Do Writers Need to Think About SEO?

Erin MacPhersonGuest blogger: Erin MacPherson

Let me guess: Someone, somewhere has told you that if you don’t develop a strong Google-optimized search engine optimization (SEO) strategy stat, your blog will disappear into oblivion on page 24,000 of Google and you’ll  find yourself writing for an audience of 2 while your posts languish with nary a comment or a tweet.

Insert deep breath here.

SEO has become quite the buzz-word lately—and while it is superimportant, I want to ease your mind a little and tell you that it’s not necessarily as dire as you may have heard.

But first, let me tell you a little bit about my background so you don’t think I’m just rattling off some random but unproven facts. I’ve spent the last six and a half years working as a staff web writer for two Fortune-500 media companies. Both of my teams have had SEO gurus on staff that literally spend every day researching Google and Bing algorithms and then sharing their knowledge with us so we could write articles that land us on page 1 of Google. When you’re writing for a major website—a website where daily traffic is in the millions and where every traffic hit means more ad money—you learn quickly that SEO is the single most important aspect of web writing.

Now for the kicker—even with all that in mind, I believe SEO shouldn’t be a huge priority for most writers. In fact, for some, I think it’s a plain waste of time and money.

Here are five questions to ask yourself that will help you to determine if SEO is something you need to worry about:

Question #1: How much time do I have to devote to this?

With SEO, if you don’t do it right, it’s not worth doing at all. Even if you manage to SEOify your blog to the point where you move up 100,000 spots on Google, if you aren’t getting yourself onto the first couple pages of search results for your keywords, your work is for naught. Think about it: when’s the last time you scrolled through more than one page of Google results? Two? Have you ever gone past three? That means SEO needs to be something you do well or you don’t do at all. To give you a rough estimate, it will probably take you between 10-20 hours up front to research, develop and implement a strong SEO strategy, then another 1-2 hours each week to keep it up. If you don’t have that sort of time, then my suggestion is to put it off until you have the time and resources to do SEO right.

Question #2: How good are you with social media?

Social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.—often show results in both traffic and followers much more quickly than SEO does. If you’re a regular social media user and already have hundreds of followers, then you can probably afford to slack off on the SEO front. I’m not saying it’d never be worth your time, but a person with an inclination towards social media will be better off spending their time writing hilarious and compelling tweets instead of splitting their time focusing on SEO.

Question #3: How do readers search for the kind of book you write?

If you write non-fiction, then you may want to consider an SEO strategy. If you are a fiction writer, however, SEO may not be worth your time, because people rarely buy novels off of Google. If you’re looking for advice on how to potty train a strong-willed three-year-old, you’ll probably go to Google. If you’re looking for a good weekend read, you’ll probably read Amazon reviews, check Twitter, check Facebook, ask your friends, etc. For example, my friend Katie Ganshert is a contemporary romance author (her debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter comes out in May 2012) and while she has a terrific blog, she can probably rest assured that very few people will find her book through Google. So, if I were her, I’d focus my marketing time and energy on social media and reviews.

Question #4: How Big is Your Competition?

Christian Mama's Guide to Having a BabyAwhile back, I wrote a post for the Word Serve Water Cooler about successful SEO keywording where I explained that major companies and websites spend thousands (okay, MILLIONS) of dollars on SEO strategizing. For example, my book, The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby is a comprehensive pregnancy guide for Christian women. Logically, it would make sense if I focused my SEO strategy and energy on terms like “pregnancy” or “pregnancy guide”—terms that are searched millions of times every month—but the truth is that focusing an SEO strategy on those terms is a waste of time for me. Why? Because major sites like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and “Baby Center” have highly-paid SEO writers on their staffs and thousands of articles on those topics — I simply can’t compete. And if you can’t compete, then working on SEO is a waste of time, because moving up from page 300,000 to 100,000 is pointless.

Question #5: Is Your Content, Book or Blog Relevant to a Certain Location?

