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January 29, 2010


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There's no doubt, you're either an artiste or you're making money. Choose one.

There is a slight compromise possible: having a sub-headline. One headline for money, one for artistry, and one ring to bind them.

Not an artiste, Yossi. Just a communicator. A good headline draws my natural audience into each article and tells them in advance: I see the world with your eyes. Now let's come over here and look at this. That inspires loyalty among readers and helps them trust you.

When SEO is the first consideration, it seems to me you write headlines that take your core audience for granted in hopes that you'll snag a stranger in your net.

This seems antithetical to every communication principle I know. (And simple logic, too!)

Well, I don't use any overt SEO, and I'm happy with my footprint online.

I think my post today is relevant to this. You don't need to reach everyone, David. You need to be ever more important to the tribe you already reach (and their closest friends and colleagues). I think you're doing great at that.

btw, SEO started out simply. Website creators, and later website writers, simply wrote the best they could about the topic they loved or were expert in, and thereby drew in the people who searched for such topics.

The SEO Combubulus HyperBobulator was used to confuse you. Searched words do not mean they want you. The 40k+ people who searched for management presentations were not searching for an article about employee reaction to management presentations. They probably wanted to know how to put together their own presentation. If they get your website instead, they'll be royally vituperative about wasting a click on the wrong content. And hate you forever.

Stick to SEO for your main audience - executive communication, writing, communication in general - and do it naturally, and skip the HyperSEO supermen who want every click on the planet to land on your page.

I'd much rather reach one reader who finds value in what I've written, and who therefore decides that I'm the person who can help solve their problems, than to reach 10,000 readers who wonder why they landed on my page -- 5,000 of whom will leave anonymous, irrelevant, hate-filled comments as a result.

SEO has jumped the shark, at least in terms of "organic" search. There's way too much content out there, and the users struggle to find RELEVANT content. The search marketing industry is focusing ever more on the advertising side of SEO -- enacting steps so that when you, in Chicago, Ill., West Loop, Google "Plumber", the search marketers deliver paid listings, banner ads, etc., from their client who is a plumber in the West Loop or near environs.

Just wait to see what's in your spam filter after today's hed...

Fight the good fight, David.

@Seth: Relevant indeed. Thanks for your usual calm wisdom on this.


@Yossi ... if those SEO machines do little more than confuse people, then we're back to the future. Remember "H.I.T.S." from 15 years ago? (How Idiots Track Success?)

@Robert: Agree with your principle, but ultimately I'd like to have 10,000 readers who find value in what I write. (And of course, my reasoning is: "Who, given a chance to see my wonderful work, wouldn't find some value?!?") So I don't blithely dismiss suggestions for reaching more people. (I angrily dismiss them.)

Sean: I may be wrong, but I actually think the Internet is 100 times more satisfyingly searchable now than it was 10 years ago, when people were still "surfing" it, and also comparing it to the world's greatest library--with all the books in a big pile. So whatever tricky SEO stuff people are doing to con strangers to their sites, we're still much more likely to get where we're going. I guess we have Google geniuses to thank for this?

Well, there's SEO and there's SEO. As far as I'm concerned, a good writer is already practicing most of the principles of sound SEO -- using the most important words for which people might be searching early in the piece. They taught that to me in journalism school -- news writing 101 -- in 1972.

The kind of SEO you're talking about is practiced by businesses who want to appear high up in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) ahead of their competitors. Let's face it: If your content isn't found in the first page or two of results, it won't be found by most people at all. Like it or not, it's a reality.

There are people who game SEO and use unethical tactics, and I despise these folks. But there are also sound and ethical SEO practices I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss as bullshit. In fact, I taught an entire Webinar on SEO for communicators.

The fact is, search is the primary means by which online content is found, and if yours is on page 88 of the results pages, you won't get read. Sorry about that. Reality sucks, doesn't it?

"As far as I'm concerned, a good writer is already practicing most of the principles of sound SEO" - and David, you're a good writer.

It all will come down to who you are, who your audience is, what type of audience they are, and whether or not you are looking to expand.

Seth's right, you're better off sticking with your tribe, which means SEO beyond what you're already doing - exactly what Shel was discussing - is largely unnecessary.

However, there are little things that are good to know in case you ever want to change them. For example, if I search for "David Murray" on Google, this blog comes up on the first page. But the title is "Writing Boots" which has no context. I would have no idea it's David Murray's blog if I had never been here. Most likely, I'd skip right over it.

However, it the title was "Writing Boots, a blog by David Murray" (or something less pretentious), that would help. That title is EXACTLY the kind of quick change you can make via SEO. WordPress even has plugins to allow you to do this.

PS - On that note, the description on Google after your title is "Jan 23, 2010 ... Like the time the phrase, 'David Murray is a dickhead” slipped into the middle of a story and went to print and the terrified employees hid ...'." Hilarious and very much classic David, but at the same time not helpful to anyone, not even your tribe.

Wow! Since I'm the guy who doesn't know whether to "shit or wind his watch," I'm leaning a good bit from this discussion. First lesson: Don't take a day off from the blogosphere. You might miss out on chatting with David Murray, Shel Holtz and Seth Godin.

Screw SEO. The tweets from that alone would probably double my blog traffic!

While I'm not comfortable writing for algorithms vs. readers, I can no longer ignore SEO. Sure, optimization will pull in readers who don't care about public relations. But it'll also bring in many who do -- I think.

So I'm gonna try it, just to see what happens. And if my numbers jump, I'll tell the dean he should give me a promotion based on my skyrocketing influence :-) I think he'll buy it!

Seth appears to have the right answer. You don't have to be overt about SEO. Just stay loyal to your audience/tribe and learn all you can about the search phrases they use.

If that doesn't work, I'll write posts about LeBron James and Bruce Springsteen. You can have Tiger Woods and oral sex, David. I mean, you got here first.

Yeah, great conversation here, y'all. Thanks for all your insights. I'd turn to "crowdsourcing" more often if the crowds were always this wise.

First be comfortable with a quote from JR Ewing of Dallas fame,

"Once you get past honesty, integrity is a piece of cake."

Think of SEO as you would a headline writer for an old school newspaper, he'll say something like this, "Oh sure it's not quiet the thrust of the piece, but do you want this above the fold on 4D?"

OK now, throw in a little SEO response to that search engine Al Gore Rhythm. See this funky beat determines how important you are by having other important people link to you, even if some of those people are part of your SEO mafia orchestrated to link in time.

See piece of cake

SEO is only hogwash as much as PR is -- comments made based on ignorance by a lot of folks (those who let the bad apples represent an entire industry in their minds).

SEOs who use "tricks" like keyword stuffing are jokes. As others have mentioned, good writers already tend to rank well naturally (even if not always quickly). It mostly comes down to links (well that and keyword research so you know what your audience is really looking for). If you give people something worth linking to and sharing, that's all you really have to know about SEO. Play games and you'll have to play them indefinitely because those "tricks" are eventually trumped by algorithmic changes with the SEs.

Haha I finally understood your post title half way through reading it. At first I was starting to believe I'd drunkenly stumbled to this blog. But it proves a great point, these SEO tricks will provide a flash in the pan, but don't truly sustain traffic to a website. Producing great content that builds loyal readership is the best way to sustain traffic because a happy reader will share it with their friends, and that's the best marketing there is.

It's an unfortunate dance we have to do, but that's the marketplace right now, and if you're not doing your seo you're going to be left behind because everyone else is. It's come to the "keeping up with the Jones's" standard, where somebody starts some internet trend and once everyone jumps on you're forced to do the same otherwise everyone else will move ahead of you, and being at the back of the line is never a good thing.

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