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The other day I was talking to some fine upstanding entrepreneurial types in a bar, who were chatting excitedly about how they’d recently got a great deal on some very cheap web content. Just £5 per article, in fact. Interesting, I thought. ‘Of course, it’s total garbage’, they admitted. ‘But we put it up anyway. You know, for SEO’.

Because hey, the more content the better, right? Well, yes and no. More content is better. But not if it’s crap. I think we can all agree that adding more crap to a pile of crap does not make it any less of a pile of crap. In fact, one might argue, what you now have is a considerably bigger pile of crap.

Frankly, for less than one penny per word, crap is all you should reasonably expect.

For startup owners, there’s always the temptation to try and cut costs as much as possible. And fair enough, that’s all part of the bootstrapping experience. But before you go running to Fiverr, here’s what you need to know about cheap SEO content:

  • It’s bad for users
  • It’s bad for your brand
  • And yeah, it’s bad for SEO

Here’s why.

SEO isn’t just about keywords

Google is very open about the importance of high-quality content. Sure, keywords are important. But so is value. If you’ve never heard of Google Panda, it’s time to get acquainted. Google Panda is an algorithm that penalises websites for having poor content. That includes:

So by filling your blog with cheap, low value content, what you’re essentially doing is leaving out a big basket of bamboo with a bow on it.

To create a page that ranks, the content needs to earn its place by being among the best. It should be unique, factual, comprehensive, and well-edited. Poorly written content will drive visitors away. And what it will also do is give you a higher bounce rate.

What people sometimes forget is that bounce rate is a ranking factor too. Google wants to provide users with the best information for their search query. If they click through to your blog only to leave after a few seconds, this tells Google that the page was a poor match for the query. Pretty soon, your rankings will drop – even if they improved at first.

You get what you pay for

Writing content for the web is generally undervalued compared to areas like web development or graphic design. We spend so much time thinking about how our websites look and work that we forget about what they’re trying to say. What’s more, there are plenty of cheap writers around who are willing to work for pittance. A little like social media management, many people suffer from the delusion that ‘anyone can write’.

But your audience isn’t stupid. Could ‘just anyone’ write about what you do? Most of us are smart enough to see through hastily researched writing that doesn’t quite nail the point it’s trying to make. Decent copywriters (who charge more than £5 per post, by the way) are trained to turn your brand into a genuine, credible entity – one users will trust when it comes to handing over their credit card details. And decent SEO copywriters will do all that, plus a little extra wizardry to boost you up the SERPs.

Poor content trashes your credibility

Content is the main reason visitors come to your website. And how they experience that content will influence what they think of your brand. You wouldn’t leave bags of garbage lying around the client-facing areas of your business (or indeed any other area, hopefully). You have standards, so why shouldn’t your content live up to them?

Just because someone talks a lot doesn’t mean what they’re saying has value. Does it, Donald?

Yes indeed, we have all come across meaningless internet fluff at some time or another. But humans are tired of internet fluff. And Google is developing even better fluff detectors.

Instead, find out what people in your niche are actually searching for and talking about. You don’t need paid tools to run keyword research – Ubersuggest is free and it’s one of the best. Then for the love of God, hire someone who grasps the subject matter and who knows how to write for your audience.

What does quality SEO content look like?

Effective content is high-quality and SEO-friendly. And if it’s not high-quality, then it’s probably not SEO-friendly. At least, not in the long term.

You need carefully selected keywords (and natural variations of them) distributed artfully throughout your posts. For this, you need to know how to conduct effective keyword research. Particular care and attention should be given to your title tag, meta description, image alt tags, subheadings, and opening paragraph.

You also need external links to authority sites and internal links to establish site structure. Posts should be formatted for a digital audience, broken down into scannable elements. But most importantly, you need to offer relevant information that people will actually want to read, which is in line with your brand values and tone of voice.

That’s a lot to ask of £5.

If you want your blog to be an asset to your website, you should be prepared to pay for content that will please users and search engines. Thinking only in terms of SEO is a flawed approach because Google ultimately provides a service for users.

Remember, it’s not just about traffic; it’s also about conversion. At the end of the day, crap just isn’t very persuasive.

SEO is a long-term strategy. It should be considered an investment. There will always be quick wins and those who try to hack the system. Some of these approaches may work for a time, but you’ll always be looking over your shoulder for the next algorithm update. Original, thought leadership level content is a safe bet when it comes to dominating SERPs, while maintaining brand integrity and forming a dedicated readership.