One place that SEO works really well is when you’re dealing with local information. For example, my sister Alisa is a registered dietitian who writes an amazing blog called Enjoy Real Food about eating healthfully while enjoying food. She also works as a private dietary consultant in a small town called Kyle, TX. If she were to focus her SEO strategy on terms like “healthy eating” or “diet advice”, she wouldn’t stand a chance at getting her blog onto the first 20,000 pages of Google—there are just too many major companies that focus on those terms—but when she focuses on “healthy eating kyle, TX” or “dietary advice kyle, TX”, it’s a whole new ball game. She’s able to land herself first in the Google rankings and the people who find her page are people that live in her area and are likely to hire her as a consultant.

Would it make sense for you to focus on SEO for your blog or website? What still confuses you about SEO?


Daily Guideposts - Your First Year of MotherhoodErin MacPherson is the author of The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby and is a contributor to Daily Guideposts: Your First Year of Motherhood. She blogs at, and the WordServe Watercooler.

Related reading: Keywording 101 for SEO Prowess.



Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  16. Tiffany White-Writer on October 29, 2011 at 1:44 AM

    Whew. I’ve read a blog post that speaks of Alexia page rank and Google AdSense. My God. My G+ profile is on the first page of Google when I search my name. When I search my Facebook name, my Fan page AND personal profile show up, 1st and 2nd, and when I search the first two words of my blog it comes in 2nd. I HATE SEO. Hate it. Social media is the biggest time sink ever, so much so I don’t write. I really, really appreciate this post and I am going to share it with my Facebook connections and +1 it for G+. I have a good core of followers on Twitter (over 400) and Facebook (3444 “friends”) so I guess I’m doing ok.

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  19. Brianna on October 21, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    I’ve been working on SEO for my blog for months. Every time I think I’m done, something new comes up and I have to start over again. I’m actually avoiding starting over right now, because the very thought makes me want to curl up in the fetal position.

  20. Krista Phillips on October 20, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    No, I don’t spend time on it.

    Funny note though: For the longest time, I’d get about 10 hits a week on my blog from people googling “Krista Bachelorette.” They were, obviously, misspelling “Trista” and I had written a blog post called “What I learned from the Bachelorette” back in 2009.

    That post came up first on Google for the longest time!

    However, NOW if you type in the same thing in Google… it auto-corrects it to “Trista” with a link to click if you want to REALLY look up Krista. THAT’S why I hadn’t been getting nearly the hits! *grin*

  21. Kristin Laughtin on October 20, 2011 at 8:48 PM

    Well, when I search for my name, my blog comes up first and second over some other pages where I’ve been mentioned, including that for a literary festival I staff and a few newspaper articles. Considering I haven’t published anything yet, I don’t count on most people to be searching for that yet. If I am published someday, I’m sure it would be nice to come up if someone searched for “science fiction” or “fantasy novels”, but I know that would be tough–and I’m glad you pointed out that it might not be worth the trouble, and other strategies might be better. Thanks for being real with us.

  22. V.V. Denman on October 20, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    Thank you for such good advice. It takes a bit of the pressure off.

  23. David Todd on October 20, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    I’ve learned some SEO for my writing at A number of my articles ranked very high until Google changed their algorithms, and they plummeted in rank. Whatever SEO you learn today will be semi-obsolete in six months.

    What does work for SEO is to understand the mind of the search engine user, and use common sense in picking titles that become URLs, and subtitles that become feature lines. Cute-sy titles will never rank as well as simple titles that say what your article/site is about.

  24. Michelle DeRusha on October 20, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    This is hugely helpful, Erin. I read your post the other day on the WordServe Water Cooler about SEO and I thought, “OK — I need to do this pronto!” Then I realized, of course, that it’s one more super-complicated thing that I know absolutely nothing about and it was going to require a bajillion hours of time that I don’t have. Needless to say, I freaked out…so this new information about who specifically needs an SEO strategy and why is great. Even though I write memoir (not fiction), I still don’t think SEO is super critical for my overall strategy right now, given what you have outlined so thoroughly here.

    *wipes brow. breathes huge sigh of relief*

    Thank you!!

  25. Shellie on October 20, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    All I can say is hallelujah, amen, and a huge thanks, Erin, for helping me realize that I can’t devote the time and don’t have the dollars to add SEO stragegy to my plate. 🙂 Three cheers for socia media, too!

