SEO and the View from the Cheap Seats

SEO and the View from the Cheap Seats

Don’t expect to get much love from using SEO if you are a writer, especially if you are trying to make your voice heard about politics from somewhere up in the cheap seats. Supposedly, if you follow the SEO guidelines, algorithms will be able to improve your position in the search engine search-results-line-up that matches your key words. Your site will rise to the top like cream on milk back in the day.

If you are offering a product or a service in a store-front type of website where visitors can add purchases to their cart and checkout then you and your design staff can invent new creative ways to find a spot in the top ten, but spending dollars will have to be part of your strategy, unless your site goes viral which is somewhat unlikely. Searches that allow consumers to look for businesses “near me” offer many more chances for businesses to be discovered by local consumers.

All bets are off if you are a writer, or anyone who is creating internet content but not selling goods and/or services. SEO becomes rather irrelevant for content writers and it will be almost impossible to move to the top of the results in a key word search. If you write about politics as I do, you will be buried so deep in the pack of a trending key-word-search that few will have the stamina to page through multiple pages of search results to find you. You will have to try to get some clout by getting published in highly visible media sources or get yourself hired by some media outlet to be a contributor, also a long shot if you don’t have any degrees in journalism.

For example I recently used the key words “women’s rights and #WomensRights. A Google search of this key phrase turned up 13 billion entries. Although search results give the most recent material first, posts in popular media outlets can take up several pages in the search-results-line-up. Regardless of how well you adhere to SEO guidelines you will never get close to the top of such a search. You cannot expect to be noticed and if you are noticed it will most likely just be a fluke.

Then there is the algorithm to measure “readability”. Perhaps I am a bad writer, although I don’t think so. Would getting a high readability score prove my writing skills are excellent. Again, I don’t think so. The SEO algorithm doesn’t seem to like prose – you know, well-fleshed out paragraphs following a logical argument to a reasonable conclusion. My recent article The Snowflake Games scored in the red on readability (bad). Perhaps that one was a bit wordy and focused on a limited audience (the media). But my fairly compact article Alabama and Melinda Gates was also scored with a red (no good) grade. So we are not dealing with an algorithm that judges quality of writing here; that responds to the set of complex factors that determine what qualifies as good writing. In other words the characteristics of good writing may be too abstract to conform to the current state-of-the art in AI algorithms. In fact the only article I have written recently that got a green rating for good readability is not an article at all; it is basically a meme, a list, Helicopter Love: Notice Me: Me, Me, Me.

It bears repeating – SEO does not, apparently, care for prose. It is designed to help businesses, not writers. If you are a straight-up journalist I suppose an SEO algorithm can be designed to incorporate the usual structure for news writers and can count links and factual statements (maybe), but I would not think that writing to a formula would encourage much creativity. If you write opinion articles SEO has few structural formalities to rely on.

Advice may come your way that tells you that podcasts are popular right now, or You Tube presentations – so you might want to change to a new format. But what if don’t care to use these formats. What if you want to write – to be recognized and listened to you for your writing, either your opinions or your journalism? Let me say one more time, SEO algorithms are not designed for writers. You will have to find creative ways to attract attention rather than trust AI to see you at all way up there in your cheap seats, even if you think you are frantically waving. You have something to add to the public dialogue and you must jump through SEO hoops but you know you don’t fit the design. If we all must conform with SEO formulas to get noticed there should be new algorithms for various categories of internet content, especially for prose. (What must poets contend with?)

Photo Credit: Purchased by Nancy Brisson (me)  from Shutterstock

SEO – Reducing Creativity to Algorithms?

SEO
or search engine optimization is useful for Google but it should not be a
concern of writers unless you are writing for a business. Many
bloggers just want to contribute to the national or cultural discourse. Different
types of blogs require different sets of SEO criteria. It is easy to see why
Google would like to critique blogs without actually reading them. There are
thousands of blogs and reading is time consuming.
Hiring
panels of readers to take an in-person approach to critiquing blogs would be
quite expensive, although when you look at the net worth of Blogger™, which
derives from its blog authors, such panels probably are financially doable. If
actual inspectors can go out to restaurants to determine quality and
cleanliness and adherence to health rules, it would at least make sense to hire
“inspectors” who would sample blogs on the internet.
It
has not been established that creativity and the quality of something as
abstract as writing can be judged by mathematical formulas and artificial
intelligence (AI). I don’t think the state of the art has reached this point
yet and I am not convinced that it ever will. How could an algorithm find a gem
in any given blog post, that one idea or statement that sets it apart from
others?
Perhaps
a series of Blogger prizes would be more appropriate. Business sites could be
ranked with a system of stars and prizes awarded to best business sites. The
same kinds of prizes could be offered in areas like how-to blogs and opinion
blogs and news blogs and fashion blogs, etc. The number of categories could be
kept small or there could be many categories thus giving more bloggers a chance
at success.
Bloggers
sometimes write about topics that produce hundreds of thousands of search
results. How would a small blogger, even one with something original to add,
ever rise to the top of such a search without some kind of manipulation? I
doubt if even talented SEO-savvy bloggers could appear at the top of the
searches which produce mega results.
Some
SEO rules are not appropriate if you wish to write creatively. If you have to
mention your most important key words in your first sentence and your last
sentence, structural variety goes out the window. Planning ahead to get your
key word/s once in bold, once in italics, and once underlined plays havoc with
literary conventions, e.g. if you write about books, titles are given in bold
print, subtitles or magazine articles in italics. These kinds of structural
requirements interrupt the very kinds of “fresh” writing that the internet
should encourage. 
When writing articles based on internet research it is important
to credit your sources. But I am learning, in my reading about SEO that links
to outside articles are bad and should be used only if surrounded by a “do not
follow” code. I wonder how many bloggers know the proper code for this. Even
after reading the code in my textbook on SEO I don’t have a clue how to use it.
I guess you can give a footnote that is not an actual link but you would have
to do something more time-consuming than copying and pasting URL’s.
I
know that writers write to guidelines all the time. Publishers have guidelines,
magazines have guidelines, grant proposals have guidelines and writers learn to
use these guidelines every day. But these are often guidelines about length,
format, etc, things that do not ruin the flow of the prose. And there is always
the possibility that if the recipient/publisher really likes the content s/he
may overlook the rules.
The
current SEO process leaves out the human factor, and while it is interesting as
sort of a robot experiment, it is unlikely to sort out the best bloggers using
the sorts of inclusions I have seen so far in my little SEO text. Is there a
similar algorithm-based process for photography and other art forms? I doubt
that there is this “untouched by human hand or mind” process for these forms of
art.

I
still feel like I am cheating when I try to deliberately build these robot
signals into my blog. (There is, of course, also the fact that I still don’t
know how to utilize SEO because my computer literacy doesn’t extend this far.)
Bloggers and what they do should be separate from SEO and what Google does with
it. I don’t think bloggers have any business trying to deliberately skew
content to rise in a search engine. Google is experimenting with search engine
optimization at the expense of honest bloggers who spend their time trying to
create gripping content. 
Google needs to humanize their efforts to rank
bloggers. Do I still have to learn this SEO stuff or have I made my point? Well
I very much doubt it Google will change course based on anything I have to say.
Perhaps more people need to offer a point of view about this. However, I do hope
I don’t get “sandboxed”. Yikes!
By Nancy Brisson
This blog post is also available at http://brissioni.com/