Submission Guidelines

Clumsy Quips is an upcoming literary magazine featuring extraordinary writing and pithy remarks. We are currently on the hunt for particularly impressive short stories, essays, humorous lists or observations, and poetry.

If you consider yourself a master of the written word–whatever form that may take–please feel free to submit content to clumsyquips@gmail.com.

For complete guidelines on submissions please see below. All approved content will be featured on our site complete with an illustration, a byline, and could potentially appear in our print magazine. Also, please note that while we attempt to respond to all queries within three weeks, the size of our team and our proclivity for happy hours sometimes makes that simply impossible.

For Quips in 140 Characters:

For pithy remarks of any sort (poetry included) please tweet @clumsyquips. The best will be featured on our twitter feed, and our homepage.

For Short Fiction:

Short stories should ideally max out at about 1,000 words, though we’re willing to consider some that inch in around the 1,500 mark. There are no hard and fast guidelines as to what we publish, though we have a predilection for particularly poetic prose, and anything that mentions famous writers of yore.

Please send all short fiction submissions to: ofclumsywords@gmail.com with the subject line: Short Fiction / [Title of Piece].

For Poetry:

Poems of any modest length (less than 1000 words) are welcome. Please format as you would like your poem to appear on the site. All poetry submissions should be sent to: ofclumsywords@gmail.com with the subject line: Poetry / [Title of Piece].

For Essays:

Essays can be on any subject, but should ring in at a maximum of  1,500 words. While first person shock and awe essays will be considered, be warned, we lean more towards observational, wise, and witty words.

All essays should be submitted to: ofclumsywords@gmail.com with the subject line: Essays / [Title of Piece].

Humor:

Humor quips can be submitted in almost any format–haiku, list, timely observation–so long as they’re funny, and under 1000 words long. Three lists, or haikus may be submitted simultaneously, though all others must be submitted one at a time. Send all humor quips to: ofclumsywords@gmail.comwith the subject line: Humor / [Title of Piece}.

Simultaneous submission:

Please just send one piece of writing at a time, unless it is a list or haiku (see above). Responses will be sent out within three weeks, after which you can turn around and submit a new piece of writing immediately.

Formatting and Emailing Rules:

Please, please, please place all content in the body of the email. Attachments are far too cumbersome. Also, be sure to include the category of your writing in the subject line, as well as the title of your piece.

All submitted quips should start like this:

Story Title

Your Name

Phone Number

Email Twitter or Instagram Handle

Rights:

You retain the rights to anything you write.

The Most Overrated Books

(In no particular order…though, let’s be honest, the first one is probably the worst)

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A Visit from the Goon Squad | Jennifer Egan

The fact that this book won the Pulitzer actually made me question my sanity. I just simply cannot understand how this took top billing at one of the biggest awards in literature. Aside from relatively interesting characters, and some well-placed details (like the man who eats gold dust), I felt like this book was tainted by an overzealous attempt at originality. So desperate was Jennifer Egan to show herself as a true literary innovator that she threw every technique she could think of into one book, and hoped for the best. I mean honest to God there’s an entire section written in the form of a Power Point. You have to turn the book sideways to even read it. In my whole life I don’t think I’ve read a book more disjointed, and I’ve read The Pale King which was basically one giant compiled rough draft by David Foster Wallace. Even now, as I look at its list of accolades: National Bestseller, National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, Pulitzer Prize Winner I can’t help but think I’m missing something.

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The Scarlet Letter | Nathaniel Hawthorne

In terms of classics, The Scarlet Letter has to be one of the more difficult books to read. The story itself is not terrible, that is if you can get past the incredibly dense prose. For example, below is one sentence (one sentence!) from the book:

“Planted deep, in the town’s earliest infancy and childhood, by these two earnest and energetic men, the race has ever since subsisted here; always, too, in respectability; never, so far as I have known, disgraced by a single unworthy member’ but seldom or never, on the other hand, after the first two generations, performing any memorable deed, or so much as putting forward a claim to public notice.”

