Search engine optimization means producing high ranking web pages. Quality content isn’t enough, that content must employ a variety of techniques to get your client’s website on the first or second page of Google’s search results. A company might produce the best hiking poles in the business but so what? What good is that if the client can’t be found online?
SEO is a dark art. Google keeps the methods behind its algorithms hidden. Optimizing for Google, therefore, relies on endless speculating, experimenting, and poring over site statistics. Your client’s stats, the stats of their competitors. Google doesn’t want anyone to game or manipulate their system. Despite the sponsored ads and links that Google often presents first, they still want search results to have integrity.
If someone had a sure-fire way of getting a client’s pages always ranked above their competitors, faith in search would be lost. You would have nothing but manipulated results. At least with ads, you know they are ads. And most of us usually skip to the listings below the ads. Which gets us back to producing pages to best attract the search engines.
If you’re producing a personal website like this one you probably don’t care about designing pages with SEO in mind. I don’t. If you are a working writer, however, you need to get familiar with SEO and what it means. You’re not writing for yourself anymore, you are writing for a client. And that client’s great message or great content is invisible if it is on page 12 of a search result. Although this is a speculative number, it could be that 97% of traffic from search comes from the first page of Google’s search results.
That’s why I was disappointed by the Berkeley Extension course I signed up for and then immediately dropped. They offered this hopeful paragraph before the course started but things fell apart when the course was outlined on the first day of class. Here’s how the course was presented:
Writing for Social Media: Prose That Works for Web 2.0
“Learn to write effectively for social media, specifically blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Establish a coherent writing process; learn editing techniques; and examine the interplay among context, content and style. Classes focus primarily on workshop critiques, peer editing and weekly composition of posts and tweets. Note: This course focuses primarily on content writing and editing, not Web technology.”
The instructor revealed on the first day that he was focused on helping people write better, something any English 101 class could do. He was silent on SEO at first and then admitted he wouldn’t be addressing it. Nonsense. He described writing effectively for social media. That can only be done with SEO in mind when you are in business or writing for someone else. Again, quality content is not enough, there’s plenty of original writing and wonderful photographs and terrific videos on the web. Too much. Way too much. You could be Hemingway or Twain and it doesn’t matter. Not for the web.
To cut through the noise you have to write for algorithms and bots as well as your human bosses, clients, and the end reader. Quality content is good but, again, not just by itself. Some parts of a post must catch Google’s attention. There are ways to do this. Keywords are still important, external links aren’t anymore, and other methods are catching on. Any technique needs constant testing and analysis and even the analytical tools needed to do this are complicated and often contradictory.
Take using ahrefs.com, for example, an expensive reporting service that throws a fire hose of information at you. Some of its data is good, some not so much. People can completely disagree on what ahrefs means and any value it might assign a web page. Same with Google Analytics, you need to be at least a low-level rocket scientist to interpret its results. When reading about SEO, limit your search results to no more than a month ago. This field gets dated. In a hurry.
If you are interested in SEO then I would recommend trade conferences and not anything associated with academia. You need to meet people working in the field to know the field. My partial involvement in SEO does not require me to attend seminars but I am aware of its importance and I try to keep up on it. Besides the way we write, our team adds other tricks to the way a page is coded or designed internally. This is a big and complex field but I am writing and editing pages with SEO strongly in mind. You should be, too.
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