SEO: Why it’s not always the right tool for the job

by Nate Hoffelder

After a decade of running The Digital Reader, Nate is a veteran web publisher with experience in design, maintenance, recovery, and troubleshooting. What little he doesn't know, he can learn.

April 23, 2020

A few weeks back ALLI held a Twitter chat about SEO. I was not the guest of honor, alas, but I did participate, and in doing so I was reminded of just how much I know about SEO.

I have in fact forgotten more about SEO than most people will ever learn, and most of what I know has made me develop SEO practices that are almost orthogonal to the SOP for most industries.

I thought it would be fun to share a few of my ideas today.

For starters, I don’t look at how to use SEO to get your site ranked higher in Google. Instead, I start with asking questions like:

  1. What is your desired outcome?
  2. Who is your audience?
  3. How are they using search engines?

The reason I ask these questions is that, for one thing, no one else seems to even know they should start with questions, but also because sometimes the answers will reveal that traditional website SEO is not going to do what you want.

I ask first about the outcome because most people go into website SEO assuming they need it, and never ask if it’s the right tool for the job. (Or at least I don’t see them asking the questions, and that concerns me.) And I ask the second and third questions in order to help the client target their niche by choosing the right keywords and the right methods.

To give you one example, let’s say I have a lawyer as an SEO client.

They want clients, but the simple truth is that working on the SEO for their website will not help get their sites ranked higher for the keywords used by potential clients.. Those keywords are dominated by directory sites and trade group websites. I can’t help the lawyer website outrank those sites, so I’d usually recommend that the lawyer get listed in those directory sites.

Also, review sites like Yelp tend to rank higher than individual websites, so I would recommend the lawyer get their firm listed and reviewed on Yelp. Oh, and the lawyer should also get a Google My Business listing (these often show up to the right of search results, thus bypassing the ranked results).

I tell lawyers to get listed in law directory sites, to get Yelp reviews, and to get a Google My Business listing because these are more effective ways to get higher search rankings than website SEO.

But this post was written for authors, so let me explain why that idea applies to authors.

Authors (in most cases) want readers to find the author’s books. The thing is, website SEO can’t help you with that because readers don’t find books and authors through search engines. Instead they get recommendations from friends, listen to podcasts, read reviews, browse deals emails, and browse Amazon’s also-bought.

A reader might go looking for an author’s site after someone has given them the author’s name, and that is an area where website SEO can help. But even then, the author’s website is going to be outranked by pages on Amazon, reviews on Goodreads, and possibly also book review sites.

Earlier in the post I said lawyers should co-opt directory sites, and I beleive the same principle applies to authors. This is why I think optimizing a book listing on Amazon, and paying attention to your reviews on Goodreads, is more effective in helping you get noticed than website SEO.

In conclusion, website SEO can be a useful tool, but you need to make sure it’s the right tool for the job before you use it.

Hi, I'm Nate.

I build and fix websites for authors, and I am also a tech VA. I can build you a website that looks great and turns visitors into fans, and I can also fix your tech when it breaks. Let me fight with tech support so you don’t have to.

My blog has everything you need to know about websites and online services. Don’t see what you need. or want personalized help? Reach out.

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1 Comment

  1. Pauline Wiles

    I agree! Not only is it hard for many authors to rank well in search results (“contemporary women’s fiction”, anyone?!) but if it’s not how readers are discovering books, it’s much better to put effort into getting found in other ways. Then, the author should make sure their website is welcoming with an attractive email signup offer, for visitors who arrive from other sources.


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