And, the whole book is like that! Who honestly, has read every word of the Scarlet Letter? Because I can’t think of a book more poised to be skimmed. I am a classics aficionado and it pains me to admit I couldn’t get through Hawthorne’s most famous work.

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Freedom | Jonathan Franzen

I read this book during thanksgiving. I remember because it gave me such a phenomenal existential crisis that at one point, while my mom basted the turkey she told me to pipe down about how life is pointless, and we’re all doomed because people are having too many children. I am not a Franzen fan to start with. I think his books are pretentious, and purposefully bleak. I don’t think he’s an exceptional writer, and while he’s above decent at character building, that seems outweighed by his nihilistic tendencies. Even for Franzen, though, I’d have to say this book is grim. Must we be reminded of our folly at every page? If he’s going to take on the work of the Bard, who famously wrote: lord what fools these mortals be, then he’s going to have to give us a better protagonist than Patty.

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A Clockwork Orange | Anthony Burgess

When I hear people say they like or love this book, what I really hear is that you’re a Stanley Kubrick fan and either like or love the movie. This book is short, if I were to guess I’d say it’s about 180 pages, but it takes eons to read—mostly because of the strange made up dialect, but also because it’s kind of just a dreary story, if you don’t believe me here’s a synopsis. This book is important in Western literature…for some reason. I just don’t know what that reason is. If you like this book, I’m eager for you to prove me wrong.

I had initially intended for this list to be a top five list, but I actually couldn’t think of a fifth book on par with those previously mentioned. I suppose that’s a good thing. What do you consider the most overrated books?

Top Five Books of All Time

 

(In no particular order…)

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All the Light We Cannot See | Anthony Doerr

When I think about the books of our time that will be remembered in the same breath as the classics, I think of All the Light We Cannot See. The first time I read it, I had that dreadful combination of envy and awe that only other writers will understand. It’s a unique form of story telling, a collection of vignettes that can at times be a bit jarring, but it’s easy to see why this book took ten years for Doerr to write.

Whereas The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (another tome that took ten years to complete), left me questioning her productivity (hurry up Tartt!), Doerr’s novel delivers decadent storytelling, and exquisite language. It reads almost like poetry, and you can feel how deliberate each word is as you read. This book won the Pulitzer Prize, so I’m not exactly alone in my opinions. If you are looking for more of Doerr’s work, I would definitely check out The Shell Collector, it’s a wonderful short story collection.

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A Confederacy of Dunces | John Kennedy Toole

When I get into reading slumps, which lately is more often than not, I always go back to Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. A slight disclaimer before I continue, I actually hate the ending of this book—it feels like a cop out, which honestly if you know Toole’s back-story is probably not too far from the truth. That being said, it is a perfect piece of satire—a brilliant representation of the self-righteous, and incomparably witty.

His main character is so completely defined that you begin to feel something akin to love for him. He is a dope, an offish, disgusting, arrogant fool, but Toole’s writing is so honest that despite all of that you learn to care for Ignatius J Reilly. There are iconic scenes in this book of Ignatius sucking down hot dogs in the street, of belching while reciting Boethius, or scooting around on a tiny stool.

It’s an easy read, and probably the best representation of contemporary satire.

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On the Road | Jack Kerouac

I am restless by nature. When I stay in one place for too long I have a nagging sensation to run away, to travel long dusty roads with the windows down, and music playing. Because real life rarely allows for existential crisis-related breaks, I turn to Kerouac for the same sensation.

When I was a bookseller, I used to sell On the Road as the “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” for adults. There is that sense of bewilderment on every page, and the true conviction that if you cross state lines, if you jump in the backs of trucks, and kiss pretty people who don’t speak your language, life will work out.

You can feel the sense of frenzy that went into writing On the Road. The battering of the typewriter as Kerouac smoked cigarettes to the butt, and taped pages together to churn out this book in just three weeks. I like the reckless, youthful disregard that saturates each page. It’s a book that reminds you to be young and stupid while you have the chance. Not to mention the fact that it’s filled with great lines. We are all, after all, mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.

