Nine reasons I ignore SEO

Let’s start with basics. SEO is short for search engine optimization. Bloggers (along with other people, but never mind them) obsess about it. Our goal is to lure in innocents who are searching the internet. Won’t you step into my parlor, said the blogger to the fly. Won’t you read 107 of my posts and hit Follow and stay here forever, thus bumping up my stats.

Stats? They’re the things that tell you how many people read what bits of your blog, and what country they’re from, and assorted other stuff, and they’re never high enough. We all want more, more, more.

So to get more people to stop by, you try to make yourself as visible to search engines as possible. You optimize yourself. You dig a niche out of the crumbling riverbank of the internet. Or maybe that’s the crumbling riverbank of what was once your creativity. The metaphor’s a little crumbly itself, but I’ll come back to that issue about creativity. You do all sorts of stuff, some of which borders on the corporate (all that stuff about becoming a brand) and some of which works at least some of the time.

Yet another irrelevant photo

Yet another irrelevant photo: flowers.

If you’re good at it, you provide what searchers looking for and they’re happy and either stay or come back, and you’re almost happy, although your stats are still never high enough. Addiction’s like that. You check your stats and see that your views have shot up. Or that they haven’t, in which case you tweak your S. You maximize your O. You tone down that pesky E.

You check your stats again. You remind yourself that yesterday’s stats won’t have changed but you check them again anyway. Because addiction’s like that.

I do check my stats, partly because I’m addicted and partly because the questions that lead people to my blog can be bizarre and finding a particularly good one adds a dash of insanity to my day. The insanity I generate on my own isn’t half as much fun. But the serious SEOing? I’ve read about it. In spire of what I’m saying here, I’ve appreciated the advice and learned from some of it. I’ve even made good use of some of it. But it has a way of taking over your brain. So although I’m not arguing that anyone else should follow my example, for the most part I ignore it.

Before I go on, I might as well admit that as I wrote this I couldn’t help imagining people arguing with me. So if you want to, argue with me. Or agree. It’ll make an interesting discussion. And to the people who write about SEO and do it well, I do appreciate what I’ve learned from you. It’s just that taking it too seriously was threatening my writing.

Why am I offering you nine reasons? Because the internet loves numbered lists. Offer people three reasons they shouldn’t use nail files, eleven ways to charm wild rabbits, or five reasons to paint their walls midnight blue, and they’ll click on that link. Or a certain number of them will. Even though they’ve been terrified of rabbits since childhood, their landlord does the painting and only buys white, and because their English isn’t great they only understand file in the context of papers and file drawers, so nail file makes no sense to them. But it’s a list. It involves numbers. The just have to click.

So. I ignore SEO because:

