Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Comment on SEO Writing

It is an irony of SEO writing (that is, writing about SEO) that most of it is not exactly engaging. Despite the frequent admonitions to create "high-quality" content most SEO writers do not follow their own advice.

This is not necessarily a comment about the relevancy of most SEO writing. Indeed, sites like Search Engine Land, Forbes, and Search Engine Journal produce incredibly informative writing about the SEO world--all of it tailored precisely for their intended audience.

And this is not to say that the SEO world does not produce any good writing. Jayson DeMers, a contributing writer to Forbes, is a thoughtful and engaging writer who writes about the SEO world with clarity.

Yet the problems remains: most SEO writing is not at all "high quality."

We're putting "high quality" in quotes here to illustrate a common problem with SEO writing. So much SEO writing uses jargon; much more makes vague assertions about the meaning of certain phrases and words. Seemingly, the jargon and the vagueness serve their purposes--one intentional, one not so intentional.

1. By using jargon, writers create a shorthand experience easily decoded by those in-the-know.

2. By making vague assertions about the meanings of words, however, writers create a confusion shared by all.

In either case, both jargon and vagueness alienate a great deal of the potential reading public. Most SEO writing is created by SEO wonks for SEO wonks.

Perhaps this is the problem: the typical SEO reader is not necessarily looking for fabulously engaging writing. And so, there can be no doubt, we believe, that SEO writing does not model the sort of writing it purports to advocate.

Here's one example of bad SEO writing: "The SEO Secrets Every Business Should Know."

We can debate whether this is a good or bad thing (and we'd certainly say it's bad). But the fact remains: Online business owners trying to learn about SEO are likely to feel, at once, alienated and confused by most SEO writing. And this will turn most new online business owners away from the very practice they so desperately need!

Worse, the same online business owners will need to look elsewhere for truly good examples of the single most important part of any SEO campaign: engaging content. And frankly, as any business owners can testify: the extra time simply does not exist to read SEO articles and examples of truly engaging content, like, say, The New Yorker.

SEO content that is also truly engaging writer: why can't the SEO community produce both at the same time?

We're not saying that SEO writers need to write like Susan Orlean, one of The New Yorker's most beloved writers. But SEO writers could certainly learn a lot from Orlean's work.

In the next few weeks, we will explore the meaning of "high quality" writing, specifically "high quality" non-fiction writing.

We will parse the difference between "relevant" content and "engaging" content.

And we will attempt to do so in a way that is, well, both relevant and engaging.

In the meantime, we will look to the advice of Susan Orleans, one of America's most relevant and engaging writers:

"When it comes to nonfiction, it’s important to note the very significant difference between the two stages of the work. Stage one is reporting. Stage two is writing.

 Reporting is like being the new kid in school. You’re scrambling to learn something very quickly, being a detective, figuring out who the people are, dissecting the social structure of the community you’re writing about. Emotionally, it puts you in the place that everybody dreads. You’re the outsider. You can’t give in to your natural impulse to run away from situations and people you don’t know. You can’t retreat to the familiar.

 Writing is exactly the opposite. It’s private. The energy of it is so intense and internal, it sometimes makes you feel like you’re going to crumple. A lot of it happens invisibly. When you’re sitting at your desk, it looks like you’re just sitting there, doing nothing."

You might not necessarily feel this passion about your writing, but your certainly feel this passion about your business. Here's the challenge: can you translate your passion for your business to the page? If so, you've won half the battle.

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