I’ve been involved in SEO projects throughout my marketing career, and have watched its evolution from keywords and structured content to mobile and shareable.  

Recently, I’ve been involved in a project with a local small business blogger. While you continually hear in the marketplace that what you need is really great content for ranking, that’s not entirely true. SEO is really about giving the search engines, particularly Google, what they want, or at least what we can figure out they want from working with the algorithm. 

Unfortunately, particularly for text-based content, what they want is the direct inverse of good content — or at least good writing. Let me offer my opinion on a few of these things:  

  • Keywords – no matter what anyone tells you, keywords are still crucial to SEO. While the methodologies change, you’re still talking about choosing a word or words and making sure it’s repeated in your text periodically, but not too much. A couple of the downsides here — the algorithms only recognize the exact phrasing, so you can’t use variations, which makes for some wacky sentence structure trying to keep your keyword or phrase perfectly intact. 
  • Ease of reading – a common metric used in SEO involves how easy text is to read, typically using the Flesch Reading Ease test. Try to write a paragraph that scores highly on this test (Hint: it’s built into Microsoft Word). If you write using words of more than one syllable or something beyond a simple declarative sentence, you’re screwed. (As an example, the Flesch score on this blog post is 61.9 out of a possible 120. Remember a lower score is harder to read.) 
  • Length – a 300-word blog post is considered optimum. While that’s fine, I’ve read some very fine work that’s less than 100 words. I was also taught brevity is a virtue and not to use more words than necessary. I’ve found myself going through blog posts to see where I could add a few words, even though it might be to the detriment of the overall written piece. 
  • Keyword placement in titles – as a writer, your very creative blog post title is unlikely to ever be a search term. So instead of being creative, you give the search engine what it wants for ranking and put your keyword at the beginning of your title and in your URL. 
  • Keyword placement in the first paragraph – If you don’t want to dive right in, or you have a creative introduction that lacks the keyword, that’s no good, either. Forget about how your writing flows. 
  • Stop words – There are a number of words that are not recommended for use in page titles, URLs, and keyword phrases, and they’re known as stop words.  If you look at the linked list of stop words, you’ll probably be surprised at the sheer number, and many of them are common, like on, and, of, and as. Yet another way that SEO contributes to bad writing, by eliminating useful words that make language sound natural. 

Writing and SEO is a tricky game, but you can at least plan for a healthy trade-off between the two. 

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