What comes first? A piece of writing is unique, which gains it views – or a work is popular, which distinguishes it?
SEO: It’s a Metaphor
As a professional marketer, I researched SEO, expecting some magic formula to instantly promote my company’s website, which I then planned to re-purpose for my own budding online brand. Instead, I found that the Internet has changed a bit since SEO first became a field. For instance, did you know you don’t have to capitalize “Internet” anymore? AP style guides got rid of it – spread the word!
Back to the point at hand, it turns out Google didn’t like the idea that certain savvy web designers and companies could game the system to artificially promote their content higher in search rankings. To respond, Google started penalizing any webpage it identified as manipulating keywords and anchor text (hyperlinks – you know, those things that patch over ugly URLs).
The SEO wizards, desperate to retain their jobs, insist that you can still better position your website; you only have to ensure that the ratio of keywords and anchor texts appears “organic” to the search engines, then tweak the ratio to target the keywords you want. Penalties still exist, since Google wants to reward reputable sites that publish quality content. So really, you could never even have heard of the acronym SEO and still end up in the same spot as someone who spends hours optimizing their site.
Which brings us to the point at hand: what matters more, exceptional content or visible content? In the age of social media and viral trends, visibility and traffic certainly seems to trump everything else. Popular pages mean lots of referral traffic, and Google recognizes that users must be visiting because the content is relevant. Certainly, no one wants to waste their time writing good content that will only be lost in the void of spam and ads.
But fear not, all ye traditional writers; 140 characters may seem like the norm – even though Twitter wants to expand the dialogue to 280 characters, egads – but the traditional proving grounds are far from dead. Literary magazines have found new life online, and eBooks have become a phenomenon all their own as writers find a lower bar to entry outside publishing houses. Fiction and poetry competitions continue to draw thousands of submissions.
Publications: More Exceptional Than Ever
Why would writers waste their time crafting quality works when they can instantly publish it for free to a large base of fans (define “large” however you want)? Some competitions and publications offer monetary rewards, yes, but the higher motivation hearkens back to the conundrum I posed at the start of this article: we do it because it proves our work is exceptional. We placed in this literary magazine, we won this competition, we made it into this anthology. Web 2.0 may say that what is popular is exceptional, but the reverse is equally true:
What is exceptional becomes popular precisely because it stands out in a space with more voices than ever before.
We writers are a unique bunch. The most professional among us are the most humble, constantly seeking criticism and improvement. Even so, we yearn for vindication. I feel a different satisfaction with each “like” I receive on a blog post than when I receive the coveted acceptance email (you know, the one that doesn’t start with “thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your work”). Still, they are both forms of satisfaction, signs that not only did I write something, but it spoke to someone else. And that is the true goal.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Despite the continued weight that the traditional publication outlets carry, the modern writer understands that a little marketing goes a long way. By all means, continue to produce quality content – or else what would be the point of spreading it far and wide? But diversify the portfolio. Your hard work deserves recognition, so help it along. Don’t only publish content on your blog, but share it on Facebook and Twitter to increase reach. Don’t only publish blog content, but re-purpose or even repost on Medium. Post thought-leadership articles on LinkedIn. Build a personal brand, then bring that brand out to the world. As long as it’s you, how could you go wrong?