I’ve had it with unreadable content that begs me to “keep reading to learn more about [shoehorned keyword]” instead of making me want to.

As someone whose whole entire job it is to get content to show up in search engines, you might think I’m all about packing keywords into content and metadata.

And you’d be dead wrong.

Optimization isn’t what you (probably) think it is

Keywords suck on their own. I went as far as to tweet that in 2020, I’d retire “keywords” from my client-facing vocabulary. Thinking about SEO has a way of turning even the most enthusiastic and competent subject matter experts into 7th graders writing a book report about a book they didn’t read while they’re riding the bus to school on the day it’s due. Instead of being thoughtful and reflective, they grab a thesaurus and cram a bunch of words they never use into a hastily-written mess. It ain’t a pulchritudinous picture. 

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little

Writing content with a clear and useful message is more important than ever. But don’t “optimize” the bejesus out of your content today based on last year’s keyword data, if it means sacrificing the message your people will need to hear tomorrow.

What does someone in your world need to know? What are they trying to accomplish or solve? Write down what you have to say about it. Then edit what you write so someone who’s never met you can understand your points when they read your blog for the first time. Be specific. Use nouns. Write how you speak. “I use tarot readings as part of my life coaching for women entrepreneurs” is a hell of a lot clearer than “I use my intuitive gifts to help you manifest the divine feminine within.” 

Here’s the thing: Most ideas aren’t original. Someone else has experienced heartache, joy, triumph and written about it. Someone else has figured out a weeknight Instant Pot version of your most beloved comfort food. But do they curse up a blue streak like only you can? Or do they pepper their reflections with bible verses?

Your experiences might not be unique. Your voice, though – that’s all you.

As a tween in the early 00s, my friendships deepened on Livejournal and MySpace. We said what was on our minds. Sometimes, we were pensive. Other times, we were impulsive and mean as hell. But in those spaces, we made our own meaning. We expressed the parts of ourselves that weren’t obvious in the confines of school dress codes and the clothing our parents could afford/would let us have. 

Say what’s on your mind. And find the lesson.

If you haven’t found the lesson yet, wait a little while before you publish. My Google Drive is full of experiences I want to share someday, but at this point, I’m still in the second phase of the “this thing happened in my life > it speaks to a broader social issue > here is what I learned from the experience > this is how I changed my thoughts, feelings, and behaviour as a result” journey. 

Writing for the web is about a human connection. It isn’t about dazzling people with your verbal acrobatics. No one cares about your GRE words. They want to see themselves, their hopes and dreams, and their lives reflected in the media they consume. They want to feel that even at their lowest and most embarrassing moments, they’re not alone. Someone gets it. 

Be clear about the value exchange you’re after

Starting a blog is whispering into the wind, “I want someone to care.” Exchange of value is a feature of any community. Whether that value is the exchange of currency for goods and services, or something less tangible like sharing your life experiences to build a personal brand, you want something out of this.

And if the goal of your blog is to make money, for fuck’s sake, be explicit about it. I’m not just talking about adding disclaimers for cheeky-sneaky affiliate links. If you want people to buy your products, add ecommerce features to your blog. If you’re a creator, showcase your work. It’s not gross to make money or build name recognition.

Advertising is still a valid way to monetize your blog. But ask yourself a few questions first:

  • Do I hate pop-up ads when I’m trying to read something?
  • What does my site look like from a phone now? Would it look worse with some ads?
  • Can I control which advertisers will buy my ad space? Can I make sure they’re aligned with my purpose, or at least not in conflict?

Question your assumptions and try new things. Speak to people using your own voice. State your purpose. You are allowed to stop doing things you don’t like or using tactics that don’t work for you. But for the love of dogs, please don’t lose yourself in the name of “optimization.”

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about SEO. For creative businesses in particular, getting past the myths is key. In this free mini-course, I debunk some of the common myths around SEO for bloggers, creative businesses, and digital entrepreneurs. Hope to see you there!