SEO is Killing Our Creativity

Hold on one second… did I optimize that title for search engines?

Lemme open a few new tabs here and jot down my top five keywords to use in this post.

Talk amongst yourselves… I need to throw a keyword in this H1 heading I’m about to use.


I am not an SEO expert. This is evidenced by a Google search of Chris Moody that usually puts me in third place behind a DJ and the guy who beat me to (I’m stuck with a hyphen).

Blogging is starting to feel like when you had to turn in a Bibliography page before there were tools to do that for you. 67% of all plagiarism occurs because creating the Bibliography page is so boring (source: sarcasm).

If blogging starts to feel like a chore… how can we expect to churn out quality content?

Don’t close this yet, but I need to add an H2 or some anchor text now.

Search engines aren’t optimized for storytelling.

It’s all storytelling, you know. That’s what journalism is all about. – Tom Brokaw

Stories are critical.

Job decisions are made based on who tells the best story. Your GPA is better than mine, but I’m talking about Haiti and how it changed my life while you review your transcript.

Friendships are made based on who tells the best story. Think of the best storyteller you know and I bet you people gravitate towards him/her.

SEOMoz has great statistics (seriously… awesome stuff) – here are their top five on-page (keyword-specific) rankings:

  1. Keyword Use Anywhere in the Title Tag – 66% very high importance
  2. Keyword Use as the First Word(s) of the Title Tag – 63% high importance
  3. Keyword Use in the Root Domain Name – 60% high importance
  4. Keyword Use Anywhere in the H1 Headline Tag – 49% moderate importance
  5. Keyword Use in Internal Link Anchor Text – 47% moderate importance

Alright everyone! Let’s huddle up and write a kick-ass blog post and rock the socks off with our SEO!

But… follow all five rules… be engaging… be conversational… be interesting… and let’s publish three times per week! We will rule the Googles and Bings forev3r!

Storytelling beats SEO 11 times out of 10.

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. – Hannah Arendt

If people read what you write and love it… they will share it. These are your “target customers” that you aim to please. If I followed every SEO trick to optimize this post, it would be like reading binary code (that is only 0s and 1s for my non-geek friends).

I know incredible SEO folks and I love them for what they do. SEO is needed to have a successful blog or website. But, storytelling has to come first. Even my analytically driven friends will agree that if I rank first on Google and my time on site is 10 seconds… that is a failure.

Think back to the writing test in high school.

If you wanted to score a solid 5 on the writing test (I will take luck any day), you have to tell a story. You need a compelling title. You need supporting points. You need a strong conclusion that rounds out the hook you started with. Please continue to write like this.

I understand that the pressures of ranking highly in search results continue to increase, but that shouldn’t be the focus. Tell great stories and find a smart SEO mind to get your stories ranking where you want them to be. Don’t think SEO first.

The universe is made of stories, not atoms. – Muriel Rukeyser

SEO minded friends: what tips do you recommend to combine storytelling with effective SEO?

Hat tip to Todd Barr (@tbarr) for the discussion that led to this post and for the title.

Photo credit: christiem

Thanks for reading this post.

Follow me on the rest of the webs.

Still not sure who wrote this post? I'm Chris Moody.


  1. Interesting perspective and some strong points. SEO has changed alot over the past 3-4 years and it's not solely about a robotic, formulaic approach to a preset # of keyword mentions in a piece of content. With that said, search is still the #1 way that we find information on the web. Social networks are reshaping our discovery of information, but Google still rules the day. There are obvious ranking signals with Architecture, Content and Backlinks that influence rank order in organic search — this can't be disputed. I believe the emphasis on SEO should be dictated by the business case. Is it the company's goal to be found in search engines for the services, products and topics associated with its industry? If so, then the business website better have a rock solid CMS, content development & outreach strategy, and a watchful eye on how they leverage their web assets for SEO purposes (can it be indexed? is it unique? does it add value? is it keyword/topic/semantically relevant?). Some of the primary signals mentioned above have strong influence, as do third-party backlinks with solid anchor text and the social graph.

    From a creativity perspective, write first for the user — I agree there. But, as a writer, if SEO has any priority in the business, you should know the longtail and fat head keywords your audience searches for and what capabilities/limitations your publishing platform/CMS has. Title your articles so they theme and relate to mid/long tails keywords — then position your content based on that title/topic and it will naturally resonate with humans and engines. Hopefully, the link love will follow if you have followers and have enlightened them with your writing. Don't forget to link to back to your most important category/product pages using specific anchor text from within the body of your content — it's a reference for users looking for answers and search engines trying to retrieve information.

    Evaluating SEO at the corporate site level (ecommerce, lead gen, etc) is more strategic and intentional than just being creative and writing good content. In practice, SEO should not hinder creativity but breed creativity — with a framework for solid SEO at its core.

    The frustration many marketers have with SEO is often times due to a lack of understanding, lack of results and/or corporate buy-in. When marketers are responsible for increasing traffic, conversions and profits — search engines are front & center in many decisions they make. It's the difference between business & personal goals I suppose. Unfortunately, search engines do not reward a “build it & they will come” philosophy.

    Lastly, there is an active discussion going on about Great Content & its correlation to Great Rankings. Other experts weigh in here:….

    Great thought provoking piece — the way it's titled — this could lead to some solid backlinks ;-) — especially if the backlinks use the anchor text “Chris Moody” — you'll be ranking #1 in no time flat.

  2. Scott,

    Awesome response and thanks for taking the time to explain some of the elements I mentioned.

    I love this line: I believe the emphasis on SEO should be dictated by the business case.

    I completely agree. The personal vs. business needs are also extremely different as you mentioned.

    Essentially, I think we should be mindful of our SEO goals, tell a great story and then finetune the SEO after the fact. I don't propose neglecting keywords though.

    Thanks again for the info and I'll be sure to check out the thread you linked!

    Chris Moody

  3. Oh my Chris. For the last two hours I have been working on a writing sample that optimizes SEO when all I really want to do is tell a story. Thank you for the validation! Now maybe I can actually get inspired again. :)

  4. Real quick response here as well. I agree with both of you. Just as you quoted Mr. Gardner, I quote you because I like your final point – “Essentially,….we should be mindful of our SEO goals, tell a great story and then finetune the SEO after the fact.” Like you, I don't propose neglecting keywords either. However, some days (like today!) I feel like that little girl in the picture with her hand on her chin and a pout on her face. I'm that story teller you talk of. Maybe that's what I needed to hear. I've been concentrating so much on the SEO that I have let my creativity go out the window and what good does that do when both can shared equally?

    Anyway, great discussion here! Anxious to read more thoughts now.

  5. I think that you should write for your readers first and foremost. Storytelling (and writing in general) beats anything. We humans were raised on storytelling. For sake of SEO, sprinkle your keywords in the title and H1, but don't fret about it. 85% of SEO is link-building anyway.

    Chin up!

  6. This is great to read, I agree. Compelling content and a strong story will always get people talking, and using a lexicon that is corralled by search makes for wonderful indexing, but not always the most engaging reading. My agency relied so heavily on integration that search merged with both copywriters and pr folks in a way that did not necessarily handicap them. And the content that came from the exercise of actually doing the writing informed new ideas about search, as much, if not more, than search informed the mechanics of the copy.

  7. Pingback: The Top 10 Marketing Posts of 2010 | Marketing + Branding + Design by Chris Moody

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