I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an SEO (search engine optimization) specialist. But I am a writer, so I know the difference between strong writing and weak writing when I encounter it on the page or screen. I prefer not to use the terms “good” or “bad” in describing any kind of creative endeavor; as my playwriting instructor used to tell me, “There’s no such thing as good or bad writing — only stronger or weaker choices.” In the world of writing for the Web, some of those weaker choices occur in the struggle to produce “organic SEO,” or content optimized to turn up higher in online searches. And there lies the rub. Do you write to get your website found, or do you write to convert those who find it?
This question came to a head for me a few years ago when I wrote for a web developer who was building a new site for a local attorney. This particular web developer put tremendous stock in the power of organic SEO — so much stock, in fact, that he didn’t care about niggling details such as grammar. As a result, he insisted that I use a phrase that simply didn’t make grammatical sense on the sole grounds that it ranked well in search results. “We need to make sure this attorney gets found online,” he said.
I felt obliged to point out that just because people don’t use grammatically correct search phrases, that doesn’t mean they won’t recognize a clunker when they see it on the site. “Even if the key phrase does attract lots of visitors,” I tried to explain, “you’ll just have that many more people viewing poorly-written content and assuming that your client is a moron.” He was having none of it, though, and his word was final. So I found a way to couch it in a quotation, thus: “You’ll see a lot of online searches for ['key phrase']….” This allowed me to use the phrase without actually having it originate from the client, saving both his page ranking and his reputation as an educated person.
Organic SEO does matter, but it has to be seeded gracefully into the writing. A term such as “Chiropractor East Austin,” for instance, is pretty darn hard to add to a sentence without sounding goofy, whereas “East Austin chiropractor” is a cinch. Will the latter phrase rank as high? I don’t know, but surely it’ll rank. Personally, I could see myself typing either phrase to search for that particular service. Ultimately, the decision rests with the web developer or SEO specialist assigned to the site, but as a writer I will always push for the stronger content over the stronger keyword. Many of the SEO experts I’ve spoken to actually agree with me — drawing lots of ideal customers to the site doesn’t matter if the content they view there turns them off. And there are plenty of effective, perfectly ethical SEO tactics that don’t involve the written page text at all.
I’ll climb down from my soap box now. Just remember — SEO matters, but so does the quality of your writing!
For information about writing services and current package deals, check out my website at www.reynoldswriting.com.