Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to strategies for increasing the likelihood that your web content will be found through Google searches. It’s an important set of knowledge to have in today’s online editorial world. I’m familiar with SEO methods like using straightforward titles containing keywords that people will probably search for (rather than mysterious, pun-filled headlines) and writing descriptive link text (instead of only saying “click here”).
Browsing the job boards for freelance writers, though, it’s easy to become cynical about SEO. So many companies and websites out there are looking to exploit SEO strategies simply to generate more clicks—and, in turn, ad revenue—on their sites. The result is the creation of meaningless, redundant web content that clutters up the internet.
Even well-meaning companies can let SEO get the best of them, trading keyword-richness for readability. I’ve especially noticed this effect on hotel websites. Previously sensible navigation menu items like “About Our Hotel” have been replaced with garbled ones like “Tacoma Washington Hotel Bed and Breakfast B&B Inn.” Tactics like this might make the site rank higher in a Google search, but they also make the potential customer’s life harder when trying to get the information they want. Plus, I think they make the company look desperate for business.
My preferred version of SEO doesn’t differ much from my original style of web writing: keep everything clear, descriptive, and useful. Yes, it’s a good idea to think of keywords that potential readers and customers may be searching for. It’s also smart to keep some of these keywords (and even a variation or two on them) in the title and first paragraph of an article or web page. It makes sense to use specific language for links and tags. And you’ll benefit from updating your site regularly. But don’t let SEO take over; you don’t want readers or customers to feel they’ve been lured to a page that’s not worth reading.