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Wuthering Heights | Emily Bronte

I have a proclivity for atmospheric books. Books that paint such a vivid depiction of time and place that you feel cold from the descriptions of icy banks, or windy moors. The Brontë sisters I’m sure grace many a top five lists, and Wuthering Heights often battles Jane Eyre for top billing. For me, Wuthering Heights has always been the book I return to when I want to fall back in love with reading.

There’s something haunting about this book that stays with you well after the last page. There’s the tragic romance, the landscape, and the idea that like in life, the ending will always be a little unsatisfactory. Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is destructive, and imperfect, and feels messy like real romance.

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Suttree | Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is probably the greatest living writing of our time, and Suttree is his Magnum Opus. Suttree is moderately autobiographical, and infinitely brilliant. The story is challenging, no way around it. He often forgoes plot for a dripping, sensual devotion to language. My God the words in this book are phenomenal. Lines like the opening line:

“Peering down into the water where the morning sun fashioned wheels of light, coronets fanwise in which lay trapped each twig, each grain sediment, long flakes and blades of light in the dusty water sliding away like optic strobes where motes sifted and spun,”

Are not only why the comma was invented, but prove why no one well ever be as good a writer as Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read this book close to ten times; I struggle with it every time, but I always learn from it. I’m always in awe of his effortless talent as a writer, and his mastery over the English language. If you do read this, keep a notepad handy to write down words you don’t know. If you’re like me you’ll find your paper quite full by the end.

Top Five Tips for Freelancers

Honestly, when people tell me they want to work freelance as a writer, designer, or miscellaneous other, I quiver. I am you in the future, I think, and it’s not an easy road. Freelancing is a hustle, no way around it. I am constantly updating my client load, always reworking my portfolio, my website, my pay structure, I have been on deadline every single day for the past four years. I work freelance because I need the flexibility in my schedule *need* being the operative word here. The greatest misconception about freelancing or contract work is the idea that all negatives are outweighed by the freedom to work whenever or wherever you want.

In some sense this is true. I have odd hours, because I work with clients in drastically different time zones–not because I’d rather sleep ’till 9am. I can work from anywhere with a strong internet connection, but my productivity slides depending on where I am. If you think freelance is an easy way out of the standard 9-5 though, you’d be wrong. There is something really comforting about getting the same paycheck every two weeks, that you will never get with freelancing. If, though, you’re like me and stubborn above any reasonable degree, and think that freelancing is your kinda gig here are the tips I wish I knew earlier.

Never Negotiate Against Yourself

Just like any other job interview, when you’re meeting with potential clients it is deadly to be unprepared–particularly when it pertains to money. Whether you charge hourly, per project, or a tiered payment structure you need to have those details sorted out before your meeting. Look up comparable rates for your type of work and experience, and stick with your number. When asked for your hourly, do not hesitate. There are plenty of people who want to undermine your value in this industry without your help. If you waver, they will immediately question whether or not you’re worth it.

And here’s a dirty secret about money: the client you’re interviewing knows exactly how much they have to spend on your work. So whether you negotiate down your hourly (don’t do this), or quote a shorter amount of time to get the work done, you will still end up within their parameters. If your hourly is too high, you’ll get a sense of this pretty quickly, because you’ll stop landing clients. There’s a sweet spot, between too little and too much. This takes time to learn, and it’s somewhat instinctual. You’ll know when you’re on the mark.

Retainer Agreements Are Your Best Friend

The worst part about freelancing is the uncertainty. There are weeks when I’m working 60+ hours, followed by weeks I’m working 10 hours. The inconsistency can be hard to budget for, which is why you should always consider adding a retainer agreement to your contract. Basically, this states that you will work a minimum of x hours per month, at a rate of x dollars per hour. If you go over that amount you charge your regular hourly, but contractually you can never drop below that threshold. If you do less work than your monthly retainer, the cost is considered a reservation on your time.

Don’t Let Your Taxes Screw You

You’re a contract employee, which means you have to withhold your own taxes. There are a million resources online that can help you calculate exactly how much you should be taking out of each paycheck, but my pro tip is this: create a separate bank account just for your taxes, and whatever you do, do not touch this money. It’s really tempting to treat that as a rainy day fund, but tax season is always sooner than you think.

