Thursday, June 9, 2016

SEO Comment: The Difference Between Good Writing and Good SEO Writing

What is the difference between good writing and good SEO writing? In a word, keywords. Unfortunately, many writers neglect this simple fact--especially so-called "serious" writers. Yet the fact remains: To attract organic attention, a good piece of writing must include keywords.

Not merely keywords, but the right keywords.

I'm reminded of the famous quote of Raymond Carver (quoted before on this blog):

"That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say."

Adapted for online content, this famous writing advice is the key to SEO. To attract organic attention, all you have, finally, are keywords--used judiciously, "in the right places so that they can best say what they're meant to say."

Now, to writers of the MFA ilk this appropriation of Carver might read as hearsay. I've spoken to fellow graduates of my own MFA program about SEO; some call the practice, especially the use of keywords, "manipulative." Their reasoning, I gather, is that the use of keywords is, by nature, contrary to Carver's appeal to use "the right" words.

What if, the reasoning goes, a keyword turns out to be the "wrong word" for the sentence? By the mandate of SEO, the keyword must be included. They keyword is then arbitrary--not at all the "right word."

In practice, this thinking is nonsense. SEO writing is a new "form" of writing--a form delimited by its emphasis on keywords. From poetry to sculpture, "form"--"the more or less established structure, pattern, or scheme followed in shaping an artistic work"--classifies art.

Form structures the creative imagination. In art, form is necessary, especially for young artists.
In his poem "First You Must," Dean Young writes:

First you must build a cathedral of toothpicks.
Write nothing but sonnets for a year.

Young's implication is that art is learned--and sustained--through form. The tedium of a toothpick cathedral, a year of sonnets--this is art's apprenticeship, and practice.

A toothpick cathedral [Source: Toothpick World]

The tedium of keywords--this is the practice of good SEO writing.

What separates good writing from good SEO writing, then, is not an arbitrary emphasis on keywords. In fact, the pursuit of the "right keyword," however tedious, is a form of art.

When researching the right keyword, you clarify your purpose. You ask yourself: "Who is my audience?" Good writing might attract an audience. But good SEO writing will attract the right type of audience.

As Moz writes in its keyword research guide: "It's not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors." [Emphasis ours].

Now, Moz does continue from here to describe keyword research in explicitly market-driven terms:

"The usefulness of this intelligence cannot be overstated; with keyword research you can predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and produce the products, services, and content that web searchers are actively seeking. In the history of marketing, there has never been such a low barrier to entry in understanding the motivations of consumers in virtually any niche."

This is the sort of SEO speak that turns many writers away from the enterprise. Yet this turning away is a knee-jerk reaction that has little to do with the implicit goal of any writer: to be read, widely.

Yes, no matter how "serious" a writer assumes himself to be, what he really craves is readership. After all, without readers what is the use of any piece of writing (beyond an exercise in solipsism)?

Of course, keywords are only as effective as the writing that surrounds them. As we've noted before:

"Without a backbone of good writing, no piece of content--no matter how it is optimized with keywords--will perform well in the rankings. Of course, once you have created a good piece of content, optimization can only help. The key, however, is to focus on the quality of your writing before you worry too much about optimization."

This advice runs counter to Moz's advice to research keywords before writing. 

However, we believe the initial act of writing can--and often should--be performed without any thought of keywords. In this way, you write to your point--and not to your keywords. After you have written your first draft, then perform your keywords research. In revision, you can go back, clarify, and revise certain words or phrases to match your keyword research. You can create your form.

In the end, there only implicit difference between good writing and good SEO is this extra bit of work. Are you willing to perform this extra work to reach more readers? If not, you're wasting the effort you put into your writing, no matter how good it may be.

For more information of keywords, please read: SEO 101: Keywords.

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