Okay people, remember when I screamed in this space that so far, social media had given me nothing but carpal tunnel syndrome? Well since then, I've used social media to organize a pretty tidy following—and, believe it or not, actually generate some revenue—in and around the speechwriting and executive communication space.
So now I'm more or less resigned to spending half my time writing the newspaper and the other half delivering it (via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and You Boob).
I've seen the results, I'm pleased I don't have to rent or buy or steal proprietary mailing lists to sell my wares, and I'm grateful for all the patient guidance I've received along the way, from Shel Holtz and all others to whom I've intemperately appealed over the years.
But now I'm enraged and confused about something else.
Now I'm learning it's not enough to write a wonderful newspaper and deliver it five minutes later. Now,we're told, if we're going to get read by more than friends and family, we must do a thing called "SEO," which stands for "search engine optimization," which, as far as I can tell, is a bunch of utter hogwash designed to keep "SEO experts" employed and writers doing some kind of crazy-ass pagan dance, hoping for something that's never going to come.
As a friend puts it, "You'll begin getting 10,000 daily hits and stuffing your pillow cases with advertising revenue."
Hey, I'd love to be wrong about this.
And I wouldn't be alone among troubled and confused solid writers, like Kent State University's Bill Sledzik.
He's the most popular PR professor in the blogosphere.
"I've never been comfortable with the concept of SEO. It’s like having a wizard behind the curtain who’s trying to manipulate reality. But it’s clear that I would benefit from an SEO strategy. ... I don’t use this blog to market anything, so does it really matter?... Still, I feel negligent that I’ve left my search traffic entirely to chance."
Sledzik, master of all he surveys, grizzly standard bearer to thousands of Kent PR students, doesn't know whether to shit or wind his wrist watch.
And neither do I!
I've spent a decade as an amateur and two as a professional learning to "write for your audience." Now these SEO goons are trying to tell me to write for some unimagined strangers who might stumble drunkenly onto my website if only I put in enough tantalizing key words that I may or may not be perverted enough to even guess at.
I'm going round and round on this stuff with a publisher right now. We both want more traffic for our websites. And I acknowledge that some of my headlines are more likely to lure people in by keywords than others.
"Friday Follies," for instance, is a headline that won't draw lots of searches, I bet. (Who but a hopeless fop searches for "follies"?) But it's a crap headline to begin with, so I'm fine with doing something different.
But another headline I wrote recently—"The Way Most Employees Receive Most Presentations from Management"—strikes me as one that might actually draw some traffic. And it's a solid headline for my audience of speechwriters and employee communication people.
So my man at the publisher plugs this into his SEO Combobulatory Combibulatum, which tallies which phrases receive the most searches ("presentations from management" doesn't get any searches, but "management presentation" gets 40,500 searches per month) and tells me that a better SEO headline would be "How an Employee Receives a Management Presentation."
He's the one with the SEO machine, so I guess I have to grant him that the second headline might draw in more blind staggerers. But I'm trained to write for my audience, and my audience—my bread and butter, the crowd that's been reading me and paying my way for two decades—will not be nearly as fondly enticed by the SEO-correct headline than by my original.
So here's my terms regarding SEO—Shel Holtz help ice cream oral sex Tiger Woods, please talk me off the ledge: Publishers, if you're gonna ruin my headlines by making them SEO-friendly, you're gonna do it yourself. You can't ask me to do it myself. Can you?
The whole thing reminds me of another publisher I worked for, who told the self-respecting graphic designer, "Ugly sells."
And what was she supposed to do about that?