If you’re making a genuine salary, you should also consider switching to quarterly taxes. That means you pay twice a year instead of one lump sum at the end of the year. It can also help with budgeting, and if you save more than you needed you can end up getting a pseudo return. On the tax note, always make sure you’re as above-board as possible. Not only does this make you look more professional, but it helps with filing down the line. When you sign a new client you should have your contract and W9 ready to go.

Find A Place Where You Can Get Serious Work Done

Yes you can work from anywhere, but it won’t take you long to realize that your quality of work depends on where you work. If you need a closed door office, it may be worth budgeting for a desk at a co-working space. Be rigid in guarding your work time, even if your hours are slightly off the typical 9-5, be sure to have a distinct eight hour day to get work completed.

Know what conditions correspond to your highest level of productivity and keep it consistent on a daily basis. Your work will suffer if you’re continually popping around coffee shops, or working from bed, or on the road.

Always Be Learning

This is basically just a tip for life, but it’s something to remember if you’re just starting out as a freelancer. There are thousands of people just like you, scraping by on six-month stints as editors, writers, and creative directors, if you stagnate in your skills, you will fall behind. Learn some skills that can help you differentiate yourself from the crowd. Take crash courses like photoshop, HTML, or SEO. It is always nice to have a robust toolbox of talents related to your industry.

Aside from this, find yourself a freelance friend. Someone who’s come before you and has figured things out a titch. My most valuable advice has come from my friend who started his company two years before me. Some of his tips are obvious, others more profound, but all of them I failed to think of myself.

Let me know your top tips by commenting below.

review of exit west | mohsin hamid

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

I read this book when ICE raids broke out around the country. I read this line as a woman in Colorado barricaded herself inside a church for protection from deportation. Hamid’s book takes place at an unspecified future date, but it’s timeliness makes for uneasy reading.

A quick synopsis for those have yet to read Hamid’s latest novel: A young woman in an unnamed town that closely resembles Syria, falls in love with a young man down the street. Around them, war has broken out–buildings crumble, bombs echo, the city falls. But more than war, Hamid’s book focuses on love. How relationships are born, and how they fade. The book dabbles in magic realism, subtle to the point that it seems potentially true, and it deals with a good deal of difficult subjects–of growing older, enduring, of being an outcast, of immigration, of home, and most of all loss.

my review:

I read this book in one sitting, which may sound impressive but shouldn’t as it rings in at a measly 100-something pages. I tend to stay away from short books, under the whole “bang for your buck” premise, but Hamid is an expert storyteller, and there is a lot of value packed inside this novella. Some of you may be familiar with his first novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was turned into a movie starring Kate Hudson in a really bad brunette wig. That book dealt with a Pakistani man in a post 9/11 America, and when I say “post,” I mean immediately following the destruction of The Twin Towers. Where the Reluctant Fundamentalist shows a man returning to a home that is not really home, Exit West deals with the opposite. In fact, he could have called it the Reluctant Immigrant, and been just fine.

what i liked:

I am not an immigrant, I will hopefully never know what it’s like to have to leave my home involuntarily. It can be difficult at times to empathize with scenarios that are so fundamentally different than what you have, or ever will experience. This book, though helps illustrate the humanity often wrongfully stripped from immigrants or refugees.

It shows that war zones were once the site of loving homes. That behind boarded up windows, exist lives attempting to continue on as normal. It also shows that for every immigrant leaving home, there are countless men and women left behind. That with any form of immigration is an unfathomable degree of loss.

Aside from that, Hamid does a really cool macro/micro exploration of immigration. He shows the broader picture, he depicts civil unrest, countries closing borders (or in this case doors), massive refugee villages rising up over night to the disdain of the host nation. But he also shows it on a small scale. It’s interesting to watch this couple interact as they move from place-to-place. It is interesting to watch them grow and change outside of where they are. Love blossoms and fades even while you endure a larger hardship. He doesn’t marginalize the importance of a small relationship in the context of something much larger.

what i didn’t like:

Honestly, I found this book pretty close to perfect. I give it five out of five stars. What did you think?

