SEO

SEO is dead. Long live SEO. What's for Lunch, Farmers' Markets, and being Content with Content

There is considerable buzz right now about whether Internet marketers should anticipate the death of SEO (search engine optimization). Will good content replace it the primacy of SEO? These debates will swirl around while people continue to try to monetize the giant genie that is now out of the bottle.

Wrestling with Spiders

If you write, market, sell or even dabble in the Internet, host a site, engineer sites, or "just" blog about what you're cooking; you have wrestled with and tried to master SEO at one time or another. Many will recognize that my extra long title, is not designed for clever algorithms, but for humans who think differently, process information in other ways.

Plenty of us have ignored SEO at our peril. The title, above, is an intentional example. More of us have tried to learn proper use, avoiding the appearance of “gaming the system”, while attempting to write in creative ways that don't sound leaden. I still chafe at writing for spiders. (Writing in a style that algorithms will reward, to raise the search engine profile of a given piece can be referred to as writing for spiders. Spiders are the bits of code used by search engines that crawl the “Interwebz” looking for the clues as to authentic content that deserves a higher ranking in Google.)

SEO often feels like the tail wagging the dog to those of us who have been bristling at the advice to write for search engines, preferring people to spiders. I’m not casting aspersions on spiders, I actually kinda like the little buggers. I might be compared to Miss Muffet when it comes to SEO though...

Is SEO is dead? Of course the provocative statement deftly described in this recent Forbes article by Ken Krogue will get people talking. And many of those will be part of the whole industry that has evolved to help us understand how to master SEO. They write books for us to buy, consult on how to do SEO and marketing on the web. That is how THEY monetize the web.

Of course, the article is about SEO and is running in Forbes. So, it will gain a much higher ranking than my little site, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion that will resonate. Maybe not in the halls of industry (or the cube farms, as it were) but at least some of my readers will get it.

How SEO is like Big Ag

All this talk about the death of SEO and whether good solid content & “social” will replace laser focus on SEO alone is akin to the debate between local food passionistas and big AG. How? Allow me...

We used to have a food system that was more local until it became industrialized. There were advantages for many in the industrialization process, advantages many people would rather ignore. Jobs for one, but this is not the main point here.

There’s an increasingly large and alarming body of evidence that the risks of industrialized agriculture may outweigh the benefits.

  • we are not “feeding the world” with our increased productivity, though this is often offered as a justification
  • we are polluting the earth, and draining the water table
  • we are depleting the soil and creating a second Dust Bowl, (only our grandparents remember that tragedy?)
  • we are creating chemically-dependent crops
  • we are creating smarter bugs that are now resistant to antibiotics and which have the power to kill humans (80% of antibiotics produced in the US go to livestock NOT to humans)

At the same time, we have rediscovered the joys of local, sustainable food.

  • we love our farmers’ markets even if they are often inefficient at distribution
  • we have renewed our passion for seasonal food, a tomato that actually tastes like a tomato, pork that tastes like pork
  • we have begun to realize that supporting our local economies has many, direct benefits

There are those that seek to demonize big AG and deify farmers’ markets. Simplicity loves a villain. We must find ways to support local farms, local economies and also to farm and distribute on a large scale in ways that don't create generations of disasters both economic and agricultural.

I believe the rising interest in “content” ("CONtent" which I keep reading as conTENT, as in happy...ironic, don’t you think?) echoes another key cultural shift. Whether or not we all begin eating only local food (not likely) or stop the massive recalls of tainted food, stop the Second Dust Bowl, begin farming more sustainably, find scales of production that actually work, stem the tide of farm foreclosures...one thing we all crave is more authenticity. More community. Finding "our" people and our place in the world seems more important than ever.

THIS is why affinity groups are so passionate about their topics, “their” bloggers, their recipes. This is why big corporate marketing departments are seeking out the blogging community support (witness the rise of the “yoga pants mom" demographic.) Social media has taken off partly because it is an efficient way for us to find others who share our passions, whether they live in Oslo or Oswego. I was a Twitter skeptic and now a huge fan. Ultimately, we'll look for hybrid systems - in agriculture, in online communities,

As is so often the case, the thought-leaders and self-proclaimed “gurus” will mine this new debate for their own purposes. People still need to figure out how to make money on the web, but they will need to refine it from simple SEO algorithms and gaming they system/manipulating it, until the next new thing that comes round. The debate needs to evolve into a more nuanced conversation about authentic communications, true communities. The recognition that "social" matters seems to me a very late epiphany for the "gurus" in the field. Many of us who have been ridiculed as unsophisticated are shrugging and collectively saying "duh."

