Why Indie Fiction Writers Should Ignore SEO

From The Productive Indie Fiction Writer:

As soon as you start learning how to market your books, you trip over a lot of earnest advice about improving the SEO on your site.  There are gurus, books, courses and very expensive plug-ins out there designed to boost your SEO rankings.

And you should ignore all of it.

What is SEO?

Just in case you have been ignoring SEO all along because you didn’t know what it was, here’s the thumbnail explanation.  Search Engine Optimization is any tactic you use designed to make your website show up higher in search engine results for whatever keywords or keyword phrases you want to rank for.

So, for example, you might decide that you want to rank above the fold on page 1 of Google’s results for the phrase “cozy fantasy short stories”.

You need to find ways to adjust your site so that Google, when it crawls through the site, will look favorably upon it for that phrase.  So when a user types the phrase into the Google Search bar, your site will show up higher than it used to.  Preferably, much higher. 

Appearing on sub-pages (page 2 and later) is considered mostly useless, as most people don’t go beyond page 1 of any search results.

And appearing above the fold – that is, at the very top of page 1, before the reader starts scrolling down – is considered a spectacular result.

SEO experts who can manipulate a site so that it shows up on page 1, above the fold, earn the sort of salaries that CEOs and shareholders take home.

Of course you want to rank well

It makes perfect sense that if you can show up higher in search results for your desired ranking, you’ll get more visitors to the site and more exposure of your name and brand.

That sounds like a good thing.

How you get those results is open to argument.  That is why there are thousands of sites, books, courses and gurus eager to take your money in exchange for teaching you some tactics that improve your SEO.   

Why You Should Ignore All the Advice on SEO

  1. Some of the systems designed to game Google and increase a site’s rank are very black hat. 

    Black hat SEO increases a site or page’s rank in search engines through means that violate the search engines’ terms of service.  And the result, for the user, is unsatisfactory, as the black hat tactic doesn’t care if the user gets value from the search result.  They just want the visibility and traffic.

    Have you ever clicked through to a site that the search engine results said was about, say, space opera tropes, only to have the page open up with flashing, bussing, neon text encouraging you to buy porn, or some other useless service that has nothing to do with space opera tropes?

    This is a black-hat SEO tactic.  Companies will buy blogs or sites that are quite legitimate and that already rank well for specific keywords.  They will gut those sites and replace it with their sleazy content, then set the site so that Google can’t crawl through it and re-index it anymore (which means Google must rely on the last, legitimate indexing visit).

    Now, the site will continue to rank well, and send readers like you to see their gross content. 

    This is one of the more extreme examples, but many of the tactics designed to improve SEO rely on manipulations that expose readers to content they didn’t actually ask to see. 

    If you’re lured into using black-hat (or grey hat) tactics yourself, you will be drawing users to your site who have no interest in your books, and your site will earn a bad reputation with Google – which you really don’t want!
  2. Google can detect unnatural backlinks and will penalize you for it.

    Building lots of backlinks are one of the fastest ways of improving your SEO, so even legitimate SEO tactics will focus upon building backlinks quickly.  You’ll be encouraged to deconstruct your “biggest rival’s” backlinks and getting links to your site in the same places, along with a lot of other inorganic means of building links back to your site.

    Even the term “biggest rival” should make your nose wrinkle a bit.  There are no rivals in the indie world.  Even authors who are doing much better than you in your genre are not rivals. 

    Indie fiction publishing is not a zero-sum game.  A reader who loves that great author can also love and buy your books.  Everyone wins, so trying to outmanouevre other authors is a waste of time.

    Besides, if you try to wrangle the online world into giving you backlinks and Google spots that, it will choke your site’s ranking, which kills off all your work.
  3. All your work becomes useless when Google updates its algorithms.

    You could spend weeks building your site’s SEO using state of the art advice, that is ethical, and utterly untainted.  You could spend hundreds of hours learning about SEO and working to get your site onto the first page for your chosen keywords.  Congratulations!

    Then Google changes its algorithms (it does this frequently) and suddenly, your site only appears on page 3 for the same keywords, for reasons you don’t understand, as Google never shares its ranking criteria.

    Weeks or months of work has just been negated. 

    And remember, this is for just one, or a small handful of keywords.  Any other search term that someone might use to find your books and your site is still ranking organically – that is, quite likely nowhere near page 1 of the search results.
  4. Your chosen keyword will become redundant

    You could spend a year building your rankings for “cozy fantasy short stories”, then you stop writing fantasy in favour of a different genre.  Even though indie writers earn better money writing just one genre or niche, we all eventually move onto different genres over the length of our careers.  

    I’ve written and am still writing in a dozen different genres.   There’s many reasons an indie author might have for stopping writing in a certain genre.

    And when you do, all that SEO work you did to build up that genre keyword is useless.

If you’re getting the impression that SEO work is a huge time sink for uncertain return, you’re not wrong. 

What Should You Do Instead of SEO?

Content is king. 

It really is.  Provide good content, that will please readers who arrive at your site via whatever path they use (which you don’t have to worry about). 

If your content is satisfying, readers will come back, or will sign up for your email list, so they don’t have to remember to come back.  Or they’ll grab your RSS feed (yes, RSS is still a thing). 

Keep adding content at a regular pace. 

This doesn’t mean you must write a 2,000 word article every day.  If you can only add a short, content-rich article once a month, that’s fine.  But don’t miss a month.  Don’t add four in one month and one the next.  Keep it slow, if you must, but steady.

Building a site’s traffic organically, like this, will out-last any algorithm changes, and won’t draw Google’s wrath, either. 

Besides, an indie ficiton writer doesn’t need to rank on page 1 above the fold.  That’s not why you have a site.  You don’t want a million hits of which only 1% will engage with the site.  You want a flow of traffic (no matter how large) that is 100% interested in your content and from there will be introduced to you and your books. 

Cooperate with other indie authors

Cooperative marketing is a natural way of building traffic to your site and exposure to you and your books.  It increases sales, the ultimate goal of any marketing. 

Cooperative marketing covers a huge range of creative projects.  Self-published anthologies, loss-leader boxed sets, author newsletter swaps, newsletter round robins, short term book bundles.  Even BookFunnel promos are a form of cooperative marketing. 

What content can you add? 

Well, that’s a whole other series of posts. 

But if you’d like a sample, click over to any of my author sites [here, here and here] and read the posts there.  That will give you an idea of the range of possibilities for three major genres. 

Tracy Cooper-Posey

SRP Author and owner of The Productive Indie Fiction Writer

Tracy is one of Stories Rule Press’ most prolific authors. She also hangs out at The Productive Indie Fiction Writer, where she writes about issues facing today’s indie author, and solutions that make the indie life a little easier.