In my experience, creative writing pros have an endless appetite for writing advice.
How to add more color and texture to your writing, storytelling techniques, endless discussions about the serial comma and finer points of usage.
Elements like copywriting and conversion strategy? That tends to start to divide people up. Some writers want to pick up those killer skills, and some aren’t as comfortable with them.
But then there’s a topic that makes a lot of talented creative professionals throw up in their mouths a little.
I bet you know the one I mean.
It’s the fine art of writing content that can be found more easily on search engines — SEO copywriting.
First, it’s kind of technical — and “word people” sometimes (mistakenly) think that they’re not cut out to understand a bit of code.
Second, it’s had a checkered past. (Hey, who hasn’t.) There have always been cool, ethical, creative SEOs — but there was a time when they were often overshadowed by the mass of weird dudes who called themselves “black hat” and pretended to be some kind of low-level gangster.
It’s time to get over outdated ideas about SEO. If you make a living with words, or you want to, you owe it to yourself — and your clients — to gain a reasonable level of SEO literacy.
You’re not going to turn into a highly qualified SEO overnight. But it’s worth taking some time to get comfortable with the basics, so you can have smart conversations with your boss, with clients, with SEO professionals, or just make informed decisions for your own website.
With that in mind, here are a few SEO myths that I still see people buying into. Let’s clear them up and move forward.
Myth #1: The dreaded duplicate content penalty
Any time I talk about SEO, someone asks if it’s okay to republish content on sites like Medium or LinkedIn Pulse. “Will I get hurt by the duplicate content penalty?”
We can put this one to bed: No.
Here’s what Google has to say about it:
“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”
– Google webmaster support
Translating that into human, if you’re scraping content that someone else wrote, creating multiple versions of the same page in order to make your site look less pathetic, or using identical content on multiple sites to create an illusion of real links … yeah, that will make Google hate you.
Search engines don’t want to serve three or four copies of the exact same piece of content on the search engine results page (SERP). So, your unique collection of words usually only shows up on one search result — and you normally want that one time to be the version that was published on your own site.
Fortunately, the search engine algorithms are usually smart enough to figure this out. Medium takes the extra step of adding the tag that tells search engines that your original site’s version is the “canonical” one — if you use their tools to publish your content there (as opposed to doing a cut and paste).
If you syndicate your work elsewhere (maybe as a guest post to increase your audience and reach more people), you can also add that canonical tag in. And if you have the same content appearing in multiple places on your own site, you can use the canonical tag to let search engines know which one you want to be considered the “official” version.
It’s a smart practice to publish on your own site first, a few days or even a week before you syndicate it. This gives search engines the chance to index it before they see it pop up on other sites.
It’s also always a good idea to include relevant links back to your own content. After all, the entire point of syndication is to attract a larger audience to your main gig.
Repurposing content is such a valuable way to increase your content’s effectiveness. Don’t shy away from it because you’re worried about duplicate content.
Myth #2: SEO is about stuffing your work with keywords
You’ll see this sometimes from people (too often clients) who want you to “SEO” a piece of content.
People with an outdated understanding of SEO think this means jamming a bunch of regrettable nonsense into your lovely words. They might overuse a keyword (potentially to the point of gibberish), or even try to play some kind of silly trick like cramming a bunch of keywords in white text on a white background.
Now, keywords matter for SEO, because keywords matter to human beings. Keywords are just the strings of words people use to find out more about your topic.
So they do matter, and it’s smart to figure out what kinds of phrases people use when they think about what you publish.
But if they’re stuffed into your content to the point where they become distracting to human readers, you’re definitely doing it wrong.
Use clear, specific language when you write about your topic. It helps search engines understand what you’re writing, but — much more importantly — it helps human beings (you know, the ones you’re trying to do business with) understand what you do.
Wondering if it’s still okay to use metaphors, analogies, storytelling, and pop culture references? A single question will give you the answer:
Does this work well for my audience?
If so, then go with it — just make sure it’s genuinely clear and to the point.
Myth #3: Content has to contain (insert arbitrary number here) words to work for SEO
Yes, there’s data to show that longer content often ranks better than very short content on search engines.
You know what else longer content tends to do? Actually answer audience questions.
Don’t get so caught up in specific character counts that you miss the key point: Make your content useful and interesting.
Thin, lightweight content isn’t useful.
Overly long, rambling content isn’t interesting.
Write intelligently and thoroughly about your topic, while making a point with each piece of content, and linking them together in a logical way so your audience can follow your ideas from one piece to another.
You’d probably do these things whether or not SEO mattered to you. And that tends to be a wise way to approach your SEO strategy.
The Big SEO Myth
There’s a major misunderstanding that underlies all of these small ones: that you have to prioritize SEO over your audience in order to get good results on the SERPs.
Consider Mark Schaefer’s recent statement:
“I never stood out as a voice in the industry until I stopped being a slave to Google. Be original or be optimized. It’s hard to serve two masters.”
– Mark Schaefer, Five golden lessons from writing 2,000 blog posts
I agree with Mark 100 percent that your content must be original. I don’t agree that you have to choose between being original or being (thoughtfully) optimized.
Write for your audience first. Then, educate yourself about common-sense ways you can tweak your content so that search engines understand what you’re doing.
If you’re doing dumb things because you think Google wants you to, stop immediately. There are times when the smartest thing you can do for your SEO is to ignore Google — at least for some of your content.
But there’s a whole world of best practices that can make key pieces of your content more accessible to the millions of people who use search engines to find what they want.
Content strategy (for search or anything else) should never be about selling your soul or dumbing down your work. Good content strategy is about getting incredibly clear on what you do, who you do it for, and why it matters — then communicating that effectively.
Need a little help with that?
Search engine optimization isn’t a favorite topic for most writers, and a lot of the education out there isn’t really designed for writers.
And we didn’t think that was fair.
That’s why we added an in-depth module to our new Creative Content Foundations class — all about essential SEO tools and techniques specifically for creative professionals.
We brought our resident SEO
geek expert (and business partner) Sean Jackson in to talk about:
- The evergreen best practices for writing excellent content that serves the audience first, search engines second
- More SEO myths that tend to get writers tangled up
- SEO tools to clarify how search engines see you
- Tools and techniques to give you an endless supply of ideas for great content
- A handful of simple “ninja” tricks that will impress the heck out of your boss or your clients — and will help you make smart decisions about your content
If you want to be notified when we’re ready for our first group of students, just drop your information into the form below. We’ll be delighted to have you in the course!