SEO & the Writer

SEO and the writer don’t get along. Words on the Internet are in a battle with technology. At least I am. I’m loosing.

In 2008, a very long time ago in Internet time, I read two food bloggers – Smitten Kitchen and Lobster Squad. They were natural digital writers. Their words skipped along. I learned about style, phrasing, sentence structure, and voice for the web. If this is the new word, I thought, we are in for great wonderfulness.

But it didn’t quite work out that way.

Things went seriously bad for digital writers, many whom are bloggers. The wave of wonder got lost when SEO (search engine optimization) got to be in charge. It’s meant that technology leads the content, which makes for clumsy writing.

Anybody who wasn’t known or didn’t have a following needed to court Google, the search engine that could – and did. The trick for anyone with a website was to figure how to rank at the top of page one. Two websites ago Food Words usually placed second. It’s nowhere now. That’s because understanding the ever-changing algorithms is a mystery. Exactly how Google wants it.

This way Google can sell us ads. All you have do is pay them and you’re at the top of page one.

Here’s How SEO Works

  1. Chase the algorithms yourself.
  2. Get some decent SEO software and let the pros chase the algorithms.

Obviously, most people do the second. I have one, recommended to me my website designer. I only sort of pay attention to it, much to my determent.

At a business lunch a few years back one writer said to me in a breathless, excited voice – it’s all about SEO, right? I nodded but wished it wasn’t.

I can get quite cranky about this and feel pushed around by math. I tell myself to be patient. The keyword part of SEO that interferes with writing is becoming more sophisticated. When it’s completely invisible, the ugly keyword will become an obsolete word. I hope. I’ll write without thought of them. But right now, technology is in my way.

Thank Business 

Storytelling is today’s digital marketing commerce. That makes sense, stories persuade. But the story has to get read, which means it has to be good. People don’t read dreck and they see through disingenuous words. If we’re bending, folding, twisting, and mutilating to fit an algorithm that means the words, the very thing we want people to read, are secondary. That’s all wrong.

So hurray for business and for their needs. Bring on the stories. Seamless engagement is around the corner. The writer and the reader will be reunited. That’s one of the things I loved about those two food bloggers. They were writing for me, employing that age old intimacy between reader and writer. That should happen wherever words are read.

By the way, Deb Perlman of Smitten Kitchen is still blogging, deconstructing recipes while telling stories about her small apartment and the idiosyncratic food suppliers of New York City where she lives. Ximena Maier of Lobster Squad is a Spanish commercial illustrator with a food blog. She makes beautiful drawings to hang her words on. She is less active these days but her lovely words are there for you.

We’ll get past this Grade 9 writing style where business has settled. Writers will tell stories that aren’t bent to some mathematical formula. It’ll be good and good for business.

Photo: Summerland, BC, 2010