Let me guess: Someone, somewhere has told you that if you don’t develop a strong Google-optimized search engine optimization (SEO) strategy stat, your blog will disappear into oblivion on page 24,000 of Google and you’ll find yourself writing for an audience of 2 while your posts languish with nary a comment or a tweet.
Insert deep breath here.
SEO has become quite the buzz-word lately—and while it is superimportant, I want to ease your mind a little and tell you that it’s not necessarily as dire as you may have heard.
But first, let me tell you a little bit about my background so you don’t think I’m just rattling off some random but unproven facts. I’ve spent the last six and a half years working as a staff web writer for two Fortune-500 media companies. Both of my teams have had SEO gurus on staff that literally spend every day researching Google and Bing algorithms and then sharing their knowledge with us so we could write articles that land us on page 1 of Google. When you’re writing for a major website—a website where daily traffic is in the millions and where every traffic hit means more ad money—you learn quickly that SEO is the single most important aspect of web writing.
Now for the kicker—even with all that in mind, I believe SEO shouldn’t be a huge priority for most writers. In fact, for some, I think it’s a plain waste of time and money.
Here are five questions to ask yourself that will help you to determine if SEO is something you need to worry about:
Question #1: How much time do I have to devote to this?
With SEO, if you don’t do it right, it’s not worth doing at all. Even if you manage to SEOify your blog to the point where you move up 100,000 spots on Google, if you aren’t getting yourself onto the first couple pages of search results for your keywords, your work is for naught. Think about it: when’s the last time you scrolled through more than one page of Google results? Two? Have you ever gone past three? That means SEO needs to be something you do well or you don’t do at all. To give you a rough estimate, it will probably take you between 10-20 hours up front to research, develop and implement a strong SEO strategy, then another 1-2 hours each week to keep it up. If you don’t have that sort of time, then my suggestion is to put it off until you have the time and resources to do SEO right.
Question #2: How good are you with social media?
Social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.—often show results in both traffic and followers much more quickly than SEO does. If you’re a regular social media user and already have hundreds of followers, then you can probably afford to slack off on the SEO front. I’m not saying it’d never be worth your time, but a person with an inclination towards social media will be better off spending their time writing hilarious and compelling tweets instead of splitting their time focusing on SEO.
Question #3: How do readers search for the kind of book you write?
If you write non-fiction, then you may want to consider an SEO strategy. If you are a fiction writer, however, SEO may not be worth your time, because people rarely buy novels off of Google. If you’re looking for advice on how to potty train a strong-willed three-year-old, you’ll probably go to Google. If you’re looking for a good weekend read, you’ll probably read Amazon reviews, check Twitter, check Facebook, ask your friends, etc. For example, my friend Katie Ganshert is a contemporary romance author (her debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter comes out in May 2012) and while she has a terrific blog, she can probably rest assured that very few people will find her book through Google. So, if I were her, I’d focus my marketing time and energy on social media and reviews.
Question #4: How Big is Your Competition?
Awhile back, I wrote a post for the Word Serve Water Cooler about successful SEO keywording where I explained that major companies and websites spend thousands (okay, MILLIONS) of dollars on SEO strategizing. For example, my book, The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby is a comprehensive pregnancy guide for Christian women. Logically, it would make sense if I focused my SEO strategy and energy on terms like “pregnancy” or “pregnancy guide”—terms that are searched millions of times every month—but the truth is that focusing an SEO strategy on those terms is a waste of time for me. Why? Because major sites like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and “Baby Center” have highly-paid SEO writers on their staffs and thousands of articles on those topics — I simply can’t compete. And if you can’t compete, then working on SEO is a waste of time, because moving up from page 300,000 to 100,000 is pointless.
Question #5: Is Your Content, Book or Blog Relevant to a Certain Location?
One place that SEO works really well is when you’re dealing with local information. For example, my sister Alisa is a registered dietitian who writes an amazing blog called Enjoy Real Food about eating healthfully while enjoying food. She also works as a private dietary consultant in a small town called Kyle, TX. If she were to focus her SEO strategy on terms like “healthy eating” or “diet advice”, she wouldn’t stand a chance at getting her blog onto the first 20,000 pages of Google—there are just too many major companies that focus on those terms—but when she focuses on “healthy eating kyle, TX” or “dietary advice kyle, TX”, it’s a whole new ball game. She’s able to land herself first in the Google rankings and the people who find her page are people that live in her area and are likely to hire her as a consultant.
Erin MacPherson is the author of The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby and is a contributor to Daily Guideposts: Your First Year of Motherhood. She blogs at christianmamasguide.com/, and the WordServe Watercooler.
Related reading: Keywording 101 for SEO Prowess.
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