Writing for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can help our content reach a maximum number of readers. But, on the other hand, we’ve developed our craft so that when readers do find us, they’ll want to read more. Do we really want to alter our writing?
‘‘ search-engine optimization
the methods used to boost the ranking or frequency of a website in results returned by a search engine, in an effort to maximize user traffic to the site… (Dictionary.com)
Does writing without regard to SEO limit our audience? Will writing for SEO ruin our craft?
The answer to both is, “it depends.”
How Writing for SEO Impacts Style
Initially, SEO writing was bad. Writers were just “gaming” the system by stringing together keywords. As SEO has developed, search engines are now much more likely to reward good, in depth content.
Nevertheless, SEO techniques often do alter your writing. For instance, writing for SEO involves repeating a “keyword phrase,” which can be awkward. Similarly, Google rewards “readability” of about a 7th grade or lower level, which might result in less complex sentences.
Why does it matter?
One way readers find us is through search engines. Their algorithms rank content so that users are able to find websites and posts that are relevant to them. If you’re well known or your topic is obscure, writing for SEO might not be essential. If readers search for you by name or if there isn’t a lot of competition for your content, readers will find you regardless.
Similarly, if you have RSS subscribers or most of your referrals come from Facebook and Twitter, writing for SEO could be helpful, but not critical. However, for some of us, it can make a huge difference in traffic. For instance, 90% of the traffic for my memory-sharing site comes from search engines. That makes it well worth the time to maximize what I can.
Writing for SEO without Ruining your Voice and Style
For most of us, it will be a question of finding the right balance. There are ways to incorporate SEO writing strategies while minimizing their effect on style.
Write for your audience first.
There’s no question that some bloggers take SEO too far. In fact, “Writing purely for SEO” ranks as #4 in Copyblogger’s article, “11 Common Blogging Mistakes That Are Wasting Your Audience’s Time.” After you’ve provided your readers with your valuable content, you can tweak your post to maximize referrals from search engines.
Start with Identifying Keywords
As you evaluate your articles, think what terms readers will use to search in search engines. You can use a program like Google AdWords to plan them (That’s a completely separate article) or test a few ideas out for yourself. For instance, for this article I tested the results for “SEO for writers,” “SEO Writing” and “Writing for SEO.” I decided on “Writing for SEO” as those results were more relevant and less awkward to work into my text.
Use a Plugin
Though a basic understanding of SEO is helpful, search engine algorithms are complex and are constantly changing. Writers can use plugins to help them evaluate their articles. (For WordPress.org users, I recommend WordPress SEO by Yoast.)
Using a plugin, you gradually learn the basics of maximizing your writing for SEO results. (By Yoast’s standards, the basics include establishing a focus keyword and using it in your title, permalink, content, and meta description.) Once you’re familiar with the process, you can decide if you want to limit yourself to these or if you want to try more advanced strategies.
More on How to Do It
The Definitive Guide To Higher Rankings For WordPress Sites by Joost de Valk
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