Writing about what Matters

Some of us will go on writing about what matters to us, not necessarily to or for spiders. We’ll feel good when we strike a chord on a topic that never comes up in keyword search tools - but get tons of comments from readers. We’ll know we made an authentic connection with our audience. We revel in the emails from readers who never comment but share howe our stories moved them. These communities of conversation are going to exist whether marketers learn how to profit from them or not.

Depending on your goals, you may pay more or less attention to these prognostications about SEO, about CONtent, or you may be conTENT to write what you are passionate about, even if it doesn’t fit into a nice formula. I take pride in the fact that in the early days of a very well known aggregator, I tried mightily to encourage them to have a food & cooking category. They (being young male geeks who clearly knew more than I) insisted that their membership "didn’t care about food" and would consider my contributions "spam" (not the food product type).

Hey, even geeks have to eat. And yes, they do now have a food category.

This SEO debate reflects evolution in the industry. Some will get that, others will wring their hands and proclaim the sky is falling while they scramble to figure out what their next gig will be. And some will keep doing what we do. Writing what we care about for people who recognize that even geeks have to eat. Hey gurus do, too. We'll continue to try to find ways to monetize what we do and we'll rely on things like SEO or spiders to help readers who would otherwise never stumble upon us, to find us and join our online communities.

In the span of a week, we’ve had a death in the family, a serious hospitalization of a friend, crisis in the life of another loved one. We’ve shared gifts of food with new friends and anticipate the arrival of a new little one next door. No matter what happens with SEO - people matter, families matter. Family farms going under matters. Our country suffering another Dust Bowl, matters. The joy of having enough food to eat, of sharing a good meal together matters.

I’ll take that over page rank any day.

 

What do you think?

Do you write for people or to spiders?

How much attention do you pay to Meta tags, Social Media and SEO?

 

 

 

 

TECHmunch Panel: Understanding Trends to Enrich your Content

  I was delighted to be asked by Babette Pepaj of Bakespace.com to participate in this conference. Thanks to Jackie Gordon (the Diva that Ate NY) for the referral. After nearly five years of food writing, I'm happy to share what I've learned. Our panel's topic included Rachel Blumenthal (Boston Food Bloggers) and Ashley Stanley (Loving Spoonfuls Food Rescue). Hillary Davis (MarcheDimanche) was our moderator.

From left to right: Ashley Stanley, Lovin' Spoonfuls; me, Rachel Blumenthal, Boston Food Bloggers.

What's New in Food: Understanding Trends to Enrich Your Content

Our panel was asked to address food trends and I chose to focus on how to use food trends to become a valued resource for your readers. I shared tips by example (QR code stickers on my business cards and name tag holder) and my Constant Contact All Star Award newsletter signup sheet which I waved around every chance I got. I made a sort of joke about hawking the newsletter signup sheet, and teasing the audience with one copy of my handout, referring to the tips contained on it and giving people a taste of what they might learn by getting their hands on a copy.

This was a subtle or not so subtle way of demonstrating...

some key advice:

 

  • Be an early adopter of new technology - like Twitter - which really isn't that new now. I tweeted as often as I could and if you search on the #TECHmunch hashtag, you'll get a sense of the day.
  • Try QR codes - interestingly not one person scanned the QR codes on my card or my name tag holder. I explained what these codes were and the advantage for any food blogger in using them. Why miss an opportunity to get into someone's contact log? To drive someone to your website?

    Go download the free app i-nigma works well. Scan that code with your smartphone camera and bingo! I'm in your contacts, you have my Twitter handle and you know my URL. Obviously this is silly here, but it makes sense on a business conference name tag, on business cards, on products or papers you hand out.

     

  • Use a newsletter like Constant Contact - to reach more people. Constant Contact named my Leather District Gourmet Newsletter with an All Star Award. This comes from metrics like click-through rates. Read about my All Star Award criteria here. This gives you a way to demonstrate valuable reach to potential sponsors, it gives you a one-on-one tool for helping your readers follow your work, and it gives people the opportunity to spread the word about your content, effectively creating a new set of evangelists with each newsletter.
  • Use every appropriate opportunity to share what you've learned with others.
  • Don't be that schmuck at the cocktail party who only talks about himself. Don't be that guy that keeps asking everyone to help him.
  • DO be the person at the party, on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, who says: "Let me introduce you to my friend Lyn of Boston Food Swap, she likes canning and creates fun networking events just like your Canvolution events." OR "Lovin' Spoonfuls is so passionate about stopping food waste I have to introduce Ashley to Jenni so she can learn about Jenni's food waste challenge: Four Pounds of Cheese."

what I learned:

  • People, from newbies to veterans like Rachel Blumenthal (whose Boston Food Bloggers network is 400 strong) in the Boston food blogging network are eager to share, to learn.
  • All of us can brush up on our SEO skills.
  • Some of us need to brush up on our "elevator pitch" (when you meet someone in an elevator can you tell them - in a compelling way - what your business or blog is about before they reach their floor?)
  • Finding your voice in writing is equally important as finding your "voice" in photography.
  • Newbies want the silver bullet, the secret to food gawker photography, to more hits, to sponsorship, to getting a column. Veterans know the answers lie (mostly) within.
  • Even though we're in a digital age, and need digital skills, it's all really still about telling a story.
So here is my "handout" from the conference:

What’s New in Food: Understanding Trends to Enrich Your Content

Five Food Trends to Love; Five to Shove; Five Ways to be a Trusted Resource and... Five Resources for You

Intro:

  • Sensual, Sensible Sustainability - food has to first, taste good, make sense, not come with a side of guilt.
  • Using creativity and connectivity to help followers dive into, understand issues.
  • Using technology to connect those asking questions and those providing answers; buyers and sellers; anyone with shared interests.
  • Understanding your values, to become more valuable to your readers, and create value for sponsors.

 

Five Food Trends to Love

  1. Sustainable - seafood - Greenberg, Kurlansky, etc. to FishChoice, SFW, ILoveBlueSea; sustainable food issues: e.g. Loving Rescue/ Bamco / etc.
  2. Heritage breeds & Heirloom seeds - interest in biodiversity and food that tastes good w/o poor enviro impacts
  3. Farm-to-table, CSA/CSF - strengthening our local food systems
  4. Meatless Meals/Flexitarian eating - for health, for the planet and for taste
  5. DIY + Canvolution - wisdom of the grannies, Put ‘Em Up, Meatless Meals

Five to Shove

  1. Paleo or Raw - two examples of mindless faddishness at its worst
  2. Dogma - “species-ist” (see flexitarian above);
  3. Superfood du jour - whole diet/lifestyle not one food (or fad) that will cure all ills
  4. Flat belly - sketchy science and who wants to see those ads on a food blog, anyway?
  5. Bacon makes everything better - really?

Five Ways to Become a Valuable Resource

Improve your content by knowing trends but do more than reporting. By analyzing trends and giving your unique spin on what the data means you become a trusted resource.

  • Focus on the why -- not just the what -- to provide better value and insight to your readers.

An Example:

... if someone you follow says “street food is the top new trend!”

What do you do with that info? How do you demonstrate the value of your work through addressing that trend?

Some Options:

  1. Simply announce it and hope someone finds your post or tweet when they dive into the subject. (meh, and good luck)
  2. Interview someone who wrote a book on the topic and see what they think, write the interview up for your readers and offer a copy of the book to a commenter.
  3. Investigate why street food is surging in popularity here (other countries have a LONG standing tradition of street food, it’s not a “new!” trend in Asia or South America)
  4. Street food in other countries could be interesting posts in and of themselves.
  5. Make a recipe of street food and share it.
  6. Make a recipe of street food and give it your special twist. Are you a writer from South America? Make a recipe of empanadas and share it along with a story of your abuela’s empanadas.
  7. Is your brand about sustainability? Make and share a street food item adding a sustainable twist.

Five Resources for You

  1. Eat Your Books - great new site that allows you to search all your books, your friends’ books for recipes. Invaluable for food writers with stacks and stacks of cookbooks!
  2. Powell’s bookshelf; Publishers’ & agents’ author lists, blogs. See who is writing on your favorite topics.
  3. Hartman Salt, SmartBrief - find the aggregators that are most interesting to you, relevant to your topics, and learn how to shape your content to your values. Find the news in the topics your readers care about.
  4. Chefs Collaborative, BAMCo, Slow Food, IACP, WCR - connect with the top chefs and learn about local food issues via reports, blogs, conferences.
  5. Canvolution - loads of resources, support, events in the trending upward food preservation movement - a true trend.
  6. Food Stylists' Handbook - Denise Vivaldo's excellent guide offer so much more than food styling advice!

TECHmunch Friends & Presenters to Follow

Photographers: Brian Samuels (@MyFoodThoughts); David Dadekian (@Dadekian); Jennifer Leal @Savorthethyme; Adam Salomone (@HCPDishes); Brian Knowles (@TheGringoChapin); Loring Barnes (@LoringBarnes); and of course our moderator, Hillary Davis (@MarcheDimanche) and our host: Babette Pepaj (@Bakespace.)

 

Our post munch, munch. Island Creek Oyster bar was our last stop of the day. More to love.