  1. I hate numbered lists. They’re about simplicity, and life isn’t simple. The interesting stuff—and most of the good jokes—involve complexity. It’s true that numbered lists are a nifty organizing tool, but honestly, people, they’re not the only one. They’re overdone.
  2. What people are looking for from numbered lists, whether they know it or not, is advice. I don’t give advice.
  3. If I do give advice, it will be in a moment of weakness and highly suspect. I advise you to ignore it. I have your best interests at heart here.
  4. SEO is about niches and I don’t exactly have a niche. Travel? Not really, although travelers may be interested. Expat? Expats are nothing but immigrants with a coating of education, money, culture, invisible ethnicity, or some combination of the above. If other people want to call themselves expats, fine by me, but I’m an immigrant. Google immigrant blog, though, and you’ll find one or two, but mostly you’ll find sites campaigning against immigration or offering information and advice about how to immigrate. Immigrant blog is not a niche. Besides, people trying to immigrate are so desperate for a toehold in this hostile world that making jokes about it from my own safe position borders on the obscene. Or forget borders. It’s planted dead center in the middle of it. Is this a humor blog, then? There’s something dismal about hanging a sign above your work saying, “This is funny.” When I worked as an editor and a cover letter told me the enclosed was a humorous article, I counted myself forewarned. It wasn’t. Ever.
  5. Even if we were to decide that in spite of everything Notes is to some extent an expat blog (I read several, and a couple of them are funny; others are worth reading for other reasons), that doesn’t mean expats are the only people I want to talk to. Or even the main group. I write for anyone who’ll laugh at my jokes, anyone who wants to know about living in Britain, anyone who wants to read about the oddities of living in a culture that isn’t your own. There aren’t enough people in those categories as it is, so why narrow things down? I know, I know: When you define your target audience you’re not limiting it. If you know where to find your audience, you can address it. Book publishing works on the same principle. You write a cover letter or book proposal and say, “This book will appeal to 36-year-olds who have never had a manicure and who didn’t wash their dishes yesterday.” Niche marketing holds that men don’t want to read about a woman protagonist, whites don’t want to read about blacks, adults don’t want to read about children, straight people don’t want to read about gays, etc. etc., ad fucking nauseum. To sum that up, dominant groups don’t want to read about non-dominant ones. It you’re in the non-dominant group, you’re niche. If you’re in the dominant group, you’re mainstream. Unless of course a niche book breaks out, at which point we all worship it. What am amazing writer to have done that. What wisdom. What a gift it is to be so deeply rooted in a vibrant culture. Do you spot just a touch of irony in that? [If this weren’t a numbered list I’d start a new paragraph here, so take a small breath.] I have yet to find the niche that makes me think I’ve found mine. Niche-ing makes sense in some situations: if you write about blogging; about food; about parenting, which is usually code for mothering; about travel; about books; about writing; about transgender issues; about hunting wild mushrooms in Maine; about politics or a given political outlook—about any established or sharply defined category. But some of us sprawl between categories. Some of us write in small categories and want to break out of them. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not focused—we may keep a tight focus on our awkward topic. But we don’t fit neatly into an established category, and I, at least, don’t want to narrow what I’m doing in order to fit.
  6. (And this is, really, the main issue) I don’t want my writing controlled by my efforts to game the search engines. Again, I have no quarrel with people who do. It works, and it’s a legitimate choice. To maximize my page views, I could, in theory, find out what people want to read and then write about it, repeating the key words in all the key places. I get a steady flow of people, for example, wanting to know why Great Britain is called Great Britain. They push my page views up and I like this because (a) it makes me feel good and (b) I’m hoping that when my next book starts making the rounds, the blog will convince a publisher to consider it with just a bit more respect, so my stats may have an impact on something of more use in the world than my silly damn ego. People also want photos of cats. And dogs. The appetite for them is endless. Should I be sitting at my computer, then, and wondering what else people want and how I could produce it? Possibly, but if I do, will I be able to keep my writing sharp enough to make it worth reading? To the extent that Notes works, it depends on me making myself laugh. That’s not an easy river to channel, and it dries up altogether when I give too much thought to what people think and whether I’m making them happy. Which leads to:
  7. The only reason I can keep this blog fed is because early on in the process of creating it I stopped giving a rip. I ignore much of what I learned about writing, and a good part of what, in turn, I taught. And if you were a student of mine, whatever I taught you I taught in good faith. We all change, and maybe I needed to learn it before I could set it aside. But I apologize anyway. What exactly am I ignoring? I haven’t checked in with the rules in my head long enough to be sure. These days, I pretty much let myself sit at the keyboard and riff. I can’t do that and worry about SEO. I won’t complain about people who do as long as they can do it with some subtlety, but it’s not going to work for me.
  8. If you read about SEO long enough, someone will tell you to think of yourself as a brand. I am not a brand. I’m a writer. I’m a cantankerous human being. I’m any number of other things, but I’m not a brand.
  9. I did say nine, didn’t I? I lied. It has a better resonance than eight. And I’m sure the search engines like it better.

119 thoughts on “Nine reasons I ignore SEO

  1. Don’t really care why you don’t use ’em but #9 made me laugh and I’m VERY fond of laughter and your flowers. I read more complaints from real writers as opposed to me who just writes and it appears that too many followers make for so much work answering etc… don’t have to answer this….that there is no real time for the creative process. I do know this, I’m using my blog as an excuse to keep from doing things I don’t want to; so while you maybe minorly addicted to stats, I’m addicted to blogging and answering and complaining and commenting and yes reading others thoughts, ideas, philosophies, politics, poetry, and looking at the pictures. Of course I’m a majorly addictive person. ~~dru~~

    Liked by 4 people

    • Actually, I love the comments I get–a lot of them are very, very funny, others are great for other reasons–and half the joy of blogging lies in answering them. Having started out by writing for the printed page, where if you get any response at all it comes long after you wrote it, I love the immediacy of blogging, with all its back and forth.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. If I decided to give a rat’s finger about SEO, keywords, and system-gaming, do you suppose I could get the Internet to decide NOT to make my blog niche? Because there is an audience, and the Internet continues bringing them to my door. To wit, searches from just the past week:
    –masturbation therapy
    –masturbation as therapy
    –masturbating in front of therapist

    Sigh. It’s a not-insubstantial amount of my traffic. The thought of what SEO’ing the site might look like, in light of this fact, keeps me awake nights.

