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The Poetry of SEO

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Someone recently asked me if there are any similarities between SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and poetry. At first it seemed like a forced question—a half-hearted attempt to connect two unrelated pursuits in order to make sense of a narrative that appears otherwise pretty jagged. That narrative being, of course, my life—as I’ve recently made the sharp and odd detour from freelance poet to SEO Coordinator in an ad agency. But I’ll tell you what I’ve found so far: poetry and SEO share more than you might expect at first glance.

“The right words in the right order”

This is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous definition of poetry, praising a tasteful economy of language. But think about it—is there a better description of SEO? A great title tag requires a hailstorm of googling for search volume and competition: consider all possible synonyms, with plurals, singulars, and mix the words around in every conceivable order until you hit that magic balance where the most highly-searched, relevant words and phrases that other companies aren’t using enough are perfectly placed in the right spot in the tag.

Working within Constraints

A few areas of SEO thrive on some pretty hard and fast limitations. Particularly in Meta Data, where Best Practices require Title Tags under 60 characters and Meta Descriptions under 155 characters. That means you better come up with something pretty compelling, ideally with choice keywords, in under the length of a Tweet. Poetry likewise has a long history of limitations, from the constraints of formal poetry (where there are strict rules on rhythm, rhyme, number of lines, and in some cases even subject), to the bizarre experiments of Dada (the great Dada writer Georges Perec penned a whole novel completely excluding the letter “e”).

Works on Multiple Levels

Good SEO satisfies two very disparate crowds: real live searchers and search engine crawlers. It takes great skill to speak the language of the people while playing by the complex rules of the search engines. In a similar way, memorable poetry is satisfying on the surface level while rewarding those who reread for another level of deeper meanings.

Although, as far as I know at this point, search engines don’t seek out the same things that lovers of poetry do—but I wouldn’t put it past Google to incorporate a taste for verse in its SERP algorithms.