Buy it here.

Medium versus WordPress

Why I chose not to move my blog from WordPress to Medium:

What Medium Does Right:

Medium has a forced level of cleanliness:

You can’t get carried away with green font on a black background, you can’t pepper the page with pictures of aliens, you can’t even toy with the margins. So, yes it takes away some creative licenses from the content creator, but what it lacks in customization it makes up for with its pure devotion to quality substance.

It has a built-in audience:

When people offer the WordPress membership as a selling point, I always encourage them to consider the old adage: would you rather be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond? As far as making a splash, you’re better of being a big fish in a small pond. That’s just pure logistics. So yes, Medium pales in comparison to WordPress’ size, but that’s not really a problem. Medium has this incredible way of selecting and promoting content, so that even a first time blogger on Medium has the possibility of viral readership.

It offers custom domains:

The switch to custom domain offerings was, I imagine, the moment many were waiting for. Again, there aren’t a whole lot of customization options available so a Medium blog will never match the aesthetic of your homepage, but at least the domain will. This also helps with SEO. Now, instead of writing content for Medium, you’re writing content for yourself.

What Medium Does Wrong:

Links:

Admittedly, links on Medium are both good and bad. If you write content on Medium, and link back to your homepage or site, and people actually click through, it counts as an in-bound link. That is great for SEO.

On the other side of that though, is this phenomenally glaring issue that, as far as I’m concerned, is the nail in the coffin for Medium.

Here’s a screenshot of a Medium homepage. I chose this example because 1. they have a custom domain, and 2. they wrote a post on switching their blog from WordPress to Medium.

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Looking at this, do you notice anything off at all? You can click on it and explore.

After a minute or so it should become obvious that there is not a single link to the company’s actual website. Every link either reverts back to this homepage, or, and oh my gosh this is so annoying, it links back to Medium’s homepage.

So, say you just crush it on Medium. You amass a solid following, and it actually becomes your main source of referrals to your website. Even if it’s 60% of your referrals think for a minute how many people you are losing because they can’t get to your website. The easiest way for them to find you is by going to your Medium homepage, clicking on your social media icons, and then finding a link through your Twitter, or Facebook, or some other nonsense.

I actually played around with this for a bit, because I was so surprised. As far as I can tell, Medium doesn’t let you put any outbound links on your homepage. It’s actually brilliant on their part if that’s true. But for you, the average blogger, this is a fatal blow. Every page your consumers have to go through to get to your website is an added level of friction. You want it to be as easy as possible for them to find your product, and buy it. That’s it right? That’s the only reason you’re blogging in the first place, right?

What WordPress Does Right:

In my opinion, because of the outbound link fiasco on Medium there’s really no issue so egregious that I would choose Medium over WordPress. At least not as a main blog. But, there are of course faults with WordPress that I hope they change as this field becomes increasingly competitive. First, though, here’s what they do right:

Seamless Brand Integration:

Your blog should look like your website. It seems fairly obvious, but the truth is people say sayonara to consistency when there’s a question of cost. When building a product, or a website, when creating your blog, you have to imagine every step from the viewpoint of your most confused customer. If you go to a blog, find the content fascinating, admire or at least acknowledge the aesthetic, that’s the brand you’re familiar with. Then, if you go to a homepage that seems entirely separate to the blog, that disconnect can either lead to people not associating the two (which, again is the whole point), or not understanding your brand. Relevancy is important.

Intuitive Customization:

I’ve used WordPress for many years, and through it I’ve learned some useful tidbits about building a functional website. If you’re confident enough you can get into the backend and mess around with it and learn a little about HTML, CSS, PHP, or JavaScript. If you don’t want to harpoon the code, you still have a lot of layers of customization available to you, which, if not immediately intuitive, can be learned fairly quickly with only moderate hair pulling.