  26. Ken Baker on October 20, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Based on the cookie-cutter/template design of most blogs, it’s very difficult to achieve good results with SEO. Many of the key elements that you can tweak to make up good SEO results are embedded in the blog’s web code that the typical blogger doesn’t have access to. It’s in the author web pages where SEO has the potential to deliver greater results. But even then it requires the author to tailor both the embedded web code and the visible content on the page for SEO success. That basically means focusing the content with key words that tie to a unique and specific topic of interest.

    • Erin on October 20, 2011 at 3:10 PM

      Ken- I totally agree… that’s why an SEO strategy takes a lot more time than simply tossing a bunch of keywords at a post. Good insight!

  27. Bruce Pollock on October 20, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    Since I often interview celebrities, there’s no way I can compete with their own website on search engines followed by the dozens of fan sites and then Rolling Stone dot com, etc. Lately I’ve even lost possession of first place on my own name, but I’ve recently moved up to third and am hopefully gaining fast on “the new Bruce Pollock” and “the next Bruce Pollock.”

  28. Lenore Buth on October 20, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    I love hearing that one of the things so often touted as necessary can be ignored.

    It feels like a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

  29. Tiana Smith on October 20, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    I both agree and disagree. I work for a pretty prominent SEO firm, so I guess I’m biased, but I think it’s important for writers to show up for their own names.

    While buyers won’t necessarily turn to Google for their next book recommendation, people often try to look up an author. Even if the writer isn’t published yet, I’ve heard that interested agents might try looking them up.

    For me, it’s not worth my time to try showing up for words like “children’s author” or something vague, but I can easily try to keep up with my name. (It helps that my name is unique – thanks mom!)

    • Erin on October 20, 2011 at 3:07 PM

      Hi Tiana- I totally agree about authors showing up for their own names, book titles and blog titles. I guess I assumed that was a given when I wrote this post and was talking more about keywords… but I see a lot of people took it to mean names. I should’ve clarified that… thank you for bringing that up!

  30. Joe Pote on October 20, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    Good post, Erin, and it makes a lot of sense.


  31. Robison Wells on October 20, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    One aspect of SEO that writers should worry about: many search engines punish websites for having too many links. Although Google keeps their algorithm secret, I understand the current estimate is that Google will start to punish you in the rankings if you have more than a hundred links on a page.

    That may not seem like big deal, but a LOT of author websites have enormous blog rolls and endless links to other writers.

    It’s probably not an issue that authors need to obsess about, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

  32. Matthew MacNish on October 20, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    This information is kind of fascinating, but I must admit, I could never manage to figure it out.

  33. Marji Laine on October 20, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    Thanks so much for the advice, Erin. One more unnecessary monkey lets go of my back and scampers off. 🙂

  34. Diana Dart on October 20, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Great post! Quick question – could SEO be utilized in terms of genre?

    I focus on contemp action adventure Christian YA (not a keyword phrase, btw (-; ) and have Googled something like that several times while researching. Not too many juicy (read interesting) sites come up, which makes me think that other authors/publishers are not optimizing for the genre.

    Would that be worthwhile on an author’s blog (taking all of your other points into consideration, of course)? General readers may not turn to Google for recommendations, but how about fanboys/girls or those looking for a fairly specific genre?

    • Erin on October 20, 2011 at 3:05 PM

      Hi Diana– Good question… and I think you have a good point. Certain genres (ie. “Romance”) are probably not a good fit for SEO, but if you have a smaller genre (like YA) it depends on the search terms. I recommend using Google Adwords and Google Insights to find words that work. See the “related reading post” at the bottom of this post for more info on this.

  35. Nancy Petralia on October 20, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    Another good topic. One of my writing friends was lamenting today about all the stuff writers are expected to do, besides write.

    The point is to know your audience and how they find books to read. If you can figure out where they hang out online then your time is better spent finding ways to connect to these places. For example, is a gathering place for both readers and writers. (You can even post a portion of your book for comments.) Is there a website where YOUR readers are likely to go for books, complementary products, or advice? Can you make yourself visible on this site by leaving comments, or guest blogging? Can you connect to people who are influencers in your genre?