    [By the by, very kind of you to add that “breathe here” parenthetical in the middle of #5. Very thoughtful!] [Also, I have done my best to keep unintentional punning to a minimum in this comment. You are welcome.]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m with you on this 100% With the slight exception that you probably know why Great Britain is called Great Britain. I just wonder if there’s a time to refer to my friend in England as English vs British. anyway, I started my blog because I wanted a place to write the stuff that didn’t fit in my “branded” blog. I like writing, and I like reading. So, feed this into your marketing research engine:

    I don’t remember why I first came here. I’m guessing I saw a comment by you on my blog, a blog that I follow or I saw someone else refer to you. Maybe, you did one of those crazy A-to-Z things. It doesn’t matter. I keep coming back, and I know why. I enjoy reading your posts.

    If only it were that simple: Write good stuff and people will come read it. Keep writing good stuff and they will come back.

    #expat #humor #British #seo #advice – you know, just in case it helps :)

    Liked by 3 people

    • The day I do an A-Z thing, you’ll know I’m getting desperate for copy. In children’s books, the test of whether you can do an alphabet book is–I’ve read–called the X Test. If you can’t come up with an X, skip it and do something else. But we’re not writing kids’ alphabet books. So who’s idea was this?

      Grumble, grumble, grumble. And don’t get me started on blog awards.

      Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate them.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Personally, I seldom look at my stats, and I don’t really want zillions of followers, because how on earth would I keep up with their blogs etc? I already waste enough time as it is, when I could be writing, or reading a good book. I’m happy following the blogs I like, commenting when I feel like it, and meeting the odd new reader once in a while…

    Liked by 4 people

  5. About half my spam comments are this one same spiel about SEO stuff. And like you, I don’t care about SEO. I put a few tags on my posts, and that’s pretty much it. If the only way people find my blog is from me commenting on theirs, or from clicking on a comment I made elsewhere, that’s fine. I’d rather have a few page views from people who are interested in what I write than hundreds of views from people ensnared by clickbait.

    Plus, if I was more popular, people might expect me to post more, or on a schedule or something, instead of just posting when I feel like it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • When I first started blogging and commenting on other people’s blogs, I ran into a nest of you-follow-my-blog-and-I’ll-follow-yours people. What on earth is the point? Follow the blogs you want to read. Read the blogs you enjoy. Post the posts that make sense to you. Otherwise why are we doing this?

      Liked by 5 people

  6. Those numbered lists on the internet (“Six reasons why you shouldn’t read lists”) often consist of irrelevant rubbish dressed up as facts. They’re the web equivalent of the filler articles that take up most of the copy in the Sunday supplements – stuff written by journalists to fill up column inches, “and it’s all just SO important darling.”

    And please don’t ever go down the SEO line – I love your blog just as it is.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I can certainly share your growl over SEO – They worship SEO on Etsy, and claim that playing the game is essential to growing your brand and making sales. This grinds my gears to no end.

    I still get excited when I have more than a handful of views on any of my online stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Some how your article seo optimized look at list, headers, long article in wordpress page rank high so you got some seo factors which make it works even these replys and activity is one important seo factor so it works good so don’t ignore SEO ;)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Another of life’s little ironies, I guess. It’s not that I think I can abolish SEO–at this point, that’s like trying to abolish gravity. But I’m not going to organize my writing to please it. I’m a writer. The writing comes first. If I turn my writing to crap because I’ve prioritized SEO, I’d just as soon people not find me.

          Liked by 1 person

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  9. ” …repeating the key words in all the key places,” makes for tedious writing in my view. Sure, if you’re paid to do it… then by all means …

    “I needed to learn it before I could set it aside.” I think that we break (writing) rules effectively when we know why they exist in the first place.

    Regarding numbered lists, I tire of them. I wrote a related article with some interesting information about listicles. Feel free to delete the excerpts below.

