Archive | 12:09

The Writer’s Guide to Making Google Your Friend

8 Jun

If you have a blog, chances are you’ve heard of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. You might have read one of the 83,321,023 articles or posts about why you have to do it right now or else, or maybe some kindly person from an SEO company sent you an e-mail expressing their concern over the fact that your SEO efforts are a pile of poo but fear not, because they’d lurve to help you improve them.

If you’ve got to this point without finding out what SEO actually means, I’m proud of you. And it’s basically making your blog or website more visible to Google. According to Wikipedia:

“As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content and HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.”

Thrilling stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It sounds like something important, but I think it’s too much like hard work. I can honestly say that in 2+ years of blogging—and on a blog that got over 50,000 hits last month—I have never spent any significant amount of time worrying about my SEO, and I haven’t spent as much as a nanosecond doing anything about it.

(Sometimes I don’t even bother to tag my posts. My laziness knows no bounds.)

Now if you were, say, selling used cars in Dublin, I completely understand why you’d need to make sure that your website is the first that pops up on Google should someone enter “used cars Dublin” in the search box. If your business was primarily based online, SEO might make or break your business. But for a writer with books, a Twitter feed and a blog, I don’t see the point.

Time Spent in Better Ways

First of all, Google probably isn’t your main path of discovery. People probably find out about you and your blog through reading your books, links or tweets on Twitter and word of mouth recommendations, more than any other methods. Also, people can’t search for something if they don’t know what they’re looking for. If you’re a writer with a few books and a blog and you want to use SEO to help people find you, what kind of keywords are you going to focus on? How are you going to get people to land on you by way of an internet search when they don’t actually know you exist yet? Think about it. And don’t think about writing, because there’s a few million writers in the world people have actually heard of that they’d have to wade through before they got to you.

Maybe you have an angle, like blogging about self-publishing. In that case, wouldn’t it make sense to optimize your blog so that if someone Googles “self-publishing advice”, they land on you? I think it makes more sense to spend what little time you have producing quality content that will bring people to your blog without you having to worry about SEO and which will, over time, ensure the organic growth of your audience. All the blogs I read I started reading because someone recommended them to me or because I followed a link to one of their posts that I saw on Twitter, and when I got there, I liked what I saw. No SEO effort is going to make that happen if the posts on the site it’s optimizing are boring the arse off me—or worse, a waste of my blog-reading time.

I’m not saying that spending time working on your blog or website’s SEO won’t bring new people to your online platform. It probably will. What I’m saying is that your time would be better spent on other things, such as writing the kind of posts that bring people to your blog or website anyway.

What’s in a Name?

Having said all that, I do think writers need to make Google their friend. But this is nothing to do with SEO, indexing activities or inbound linking. It’s something far more simple and straightforward than that. It’s just common sense.

It’s about your name.

How many times have you been listening to the radio or watching something on TV and just about caught either an author name or a book title that you want to find out more about? It’s lots of times, for me. So I open up my computer or go to my phone, and do a Google search.

Keeping in mind that I have never spent any time worrying about the headache that is SEO, when you Google “Catherine Ryan Howard”, the entire first page of results is me. (And then some, but the first page is all we’re worrying about, really.) Even if you Google “Mousetrapped”, I’m not every result on the first page, but I’m there, and I’m first.

Now try Googling “Catherine Howard.” If you’re on Google Ireland I still get a look in, but on Google.com and it’s all about the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England.

The thing is, my name is Catherine Howard. “Ryan” is my mother’s maiden name, and “Catherine Ryan Howard” is completely made up. I made it up because thanks to countless History teachers, I knew about the other, infinitely more famous Catherine Howard, and so I knew that if someone was trying to find me by way of Google, she’d have something to say about it. So I changed my name, and in doing so made Google my friend.

This is why I despair when I see authors—traditionally published authors, I may add, whose publishing houses should know better—recycling titles, using titles already used for movies or even other books. This is a bit silly in the Google Age, but it’s downright stupid when the movie or book they’re borrowing from is infinitely more famous than theirs, and has been around for a long, long time, thus allowing years and years of Google friendliness (links, pathways, etc.) to build up.

Take Some Like it Hot, for instance. On Amazon.co.uk, the top result is a special edition of the DVD of the movie that’s so well-known and so popular and has been around for so long that it should never have been used as a title for anything else, but there’s also other editions of the movie, a companion book to the movie, another companion book to the movie, a memoir by Tony Curtis about making the movie, (at least) two erotic novels and then there’s Some Like it Hot by Amanda Brobyn*, which was released by Poolberg here in Ireland late last year. Now Some Like it Hot happens to be a great title for the book, but I went through five pages on Google Ireland and got no mention of it. If I’d heard her interviewed on the radio or something but didn’t catch her name and went looking for the book afterwards, I might well give up on page five. Or even before it.

For traditionally published authors, this isn’t that big of a deal. They’re also in bookstores. There’ll be plenty of other chances for us to find out about their books. But for self-published authors, we’re only online. If someone only has the title of our book and Google doesn’t help them find us, there may never encounter a mention of us again.

Just something to think about before you name your book—and yourself.

Have a good weekend! 

*I don’t mean to pick on anybody in particular; it’s just a good example. But there are countless others—feel free to mention any you know about in the comments. 

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