    And last, have you Googled yourself lately? Peter’s right, he comes up at the top of the page several times. See if the things you’ve already done get you placement on the page. It’s instructive to see what pops up.

  36. Jill on October 20, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    It’s all over for me. I have no privacy. I have a web presence. There are also quite a number of subjects/search terms that put me on the first page of Google. This makes me think I should be writing nonfiction instead of fiction.

    • Jill on October 20, 2011 at 12:28 PM

      I should have added that these search terms aren’t static. I’ve been pushed back by other sites on a number of search terms. It takes time and effort, that’s for sure.

  37. Ilana DeBare on October 20, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    Thanks Erin. This is really smart, sane, useful advice.
    I am so appreciative whenever anyone injects a dose of reality into the “must market 24 hours a day in every possible way” discussion.


  38. joan Cimyotte on October 20, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    It shouldn’t be that hard for me. I have a web site, several blogs, I facebook, I twitter. I must be so with it. Arg!! SEO and platform, that’s the stuff to get busy on. Look at the time, I’ve got to go paint.

  39. Christina Baglivi Tinglof on October 20, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Great, great post. More than a decade ago, I struggled with understanding the importance of building a “platform,” but lately it’s all about understanding SEO. Loved your examples as I definitely fall in the “maybe not” category. As a non-fiction parenting writer it may not be worth my time to stress over.

    • Erin on October 20, 2011 at 11:52 AM

      Hi Christina- I’m in the same boat as you as a non-fiction parenting writer. I still do some SEO stuff, but don’t work it around big search terms. I work on smaller terms and try to draw readership that way.

      • Christina Baglivi Tinglof on October 20, 2011 at 2:01 PM

        I like that! Great advice. I’ll try focusing on that instead. Makes sense! Think small. Big fish in the little pond!

  40. PW Creighton on October 20, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    SEO is a part of being found but distinguishing Social Media, press releases, book trailers even reviews from SEO isn’t very plausible. All of these elements have their place in a comprehensive internet marketing plan. It will always have more to do with the product, the content, than what your SEO can do in the end.

  41. Robyn Bradley on October 20, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    I’m a marketing copywriter by day and live and breathe SEO for certain projects…I agree with you 110% percent! Thanks for sharing this important info.

    • Erin on October 20, 2011 at 11:51 AM

      Thank you Robyn– good to hear we’re on the same page!

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  43. Marcus Brotherton on October 20, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    Thanks for this. Good, credible, balanced advice.

  44. Zan Marie on October 20, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    Thanks for the expert info. I’m a novice at social media and I surely don’t know anything about SEO, but I was shocked when I googled my blog just now. I included a partial title and I was the first TWO on the list! How’s that for not having the first clue about how to use SEO? ; )

    • Donna Pyle on October 20, 2011 at 11:32 AM

      Zan, I agree with you! So much to keep up with. I also Googled the first word of my 2-word blog name and found I was #7. SuhWEET!

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  46. BK Jackson on October 20, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    Hmmm….based on the comments it sounds like people feel it takes less time dabbling in all the social media–which seems VERY tedious and time consuming to me.

    • Erin on October 20, 2011 at 11:49 AM

      Hi BK. I’m with you… social media can be VERY time consuming. But, it can also produce quick and effective results. Still, I tend to lean more towards SEO… I just like it better.

  47. Sharon A Lavy on October 20, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    When I Google my name I have a decent presence. But when someone else Googles my name, what do they see? Is my own computer a good test?

    • Erin on October 20, 2011 at 11:50 AM

      Hi Sharon- Yes, your computer should show the same results as everyone else’s.

      • Suzanne Fyhrie Parrott on October 20, 2011 at 1:40 PM

        Excellent post. Thanks — I have a Christian Advertising Agency and from the get go, I targeted “Christian Marketing” and “Christian Graphic Design”. I made sure those were included in 70% of the posts on my site in some combination, within a fe years I topped the pages at the number one spot and stayed there for about 4 years — until I “semi-retired”.