    …in making a case for why we find listicles appealing, Maria Konnikova notes that an article written as a numbered list, “. . . promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—. . . And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”

    She writes, “The more we know about something—including precisely how much time it will consume—the greater the chance we will commit to it. The process is self-reinforcing: we recall with pleasure that we were able to complete the task (of reading the article) instead of leaving it undone and that satisfaction, in turn, makes us more likely to click on lists again—even ones we hate-read. The social psychologist Robert Zajonc, who made his name studying the connection between emotion and cognition, argued that the positive feeling of completion in and of itself is enough to inform future decisions. Preferences, goes his famous coinage, need no inferences.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Finally I now know what SEO is. Thanks!
    I don’t think of that at all. My followers and readers come from other blogs I visit, like and comment. It’s interaction with the wp community that makes my stats go up, not SEO.
    Great post, made me smile many times :)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. SEO. I’m grateful you saved me the bother of looking it up. Personally, whenever I see it, i think, “Seating Entirely Optional”.

    Stats. Haven’t a clue. I accidentally found them once, but I was trying to find something else one of the WP Staff had shown me about how to restore a comment I’d inadvertently deleted, so I didn’t spend any time trying to decipher the little bars and numbers then, and I haven’t been back. I write, people read or don’t, comment or don’t, follow or don’t.

    Every now and then, WP notifies me of:
    1. How many likes I have. Don’t care.
    2. How many posts I’ve published. Does this matter? Is there a schedule I’m supposed to follow? Am I ahead of it? Falling behind? Will they shut me down if I fail to produce some arbitrary number of writings? Useless information.
    3. Who and how many others follow me. This is useful because there is a little blue “following” or “follow” below each name. The new names are an additional source I can investigate to decide if their writing/niche/sense of humor appeals to me enough to follow them. Beyond that, I admit, I get a warm feeling every time the number increases.

    In defense of the crazy A to Z thing: I’ve had a WP account for a couple of years specifically so I would receive email notifications of a friend’s posts. Besides, knowing agents and publishers say they look at the online presence of potential clients, being a potential client, I knew I would have to create a site sooner or later. But I didn’t set up a page until someone sent me a notice about the “Blogging A to Z Challenge” that ran for the month of April, this year.

    That seemed as good an opportunity as any, and a better opportunity than most, to get into the habit of publishing within a community that was hoping for the same thing I was — the support of other writers. In the process, I wrote several pieces I’m proud of, and have connected with a few writers on a far more personal level than I had anticipated.

    As long as my comment sections do not become the dumping ground of sycophants, I shall be happy and unconcerned with whether I sit or stand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The sound that, unfortunately, you can’t hear is me clapping. Good writing. Neat little crescendo in the second to last paragraph. It deserves applause.

      The thing that I’ve discovered I love about blogging, as opposed to publishing, is the community that can be formed, and the ones that can be found. There’s such a vibrancy to it all.


  12. I came here because I trust Dan. No matter that there was this acronym in the title which I don’t know, and I’m in my third blogging year, I’ve read it through. I have a suspicion that your jokes might make me smile, minimum. In your points you mention much of what I’ve been fleetingly considering: how to brand myself and if it’s possible to do it and be happy about it, what to call my blog and if I call it at all, who my target audience is and whether they need to be broken down to all 17 names with surnames, whether I am an expat and what the difference is between that and an immigrant, whether to punch anybody who would imply that I show photos of my bestia on my blog because people want to see dog photos. In short: I didn’t know before what these three letters stand for, and now I’m ready to forget it. As far as addictions go, grabbing folks one by one into a dark alley, even if only in order to make them laugh, sounds too strenuous for the lazy old me. They will need to catch the whiff themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heavy questions you’re fleetingly considering. I ended up putting up a page of dog and cat pictures because a couple of regular readers wanted them and it was like having a friend ask to see pictures of your beasties. Who could say no? And one beastie was still a kitten, dedicated to doing cute stuff,so how could I resist? If you deleted all the dog and cat pictures from the internet, it would lose half its body weight. I did have the fleeting thought that if I wrote a dog and cat blog I could have a zillion followers in no time. Then sanity returned and now I forget to update that page.

      I’ll check out your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah! Now the question: did I pull you in or did you catch the whiff? I say – it doesn’t matter, but there is no coincidence. :) As for my bestia: I put him up because he is my friend but can’t veto a photo like a human can. :D Welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

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  14. I love your blog. You know that, by now.

    I loathe SEO. I also am not a fan of people who think it’s essential to the wellbeing and success of their blogs. I’ve had countless blogs over the years (since 2004) on various sites and have learnt in that time what gets readers to a blog, and I can tell you that appealing to search engines’ weird algorithms isn’t the way to go. The major way to get folks following and interested is to to go and visit the blogs of your commenters and comment on any posts there that you enjoy, making sure your comment has a link to your blog attached to your userpic/gravatar. And the other way is to do what you always do which is reply to people’s comments in your own blog (I’ve seen countless bloggers who do the daft thing of replying to comments in response to their own posts, in the commenters’ blogs instead! Craziness, that. And of course there are bloggers who never reply to comments at all.)

