On SEO and Sports Illustrated’s Forthcoming Winter of Discontent
A few days ago Deadspin published an excellent article entitled Inside TheMaven's Plan To Turn Sports Illustrated Into A Rickety Content Mill. While the entire thing is worth reading, the synopsis of it is that a few idiot businessmen have acquired Sports Illustrated, laid off half its staff, and intend to turn it into a content-churning bloated monstrosity in the style of Huffington Post circa 2011 or Forbes in its current state.
As the authors so eloquently put it:
….the people now in charge of Sports Illustrated plan on turning it into the sort of volume-driven content farm that ruled the web a dozen or so tweaks of the Google algorithm ago.
But there is one catching point I have with this article. One small point of clarity that I think needs to be made.
Quite simply, TheMaven’s SEO strategy will not work. Not only is TheMaven tearing down the brand, foundation, and appeal of Sports Illustrated, but it’s also taking a dated, inadequate, and misinformed approach to SEO.
As summed up by legit SEO person Matthew J. Brown, “These dudes learned SEO in 2008 and still think Google is one big blue ocean. This model has a zero percent chance of success in 2019.”
This is the one thing that I’m not sure the Deadspin authors and editors adequately conveyed in their article (although I do think they know this.). I know that journalists tend to have a skeptical eye when it comes to writing for search engines. They’ve all been burned before.
But the truth is, content mills no longer work. Google won’t fall for it anymore. One of the first things I do when working with most clients is tell them to turn their blog into a resource hub and start deleting non-performing pages.
I frequently cite Jimmy Daly’s works when discussing the future of blogging and content, including How QuickBooks Nearly Doubled Traffic by Deleting Half Its Content—an article that I can only assume will be very relevant to Sports Illustrated in about 8 months from now.
The One Rule of SEO
I believe that there is only one rule that matters for search engine optimization. It is a simple one.
That rule is:
A lot of SEO fails at this one simple rule. SEO strategists like to make sprawling audits full of data points that only matter to them. They use jargon that interferes with their audience’s understanding. They prize pedantry over clear communication.
On the other hand, you have folks like TheMaven, whose approach to SEO is basically a pyramid scheme. They assume an infinite market, wherein an endless sludge of content spewed into the internet will somehow win. But this is not the world we live in anymore. The things TheMaven is doing for SEO will, instead, create the exact opposite effect.
It’s for that reason that SEO should stop being a dirty word to journalists. SEO is not at the opposite end of the spectrum from good writing. This is the one thing that I think the Deadspin folks missed in putting together this article on TheMaven. They refer to TheMaven’s tactics as “an SEO wet dream”, when the reality is it’s closer to an SEO’s nightmare, half-remembered upon waking.
The good news is that people are waking up to the reality that SEO and quality journalism are not enemies. That content mills are the past, not the future. The sad reality is that we might need the fall of Sports Illustrated to be one last case study, proving what works and what does not.