        Because I stopped posting and the search engines see my site as somewhat inactive – the ranking slipped. (I am now in the number four spot in my results on google). Plus, my advertising site is an HTML website — blogs are spidered a lot faster and results get listed in the search engines almost immediately.

        (BTW – results vary from computer to computer (based on location) and on which search engine you use. I did several tests with associates around the Continental US, and our results for the same term varied. ) This is geo targeting; however, essentially the results should be somewhat consistent.)

        Thanks again for a great post — Suzanne

  48. Heather Sunseri on October 20, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    Whew!! So glad I can cross “Figure out what in the world SEO even means” off my list!

    Thanks, Erin! I really appreciated this post. I just designed my own website recently, and I know it’s all kinds of SEO capable and has features I don’t even understand. Being a fiction writer, I think I’ll save that worry for another day.

  49. Deborah Serravalle on October 20, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    Thanks, Erin. This is a good article that puts SEO into perspective.

  50. Katie Ganshert on October 20, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    So good Erin!! Thanks for this, girl. I’ve been thinking about SEO lately, and between this post and your other post on The WordServe Water Cooler, I’m starting to wrap my mind around SEO and how important I should (or shouldn’t) make it.

  51. Jessica Nelson on October 20, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    Wow, Erin, you’re so smart! 🙂 I don’t know what SEO is so I guess I’ll stick with social media. lol I know when I google my name…I can’t find me. But if I google Jessica Nelson writer, I pop right up. After Jessica Nelson North, that is.
    Thank you for the advice!

  52. Peter DeHaan on October 20, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    I dabble in SEO. The pursuit of SEO can easily expand into a full-time gig and there still not be time to fully implement everything that should be done. And just when I think I’ve done the important things, some element changes and everything needs to be tweaked.

    I understand that Google is now placing more emphasis on blog, so that is my focus right now as far as my writing career.

    (This post motivated me to goggle my name. I am pleasantly surprised with the results. One of my blogs is #5, I have websites ranked #4 and #9, LinkedIn at #6 lists me first, and “Images for…” at #10 has 3 of 4 pictures for me. On page 3 is my Twitter account and 3 more Websites… But will all this help me find a publisher or sell books?)

  53. Catherine Johnson on October 20, 2011 at 6:44 AM

    Great advice, especially about who looks for books on google? Thanks, Erin.

  54. Dad Who Writes (Gabriel M. Clarke) on October 20, 2011 at 5:19 AM

    I think the simplest point to keep in mind is that people are most likely to look for your blog when they’re already curious about you or your writing. So an author’s name or book title that Google’s well is essential.

  55. Stella Deleuze (@StellaDeleuze) on October 20, 2011 at 4:04 AM

    Or you can just be the owner of one unruly beast: a massive green iguana 😉
    Though SEO also means to have well-thought labels/tags which bring people to your blog, for free. I blog about several topics, writing advice, my iguana, and recipies and I’ve found that, for the past three months, I have quite a few new visitiors through search engines, even repeat visitors.
    Due to my unusual name, I’m easy to find, too. I agree, though, that social networking is the best and quickest option, and most of all: free.

  56. marion on October 20, 2011 at 3:01 AM

    Well, that’s a relief! I’ve got enough to worry about.

    A distinctive blog title is a big help. My title, ibischild, comes up first on a Bing search. If you break it into two words, though, forget it!
    The subtitle, Writing in Luxor, tried in a couple of permutations, didn’t work either.

    This time, a post that I’m satisfied with was the one that came up. Another time, a post came up that needed some tweaking. I really must take time to go back and edit old posts!

  57. Danica Page on October 20, 2011 at 1:20 AM

    Right now I simply don’t have the time or the money to really worry about SEO. I’m just not even in a position where I can afford to worry about this.

    Great post. It was very enlightening, and yes SEO is a buzz word right now.

  58. Rebecca Boschee on October 20, 2011 at 1:19 AM

    Appreciate the solid advice, Erin. So far I have plenty to do with social media, and it’s nice to know I don’t have to add SEO to the list right away.

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