Plugins:

WordPress has always had great plugins. Yoast SEO on WordPress.org, is a great teaching device when trying to get started with SEO. WordPress’ newest rel=canonical plugin though, is something I feel like most bloggers have been anxiously awaiting. This plugin lets you automatically export a post to a separate site (say Medium), embedding the post with a rel=canonical tag. As most of you probably know, cross posting content can be dangerous for SEO. A rel=canonical notifies Google that the authority site is the original poster, not the cross-poster. Basically, this means Google won’t mark your content as a duplicate.

WordPress plugins also allow you to effortlessly synch up your various social media networks, so you can have a gallery of your content on any page. It also has some killer e-commerce plugins that make Shopify unnecessary.

What WordPress Does Wrong:

Building a Community:

It’s very hard to build a network of followers on WordPress. Unlike Medium, WordPress doesn’t give any boosts to its bloggers. If you have a blog on WordPress it is your job to promote it. It’s a hustle to gain the necessary following to actually pull consistent views to your blog. You need to cross promote like crazy, which means that without a built-in following on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., you’re blog is going to go unread.

Relentless Posting:

There is no hard and fast rule about how often you should post content to a blog, but the general consensus is a minimum of twice a week, and preferably every day. I’m a full-time writer and the prospect of posting content every day seems ridiculous to me. No way can the average company ( mind you, I do work mostly for startups), afford to churn out that kind of content creation. Aside from the fact that it’s very expensive to do, no one has that much to say, they just don’t. Eventually, you reach the point as well where you have a large backlogged collection of posts which, unless they’re all immune to time, will soon become irrelevant.

Even at the bi-weekly posting schedule, I’ve found that if I skip a week the drop off of viewership is pretty substantial. With Medium, this isn’t as much of a problem. It allows for more sporadic posting because again, the audience is built in.

Where to host your blog:

Neither platform is perfect, but I think the pros of WordPress far outweigh the pros of Medium. For companies here’s what I’d suggest:

Build your blog on WordPress. Customize it to match your homepage, make sure there’s an obvious call-to-action visible on the front page. Cross-post most but not all content with a week delay to Medium using the rel=canonical plugin. If you’re finding your click through or visitors to your blog disappointing, see if it’s improving your SEO ranking.

Focus on long form, less frequent content. There’s evidence that shows posts greater than 1000 words perform better than posts at less than 500. Just make sure they’re well written, and actually deliver some sort of information. For highly technical writing, articles that discuss how you built your app etc. definitely post on Medium. This comes down to knowing your audience. Buy a custom domain. Regardless of your platform you have to invest in a custom domain, which means shelling out a titch more.

Budget wisely for a blog. Decide on how many hours you want to allot to it per month, and what your expectations are.

For more basic SEO tips take a look here. 

Nitty-Gritty SEO Truth Telling

I am a proponent of SEO. I think, in theory, it’s a great idea. The internet is so flooded with content that there has to be a systematic approach to organizing, validating, and promoting better content. Here’s the problem though: SEO is kind of like outer space. We know it’s there, we know it’s doing something, but aside from 20 or so concrete theories, we don’t really understand it.

Google’s algorithm is complex. So complex that we (SEO enthusiasts) really do only know about 20 or so out of the 200 factors that influence it. I’ve worked with a lot of clients on optimizing their sites, and I’ve spent a good deal of time floundering around with it myself. Here’s what I’ve learned:

The bone-chilling problem with keywords:

Fine, I’ll admit it: keywords matter. I hate it, but they do. I think of them like tiny anchor points. Words that Google can scan, register in a jiffy, and place into their massive index.

Programs like MOZ hail under the belief that if you find a keyword sweet spot — meaning it’s searched for, but not too much — you can optimize for it and steal away all those aimless searchers, looking for “taco takeout Paris Texas”. The problem with that is if you plug in a million keywords you’re going to find quite a few that hit that sweet spot. You’re going to land on one, and hopelessly devote yourself to it like it’s the only way anyone will ever find your website.

