Need a WordPress website this weekend? Start here...

SEO for Writers and Artists (or, how to date your search engine)

(Reading time: 5 – 8 minutes)

I was talking to my friend Srini over at BlogCastFM the other day and he asked about simple SEO.

(Actually, he was interviewing me for an upcoming podcast, but it feels a little weird to be interviewed, and to talk about it.)

In any case, really simple SEO. What means? It’s easy to understand, but let’s get some context first.

Probably every one reading Website In A Weekend has heard the term “content is king.” If you haven’t heard that, “content is king” just means really good writing trumps everything else on the web.

Trumps everything except really good writing.

When you’re up against your peers, who are also writing kingly content, a little more work on your part will ensure your great writing gets an even-to-better chance at getting found.

And there’s this: your peers may be doing this little extra work too.

Yes, it’s an arms race with the Red Queen, but the simple skills I’m going to outline are, well, simple. Maybe not “easy” at first, but definitely simple.

SEO for people who hate SEO

If your main interest is in writing, in art or film or music or anything other than running an advertising-driven network built to suck in search results, dominate your keywords and crush your competition, this is for you. (Otherwise, I recommend joining up at Aaron Wall’s SEOBook, only $300/month).

That leaves the rest of us.

In fact, let’s just agree to sh*tcan the whole notion of Ess Eee Ohh. We’re not going to optimize. Really optimizing for search engines isn’t that hard, but let’s be truthful: your beautiful prose will suffer. In my book, anyone saying otherwise is a son of a fire-starting shoe salesman.

Instead, let’s think “Search Engine Friendly.”

“Optimize” is such an extreme word, brooks no compromise, even if nobody quite agrees on what is optimal.

“Friendly” is much nicer. Friendly is a Golden Retriever, always happy to see you. Friendly allows for a little give and take. Friendly is being approachable, dateable even.

Your search engine wants to date you… are you slamming your door in it’s face?

Do you know?

Search Engine Friendly

Getting search engine friendly isn’t very difficult. In fact, if you’re using WordPress, you’re about 80% of the way there. If you’re using a modern Theme such as Thesis correctly (or any of several SEO plugins), you may be closer to 95% of the way there.

95% seems pretty good, right?

It’s not.

If you make 95% of 1,000,000 results, you’re going to be buried under the 50,000 web pages ahead of you.

Doing better isn’t that hard.

The SE Friendly List (you’ve seen this before)

Here’s the key: write your best content, then fit the search engine stuff to your content. Like this:

  1. Title. It all starts with your article title. Whole chapters in books have been written about titles. You should read those books. Then write your own killer titles.
  2. Post slug. Another critical element, three to five keyword post slugs will really help you out. Can you do it? It’s not that hard, but it takes practice.
  3. Categories. Like chapters in a book, help keep your articles organized.
  4. Tags. Your index to great blog posts. I used the “geronimo” tag to find some of the links to this article.
  5. Meta Title. Important, get the meta title right to attract both readers and search engine loving. It doesn’t have to be the same as your article title, you know. You can make this shorter or longer or different, whatever you think is best. Read more about title elements and meta elements.
  6. Meta Description. You can choose to write a summary with keywords, or a little sales pitch to suck in readers. Find out the difference between abstract and subtitle styles of meta description
  7. Meta Keywords. Before we go any further, yes, I do know that Google does not weight search engine results with keywords. I use them anyway.

See, not that hard.

And, like I wrote above, you have seen this before. You will see it again.

Master the basics!

Simple Things are hard enough, don’t get ahead of yourself. If you can’t write a decent title for an article, master that before trying to sculpt page rank.

Did I mention? You’re going to see these basics over and over again, because I’m going to hammer them every which way but loose!

Make SE Friendly a habit

Making your writing search engine friendly rather them search engine optimal may seem like high heresy, but I don’t know any other way to remain true to my writing. (Or true to my readers.)

You can do this. It’s not that hard.

Let’s recap in two steps:

  1. Write your content for your readers.
  2. Add the search engine stuff afterwards; just let the search engine know what you wrote about.

That’s all.

Why Search Engine Friendly works

Two reasons.

First, getting those first 7 points nailed down is fundamental to any SEO. It’s the starting point for everything, because the search engine algorithms weight those components of your web page very heavily. Getting those right is a Big Deal, and you don’t have to warp your world-class prose to fit. Instead, you fit the SEO to your world-class prose.

