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William Shawn Never Had To Worry About SEO

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That's right—the legendary editor of the New Yorker surely had plenty of concerns, from circulation and fact-checking to ornery writers and deadlines. But whether Google would find, index, and prioritize the articles he published wasn't one of them.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a slippery thing. Google and other search engines zealously and jealously guard their search algorithms so people can't game them. Yet a whole industry has arisen around trying to do just that, and whether you avail yourself of such professional services or not, you have to think seriously about SEO if you want your website to appear near the top in a list of search results.

In a world where we're all under the SEO yoke, marketing people and editorial folks have to work together more closely than ever before. We've left the age of articles and stories behind, and entered the era of "content." The impersonality of that word is enough to show what's going on: with written "content," imagination has become subject to a new slavemaster, the search term. While writers have always had to submit to editorial decisions about how their work is cut, augmented, twisted, and (sometimes in the writer's view) demolished, that dynamic has generally centered around one of two factors:

1. Good English (as the editor understands it)

2. Style (the editor's struggle to preserve #1 above while retaining the author's "voice")

Now we must add a third: making sure the essential SEO term or terms are in the right spots in the text itself, whether it's an article, a product description page, a mission statement, a blog entry, or what have you. Is the term in the title? Is it in the first sentence? Should it be at the end too? How many times is too many times? (You don't want to get penalized for overloading.) How do we get it just right? And while doing so, how do we get it smoothly into the text? Turning our "content" awkward or even garbled won't get us anywhere—there's no use getting people to your site if when they get there, they find it reads like a monkey wrote it (or a machine).

This column can't give you the answers, because no one can (however much they think they can charge you for advice). But coming up with some answers which work for you is essential. So is adhering to the practices you establish, and so is testing, adjusting, and keeping up with current thinking on SEO.

Old William Shawn doesn't know what he's missing. Lucky him.

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