The Strange World of SEO-Fueled Blog Content
A little-known fact about me: sometimes I ghost-write blogs for clients I find on Craigslist.
I’ve written all types of topics for all kinds of clients. Restaurant consultants. Realtors. B2B flooring services. Physical therapists. You name it, and I’ve written the dreck that they file under the “blog” section of their website.
At first, I would ask a lot of questions to make sure I got these blogs just right. Do you want me to focus on this aspect or that aspect of antimicrobial flooring? Should the restaurant trends of 2020 article acknowledge that restaurants were largely only doing takeout at this point? These questions were ultimately met with a resounding “whatever.”
Because over time, I figured out: what I’m writing does not exist for its content itself. Instead, the majority of these blogs exist solely for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) purposes. So basically, if I get a random detail about antimicrobial flooring wrong, they could not give two fucks. Because their aim is not to inform the world about microbial flooring. It’s to have their B2B flooring business shoot up to the top of the search results when someone googles “Antimicrobial flooring.” And as a result, the standard for this content is much, much lower.
So I guess I fundamentally knew this about “Blog” content. But it was 3 am, and I was a pregnant insomniac, so I was easing the boredom by looking up some middle name inspiration for Baby Boy. (Although, these websites would actually call him DS--Dear Son.)
My middle of the night brain typed “Pop Punk Baby Names” into Google. I don’t know what I was expecting to find that I didn’t already know. As much as I loved The Front Bottoms, I already knew I wasn’t going to name my kid Mat or Brian. I was probably looking for a name inspired by something like Blink, if their names weren’t Mark (the Bible!), Tom (the cabin!), or Travis (comes out of the womb with cowboy boots!)
I instead found many inauthentic-feeling pages of SEO-farmed content that made me laugh as loud as I could without waking the sleeping members of my household.
This article is full of names from bonafide founding fathers (and mothers) of punk rock; however, it is editorialized with little quips and comments that make it sound like a book report written by a fifth-grader. For example, for the name Sid (Vicious):
“‘Their relationship was full of ups and downs, leading to the eventual mysterious murder of Nancy. Not long after, on February 2, 1979, Vicious was found dead in New York City,’ writes Biography. I mean, you can’t say that’s not edgy! Sid Vicious is an iconic figure in punk music, and the name Sid is actually pretty darn cool!”
So...we just went from murder/mysterious death to “pretty darn cool” in two sentences. Neat!
Fatherly - “14 Baby Names Inspired by Punk Rock”
This one is for a website that tries to let you know their audience is cool dude dads. They let you know they don’t really buy into gender stereotypes by categorizing the names into “boys” and “girls,” quotation marks included. The brief intro quips:
“Now that the little rebel is on the way to help smash the patriarchy and cause some havoc in their Montessori school...”
This name list comes in HOT with the first baby name suggestion, “Jello.” Other name suggestions are as off the wall as “Souixsie,” “Cherry,” and just plain old “X.” It’s as if this is a list of names that no one would dare to touch, but that’s okay, because they’re not a regular dad website, they’re a cool dad website. (And no one is reading this content anyway.)
Ahem, AS A FORMER SCENE KID MYSELF, I take offense with this list. It was obviously created by someone who either had no clue what they were talking about, or someone who was forced to come up with a list of 20 when they only really had good ideas for about 5. “Gerard”? Love it. “Helena”? Considered naming my daughter this, but decided to give it to my Roomba instead.
Further down the list, we get...”Avril”? Swing and a miss. Even further down, grasping at straws, our author tries to convince us that actually, Egar Allan Poe was the FIRST real Emo, and we should give “Annabel Lee” a shot.
How the hell did I get here? Well, remember it’s 3 AM and I am very pregnant. At one point, I was trying to convince my husband that “Tennessee” was a good middle name idea, because we used to live in Nashville, and Tennessee Williams is my favorite playwright. So I guess a part of me thought that maybe there was a name like this that wasn’t exactly that name, but something close to it that was hiding in plain sight.
This article begins in a strangely personal way for one of these listicles, starting with an anecdote about how the author’s father was in vet school at Auburn, and his classmates joked that he was going to name his baby “Mississippi Magnolia” (why??) But the list itself is just a slideshow of names with no explanation because there was no defending the choices on this list of names. First up: Stella, after Stella, TN. Ah, the great unincorporated area of Stella. Even after living in Tennessee and going on a few road trips around the state--never heard of it. It continues with a few obvious choices like Savannah, but mainly WTF ideas like Camden after “Camden, FL.” My favorite “southern” baby name, that hammers home the author did not do a modicum of research to farm this content? McLean, after that iconic quaint little dixie town in VA.
