How to make writing SEO-friendly copy almost kind of tolerable

Writing for the enemy
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Writers have huge, unfettered egos. We’re so impressed with our ability to turn the blank page into witty copy on a consistent basis that we take umbrage when someone or something dares to usurp our process.

So imagine how we bristle when we stand (sitting’s the new smoking, after all) at our desk to write for our client’s sea monkey appreciation website (spoiler alert: they’re just brine shrimp) and have to shoehorn keyword after keyword into the thing just so the site ranks whenever anyone googles “cryptobiosis.”

I’m talking world-class bristling, here. It feels like having the most soulless editor in the world manhandling your touching coming-of-age short story with notes like “needs car crashes” and “make protagonist a zombie?”

How can we writers negotiate a truce, even if it’s an uneasy one, with SEO? Here are my hard-earned tips on making nice with our robot content overlords once and for all.

Tip No. 1: Stop gettin’ all indignant

The first time I had to incorporate SEO best practices into my copy, I muttered under my breath, “This is crazy. I write for people, not machines.” Natural reaction, given that we’re trained to visualize our human audience when we write. It’s why my poor mustachioed Aunt Sally springs to mind whenever I freelance for that laser hair removal website.

(Full disclosure No. 1: My Aunt Sally is a lovely woman, with nary a whisker on her face.)

(Full disclosure No. 2: Freelancing actually gives me the heebeegeebees.)

Branding SEO an unmitigated evil intent on tearing us away from readers is so much self-induced hysteria. Don’t fall for this trap. You already know good writing can speak to multiple human audiences, so consider SEO simply a non-human one for your list. If it helps to put a face on it, imagine the eyes as a lifeless slate gray just for fun.

Tip No. 2: Accentuate the positive

It may pain you to admit it, but you and SEO do share a common goal, and that’s getting as many people as possible to read your stuff. The most sparkling prose accomplishes nothing if no one sees it, right?

Play the SEO game well and you attract more eyeballs to your byline. Maybe one of those eyeballs belongs to a mid-level Hollywood producer who loves the pluck, moxie and grit of your prose and is buying up low-budget, high-concept comedy screenplays of which you have plenty. Next thing you know, you’re taking meetings in L.A. with Ray Romano — all because you embraced SEO.

Tip No. 3: Revel in constraints (not restraints)

You might not relish taking orders when you write, but every writer can take solace in the fact that none of us are given carte blanche to create. Any medium you can write for comes preloaded with its unique constraints that need vanquishing. That screenplay you’re sweating over better follow the three-act structure laid out in Aristotle’s Poetics. (Sure, Charlie Kaufman might say he doesn’t know what a third act is, but methinks he’s being coy.) Crafting the next great American novel? Better pack it full of conflict and character arcs to keep the plot flowing and your readers engaged. And we all know a haiku wouldn’t be its beautiful, elegant self without its 5-7-5 syllable structure.

Here’s the good part. From constraints, creativity flows.

In fact, you might find yourself amazed at how effortlessly you work the keyword “revascularization” into your gangrene awareness website.  Embrace the idea that SEO lets you show off your writing chops and laugh in the face of writer’s block as you do.

Never back down from a challenge

Even though Google has us content providers by the short hairs, using my tips and facing it on your terms can be the difference between pride over a job well done and knowing you half-assed it.

If you really want to drink the Kool-Aid®, go ahead and love SEO for its continued emphasis on fresh, robust website content. That can only be good for the purveyors of said content like you and me, right?

So what if our prose has to jump through a few more hoops to accommodate SEO? We’re professional writers. We can do this all day, every day.

Charlie Kaufman should be so good.

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Brian Dunn
Brian Dunn is a Phoenix, Arizona-based author, humorist, and podcaster. His podcast, Spillers After Show, was recently named Best Podcast, 2016 by Phoenix New Times. Brian’s humor writing appears on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Splitsider. His short stories have been published in various lit mags. Find out recent happenings at