What Happens When an SEO App Rates Five Famous Ads?

November 18, 2023

By Bill Below

Bill has worked in global PR and advertising networks in both Europe and the US, including JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB, Havas/Marstellar and others. In addition to running his own companies dedicated to a global clientele, he spent four years in the policy sector at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a global economics think tank.

What I’m thinking:

  • Don’t sacrifice strong ideas or well-written prose at the altar of SEO and rankings.
  • Prioritize getting into the minds of your customers over obeying so-called SEO ‘rules’.
  • If you don’t take the time to create great content, why should anyone take the time to read it? At any rate, SEO won’t fix it.
  • Mediocre content with good SEO ensures that your mediocre content is seen by more people.
  • Bottom line: Use SEO apps as a guide, never as gospel.
Iconic ads vs SEO

Well-inten­tioned SEO apps propose to make it easier to produce content that search engines will find and elevate. But, as any pro­fes­sion­al copy­writer will tell you, many so-called improve­ments suggested by SEO apps are absolute­ly worthless (note: the people at Google agree). We checked out what a leading SEO app had to say about five iconic creative moments in adver­tis­ing…

Volkswagen, ‘Think Small’ (1960)

DDB’s ads promoting the VW Beetle in the 60’s are con­sis­tent­ly voted among the best of all time. Today, it may be hard to reconjure the radical tone of these ads selling a car that seemed to have so little going for it, back when bigger was better and auto­mo­biles were trying to be rock­et­ships. 

Rather clue­less­ly, the SEO app wasn’t having any of it… 

SEO app rating:

Title: Your page has a title. Well done!

Your key phrase does not appear in the first paragraph. Make sure your subject is clear imme­di­ate­ly.

McGraw-Hill (1958)

This iconic B2B ad from the late 50’s places us in the shoes of a sales­per­son who has made the ghastly mistake of cold calling on a grumpy dude who swiftly evis­cer­ates us with a repet­i­tive slew of accu­sa­tions that we can’t really disagree with.

Had the ad followed the wisdsom of the SEO app, it would have sucked big time (as they say).

SEO app rating:

Image: Good job!

Title width: Try to make shorter.

Family Planning Association (1968)

This Family Planning Ad wouldn’t pass muster today, but back in the 60’s it made a powerful point about male respons­bil­i­ty at the height of the so-called sexual rev­o­lu­tion. The enigmatic image sets our mind working overtime. The enigma is then mas­ter­ful­ly resolved with a headline that takes our brains to an unex­pect­ed con­clu­sion.

True to form, the SEO app con­grat­u­lates and critiques the ad for all the wrong reasons. As for the text length, are you kidding? Change nothing!

SEO app rating:

Title: You page has a title. Well done!

Title width: Good job!

KFC (2018)

KFC hits it out of the park by taking a risk with its brand that few others would consider. Facing the absurdly embarass­ing situation of a being a chicken restau­rant with no chicken (due to supply chain issues), the company could have hidden behind corporate-speak and the vocab­u­lary of crisis man­age­ment. Instead, they suprised us with a uniquely human(!) tone of voice that turned a negative into pure good will. 

The SEO app, osten­si­bly positive, remains bliss­ful­ly oblivious to the magic being worked here.

SEO app rating:

Title: You page has a title. Well done!

Inclusive language. Great work!

Nike (2010)

The SEO app’s response here offers a cau­tion­ary tale to anyone tempted to use an SEO app to shape their words and ideas… ‘Don’t do it!’   

SEO app rating:

Inclusive language: Great work!

Readability: Only 3 words.

To sum up…

Google’s recent revamping of its search algo­rithms as part of its ‘Useful Content’ update is an attempt to reverse the creation of low quality content designed to exploit the behavior of search engines. In a sense, the use of SEO always attempts to exploit the behavior of search engines to some degree, but there is a mistaken notion that by using certain tricks such as keyword stuffing and repet­i­tive use of certain phrases, your content will somehow be “better” and more “suc­cess­ful”. As Google tells us, this is bull. Content (words and pictures working together, formerly known as com­mu­ni­ca­tions) must first and foremost create strong con­nec­tions to readers, by being concise and infor­ma­tive, well con­struct­ed and insight­ful, original and flawless, and by offering more than it asks of us. I think that’s the common denom­i­na­tor of all of the ads above: they give us more than they ask of us—through humor or by drawing our minds to an unex­pect­ed con­clu­sion. SEO has its place, but we shouldn’t forget that it is a blunt instru­ment designed in function of algo­rithms. It is blind to and incapable of assessing the nuances that good com­mu­ni­ca­tions depend on. 

Contact: bill@contenticorp.com

“SEO has its place, but we shouldn’t forget that it is a blunt instru­ment designed in function of algo­rithms. It is blind to and incapable of assessing the nuances that good com­mu­ni­ca­tions depend on.” 

- Bill Below

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