Is SEO Stifling Creativity in Language?

A piece on American National Public Radio (NPR) posed the question of whether or not the internet is stifling creativity in the English language.  The journalist Linton Weeks points at the increasing use of “web” terms in print media, as well as in the everyday lexicon.  Mr. Weeks also points a finger at SEO as a culprit. How about it?  Is your site contributing to the deterioration of the language?

Mr. Weeks discusses the basic premise of search engine optimisation and the metadata that they depend on to draw the crawlers. The metadata is the “low-hanging fruit for the robots and they scurry home more quickly with references to those websites.” As optimisation techniques have progressed, sites have become increasingly interested in inserting keywords into their headlines and articles with “nuts-and-bolts, no-nonsense words that pigeonhole the story.” The result, he says, can be the “squelching of originality.”

But are the goals of having an optimised site and of having original, creative content – clearly written by writers and not keyword-driven robots – mutually exclusive? Brian Clark, marketing consultant, doesn’t think so.  “Puns, turns of phrases, neologisms, Spoonerisms, etc. … I love them all.  I just don’t use them in headlines.”

He advises that titles and headings be optimised with relevant, carefully chosen keywords.  Here is not really the place to be witty and entertaining – instead, you want to clearly and quickly get to the point (search results will only display 149 characters so you have to catch readers’ attention and convince them of relevancy in that short span).

NPR SEO specialist, Javaun Moradi, says that many sites use generic SEO techniques without a real understanding of how to apply them and how to make them work for both search engines and actual readers. “They’ll then construct really bad content optimised for their choice of search keywords.”  This, needless to say, is very, very bad for the integrity of the language.

The lesson in all of this?  Clearly, it is to have excellent, relevant, well-written content that is optimised strategically. Otherwise, you may be singlehandedly undermining the English language. Really? No. Digital consultant Anthony Burke says, “The English language is something that will never be permanent and will be changed by technology.” But why not make it a positive change by making sure web content is of high quality? Readers will come with SEO and stay with great content.

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