    Just keep doing what you’re doing. Yeah, you’ll get the ridiculous spam comments (and also spam followers) if your blog is open to search engines but, if you can cope with it, you’ll get into a pattern and learn how to deal with it – as I think you already have. Myself, I’ve turned off search engine access completely as I don’t care about a huge following and don’t want the spammers. And – little known to many bloggers here, there’s a way to unsubscribe spam followers.
    (Sorry about long comment. Brevity and I don’t do well together!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think so, but I’ve never quite sorted out the British terminology for daisy-looking things. What they call marguerites, I’d have called daisies. The little tiny things in the grass that are called daisies I’d have to admire wordlessly, because I’d never seen them before. These were growing on and spreading down a wall. Does that mean they’re still daisies? I haven’t a clue, but I do love them.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I like your blog ’cause you’re just so honest….and very entertaining….and you teach us things we don’t know since we don’t live where you live…and you’re cool…and guess what – you’re also right – In the beginning of my own blogging I was so worried about the SEO and the stats and it was consuming my days….I have also learned to ignore it and just relax….not ‘keeping up’ with absolutely everyone and everything…just sharing what I want to share and scrolling through the posts others share without having the ‘pressure’ of liking everything…so thank you – yet again, for a funny and insightful post Ellen!! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Whatever. Actually, I don’t like lists over nine, if I read 75 ways to shine my toilet, I am not interested. It is all too much and half of them would be like your number nine. So give me nine and I can cope with it. The thing about SEO is that if you optimize it or not the search engines will still do their thing. So, do what you can and don’t stress about the rest.

    Bloggers Pit Stop

    Liked by 2 people

  17. You had me laughing about people wanting photos of cats and dogs. Because I am amazed how many blogs out there are just that.

    This search engine stuff is really high pressure in the corporate world. A friend from work ended up quitting his job because of so much pressure in trying to get the company on the page 1 of search engines. It was affecting his health, and it was not worth the pressure.

    What I love the most with blogging is the interaction. The majority of people I follow comes from reading the comments on a blog like this, and think “wow this seems like an interesting person”, and I will check out their blog”

    Thank you sharing this very thought provoking post! :)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Carl. That’s pretty much the path I wander through the blogosphere. It drives me nuts that corporate thinking has permeated our world so thoroughly that people try to turn themselves into brands when, in fact, their strength lies in being themselves.

      The cat and dog thing, though? I think they’re the secret powers behind the internet, keeping us distracted with cute photos while they plot I dare not imagine what.

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Great post – I love your writing style, I’ve often thought SEO is a waste of time. I write for myself not to become a brand and have schedules dictating when and what I should write about. I like the fact my blog is very different and follows my moods rather than creating the same type of post repetitively.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. My hope is that if people come by here, they’ll stick around. So there’s nothing to gain from disappointing them. If I do that–and occasionally, inevitably, I will–it’s because I didn’t work hard enough on a post.

      Liked by 2 people

    • When Wild Thing and I went to Spain, we forgot to pack an adaptor, and we learned Spanish well before electronics mattered, so neither of us knew the word in Spanish. My dictionary was almost as ancient as I am, so it was no help either. We hesitated to pantomime what we needed–we were convinced we’d be referred to a shop that sold sex toys. So we did without until Wild Thing saw one on display at the airport. She asked what it was called. It’s an adaptor.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. So I’m not the only one that doesn’t believe that SEO is the best thing since sliced bread. Write for your audience not the engines. Your post definitly is written for people. Love your style and your honesty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s more or less the conclusion I came to, although I do manage to get some search engine traffic from unexpected posts about why Britain’s called Great Britain, lawyers’ wigs, and British and American beers (neither of which I drink). So if I wanted to throw writing about what matters to me out the window, I could try to guess at what topics would have a similar impact and write about them and them alone. On the other hand, what would be the point?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess it depends why you blog…I doubt I’m writing anything to make money out of so Iv no pressure to be bothered about seo lol….screw that!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah. I’m not trying to make money out of my blog, so that gives me some freedom. On the other hand, I am trying to use it as a base to convince publishers that the entire world loves me and wants to buy my books, so I do want numbers. On the third hand, however, if the getting obsessive about numbers is going to kill my writing, what’s the point? So back to what you said: Screw that.

          Liked by 1 person

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