is about sharing your ideas and thoughts, and it’s about contributing. Blogging is not about poetry, great literature or polished prose.

So join in the conversation, and don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. It’s better to stumble your way through blogging, learning by doing, than to spend hours agonising over every blog post.

Why bother?

Before we look at how you can blog well, and enjoy it, let’s consider why you’re doing this. Think about which of the following apply to you:

  1. To promote your business
  2. To reflect on your personal development
  3. To announce your news
  4. To share discoveries
  5. Because your boss says you have to
  6. To stake out your corner of the web
  7. To improve your website’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  8. To get recognition for your work
  9. To connect more personally to your customers
  10. To provide a platform for customer feedback

Conversational communications

Blogging is very different from traditional media (like newspapers or TV) because the web allows everyone to become the producers and commentators of every item of news. Your blog should acknowledge the conversations already taking place around you.

How can you hold a conversation on the web?

  • Invite comment from your readers
  • Respond to commentators’ opinions
  • Freely link to relevant blog posts
  • Comment on other bloggers’ posts

What to write?

An empty blog can be intimidating – and as uninspiring as a blank page or white screen. Before you start blogging, it can be difficult to decide what subjects to cover. You may be wondering:

  • What is permissible?
  • What will be interesting?
  • How will I come up with ideas?

Deciding what’s right to write about

Your understanding of the ‘subject’ of your blog will probably change over time. As you write more blog posts, you’ll learn which things work and which things don’t. To start with, stick to what you know, or what you feel most comfortable writing about.

A note on subjects you know and subjects you don’t know:

You don’t have to be the world’s foremost authority on a subject in order to write about it. Blogging is about discovery and development as much as it’s about sharing ideas or knowledge. If you’re not certain about a particular topic or subject area, say so. Your readers will appreciate your honesty.

Where do ideas come from?

The hardest time to find ideas for blog posts is at the start. That’s because you’ve said nothing at all, and everything remains to be said. Once you start blogging, ideas flow as though a dam has burst – one idea leads to another, readers suggest new posts, comments beg to be answered, the Blogosphere* draws you inwards, onwards!

To begin with, try brainstorming ideas with a friend or colleague. Look at other blogs for inspiration. Try a list – something like ‘The Top 10 Tricks for…” Turn a list into a series – so rather than giving away ten ideas in one blog post, create ten blog posts – publishing one a week for the next ten weeks.

Why not write about…

  • A book you’ve read
  • A problem you’ve solved
  • A question you can’t answer
  • Something that inspires you
  • What motivates you
  • A recent project
  • A favourite client


How often will you blog? It’s a good idea to set a target. If you’re starting out, aim for one post per week, as a minimum. Twice a week is better.

Once you have a list of blog post titles or rough ideas for posts, outline a schedule for posting. Decide which post you’ll publish on which day. Mark the posts on a calendar. Tell your readers when you will be posting, and don’t let them down!

Writing for your blog

Luckily, the way we communicate has moved on from the lessons we learned in school. Here are some old-school rules you can forget about:

  • Split infinitives. What is a split infinitive? It doesn’t matter.
  • Contractions. Words like: can’t, don’t, shouldn’t. Feel free to use contractions, especially if they make your writing sound more conversational.
  • Repeating words. If you’re writing about computer networks (for example), it’s okay to repeat the words ‘computer networks’.

What’s the point?

The best way to start writing a blog post is by defining your purpose. Answer the questions:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • Who am I writing this for?
  • What do I want to achieve?

Remember your reader

Be nice to your reader. Think about them as you write. It’s them that you are writing for:

  • After writing a blog post, leave it overnight, then review it again. You’re more likely to spot mistakes or problems with your posts after taking a break.
  • Use sub-headings to break up the text. Remember that reading on screen can be hard on the eyes. Sub-headings help people to scan your posts – great for readers in a hurry!
  • Use a spell-checker.
  • Ask a friend or colleague to read your blog posts before you publish them. Ask them to check that your posts make sense.

The Internet: nothing to fear

Some people worry about the reaction their blog posts will receive. You shouldn’t worry. As long as you write informative, useful blog posts in a friendly, considerate way, you will receive friendly, polite responses from your readers.


Hyperlinks, or links – the clickable text that leads you from one website to another – are one of the things that makes the web such a special place. You can use links to provide evidence for your claims, or support for your argument, or additional resources for your readers. Use links in your writing wherever they might be useful.

Writing makes you a better writer

I hope this brief guide has given you a few pointers to get writing. With any kind of writing, the only way to learn and improve is to write.

Imagine that you have a writing muscle. You might not have exercised this muscle recently, but all you need to do is start writing. So start writing, and flex your writing muscles!

Key Points:

  • Blogging is conversational – write as you would speak, and be open to comments from your readers
  • Schedule your blog posts in a calendar and blog regularly
  • It’s okay to split infinitives, use contractions and repeat words
  • Use short sentences and headings to make your writing easier to read on screen
  • Ask someone to read your posts before you publish them, and use a spell-checker
  • Regular writing practice will improve your writing skills
  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – become a better blogger by blogging!

Thanks to the following for their input: (who responded to my request for readers on Twitter)

Writing for Bloggers – A Quick Guide on Style, Substance and Strategy

So here it is – my second guide to writing for the web.

Writing for Bloggers – A Quick Guide on Style, Substance and Strategy

This guide focuses on blogging, and things bloggers can do to improve their writing. It’s a very short guide, intended to cover the basics and remove obstacles in the paths of new bloggers.

If you would like the white label version to give your clients, email me and I’ll send you a copy. Please distribute freely – I want to encourage people to blog.

Thanks to the following for their input: (who responded to my request for readers on Twitter)

Writing for the Web – a Mini Guide

As promised, and previously discussed, I’ve been busy working on a couple of writing guides. Here’s the first:

Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write it

Now this guide isn’t for everyone: it’s for new writers, people who aren’t social-media-savvy, people who want or need to write for their own website, but who need a bit of guidance. I really wanted to create this guide because so many people are realising the value of adding content to websites, but not everyone understands how to write for the web.

Web developers – save your sites!

So, if you’re a web developer who regularly dreads the arrival of your client’s DIY copy, why not grease the wheels of good fortune by giving clients a little direction? This guide should prevent people making basic mistakes and improve your chances of getting copy that doesn’t detract from the website you’ve lovingly crafted.

If you’d like to give this guide to your clients, I can even offer you a white-label version that you can brand as your own.


Thanks to Premasagar Rose of Dharmafly, Brighton’s finest ethical web developers and social media instigators, and Emma Nicol of Door 22 Creative (a Graphic Design agency) – who took my Word document and worked some crafty design magic on it. Thanks!


Coming soon is Writing for Bloggers – a similarly short guide that aims to remove obstacles from the paths of virgin bloggers.

On the horizon from Kendall Copywriting – 2009

2008 has been a big year for me – fatherhood, self-employment, turning 30… but what have I got planned for 2009?

  • Writing guides – freely distributed, super-short guides to writing. Coming soon!
  • Blog posts that justify the use of social media – a post on Twitter is coming soon
  • More blog posts that bring you strange signs and odd uses of language
  • More of my thoughts on marketing, web design, usability and copywriting

Things I’d like to do (but may not):

  • Redesign my website
  • Public speaking
  • Take on an intern/apprentice/work experience person
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