Now, this is where my true writerly habits and hates come into play. Have you ever tried to write content around a keyword or long tail keyword like “taco takeout Paris Texas?” Even if you can somehow shove that exact phrasing into your landing page 3–4 times, you’re going to end up with something entirely illegible.

Instead, if you tailor your work to reflect what your company does, and delivers, you should be optimizing naturally. Keywords still matter in the sense that knowing your product matters. Optimizing for certain keywords helps ensure that you’re using the right language to describe your company. Language that customers will inherently understand.

How SEO Makes for Shit Content:

I write web content for a living. Which means, more than once, I’ve had to see content I’ve worked on crucified for the sake of SEO. This is entirely the wrong mindset. SEO is designed to deliver good content to people who are searching for it. If we’re suddenly tailoring all content to fit SEO standards one: Google will inevitably shift their ever-shifting algorithm to account for that, and two: the internet will be comprised of truly awful writing!

I don’t use exclamation points often, and I don’t use it lightly here. Writing is important. It is our only means of concise communication. For all the people who continue to believe “content is king”, thank you. And for those of you who don’t believe that, you’re wrong. Here’s why:

SEO is the draw, writing is the hook:

Say you test 10–20 long tail keywords for your homepage. Of those 10–20, two hit the sweet spot. Instead of optimizing for both, because you’re already short on substance, you choose one. Let’s say the keyword is “unique flight experience.” You choose a ridiculous long tail keyword because your competitors who are ranking for the keywords you actually want: flying, flight, unique airplane, etc. are Boeing, Airbus, and a bunch of airlines. You know that ranking for a keyword they’re already using means you’ll never show up ahead of them.

So, you stick with “unique flight experience,” because every time someone types this incredibly specific string of words into a search engine your site is going to show up. Woohoo!

According to SEO guidelines there are a few things you have to change right off the bat:

  1. Your keyword needs to be in your title and H1 (or you can wrap your title into your H1)
  2. Your keyword needs to show up within the first 100 words
  3. Your keyword needs to show up ~2–3 times for every 400 words (this is argued so often, I’m not really sure where the number has landed)
  4. Your alt tags, meta description, and meta title all need to contain your keyword
  5. You need to say your keyword 17 times throughout the day otherwise Beetlejuice will appear.

Alright then. You did it, you optimized the hell out of your website. Now you enjoy typing in “unique flight experience,” because without a doubt there’s your site, numero uno. There are going to be some stragglers who find your site through this keyword, and every time you see that on Google Analytics you’re going to feel a rush of success. SEO is confusing, and you’ve mastered it. But you’re a little concerned about your conversion rate, and your bounce rate is loitering around 87%.

So, here it is again in case you have a habit of skimming over headers: SEO is the draw, writing is the hook. Your keyword optimization may be bringing people to your site, but your relentless use of an incoherent long tail keyword means that once customers get to your site they have literally no idea what your selling, talking about, and will probably assume that your content was written by a robot.

SEO that destroys legibility is not only useless, but damaging.

What to do about SEO:

 

SEO forces you to write with direction. It makes you identify a subject, and stick with it. It’s not new. Writing with direction is a fundamental principle of writing. Headers are just a hierarchy of information or… an index. Out bound links are just proof of sources. None of this is new. It’s just good writing.

So, use SEO as it was meant to be used — to optimize content not detract from it. Don’t run a post through a program like Yoast, and assume that because you get the green light there, your content is sound. Take a critical, editorial look at everything you write.

I believe in SEO. I think it’s here to help us sift through the mountains of content, and I think you can use it in a smart and effective way. Focus on building an audience, a loyal following, and organic growth. Optimize for things that really matter: your url, your meta tags, and meta descriptions. And use keywords that are actually relevant to your subject.

I’ve been reading a lot about this subject lately, here are some good posts to check out if you want to hear what other people are saying:

Yoast’s shocking exposé on how homepage SEO doesn’t exist and then MOZ’s subsequent rebuttal, and finally Yoast’s backtracking, and this fiery post about a healthy dose of SEO skepticism.

Also, I find this site quite helpful. It shows you how Google sees your site. Pretty valuable information there, particularly for headers.