Second, when you commit to search engine friendliness, each time you publish is like planting a little seed. The more seeds you plant, the fruit your garden will bear. Make planting seeds a habit, and you grow your garden practically on autopilot.

In other words, being search engine friendly isn’t so much like solving a problem.

It’s really a lot more like dating. It’s a process. You live it. Be SEO dateable. Be the kind of blogger search engines want to suck up to.

Because once they start sucking up to you, they tend to keep sucking up to you. But that’s story for another day.


  1. Dang you Doolin! I haven’t got past the second section because I’m looking for a connection between Roger Miller, his dad and fires! I already have a copy of BPE, I just wanted to find the reference so I could win a copy on Jen’s behalf!

    Ah well, I give up! Off to read the rest off the post now because I loathe SEO and need this post.

    .-= Eleanor Edwards´s last blog ..Dr Egg reveals all for Give a Brick =-.

    • That’s might sweet of you El.. I am Googling the phrase to pieces… and this post shows up in the top position just about every way I search it LOL *toddles off to search some more.*
      .-= Gurl´s last blog ..Why you should be in love with your best friend =-.

      • Haha! Two lessons there:
        1. Long tail is awesome
        2. Paying attention pays off.

        Here’s the deal: I’ll send you a copy via email, or, if you’re willing to pay a very small amount (like 50 cents), I’ll set up a discount for you. The benefit is that the discount will get you all the updates automatically, whereas, if I just send you one (which is easier for me, actually), I will probably forget to send you updates!

        • Hooray!!! :D
          Can I just say, you’ve made my day! And I’ve had an absolutely fantastic day despite this so that’s saying something ;)

          Jen, if I were you I’d pay the 50 cents ;)

          I have absolutely no idea what long tailing is but I agree, paying attention does work. It was easy in truth. The answer was right under my nose ;)

          Thanks Dave :)

          • Long tail is imply meaning the searches that are more specific, in the sense of…

            Instead of googling “Fix car” you would more likely say “fix ford model X camshaft” for an example… longer search term, more specific + long tail. :)

            Hope it helps…
            .-= rob sellen´s last blog ..Work to live or live to work =-.

        • wow…awesome offer Dave.. I am emailing you, cause I actually have another idea since I have not the means to pay online ATM..or I’d be more than willing to put up a bit.

  2. Having got to the end I have a question. I have thesis on the GAB site. I also have the all-in-one-seo plugin installed. Now, which of the boxes do I put all the above info into? Because there’s the ‘SEO details and additional style’ right under the box where I write my stuff. However, if I go right to the bottom, there’s another box for SEO from the plugin. So which one do I use? Or do I use both? And if I use both, is it OK to put the same info in both?

    I am soooo glad you did this post. Can you tell? ;)
    .-= Eleanor Edwards´s last blog ..Wednesday Warmer: Something to make you smile =-.

    • I use All In One because I am sure it’s theme independent.

      I can’t say I’m sure any theme-specific SEO is portable, and I don’t want to lose it if I change themes. It might be, but I’m not sure, and I don’t feel compelled to investigate.

      • Sorry to be completely dense but just to clarify, does that mean that the boxes near the top (just under where I write) should be left empty? If that’s the case I’ve been doing it all wrong for the last 4 months! Better late than never I suppose.

        I know this isn’t the place but seeing as we’re talking about sort of technical stuff, is there any way I can change the set up of my perma-links without getting lots of snarls? I currently have it just the post title and when I changed it this morning to category/post-title/ I got errors on the old post links.

        • Two things:

          1. Changing permalinks is generally a really bad idea unless you have the time to spend (lots of time) at Google reading their webmaster tools pages.

          2. Category permalinks are deprecated in certain circles (namely this circle). This is one of those “Echo Chamber” things, which I am not going to discuss, argue or fight about. Suffice it to say, while I have very good reasons to use categories in my permalinks, at this point I can only recommend with serious reservation anyone else do the same.

          • Thanks for the clarification. Glad I asked. I won’t be doing a darn thing to my permalinks. I have better things to do with my time than spend hours hanging out with Google ;)

    • could you keep asking relevant questions El. You got that aura about you that you can drag the bank vault home. Seriously this is good info for me and I’d like to keep getting it for… well free. And I’m being sarcastic but not meaning too. I am so involved in reading the comments here that I want more info. Even though I have blogger blog I can use what’s being said. Shiz I got .50 cents too. Not much more but .50 cents anyway. Somebody direct me to a post about permalinks. I have been missing out on this and wanting to go through older articles and archive and change some things but now I don’t know. Any help is appreciated and if you need anything I’ll help, I’m not completely lost. I did get some rankings with no sense at all. And Bank too by the way.. Peace.
      .-= Lee ´s last blog ..It May Seem Magical But the Internet is Not a Magician People =-.

