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

Using Links – Part of SEO

Writing on the internet involves obeying certain rules, at least if you want to appear in any search engine and have any readers. There are algorithms for this and the appropriate rules are labeled SEO, or search engine optimization. SEO can be a deep topic requiring nerdy computer skills that are a mystery to most of us. If you want to sell things on the internet SEO and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) become more important. When I write about a topic in politics, the chances of that article appearing at the top of a search list on any search engine, with or without SEO, are practically nil. In any given day any specific political topic offers search results that number in 5 to 6 digits. Obviously the mainstream media and the politics journals like Salon and The Atlantic appear at the top of every list unless you can come up with a truly esoteric descriptor or key word that works like a magnet to attract readers.

SEO algorithms also look for links in the articles internet writers post so using links is part of SEO. They look for links to your own work and external links, links to key articles in the area of interest. I have come to have some distrust of links when writing about politics and political parties and matters of governance. It is usually possible to find an article somewhere on the internet that supports almost any point or point of view. It is even possible to find articles from sources with some clout on any side of an issue.

When I was a teenager involved in my local church we used to play “dueling Bibles”. The minister or the adult in the room would call out a passage and we would all rush to locate it. If you had memorized the order of the Books of the Bible and you had a grasp of the way they were organized into chapters and verses you had an edge and you were more likely to find the passage quickly. There was usually a prize for winning.

Still I was a bit surprised when I had my first exchanges with Conservatives online. It was like playing “dueling internet articles”. I would make a point and my respondent, who was usually more like a lecturer, would not bother to actually state his or her point of view but would instead present me with a list of four or five links to pertinent articles. I did not respond in kind. I did not accept the invitation to play dueling links.

How do you stop in the middle of a verbal (written) debate and go off onto the internet to read a handful of articles and then return to the fray. It tends to end the argument which I’m sure is the intent. There – you are vanquished! I did not come up with my own list of links because I thought we should all use our own words, hopefully based on what we were reading and hearing. I just never got the hang of dueling links. People now use dueling graphics and the dueling links game, played much more by the folks on the right, seems to be temporarily out of fashion.

Links are often necessary because some facts require backup and some of our ideas come from other people or are strengthened because others think like us. Links acknowledge a writer or a source of information and such attributions are required to avoid plagiarism. Links are the footnotes or the bibliography of an internet article.

But that is not how my Conservative responders used links. They used them like a cudgel to beat me over the head and say, “You’re wrong! Just read this and you will know the really true truth.” Well we have been learning a lot about truth on the internet, especially with 45 in the White House and all that “fake news” proliferating everywhere.

We are told that we all live in our own media bubble and there is some truth to this. That’s why I try to stick to sources that have been respected to deliver good reporting for many decades, perhaps more than a century. That’s why sometimes I do not search out links at all. If I am presenting my own argument and it grew out of my entire experience with reading, writing, and life then I defy SEO and forgo links. But there are times when links are necessary and then I include them.

When citing sources from the internet for articles about politics, societies, cultures and news it is a good idea to know where each source stands on the political spectrum. Sometimes you don’t want a source that is too far either to the right or the left; sometimes that is exactly what you want. I included a chart in another post quite a while ago but here is a new one that appeared on Facebook, sent by a friend and it’s more up to date.

I notice that one of the favorite sources on the right used to be American Thinker, which I do not even find on this graphic. Those on the right, once they cited an American Thinker article, thought they could end the argument right then and there – boom, drop the mike. The source may still exist; it may just not be on this chart. However, I never even bothered to pursue articles linked to this source because I had already discovered that it was too far to the right for me.

I will say that there are some who find this chart inaccurate because they feel that it defines sources as mainstream which they consider quite partisan. Those on the right have a more negative view of this graphic than those on the left. It’s all about the bubbles.

All of this is intended to explain why I have written articles that include no links, internal or external. But since SEO counts clicks and links help you get more clicks, if you are dedicated to following the SEO algorithms then links will help you get noticed on the web.