The Writer’s Guide to Making Google Your Friend

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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. 

30 thoughts on “The Writer’s Guide to Making Google Your Friend

  1. Cristian Mihai says:

    Alll I do in terms of SEO for my blog is to tag my posts, and put the words that are in the title in the first paragraph. And then I wait. Yeah, I suck at this SEO thing.

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  3. C. M. Barrett says:

    So timely. I am mulling over a title for a new book, and everything I like is taken—sometimes several times. Your article makes it clear that it’s it worth taking the extra effort to carve out your own trail.

  4. Deb says:

    Yes. As someone who used to work in tech and has been following developments/methodology, I’m always surprised by how much people stress about SEO. Put the tags in if you don’t have it in the blog post/work itself, and announce its presence to people on social media so you can get some hits to make sure search engines know it exists, but everything else, in my opinion, after that is trying to guess what the search engine’s algorithms are.

  5. Patrick Samphire says:

    You’re absolutely right about SEO, Catherine. Speaking as a web developer and designer (as well as a writer), I can confirm that 99% of what is passed off as SEO is either a fraud, ineffective, or downright damaging. But there are plenty of snake oil salesmen out there trying to tell you otherwise.

    The simple fact is that is you are optimising your website for search engines, you are not optimising it for people. Now, for some sites that make their money solely from advertising and just want the most number of visitors, no matter how irrelevant or how quickly they leave, this might be fine. But if you want people to stay, to read your posts, and to come back, optimise for *people*.

    That’s not to say that you can’t make sure that you are slightly easier to find on google. Using proper headings in your posts (rather than just using bold text), for example, can help, as can having a properly constructed website, but that stuff is easy.

    Remember, google *wants* to find you. Google (and Bing and the rest) will only be successful and make money if they give the right results to the right visitors. If you make things clear and simple, and don’t try and game the system, google will do its job.

    As you say, most people will find your blog if you are interesting. I found your blog because someone else linked to a post you did. I enjoyed it, so I checked out others. They were good too, so I subscribed. *That’s* how you get visitors.

  6. Jon Simmonds says:

    A good post Catherine and I also totally agree with Patrick’s comments. As a digital marketer I understand how vital SEO is to a business. And how pointless it is when it comes to finding blogs I’m interested in. It’s not a one-size-fits-all game.

    However… a carefully-written post will definitely help your discoverability in Google. It does no harm to have a set of keywords that you use thoughtfully, so that those who DO search for blogs on specific subjects (everyone’s different don’t forget) may come across yours.

    It’s not rocket science though.

    And in the world of getting an author/writer blog disseminated to an interested audience, I’m finding it’s the hard slog word-of-mouth approach that gets the best results. Twitter, Facebook, taking a (genuine) interest in other writers’ blogs… no easy way to do it, but if we wanted easy we wouldn’t write eh?

  7. Louise Behiel says:

    great post, Catherine. I haven’t stressed about SEO (sometimes being a new author and a new blog is good) so now I know i”m on the right track. and i’m really impressed with 50,000 hits last month. well done. sadly, I’m not there…yet.

  8. Chihuahua0 says:

    -googles title of WIP-

    Good. Four of the five top results are of my doing, and the top one isn’t an exact match.

    -googles real name-

    …Darn you, famous people.

  9. Haythem Bastawy says:

    Thanks for that Catherine, I am currently reading your brilliant guide, Self-printed and I have been thinking about a good author name for me as my name is quite difficult, and this blog came just in the right time to confirm that. Thanks

  10. Raymond says:

    I agree. As the EVP of marketing and business development for my company, I have spent a fair amount of time in “optimization” discussions. In business it works as it should. Interestingly the increase in my peronal blog matches the growth of our professional blog with no SEO for the former. Hmmm. I think every blogger can improve his or her hits by following three simple rules. 1. Think of an interesting or catchy title (the same as you do for your books). 2. Add pictures – it adds “color” to your topic. 3. Comment and follow others. The last is probably the most important. When you find other writers of “like minded” interests – their readers may be interested in your writing…if you can come up with interesting comments to add to the discussion…and ones much shorter than mine lol. I think there are many, many things a self published author can do to promote awareness of their work…SEO is not one of them in my opinion.