  3. That’s a fantastic post, Doolin. I’ve got a feeling you’re going to reach a lot of readers who really need this information.

    I got about halfway through and then scrolled back up to see if this was a guest post. You did a remarkable job connecting with people who don’t even WANT to be technical. That’s kind of amazing.
    .-= Aaron Pogue´s last blog ..Giving Up on the Gatekeepers (1 of 3) =-.

    • Hey Pogue, check around in my archives, you might be quite surprised.
      .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..How To Unlaunch Your Ebook =-.

      • Yeah, the confusion is definitely my own fault. As a Writer and Artist myself, I’m a little more technical than most to begin with, so your posts that really catch my attention are always the most technical (basically, the ones beyond my level).

        It never occurred to me how much that would skew my perception of your content. It should have (I was the Lit. Major), but it didn’t.
        .-= Aaron Pogue´s last blog ..Giving Up on the Gatekeepers (1 of 3) =-.

        • Fair enough.

          I’ve read a fair bit of English lit. The observant may find references to wide variety of figures, for example, Johnson.

  4. oh boy – you’ve taken some of the fear of SEO from me, thanks.
    .-= ami´s last blog ..If We’re All in Sales – Who is YOUR Customer? =-.

  5. Great and solid tips. I always recommend my readers to balance their writing between the “humans” (readers) and “robots” (SEO). I call it the “Yin Yang” of writing and article and I believe that this is the only way to go. You are right about making it simple.. who said SEO was complicated anyway? It may take a little work to figure out those keywords, but at the end of the day, the tips you provided here is all that is necessary.
    .-= DiTesco´s last blog ..Make Money Online Selling Ad Spaces =-.

    • Yep.

      I’ll be diving into page rank sculpting for my own purposes on other projects, but it’s just not necessary for bloggers concerned primarily with writing.

  6. It is hard to figure out what posts are above my head and which tell me to get my head up. I nearly skipped this one because I am neither a writer nor an artist. Writers write novels and such and artists – well they make art. Nothing here for you, Carlson, move right along. But I read it anyway because you just can’t trust anybody these days and damn if I don’t need it. Much as I hate suck-up dogs like Golden Retreivers, they do have a lesson for bloggers. So now I get it. I need to become a dog trainer.
    .-= Ralph´s last blog ..How to upload a photo to Facebook =-.

  7. This is a great overview of on-page SEO. It certainly takes a lot of the confusion out of it! People make SEO sound like some sort of complicated science, but it’s really not all that difficult if you use WP.

    But the most important part of SEO is probably accumulating backlinks. Those are harder to get, and without them, your site won’t rank highly, no matter how well-optimized your content is.

    • Agree about backlinks. Here’s what I’ve found works really well:
      1. Write stupendous stuff.
      2. Link out promiscuously to websites my readers find interesting.
      3. Do 1 and 2 a lot, for a long time.

      I’m finding backlinks are now magically appearing all over the place. It’s pretty cool!

      I do more, but I tend to write about stuff everyone can use immediately. The outre stuff, not so much.

      .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..How To Unlaunch Your Ebook =-.

      • Phew, that’s a lot of work. Part of me wants to hire an SEO firm to do it for me. :) But I have to practice what I preach, so I’ll keep building content and linking out to interesting ppl. Not sure if I’m quite capable of stupendous, though.
        .-= Kathleen O’Connor´s last blog ..7 Ways to Annoy People on Twitter =-.

        • Yeah, I hear you about the stupendousness. But that’s my target however short of the mark I fall.

          At some point, I’ll join up at SEOBook and immerse myself in the whole theory and practice.

          After that, I’ll outsource what make sense.
          .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Secrets of the Tomorrow Blog, Today =-.

          • At the risk of sounding like some self appointed self help guru… use self fulfilling prophesies to your advantage. Believe you can do it and you will. Then the bar for stupendous might get a little higher, but that’s the best part. You keep getting better and you are supporting yourself ;) Its working for me so far…with a little help from my friends :)

  8. Great post, laid out plain and simple, even after years of blogging I still have to grasp this stuff better, mainly though, now that I am on Wpress is why it matters more.

