I'm going to say something controversial, so sit down and put down the coffee (or wine, I don't judge) for a moment: SEO is ruining your blog. Or, if I wanted to do this the correct way for search engines “SEO is killing your blog and here's how to fix it.” So much so, that I'm done with it in a major way. We are so often told how to blog. It entails taking beautiful pictures, writing great content filled with keyword rich descriptions, and sharing strategically on social media. While I do agree with this, I think we're losing a lot of the beautiful prose. Often, we're left without character and see only bland, step-by-step content, devoid of the point of blogging: storytelling.
My light bulb moment went off while listening to the podcast “S-Town.” The podcast follows a man in “Shit Town” Alabama and his struggle with life, and ultimately, depression and a myriad other issues. The podcast opens with a descriptive story about an antique clock and how difficult they are to fix and understand. It seems to not exactly fit with the story, but you learn it has everything to do with the story later on. I found myself immediately drawn to the story. The words themselves were lovely, but even more, I felt compelled to read on. The opening scene set the stage for a story that made me want to keep listening.
Take any book you love. The book doesn't open with an instructional paragraph, guiding you through the plot. It might open with a shocking twist or early discovery. It might explain a character in-depth or place you with the narrator in a sense of time or space. It might begin with a lesson that you will learn throughout the story. But none of your favorite books, I'd say with complete certainty, are worried about SEO or being found on Google, so they don't waste time with boring, direct sentences that leave you feeling like shutting the book.
But that's what's happened to blogs.
My friend Sarah recently posted about “Vintage Blogging.” How she used to write stories and post pictures that she no longer feels are adequate to share on her blog. I'd argue that there's always been this undercurrent of the “right kind” of blogging. But now, it's trickled down to the masses. We all want to be found on Google, so we all follow the rules. By definition, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is described by MOZ as “a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results.” Basically, you write in a certain way to be found online. Google (and other search engines) crawl your site to find what your article is about. They look at: title(s), opening paragraphs, headlines, and keywords to figure out what your post/site is about and how it will show up online.
Look, I get it. We have to use the right terms to be able to be ranked higher in Google so people actually read our blogs. But writing in a way that makes you lose who you are is just not worth it. Yes, you might get some page views, but those will dissipate when people aren't drawn to your writing. There are two things that I think are paramount for blogging:
- Writing foundational content (full post here breaking down what that means)
- Creating a voice (I also wrote a full guide to finding and establishing your blogging voice)
Why does the above matter? The fact is anyone can write a blog. There are millions of us out there publishing everyday. So what makes you different? For starters, your background and experience combined with your unique voice. Often, when we try to write for search engines we completely lose these aspects and our writing becomes dry and boring. But when we write with out heart and with passion people are drawn to it. This, I'd argue, is what makes a blog successful. If you want people to read and follow you then you need to write in a compelling way. And I'm not sure you can do that when you're ticking off a list of “to-do's” for content marketing.
I get emails pretty frequently from new bloggers or ones that haven't started yet asking me this: how will I know when I'm ready and/or there is so much information out there how can I know I'm doing the right thing? Truthfully, there are no steadfast blogging rules. Yes, some things will help you be found more easily: sizing images for Pinterest, writing content that helps or relates to others, and creating a newsletter so that you can create an established connection with those that read your blog. Of course, doing these things aren't strict, you don't have to do them and you can still succeed.Forget the blogging rules, write worthwhile, meaningful content before you do anything else. Click To Tweet
The idea of content marketing and SEO has overtaken the thought process of blogging, and it's killing the craft. I see fashion bloggers title posts: “classic white blouse”, travel bloggers write: “4 day travel excursion in Zanzibar”. And while this is fine, and oftentimes necessary, don't forget to tell me the story! Yes, it'd be nice to be a top hit on Google, but it'd be even more interesting to tell me a story about why this shirt is awesome or why I MUST visit this travel destination.
Google is a smart search engine. It won't penalize you if you don't include a header or if your first paragraph doesn't have the keyword 76 times. Instead of spending hours curating a post based on the rules, just write. Create a post that you care about and truly love, THEN go back and edit it with SEO.
Bottom line: your blog will do well when you fill it with interesting content. Focusing on worthwhile, helpful, relatable, interesting, or emotional posts is what will help you grow. Create something meaningful and valuable, then worry about the rules. I think people read blogs because they want a firsthand account and a real connection. But how can that be established when so many blogs are filled with bland, instruction-like posts? Sometimes we need to forget the rules and just write good stuff. Your readers will thank you for it.
I created a free course on creating an awesome blog, check it out here:
Free eCourse: Build a Successful Blog
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