  11. Tahlia Newland says:

    I guess I’m lucky. There doesn’t seem to be any other Tahlia Newland as busy online as me. If you google me, It’s just me for 3 pages (I stopped looking after that). I just changed the name of my soon to be published book to make it unique too. ‘You Can’t Shatter Me ‘doesn’t have a list so long on Goodreads that I never got to the end of if like my working title did. I’m just glad I checked it out before I published.

  12. minnesotatransplant says:

    As usual, I find your perspective to be intuitive and well-argued. I googled my name (too common) and the title of my book (specific enough to be on the first page several times). Thanks for this.

  13. Angela Orlowski-Peart says:

    There is only so much we, writers, are able to do in our “free” time (meaning, free of writing). Marketing and playform building takes up a big chunk of that time for me.

    There are other ways outside SEO to increase amount of traffic to a website, good content being one of them.

  14. Claude Nougat (@claudenougat) says:

    Great post and a necessary one: too much nonsense is bandied about SEO … which is why I was so glad to come across your post which confirms what I had always suspected.And yes, the only way forward for us writers is to
    (1) focus on producing good posts and
    (2) not waste too much time on line and put all our energies into writing our next book!

  15. Arlene says:

    Thanks Catherine. I don’t have a middle name which is fine in most cases, but I never realized how many people actually have my name. Using you’re mother’s maiden name was a great idea. It’s certainly something to think about or maybe just using the first letter of her maiden name as an initial to set my name apart. Thanks again for giving us such great information!!!

    • Bridget Whelan (@agoodconfession) says:

      So much to learn…so little time. BIG thanks for exploding one myth about what we should be doing as bloggers and writers. Ok, tags matter but obsessive SEO doesn’t….

      On the question of names, for ages I’ve felt pretty secure…mine is old fashioned so it was either me on the first page of a Google search or an obscure branch of a family tree (Born Balllybackbeyond, died 1868). Now I find that I share an (almost) identical hotmail address with a charming girl in south west Australia who has been patiently telling my creative writing students that 1) they really should submit their homework on time and 2) try emailing the English version.

      Now through (I confess) google alert I discover that there is an up and coming journalist with the same two word name. I’m undecided: do I want her to be good, really good, so I get the reflected glory or should I be hoping for a change in direction and she finds her true vocation in veterinary science in Utah (just as a random example of something that has nothing in the wildest stretches of the imagination to do with me)….

  16. Christian Frey (@ChristianFreyCA) says:

    This is very true. I have a friend whose farm name is New House Farm and they’re hard to find on the internet because they have to compete with the entire real estate market. And it’s also true that wordpress out-of-the-box has very good SEO setup already. However, having said that, I have a new blog and it’s been pretty quiet (and I don’t want to spam people on twitter – my pet peeve is when I see an interesting link and it’s one of their blog posts that I’ve already read, bleah) so this weekend I installed the WordPress SEO plugin and went through the tutorial on Yoast.com. For the most part, it was pretty painless. What I like is that it gives me more control over how the title and blurb of my posts show up in search engines. Might be too much extra work on a blog with existing content, but I was pleased with the process… we’ll see as to the results 🙂

    • Charron's Chatter says:

      Great article. I have belatedly become aware of SEO, and was starting to stress about my lack of 411 and application, but this makes me feel much better. And one less thing to think about!

  17. eof737 says:

    I’m glad I read your post as it confirms what I’ve always believed… Focus, focus, focus on writing content that matters to your niche, and connect with others through the various social media channels. I like the idea of organic growth rather than manipulative tactics. Thanks! 🙂
    Eliz

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