If you’re a copywriter used to working on the print, branding or entertainment spheres, chances are you find SEO a bit tricky. If, on the other hand, you are a digital specialist, you may find that editors tend to reject your content compiled or written outside the jurisdiction of uncle Google.
That’s because proper writing and SEO find themselves at opposite ends of the writing spectrum. Their contradictory goals may make it hard to choose which is best – readability or searchability? Language specialists and techies have been bumping heads for a while, and unfortunately the only loser is language. For now..
Why SEO opposes English (and other languages)
Growing as writer requires brevity. You will condense content and learn to cut anything which is excessive or superfluous. Gone are the days of tossing a bag full of adjectives at a tiny blade of grass, these days you woo your readers with verbs. You learn to cut fillers. You learn not to repeat words or phrases in your essays. You learn that language is supposed to be natural and flowing and influential. And this, of course, may get you that A+ from your old prof at varsity, but it won’t get you a high SEO ranking.
In fact, search engine optimisation requires that you repeat certain words and phrases throughout your writing. It also, at times, requires writing for the mere sake of writing. It demands writing in order to meet a word count (the higher, the better), and structure content by set standards – standards which govern uniform content representation across all online platforms. For the hope is that uniform standards will naturally lead to better content quality.
Why does SEO hamper proper writing?
Of course, the idea of SEO is not to debase language, it’s merely a side-effect of an automated algorithm which seeks to calculate the quality of billions of individual content clusters.
You can blame all the crappy content out there. Unfortunately Google (nor any other search engine) cannot control how developers and ‘writers’ try to bullshit the system. Most of the content out there is unfortunately utter hogwash, but how will Google know, unless it appoints a bunch of highly objective people with technical and linguistic skills par excellence to manually read through everything on the internet.
Ridiculous? Of course it is. Which is why they use a formula to judge the quality of your content.
Repetition, links (granted, just the right amount of repetition and links), headlines, tags, images, bullets and substance (the ‘how much’) adds a credibility to content which is easy to categorise and measure. It means you’ve made it clear to readers and search engines what your site is about and the message you are trying to convey, and if you say it just right, then you get a lekker green check mark. The thumbs up is your address or post, as that first search result.
Because sites are essentially selling something, whether information, ideas, products or services – so it’s crucial to know, three times over, what you’re being sold (even if it doesn’t cost you money).
These algorithms are dynamic equations, formulae which many smart guys try to enhance on a daily basis. And unfortunately when it comes to the world of interwebs, linguists, editors and creative writers have been drawing short straws.
Hope for improved search engine optimisation and algorithms
Don’t despair though – there is hope yet.
Think of SEO as a single instrument in your musical arsenal – as with marketing, branding, formal, technical and creative writing – it is a singular category of writing which requires different a different set of rules. And your aim foe now is to flirt a helluva lot with Google, Bing, Yahoo! and whoever else.
It may feel a bit juvenile to hack at the English language with a saw meant for cutting a different substance. But humour the techies, developers and online trendsetters as they probably also feel a bit irked by the unnatural writing yacking on websites and blogs everywhere.
Here’s hoping, as with AI, search engines will become ever more intuitive and cater for the truly great writers out there in future. For now, try following the rules, it’s hard, but it’s useful.
Your day will come. Hang tight.