The Paradox of Baby Name Articles
I'm not here to question anyone’s street cred behind their name choices. After all, my husband and I can’t even remember how we thought of the first names of either of our children. Beyond that, I’m infamously named after a sweater brand (first and middle name!) my parents encountered shopping at a store while pregnant. I’ve never asked what store, but I’ve read between the lines of my parents’ shopping habits and the only places I’ve ever encountered this obscure label to uncover: I am named after a Marshalls/TJ Maxx brand. I’m basically a bargain-basement Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren, which I guess is better than being named for a brand that famous.
But regarding the topic of something like punk rock baby names...if you have to read about it on a list, then do you really possess enough of an innate connection to the name to name your kid after it? It would be one thing if these suggestions were like “John” or “Emily.” But no. These lists are trying to convince you to name your kid after Jello Biafra or Siouxsie and the Banshees. If you’ve never heard of these things, why on earth would you go out on a limb and name your kid something totally out there that you only just learned about from some random intern at Nameberry?
I suppose the cynic and SEO blogger in me just thinks these articles are clickbait farms. That like my weird 600-word pieces on the most exciting flooring trends of 2021, the articles don’t exist to be read. They exist to send Nameberry or Southern Living or whatever to the top of the Google charts. If we need to tell people it’s cool to name their kid Jello, well then we gotta do what we gotta do.
The Weird Pivot of SEO Articles
So coming back to my SEO blogging adventures and my behind-the-scenes perspective on this strange art. The funniest part of these articles is what I call “the weird pivot.” This is the part at the end where I have to tie in a call to action for the thing the client is selling.
It definitely comes across a little awkward in my article about loans designed to help women and POCs who own businesses, to have to add a paragraph at the end that basically states: “...And did you know that there are prepaid (read: expensive af) monthly legal services that can help ANY business owner? Sign up today!”
My recent insomnia has led me to read more Parents.com magazine articles than I’d like to admit. I stumbled across a series that they do where they basically report on Reddit /AmITheAsshole threads as if they are news. These come across as if they’re written by your out-of-touch aunt who is doing a book report on Reddit. My favorite touches are how they censor “ass****” and how they treat Reddit usernames as if they are god-given, earnestly reporting that advice came from r/Gaylectric or r/MaximumVermicelli88.
These articles, too, have weird pivots, which must be part of their blogger’s assignment. Someone at Parents.com is asking these writers to tie these exercises in schadenfreude-fueled voyeurism to A Bigger Issue, and the end result is downright hilarious.
In one article, they report on a Reddit user asking if she’s an ass**** for refusing that her sister-in-law bake her a diaper cake for her baby shower. They give all the deets, plus a few funny comments from other users, but ultimately, the weird call to action: do you, yourself have an unwanted diaper cake or unwanted diapers of any kind? Donate them to the National Diaper Bank Network today!
In an even stranger, juicier one, they report on a Reddit dad’s story of a clingy coworker who called herself his “work wife,” even though the feeling wasn’t mutual. “She obviously likes you!” his coworkers told him. (Um, what?! Are his coworkers 9-year-olds?) He asks if he is an asshole for kicking said coworker out of his wife’s baby shower after she loudly declared she’d be his “second mom.” I am here for this drama--it sounds like the most exciting possible turn of events that could happen at a baby shower. But of course, Parents magazine isn’t here for the drama. They want to turn this article into a teachable moment, so it becomes about how to teach your kids that sexual harassment is never okay.
Game Respect Game
So what, exactly, is my point? Am I here to call out every writer who has ever churned out some pointless trash for that sweet, sweet PayPal payout? I mean, I’d be a total hypocrite if I did. It’s hard as hell to get paid as a writer, and no one is ever going to pay you a cent for your poetry or your linked set of short stories or really anything you yourself deem worthwhile.
Instead, it’s all about the hits, baby! And what they mean by that is it’s all about insomniac moms auto-clicking from article to article, gasping in horror at the suggestion to name their baby “Wentz” or even just “Emo,” because goddamn, this CafeMom writer was lazy af. Love it or hate it, someone just clicked on it, and a click is a click. There are no bad clicks.
Oh god, this is where the weird pivot should go, shouldn’t it?