    With blogger you are not in so much control of all this stuff really.
    But as I wrote a little while ago, people first, machines second, a balance that’s always going to be hassle.

    Bookmarking this post and referring to it so it becomes so obvious! Thanks. :)
    .-= rob sellen´s last blog ..Blogger sucks, if you must use it… =-.

  9. I read this a couple times. I’ve read similar stuff from you before too; I just can’t get my head around this title business.

    Am I supposed to make every title a compilation of relevant search terms? It seems that would lead to some pretty dull headlines. Or confusing headlines.

    Let’s say I want people to come to my blog because I’m an interesting person who writes in an engaging style about everyday things.

    Is anyone really going to search for “interesting guy,” “engaging writing,” or “everyday things”? And if they were, how do I fit those phrases into my headlines casually?

    “Engaging Writing about Rules, Laziness and Other Everyday Things”?
    .-= Siddhartha´s last blog ..Rules are for Lazy People =-.

    • Well, I don’t think you will find a single sentence on this website, in over 300,000 words, where I even mention *how* to write titles for search engines. I write nothing about keyword ordering in title, how keywords are weighted nor how you should ensure your titles have an optimal length.

      I can see where I might be implying this, even above.

      Here’s the thing: if you write a really good title for readers, it’s likely to be at passable for search engines. Take your latest article title “Rules are for Lazy People.” It’s a good title. I clicked through. It’s passable SEO too. Actually, it’s pretty good SEO in my opinion: short, high keyword density.

      And by title, I mean article title, that which is enclosed by h1 tags. What the reader sees.

      Wonder how that ranks in search results…

      What was your question, again?

      You can help yourself more by using an search engine friendly post slug, which is often based on your article title. You can help yourself more by ensuring your title element is also search engine friendly. Readers don’t pay much attention to title elements or post slugs.

    • Parting shot:

      NOBODY writes headlines casually.

      A good headline will make or break an advertising campaign. For our purpose here, twitter *is* advertising.

      I sweat my headlines pretty hard. I practice writing headlines. I look up headlines from magazines like Cosmo (because they are really good at it).

      The headline for this article went through 3 iterations.

      I had a client cuss me out (in a good way) a couple of days ago because my headline was better than hers (way better)… and she’s a pro copywriter whereas I’m just an overeducated smartmouth.

  10. Hi Dave,

    Simple but not necessarily easy … it makes me think that whenever I see someone someone do something that makes it look so effortless, it is because a lot of effort has been put into the simple part, as in an athlete practicing mind and muscle numbing moves to become better at his sport.

    It’s always good to go back to the simple and practice and practice and then hopefully the mind is trained to the point where the moves become second nature and then those have to be fine tuned :-)
    .-= Valentina´s last blog ..Keyword Stuffing Confuses Search Engines =-.

    • Never let them see you sweat.

      I’m digging into “business practice” right now, very deeply. A big part of this is being able rip through unpleasant tasks like bookkeeping extremely rapidly. I’d love to outsource that stuff, I will in the future, right now I have to do it myself so I want to be able knock it out super-fast.

      Takes practice.
      .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..How To Unlaunch Your Ebook =-.

  11. You said a mouthful Dave. After writing a decent title for the article, guys you still have to write a decent article.

    I’ve been hamstering the meta tag shiz lately. Not sure how I got to where I got with one site, but I know in a short time, like 3 months I got PR3 and organic traffic, *over 55%* somehow. I’ll never tell. Not a big deal…maybe not. I don’t know and don’t profess to, it just happened. I do know that for now if they land there I need to give them something worth reading or the search doesn’t mean shiz. While taking her home after the date I want a kiss dammit. Think it through is what your saying.

    Man that ‘Geronimo’ biz ..hmmft.. take my comments if you want.. that’s stooping but I’m sure or obviously it happens, but I’m sure other things are there for the taking too. If you got time to figure out to sipher my comments then F**ker you got time to get jiggy with your search engine.

    .-= Lee ´s last blog ..How About Another Giveaway on Ur College Fashion Blog =-.


  1. Thank You - Gurls Asylum says:

    [...] in a Weekend—This post will show you how to date your search engine and is a great example of Dave’s straight forward way of tackling some pretty daunting [...]