As more and more science writing is made specifically for the web, the way science writers write their stories is changing subtly, and not so subtly. Writers are increasingly aware of search engine optimization (SEO) and social media optimization (SMO) for example. And they take that into account when they write. Is this affecting online science writing for better or for worse? And is it important?
Matt Shipman has an interesting interview with Wil Reynolds, founder of internet agency SEER Interactive, on his SciLogs.com Blog [full disclosure: I am the Community Manager of SciLogs.com]. In the interview, Reynolds gives writers some tips on how they can use SEO to ultimately get more eyeballs.
Reynolds, however, makes sure to mention that SEO shouldn’t change your writing: “As a writer I would say never put words where they don’t belong just for SEO.” Instead, Reynolds advises writers to research and cover topics that have the potential to do well on search engines.
Of course, that in itself is a problem. By focusing only on topics that can do well on search engines, editors will disproportionately cover sensational topics and those that are in the news regularly, like climate change for example. Other equally important questions may not be addressed. All in all, this leads to amplifying a sort of filter bubble.
But as SEO and SMO become more prevalent in online writing, it’s naive not to expect writers to incorporate these practices into their writing. Many online publications, for example, are already A / B testing different headlines per article. Others use a title for social media promotion and one that is specifically optimized for search engines on their website.
While changing the titles might not be that big of a deal, it’s just the start. Frequently linking to articles or blog posts from your own publication is a widely used SEO tactic. Writing a lede filled with SEO-friendly words is another. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a few social media editors are now writing new SEO guidelines for journalists to incorporate into their writing.
My point is that SEO and SMO are obviously changing online writing. And it’s happening right now. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t think it can be polarized as such. All writers want to be read and if SEO and SMO are done right, writers are likely to have more readers. But abusing these strategies at the expense of writing is not the way to go because content must always be king.
The question then is: can copywriters do good SEO and SMO without compromising the quality of their writing? Can you? Future science writers should also think about how proper use of SEO and SMO can disseminate science communication to the masses. Share your thoughts and SEO and SMO strategies in the comments section.